Have you ever wondered what living in a sailboat is like?! In this article we’re interviewing Emily, who is currently living the sailboat life with her boyfriend. She shares how to get started, how to purchase a sailboat, how to kit it out to make it livable, the ups and downs of this lifestyle, and more.
Living this lifestyle provides endless amounts of freedom. Sail around the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, or cross the Atlantic — there are numerous (exotic) destinations you can visit when you’re living on a sailboat.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like living in a sailboat!
First of all, tell us a bit about yourself. What made you decide to start living on a sailboat?
I’m Emily, an ex primary school teacher from England and I live with my boyfriend Adam on a small sailboat in Sicily. Nearly a year ago now we quit our jobs and started working towards a lifelong dream — to learn to sail, buy a sailboat and travel the world.
Here’s a little of how it all came about. When I first met Adam we both dreamed of leaving behind our ‘normal’ jobs to travel the world. After careful consideration we decided it wasn’t right for now, and that we should make the sensible decision to focus on our careers and become more financially stable.
Adam helped me prepare for a job promotion I was desperate for, and I worried endlessly about how unhappy he was with his London commute.
On a Monday morning in March I called Adam in tears — I didn’t get the job. I arrived home that evening to Adam popping open a bottle of bubbly. “We’re celebrating!” he declared. I looked at him, confused. Had he not been listening to our earlier conversation? “To the beginning of our adventure!”
That was the sign he needed. We would never be financially stable, travel would always be a risk. We just needed a push, and this was it.
How did you choose your sailboat? What kind of boat is it?
We decided to buy a small sailboat about eight months before we actually bought one. It was a long process of research, travelling to see potential sailboats, and speaking to lots of people who have sailed before.
We knew we wanted a ‘blue water cruiser’, something we could take across oceans if we decided we were brave enough! But, we quickly realised that pretty much any sailboat can do that, it just depends on your personal opinion as to what is best for the job.
Our list of ‘must haves’ changed significantly through the process and the boat we ended up with (a Kadey Krogen 38 called Hot Chocolate) had a very unusual design, but ticked a lot of boxes for us — full keel, heavy displacement, protected propeller and rudder, under 38 feet.
It was also going to be our home, so it needed to feel like one (or at least have the potential to!)
How (and where) did you purchase your boat? Was it an easy process? Can foreigners purchase abroad?
We found our sailboat online. On paper, it was exactly what we were looking for (and a good price), so we called the owner and put down a deposit to show we were serious.
Then, we packed up our lives into two suitcases, flew to Sicily and hoped it was the right boat for us! If it hadn’t been, we would have flown on to Greece.
We had been to see a boat previously in Spain, and we put in an offer subject to the survey. But, someone else came to see it after us who was happy to buy without a survey (we would never recommend doing this!) so we lost it.
In hindsight, we are relieved as this boat is a million times better for us, but it was hard at the time.
Purchasing was a pretty straightforward process for us, but it can depend a lot on where you buy, who you buy it from and what paperwork the boat already has (as with everything on a boat, nothing is a simple answer!)
Buying a boat that is already registered to your home country, with VAT paid and lots of paperwork on board makes things a lot easier. Our boat was registered to the UK and the VAT was already paid, so it was a fairly easy process.
If the boat isn’t registered to your home country, you can change the boat’s registration on all the paperwork you need to do when you first buy the sailboat, and you can pay the VAT too — you’ll just need to make sure you budget for that.
We bought our Kadey Krogen 38 in Sicily from an individual seller — there were no brokers involved. It wasn’t a very conventional sale. We came out to see the boat and the owner let us live on it for a month before we bought, while we arranged a survey. There was a lot more trust involved than a standard sale!
The biggest problem with buying abroad is getting to see the boat. When you’re on a budget, flights and accommodation can really add up, and getting a survey done on a boat only to find out it isn’t right for you is an expensive and time-consuming exercise.
Our survey ended up costing about £800 ($1,015 USD) for the actual survey and then another £400 ($505 USD) for the boat to be lifted out of the water, so you have to be pretty serious about buying before you get one done.
You can get it cheaper but there are no recommended surveyors in Sicily so we made the decision to fly one in from the UK. That way there weren’t any language barriers either.
We were slightly unlucky that the marina the sailboat was in was such an expensive one to get a lift out, you can get lifted out for more like £200-£300 ($250 – $380 USD) in other boat yards.
Did you end up fixing up / kitting out your sailboat to make it your own? If so, how did you do that? What improvements did you make? Or, are you living on the sailboat “as is”?
We haven’t met anyone so far that hasn’t had to do work on their boat — from brand new boats to one-hundred-year-old ones. If you buy a boat you need to get handy, or throw lots of money at someone who is!
We spent the first few months getting to know everything about the boat. We went through all of the things onboard, tried to get rid of things we won’t need, looked through all the old paperwork, and made very long to-do lists.
It would take too long to list all the jobs we have done so far, but here are a few to give you an idea:
We have replaced a lot of the out of date safety equipment (life raft, life jackets, lifelines, fire extinguishers, smoke and gas alarms, flares, handheld VHF), it’s amazing how long it takes to research these things!
We’ve replaced the leaking taps, the leaking shower and several leaking hoses. We’ve repaired the anchor windlass, fitted the sails, repaired the fridge and replaced some of the electronic systems.
There are still some big jobs to do, replacing the propeller being one of the biggest as we will need to get the boat out of the water to do that and it’s still a big unknown for us.
Where in the world are you living the sailboat life? Why is it a great destination for sailors?
We’re currently in Sicily, at a marina called Marina di Ragusa. We arrived here in February and felt at home straight away. I think what makes this marina so popular is it’s population of liveaboard boats. There is a real sense of community here and everyone has been welcoming and friendly since day one.
There is always an event happening, from the liveaboard happy hour drinks twice a week, to yoga classes and one-off classes in things like celestial navigation and rope splicing. I’ve even been doing some tutoring for the liveaboard kids here.
Are you living on the sailboat full-time? Or, do you have a land base as well?
We’re living on the sailboat full-time. We have family in the UK that are always happy to have us home (for a week or two!) but Hot Chocolate is our home and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.
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What are the downsides of the sailboat life?
The biggest problem I have had with sailboat life is living with the anxiety of the unknown. Even the most experienced sailors we have met have run into trouble at some point and had to make decisions in a snap second. Those decisions could be the right ones, or they could be the wrong ones with disastrous consequences.
There is always a little voice in the back of your head telling you to watch out, but I guess that’s also part of what makes this lifestyle so rewarding.
There’s also the pump flush toilets, but I won’t go into that now…
What are the upsides / best things about living on a sailboat?
The simplicity and freedom.
Living in a sailboat is a bit like glamping. You are forced to get outside no matter what the weather, meaning you don’t miss those stunning sunsets, rainbows or dramatic thunderstorms.
Even more than that, the weather determines your decisions. When you’re living in a sailboat you learn to read the weather and feel it in a way I never did when I lived in a house.
Also, you have to be careful with how much water and electricity you’re using, which has taught me so much about the environment and how little I need all those things I had come to rely on when living in a house.
Then there is the freedom. If you don’t like where you are, you just take your home and move it elsewhere. Plus, the feeling you get when you sail into the ocean and the signal dies on your phone is pretty great — it’s just you and miles of sea, and all the pressures of life just wash away.
There’s also dolphins. And sunsets. And stars. And fresh fish. Wait, how many words do I have for this question?!
What does a “day in the life” look like on your liveaboard boat?
Currently, not all that exciting!
Once we get out sailing for the summer things will change a lot. But for now, a typical day in the marina consists of waking up with the sunrise (we have no curtains yet!) and drinking delicious Italian coffee. Then we will do a few hours of work — Adam for his remote job and me, teaching primary level English at the marina.
Luckily, we’re able to earn an income while living on a sailboat. Adam works remotely in digital marketing for a tech company. When he left his job in London, someone from an old company he worked for got in touch and offered him a few days of work each week, which is perfect for this lifestyle and adds a little to our very limited funds!
After work, we get stuck into boat jobs. It’s amazing how long a simple task such as filling the water tanks or walking into town to get groceries takes.
In the evening we are either passed out in front of a film, joining friends on their boats for dinner, or treating ourselves to a drink at the local bar for happy hour.
Once we get out sailing our days will consist of passage planning, exploring tiny islands, fishing and swimming. And the work and boat jobs will have to fit in around that!
There are numerous things to know when living in a sailboat. What are some things you wished you knew before you decided to live this lifestyle?
Apart from wishing I’d done it sooner? I would say that one of the biggest things people don’t think about before moving onto a boat is the maintenance involved.
We had a kind of head start here, as when I met Adam he was living on a motorboat on the River Thames (London house prices + cost of commuting = desperate measures). He was in the process of completely doing it up, so we learnt a lot about how boats work.
If you had asked me two years ago what a bilge pump or a stern gland was, I would have thought you were referring to some awful medical procedure, but now these terms are part of everyday life.
Still, say the word “engine maintenance” and I’m already thinking about what I’ll make for lunch. Believe me, I have tried very hard to get my head around gaskets and alternators, but even though it’s new to Adam as well, he seems to pick it up so much quicker than I do — which can leave me feeling a bit useless.
It’s been important to find jobs that I enjoy (and can do) that make a difference around the boat. Knowing that this is quite normal (luckily I’ve met lots of people ‘in the same boat’) and getting my head around it before moving onboard would have saved a lot of arguments and frustrations in those early days!
Are there any necessary qualifications or certifications you need for living on a sailboat? What about visas for various countries? Travel / boat insurance?
Again, this is a tricky one as a lot of it depends on your own country’s regulations and the regulations of the countries you are visiting.
For example, in England you don’t need any qualifications to sail your own yacht, but if you sail it over to Greece then chances are they will want to see your ICC (International Certificate of Competence).
We don’t need visas for being in the EU (yet!) but there are all sorts of other payments such as cruising tax, etc. You are also required to show your insurance documents, so having those printed and ready is important. Boat insurance really doesn’t cost that much (similar to insuring a house) and we have spoken to numerous people who have claimed on it, so for us the peace of mind it brings is well worth it!
How can people follow in your footsteps and buy a sailboat of their own? Do you recommend any particular anchorages, marinas, websites, or popular destinations for them to check out?
We read the book Get Real, Get Gone cover to cover and can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone thinking of buying a sailboat. It delves into what type of sailboat to look for and why, lots about different safety feature options and some great general advice for people thinking about living the sailboat life.
From there, we decided on a budget and scoured the internet for boats — you really don’t need as much cash as you’d think to get a small sailboat that’s ready to live on. We used yatchworld and boatshop24 the most, but eBay and Facebook (for sale by owner groups) are also great places to keep an eye out.
Start searching for your small sailboat as early as you can. We looked seriously for about six months, and went to see four different sailboats, but we know people who have searched for much longer.
We came to see this boat on a bit of a whim, and decided that if it wasn’t right for us, we would fly straight to Preveza in Greece — which has a huge boat yard and hundreds of boats for sale. We were going to rent an Airbnb there until we found the right boat for us.
Since living in the marina here in Sicily, we have met several people who bought from the boat yard in Preveza, so if you’re itching to get going that might be a good place to head!
Any final advice for people on the fence about living in a sailboat?
Get out there and try it!
If you don’t already sail, there are lots of Airbnb sailboat stays where you just stay on someone’s boat in a marina for your holiday. Adam and I did this on one of our first dates. It will show you quite quickly whether you can imagine living and sharing such a small space, and whether you like the lifestyle.
It definitely isn’t for everyone, but saying that, there will be some aspect of living in a sailboat that you can enjoy.
Sunbathing on deck with a cocktail in hand, getting knee-deep in bilge filth, and catching fish for dinner are all part of sailboat life. Unfortunately, you don’t get to choose one or the other!
Where are you sailing to next?!
We have just got back from crewing on someone else’s boat over to Greece and fell in love with it, so in the next few weeks we hope to sail over there ourselves. There are hundreds of tiny islands to hop between, meaning no long passages and plenty of safe anchorages. We figured this would be the perfect place to get in lots of practice sailing just us two.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us Emily! We’re sure this will inspire others to just “go for it” and start living a freer lifestyle — aboard a sailboat! If you want to learn more about Emily and Adam, you can check out their blog, Two Get Lost, or their Instagram and Facebook page.
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