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Want to live on a boat and see the world? The most successful cruisers know that proper planning can make all the difference in the kind of adventure they have. In this post, I’ll share 5 things you can do before moving onto a boat that can make your days of travel easier.

1: Know Your ‘Why’

I’ve lived on a sailboat since 2012 and I can’t imagine any other lifestyle.

I love it more than I can put into words. I wanted to live on a boat for the freedom. To see places I’d never see otherwise… to live a more simple life filled with experiences and not things. And to be close to the water, which feeds my soul. 

If you’re reading this, you probably dream of living on a boat, too. And even though you’re probably super excited and motivated right now, let me drop a couple of truth bombs.

What it’s really like to live on a boat

There will be days when you want to throw in the towel and say, “screw it”.

Maybe you worry about what you’ll do for money, or you found the perfect boat but it’s out of your price range or it needs a full refit before being liveable. Maybe you’re afraid to get rid of your stuff and you suddenly question whether you can do this at all.

On the really rough days, it’s important to remember your why. Being able to focus on the big picture and knowing that “this too shall pass” will help get you through those challenges. 

Keeping a journal or a vision board with all the reasons you want to live this life can be both inspiring and motivating on days when you’re feeling defeated and deflated.

So take some time to think about your why and write it down somewhere you can see it.

2: Set Your Budget

I’m all for living your best life and all, but when you’re moving onto a boat, there are a lot of variables to consider. Which is why it’s so important to set (and stick with) a budget.

When you establish a budget, your finances will go much farther than if you were to spend freely and make budgeting an afterthought. 

You’ll want to set two budgets. One for purchasing your boat (if you don’t already have one) and one for monthly living expenses.

Setting Your Boat Budget

Before deciding on the boat you want to buy, it’s important to know what you can realistically afford to spend.

I highly recommend that you pay cash for your boat vs taking out a loan if at all possible. There are a couple of reasons for this. 

  • When your boat is paid for, it relieves a LOT of stress. Like I mentioned earlier, there are so many variables. Unexpected things can happen that will make a dent in your bank account. So reducing your financial obligations when you plan to go cruising is never a bad thing.
  • You may take a loan out on a boat, only to find out after a year that you don’t actually like the lifestyle. We met one gentleman who purchased a 2019 58’ Jeanneau Odyssey (think somewhere in the $900,000 range). He sailed it from the boat show to the marina, had a terrifying time sailing and docking such a big boat that he hasn’t been on it since and is reportedly listing it for sale. He sailed it ONCE.

I know you’re probably thinking, “Well, I’ve got more sense than that dude” and maybe you do. But when you finance a boat, and decide you [don’t like sailing / want a different boat], you’re stuck with that payment until you sell the boat. 

If you can comfortably do that, great. But if you’re reading a blog called Saving to Sail, I’m guessing you’re a little more budget-conscious than Mr. Odyssey above. 😉

We’ve owned a total of 4 boats, and paid cash for each one. Our boat budgets have been pretty modest by most cruising boat standards.

And trust me, we almost got lured into financing before buying our Rasmus, which is a proper sailboat for sure. But we opted to pay cash for a great boat that was older, leaving us more money to save, upgrade the boat, and live on. 

How to Get a Boat for FREE

If you’re patient and not afraid of some hard work… you can get boats for FREE or very little money.

Many marinas have boats that they’ve acquired ownership of due to owners who have stopped paying their marina fees. Oftentimes, the marina will give these away for little to no money (if you take over the storage fee). As you can imagine, many of these boats have been neglected for years, so they may need a lot of work. But there are some diamonds in the rough out there. 

There’s also a website called free-boat.com where you can find free boats. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this site, but wanted to offer it as an option. 

Whatever you decide your budget is, and whether or not you decide it’s worth financing is up to you. But I recommend that you set a budget and stick to it. It makes the decision-making process much easier.

Setting Your Living Budget

Deciding how much you want to budget for your living expenses can be tricky, especially if you’ve never lived on a boat before, because it’s hard to anticipate what you’ll need or what those costs might be. Not to mention that the costs will be different based on whether you’re docked for a season at a marina or actively cruising. 

Some questions to consider:

Will you be staying stateside or cruising internationally?
If the latter, where will you be cruising? (Eastern Caribbean is more costly than Western Caribbean).

Will you be staying at marinas or anchoring out?
When at a marina, we like to stay at marinas that are clean, with nice amenities. We’ve still been able to keep our costs pretty modest by shopping around.

The most we’ve paid was $750/month when docking long-term (in the U.S.), and the least was in Guatemala when we paid $250/month. Of course, when we were cruising and anchoring out, it was free!

Do you like to cook or eat out?
We keep food costs down by cooking on the boat 90% of the time. But overall, food is where we probably spend the most except when we are cruising and can source local produce at local prices. (Think a week’s worth of veggies for under $5!). But there are ways you can eat healthy on a budget to help keep costs down and feel great. 

Do you enjoy regular sundowners?
Alcohol can eat into a budget quickly, especially when you’re on a boat and feel like you’re on vacation every day! Be sure to plan accordingly and if you like to imbibe, factor that into your budget.

These are just some simple questions to ask yourself as you figure out your budget, but obviously there are other expenses to consider such as boat insurance, monthly subscription services, activities and entertainment, etc. 

3: Find the Right Boat

Luckily for you, this step will be easier because you were smart, and figured out your boat budget first, right? 😉

Now, the right boat is going to look different for everyone. I’m not going to preach on what boat you should get, but I will offer a few pieces of smart guidance. 

Determine where you plan to sail your boat

If you plan on coastal cruising or doing the ICW Waterway, you can look at modest coastal cruisers. If you plan on crossing oceans, you’ll want to look at bluewater boats.

Decide your non-negotiables

These are the things that you absolute must (or must not) have. Do you absolutely want a separate shower? A wheel vs. tiller? No teak decks? Aft cabin? Knowing these will help you make quick decisions when it comes to narrowing down your choices. 

Don’t get a boat bigger than you can handle

Remember my story about poor Mr. Odyssey above? His example is more extreme, but we’ve met so many people who say they went too big too soon. Start smaller and you can always move up. 

Don’t be afraid of older boats

Finch, our Rasmus, is a 1973 and built like a tank. We call her “The Library” because when shit’s hitting the fan up top, she’s quiet and comfortable down below.

So if you’re on a more modest boat budget, try looking at some tried and true sea-going vessels that won’t break the bank but will keep you safe while getting you from here to there. 

Some older boats will need a lot of work, while others may have had a lot of the big work already done, and may just need some cosmetic updating. Either way, educate yourself on what to look for, get a survey, but don’t discount a boat only because she’s old. We love our old girl! 

4: Get Rid of Your Stuff

It goes without saying that unless you already live in a tiny house, you’ll need to downsize before moving onto a boat. 

It sounds simple enough, but you’d be surprised at how hard it can actually be, because we humans attach a lot of value and self-worth to our stuff.

It’s hard to get rid of items that hold memories for us. But in order to fully embody the liveaboard and cruising lifestyle, you’ll need to Marie Kondo your life! This means letting go of the things that don’t serve you and this new adventure and lifestyle that you’ll be embarking on. 

It will be tough at first, but trust me, it gets easier as you go.

And if you want a step-by-step process to help you determine what to part with and what to keep, what to do with the things you’re getting rid of, and how to make more money from the things you sell (we’re not talking cheap yard sales here), I recommend our book, Downsizing for Tiny Life, or if you want more personalized support, our online course, Downsizing For a Life Afloat.

To Store or Not to Store?

I tend to get some push back from this whenever I say it, but I recommend not storing your stuff in a storage facility if you can avoid it. Storing your stuff is nothing more than a deferred decision that will cost you potentially thousands of dollars. 

Chances are, you’ll have some items that you may want to hang onto that aren’t appropriate for the boat, and in those cases, perhaps a friend or family member will let you rent a few square feet in a closet or basement. 

Digital Downsizing

Downsizing doesn’t always mean your physical stuff – I also recommend you do a digital downsize (which we also talk about in our downsizing course) of things like recurring subscriptions. 

The point is, learn to live with less. Like I said above, it gets much easier with practice. So start downsizing and start practicing! 

5: Decide Where You’ll “Live”

If you move onto a sailboat, you’ll need to establish domicile somewhere. This allows you to receive mail and gives you a legal address to use on official forms. 

For instance, we “live” in a lovely-sounding town called Green Cove Springs, Florida. But in reality, we’ve only been there once, to turn in some notarized docs that allowed us to claim 411 Walnut Street as our legal address. 

The service is called St. Brendan’s Isle, and it is a lifesaver. 

Once you submit your paperwork, you can use your mailbox as your legal address for all official (and non-official) documentation such as IRS forms and taxes, Coast Guard documentation, etc. 

To use this address for voting, it’s a little trickier and you’ll have to go through some additional steps of filing for Florida domicile.

The great thing is, their services costs barely more than a PO Box, but they email you to let you know when you receive mail. You can choose to have them send it, scan it to view online, or shred it. 

Let them know that we sent you! Give them our mailbox (#6318) as the referral when setting up your account. You’ll help us out because they’ll give us a free month of service for the referral. 

You may have a friend or family member willing to accept mail for you, but I recommend not doing that in order to not impose on anyone else. It can be inconvenient if you need an item scanned or sent to you so I recommend a service like St. Brendan’s Isle – trust me, the convenience is worth the low fee. 

BONUS: Remember Your Why

As you can see, there is a lot to do and think about as you prepare to travel full-time on a boat! It may feel daunting and scary and #allthethings sometimes, but just take a deep breath, close your eyes and remember your why. 

You are now ready to live on a boat — something most people only dream about. So be smart, be bold, and most of all, have fun!

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