Lifestyle: How to Live on a Boat

One of the most frequent questions we get is “how in the world are you able to live on a 37 foot boat without killing each other?”  I guess we’re just lucky?

The salon and settee have various size cushions that all look similar.

These topics have been highlighted in earlier posts, but we think they’re so important that we developed this series of 5 posts.

Our actual interior living space is about 18′ by a little over 6′ — yes, not much more space than 100 square feet.    I remember turning down vacation rentals because “they were ONLY 900 square feet”.    🙂    Imagine living with your spouse in space smaller than my walk-in closet at the lake (and it’s a small 2 bedroom house!).    If you’ve always lived ashore and are contemplating moving aboard full-time or becoming commuter cruisers, which entails living aboard “full-time” but only for a specified stretch of months, in our case six months at a time, here are a few tips.

Home Sweet Home!

1. No matter what the subject, if you don’t live like that at home, you won’t live like that aboard a boat.  Living on a boat is not about learning to camp on the water (although it sometimes seems that way).  The key to loving living aboard is to make it your HOME!  So as you’re thinking about a boat, compromises are fine, camping is not.

For example, we never used a pressure cooker on land, but I was convinced from reading all the cruising books that a pressure cooker was essential.  I even learned a bunch of recipes before we moved aboard.  Aboard I used the silly thing maybe once or twice.  I still use it & keep it aboard, but now it’s valued for it’s locking lid, not the pressure cooker part. That’s just me, we have friends that use not one but multiple pressure cookers all at the same time for a single meal.  Find your own style and apply it to everything aboard!  It’s your home!

2.  In that same vein, I refused to live on a boat without a Mr Coffee (I know there are more boat-friendly ways to make what arguably is a better cup of java, but I like my Mr Coffee).   But our boat didn’t have an inverter or any of the necessary A/C power considerations.  David still grimaces when he talks about adding an expensive inverter and generator to power my blankety-blank $9.99 Mr Coffee.  Guilty and we’ve never regretted it (I’ve not noticed David turning down a cup of coffee in the morning either!).  Not only do we have the ability to run Mr Coffee (now converted to Keurig Single Serve) but lots of other “nice-ities” aboard as well.

For those on the fence about going cruising:  Notice the THEME here is that to successfully live on a boat, you must evaluate your current lifestyle and adapt it to life aboard.  Do NOT, under any circumstances, be talked into doing it as a camping trip.  We love camping, it’s FUN … for a short duration, but most of us do not want it as an ongoing lifestyle.    If you want to deliberately cut cruising short before you even have a chance to figure out if you like it, just go the camping route.  It’ll be over faster and you won’t have invested the money to make the boat a real home!  Some may not agree with me, and this is not universal, but overall, this is the trend I’ve noticed among cruisers.

3. Remember that unless the weather is horrendous – torrential rains and lots of wind – you don’t live inside the boat.    Most cruisers spend most of their time outside.  If you HATE being outside, you might consider another lifestyle!

Here’s our “family room” underway … with Bo, the Monitor Windvane, driving while David & I enjoy the view from up on deck!

4.  Our family room is our cockpit.   We try to make it as comfortable as a family room in a house — we use beanbags, portable cushions and throw pillows since by its configuration, we have to walk on the seats.  We also added – had custom made – a new teak cockpit table large enough for cocktails and snacks for 4 or dinner for us.   We eat almost every meal in the cockpit.  Of course, the grill is there too, so it’s a natural place to hang out.

Not our cockpit, ours isn’t this big! But other cruisers use their cockpits for family rooms … and party rooms. 🙂

5.  Hanging out in the cockpit requires a little thought on comfort.  We added isenglass roll down panels to our cockpit canvas – this allows us to create our own “greenhouse” effect.  If it’s raining, the cockpit stays dry, if it’s chilly but sunny, the cockpit heats up just like a sunroom and is comfy and fun almost as soon as the sun comes up. If you cringe at the amount of money it costs to turn your cockpit into a family room, just think of it in terms of adding a family room to your house — then it seems much more cost effective!   🙂

6.  More cockpit considerations — if you’re out there after dark (and dark comes early in the winter, even in the far reaches of the tropics), you’ll need some sort of light.  We’ve used everything from a Davis mega-light to a Coleman lantern.  Candles are nice, but don’t provide enough light to read by.  Our current favorite is this LumiQuest SoLite – a solar powered little LED that uses NO power and costs less than $15!

Our “new” family room with the sun screens down — they keep out the hot UV rays, make decent bug screens and add privacy for showering!

7.  Unfortunately, light often attracts bugs – sunrise and sunset are by far the worst times for bugs, mosquitoes, noseeums, whatever.  Because noseeum screens are so dense that literally NO air circulates through them, we originally opted for regular screens that we could roll up and down to help isolate ourselves from bugs.  And they helped.  But we noticed that even more than bug screens, we needed sun screens – to block the vicious sun rays, especially late afternoon’s slant and heat.  When we redid the cockpit enclosure two years ago, we opted for sunscreens instead.  We find that the ones we chose eliminate about 70% of the UV and are dense enough to keep out larger bugs such as mosquitos and flies just as well as the original bug screens we used.  We’ve accepted the idea that when the noseeums are thick, we simply go inside and close up.  That doesn’t happen often, usually only when the wind totally dies and we’re anchored in a mangrove anchorage such as Russell Bay by Everglades City or the mangrove cayes of Belize.

This is getting long and there’s alot more to add… Stay tuned for upcoming posts on “Turning Your Boat Into Your Home” and “Creating Your Own Space“.

Anyone have anything to add to overall lifestyle aboard and/or cockpit/family room enjoyment?  Please leave a comment and share!


  1. Thanks for this series!

    We just recently bought a 1977 Cal 34 and spent the Holidays aboard. I have to admit that it was more “camping trip” than “liveaboard” but it is a great start.

    We look forward to the rest of the series as they all look like issues we are sorting through.

    – Mike & Kelly Routen

    • Hi Mike & Kelly — I’m still working on the rest of the series … if there are specific questions on how whatever, please e-mail me at and let me know. We share what we’ve learned, but it’s become second nature and we don’t always remember the things that newer cruisers might want to know. THX & Cheers! Jan

  2. Love this article! We’ll start cruising sometime later this year, and it’s good to know that some of my thought are right on. We plan to make our boat our home! We’ve also figured that we wouldn’t spend much time inside the boat, and your post re-assures us. I like the idea of the sunscreens around the cockpit. We already spend a good bit of time in our cockpit .. in our backyard! =)

  3. You are right on target about living aboard. We have been cruising for four years, and we have made our own adjustments. It is nice after a few years to realize you have figured out some strategies that work well and feel comfortable.
    As for bugs, we have found one solution that works really well. We buy Off! candles. They are sold in a lantern shape that sits on a flat surface. There is a candle in the bottom and a pad treated with repellant that hangs from the top of the lantern over the candle. When we feel threatened by insects, we get out the candle and light it. In less than 15 minutes, the cockpit is clear and comfortable. We have used it in Maine and in Chesapeake Bay with universal success. We don’t like going below and closing ourselves in. Too stuffy! If I have less than 2 refills on board, I will seek them out in every store I visit until I find some. They aren’t always easy to find, but they are worth the effort.

  4. We have lived 12 years on our 39′ yacht “Moose”. We circumnavigated the world on it and we had the best of times. We never felt the boat was too small. You can only be in one place at the time and whether that place is 2 meters long or 5, it doesn’t matter, because you are only a tiny person 🙂 We have a center-cockpit and a very nice place for some time alone is either the foredeck or the aft-deck……Just musing when looking at wide horizons or beautiful landscapes….. When you cross oceans, most of the time one is asleep… you’re not in each other’s way either……..In fact, in never crossed our minds that we were in each other’s way……..We loved each other’s company; because we had such wonderful adventures, we wanted to share it all the time with each other 🙂 We have been privileged to have had so much time together instead of having spouses that you hardly see because you need to work so hard to buy stuff you don’t enjoy using anyway 🙂

    • And the friends you make are lifelong and very special! Lucky you! Congrats on the circumnavigation! Cheers — Jan

      • Hi Jan,
        You are so right: we have made so many friends and fortunately, we are in contact with most of them (either by email, or by visiting each other). Very valuable….much more valuable than space 🙂

  5. Jan.
    I am in the late stages of rebuilding a 37ft centre cockpit silboat for extended cruising, and I am having a hard time deciding on whether to have a head shower or as you use an external cockpit shower. Any thought would be appreciated
    John and Joan

    • We only have a shower in the cockpit and it works fine for us. Moose is steel so we don’t want any water in the bilge……On rainy days we collect water and have a shower on the aft deck, those are the best!

    • Hi John! Irene echos our sentiments. Winterlude has a nice separate shower stall, but we don’t want the extra moisture below. We shower in the cockpit – no cockpit shower head, just a pressurized garden spray type jerry rig. Some cruisers prefer a “real” shower and that’s David’s biggest compromise – he loves standing for 10 minutes under hot hot water with real water pressure and unlimited water. I don’t mind showering in the cockpit, but I get really irritated when another boat comes in and drops anchor right on our stern right at shower time! It’s OK if that’s the only spot left in a crowded anchorage, but often we’re the only boat in the area. We must have a bullseye on us that says “anchor here & tick off Jan’s shower!”. 🙂

  6. Still catching up on your wonderful posts Jan. I really enjoy them, because you offer real experience and helpful advice. Hope you still get this feedback even although this post is several months old. We have a 2000 Catalina 34 which we are fitting out now as our ‘home’ rather than our ‘tent’.Thankyou.

    • Hi John! Thanks for your comments! Yes, I usually, although not always, see every comment on CommuterCruiser, no matter how old the post. 🙂 Enjoy getting ready — it’s still one of my favorite phases of cruising, the anticipation is always wonderful. In our case, the cruising exceeded the expectation, but I was concerned given how excited we were and how many YEARS it took us to actually let loose those dock lines! Cheers! Jan

  7. Most people ,living on land, look at me with a mixture of admiration and horror, when i tell them we have lived on board of Curtsy for 12 years now. She is a Fraser,42′ centre cockpit, built in 1978, and she is incredibly comfortable. We enclosed the cockpit also, which is an extra room in the spring,summer and fall.
    I grow micro vegies on board, start them in March and they keep right on growing till well into November. We also have a bonsai on board, a Japanese Hornbeam , which is 68 years old!! Our sailboat is fully insulated,at the time of buying her, we had no idea how important that is! Love your articles, may we meet some day,out there on the waters!

  8. We are in Alaska, and you know, the bugs can be ferocious. We have found that the Thermacell line of bug repellers are definitely the way to go. It is a small hand held device that has a repellant soaked pad, and a small propane heater that you light with it’s internal sparker. They can be purchased at Amazon, or any outdoors store. We put one in the cockpit, and the bugs skedaddle. Much better than an open flame candle, or the obnoxious smoking bug coils. It’s part of making the cockpit the “lounge” , especially when we are usually in such beautiful surroundings.

  9. Excellent post. Thank you. We are still in the planning stages of buying a boat and sailing off with our kids for a few years. This is helpful info for us.

    • Hi Floss! Be SURE to follow – a family that’s been around the world growing up on a sailboat! Great info, Behan is a great writer! Cheers! Jan

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