Is A Sailboat The Best Place To Be In A Pandemic?

sailing in a pandemic

2020 has been the year that many people have re-evaluated their lives. It’s thrown into question how safe we really are in our existing environments, and made a lot of people look for ways out.

This year we’ve seen a lot of talk on forums from people wanting to sell up, buy a sailboat and start a life at sea. Some have realised that life’s too short, and that waiting isn’t an option for them anymore. Others believe that during a crisis, a sailboat is the safest place to be.

is a sailboat the best place to be during a pandemic?
Is a sailboat the best place to be during a pandemic?

We fully back anyone that wants to try out this lifestyle for themselves. It may stick, it may not, but you’ll have an incredible time figuring it all out. Whether or not to do it during a pandemic though, that we’re not so sure about.

The grass is always greener. Having lived on board throughout this year and all it’s many surprises, we thought we would offer our opinions on whether a sailboat really is the best place to be during a pandemic.

What Makes A Sailboat The Best (Or Worst) Place To Be During A Pandemic?

a girl sitting on a bench thinking about sailing during a pandemic
Is sailing during a pandemic a good thing?

Are You Really Isolated On A Sailboat?

Perhaps the reason why so many see a sailboat as an attractive place to be during a global pandemic is that you’re pretty darn isolated out at sea. Experienced sailors have learnt to live from provisions for months at a time, so it may be possible to isolate for a month or more before needing to head to a supermarket (but remember, if you can do this on a boat you can do it even easier on land). You could be all alone at anchor with no one to infect you, and only take a trip to shore once a month.

That being said, you’re going to need to know what you’re doing for this to be the case. You’ll need a fully equipped boat with a watermaker (or large water tanks), diesel and gas to last you and you’ll need to know how to really make food last – unless you’re happy living from tins for weeks on end. You’ll probably also want to know how to fish to keep your supplies up – though in many countries fishing and swimming was banned too.

You’ll have to get good at provisioning if you want to visit the shops less

Basically, it isn’t as easy as you might think to live on board for extended periods of time without going to shore. There will come a time when you have to head to the supermarket just like you would on land. The difference with being on a boat is that you have little (or no) option of getting food delivered. So for some, being in a house is far more safe than on a boat.

You’re Used To Isolation When You Live On A Sailboat – Pandemic Or Not!

Just us and the cat

There are many stretches of time when you find yourself alone, or with only the people you sail with. It can be quite a lonely way of life with only nature for company. People who live on a sailboat have often found ways to overcome the isolation, through internet connections or other distractions. Or they are just comfortable with the quiet life.

When people were plunged into lockdown with no warning it was hard for those who hadn’t had time to adjust. For those already living on a sailboat, lockdown didn’t have quite the same impact.

For people struggling to adapt to being around their partners 24/7, I wrote a post that might be useful. It’s based on the hardships and battles Adam and I had to overcome when we first started living on a sailboat, and if you’re finding it tough you should know you really aren’t alone.

The pandemic didn’t affect us in that way, because it was something we’d already dealt with months ago. To be honest, lockdown didn’t feel different to normal life in that respect which was a big plus for living on a sailboat during the pandemic.

You May Already Work From Home / You’ve Found Ways To Make A Living In Isolation

sailing during a pandemic and working from home
Working from home is normal for us!

If you live on a sailboat then chances are you’ve already found ways to make a living (or you don’t need to!)

Working from home was something we’d already adjusted to a long time ago, so it didn’t make any difference to our lives on board. We already had our little home routines. We had got over the motivation hurdle early on and worked out ways to stay on track. We’d already mastered video calls and getting dressed in the morning. The pandemic didn’t change our day to lives in terms of the working week.

You’re At The Mercy Of The Weather On A Sailboat During A Pandemic

sailing during a pandemic
You can’t control the weather

When Greece announced a second lockdown we were sheltering from very high winds in a nice little bay. The winds had just started, and were forecast to blow for roughly a week.

We were given three days notice before all sailing was banned. This meant we either had to risk moving in horrible weather conditions, and let’s face it, Adam and I aren’t the most competent sailors, move illegally once the weather passed and risk a hefty fine, or stay put and pray the wind didn’t change to an unfavourable direction.

rain on a sailboat during lockdown
Lockdown rains

We had booked into a boatyard for over winter, when the weather here can be pretty horrible. But the boat yard we’d booked was miles away. We’d planned to spend about a month making our way over there, hiding out from bad weather and exploring along the way. This was no longer an option, and we felt pretty scared if I’m completely honest. We either risked the weather, or the Greek authorities (I’m not sure which is worse).

In the end we managed to find a boat yard only an hours sail away that would take us for the winter, but it was a nerve wracking few weeks not knowing what to do, and we took a risk moving the boat during lockdown with big fines that we couldn’t afford as penalties.

Many Have Been Stuck In No Mans Land On A Sailboat During The Pandemic

We’ve read about quite a few cruisers now who have been stuck out at anchor and refused entry onto land. The rules of the pandemic left sailors in a bit of a grey area, and countries didn’t tend to have much of a plan for what people living on board should be allowed to do.

People were turned away from docking to collect drinking water, banned from getting food from the supermarket and even refused entry into countries they’d arrived in and left to sail somewhere else in awful weather conditions. Quarantine rules meant you had to stay in a designated anchorage to wait out your two weeks and if that anchorage was horrifically rolly and you literally couldn’t sleep for two weeks then so be it!

Facing Expensive Fees During The Pandemic

Cruisers we spoke to in the Caribbean had a very tricky time navigating the pandemic. They ended up stuck there during hurricane season, but to try and escape oncoming weather meant checking into new islands where they have to pay huge amounts for covid tests alongside entry into the country. When you’re cruising on a budget a setback like this can cost you big time.

You’re Far From Family, Friends And Your Health Care System In A Pandemic

Cruisers take this risk knowingly and are mentally prepared for something to happen to them or a loved one while they’re far from home. But during a global pandemic? That’s a very different situation to the one they signed up for.

Firstly, the risk of getting ill abroad or family and friends getting ill is suddenly much higher. Secondly, with flights being cancelled the option to get back in a hurry if you needed is suddenly gone with little to no warning. Thirdly, if you did fall ill you might well be in a place that doesn’t speak you language or have the same health care system you’re used to. That’s a scary thought when all you want is to be surrounded by people who understand you!

You’re Used To Being Stuck In A Small Space – Sort Of

One of the hard things about boat life is being stuck in a tiny space. When you live on a sailboat you get used to it and you learn ways to cope, which you may never have had to do if you live in a small house on land.

That being said, there is always light at the end of the tunnel for sailors. The long passage will end, you can jump in the sea and have a swim or head to shore for a long walk on land. Stuck in isolation on a sailboat meant you literally could only walk a few steps before you had to turn around again. It was so hard to ‘stretch your legs’ properly and get any sort of meaningful exercise.

The Pandemic Bought Community Spirit To Some

One big thing we really lacked mentally when sitting through two lockdowns on a sailboat was the community spirit all our land based friends were experiencing.

We clapped for the NHS in an empty boat yard and we had no one to bring us food and water when we couldn’t leave the boat. We couldn’t borrow a jigsaw puzzle from the lady down the road, or make rainbow posters to put in our windows. We were alone, and we really felt it. It took a big toll on us mentally.

When the pandemic hit we were plunged into a very different world, and the reality and expectations we had been living and wanted for the future were very drastically changed for those living on land and on the water.

Living on a sailboat comes with its own risks, but there are usually systems in place that make this life easier – being able to access land for food and water, being able to fly home to family if necessary, being able to move the boat to keep safe from weather and find shelter. When these options are taken from you pretty much over night it only adds to an already very uncertain situation.

Same view, different day in lockdown

In summary, moving onto a sailboat during a pandemic because you want to feel safe is probably not the best idea. If anything, the pandemic has made us question our lifestyle choices and we’ve certainly found times when we would have a felt a lot safer and more protected in a land home surrounded by community (even if we couldn’t actually see them!)

If the pandemic has forced you to look at what you really want from life and chase your dreams now rather than later then go for it. I can promise you won’t regret it!

We’d love to hear how the pandemic has affected you in the comments below.

learn to sail for free
greek lockdown
sailboat provisioning

4 thoughts on “Is A Sailboat The Best Place To Be In A Pandemic?”

  1. Well written Emily. It has been so difficult for so many sailors, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
    The pandemic for ourselves docked in a Marina was pretty comfortable in comparison to being at anchor, but still had its shortfalls. Naturally the supermarket and pharmacy were still accessible, but the early summer heat and the tempting sea diamonds twinkling bewitchingly on the warm sea surface made our hearts ache to be at anchor.
    We frequently reflected on how lucky we were compared to our pals in the Caribbean. We most certainly felt safer in our Marina bubble than our friends and family back in the UK.
    Being limited to no exercise being allowed outside the Marina, led me to ogling other boats. Then I fell in love with one. I constantly dragged Jonathan to look, pointing out all the features on the deck that were on my ‘tick list’. It piqued his interest when I had to research what it was. Below deck was ticking more boxes than I could have imagined. During my research I was blown away when I discovered the boat was for sale on a Turkish website. It was meant to be. In one month we sold Tickety Boo and purchased Shim al Hawa (soon to be Grace).
    We managed 2 glorious months in the Ionian before returning to MDR where once again we have a lot of boat jobs to occupy us. The pandemic most certainly strengthened our belief that we made the right choice for us.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this story Kim, it’s so lovely to hear something so good come from something so hard. We need to meet up again next year so you can show off your new home! Xxx

  2. Hi Emily
    I’ve grown up sailing on and off but I’ve never had my own yacht. After 30 years of ignoring my pining for a yacht my wife suddenly announced a month ago she would like to live on a boat for a year or two. Being cynical I have held off getting too excited (as I can’t face being let down if she changes her mind) however your blog is written so well with so many genuine insights I think it will be a real help for her to see and feel some of your experiences .. And starting from such an inexperienced beginning all the more real from her point of view.
    Either way, I just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying the read. For me a mixture of conjured memories and magical moments. I love your great big windlass solution to really put that awful manhandling the chain business to bed (I’ve been there. It really does spoil the Experience!) and the joy of your first long voyage, catching a fish in your favourite bay, dolphins in the bow waves and the dilemmas of crossed anchor chains vs wind exposure or keeping going. It all conjures memories and focusses the mind on so many real world decisions on a boat…. I’ve done it for days or weeks but never months or years.
    Does it ever tire you, do you ever have second thoughts? Or does the promised lifestyle and freedom continue to trump it all; even when on hold for so long in a Pandemic?
    Thank you so much. What a great end to our own Pandemic journey to read your story that I find so liberating and deeply inspiring.
    I’ve bought a couple of your recommended books on buying boats (in the post!) and am thinking hard about the financing and working aboard.
    Maybe I’ll pull alongside and share a glass with you both one day… If we do indeed take the plunge! (I promise not to cross chains!).

    I wish you endless adventures and happy sailing!

    1. You have no idea how much it means to get a message like that – it honestly makes writing all these posts worthwhile, so thank you for taking the time to write.
      I think if your wife has shown any sort of interest then she should go for it. You only regret the things you don’t do! And there’s no shame in backing out if you find it isn’t working after a week/month/year – not that she would as this way of life is kind of addictive!
      I have to admit that I’m now not sure I can be happy living in a house. There are certainly times when having endless water/electricity/security is more than appealing and I definitely have times when I pine for the safety of a house, but after a few days on land I become restless and miss the changing views, the closeness to nature and the simplicity. I think the perfect solution would be having enough money to put the boat in a marina safely every once in a while and take a ‘holiday’ on land. If we could do this then I don’t think I would ever question the longevity of this lifestyle!
      I am actually in the editing stages of creating an ebook for anyone wanting to start a life like this…it’s everything we’ve learnt from going through the whole process and a lot more. It starts from the very beginning of the process, selling up, finding the right boat for you etc. and includes things like ideas for ways to find work while aboard so I think you might find it valuable as you’re in the early stages. It’s turned into a bit of a monster but I hope that it’s full of useful information and ideas. I would love to gift you a copy if you think it would be useful for you and your wife – just send an email to [email protected] and I’ll send it over when it’s ready!
      Thanks again, and tell your wife from me that it will be the best decision she ever makes!! Please do keep us updated on your adventures. Emily

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