10 things every woman should learn before moving aboard (plus bonus Dad’s coffee recipe)
Moving from the secure land on the boat can be scary, but just at first. Portofino, Italy - photo by @tamedwinds
So it’s decided. You are selling all your belongings and moving on a boat. But once all the excitement of finally getting to this idea evaporates a little – you start thinking. Many questions arise in your head, like where to start? How to prepare? What else do I need to know besides that I want Hallberg-Rassy 42 to be my future boat? How do I know that living on a boat is for me in the first place?
Recently, on one sailing group ran by women who sail, I’ve read a piece of good advice on how to prepare yourself for sailing life:
“Move into your closet, take a bucket for the toilet, go stand in the sprinkler at 3 a.m. in mildewed / sweaty foul weather jacket, don't take a shower but every third day and then only use 2 gals of water, unplug your refrigerator, get up every hour thru the night to look out the window, drive back and forth in front of your house half a dozen times before you decide where to park...that will be a good start.”
That may sound a bit too drastically. However, whether you plan to move on a boat with your special someone, the best friend, or on your own, or you just start your career as a long-distance captain, these are things that every woman (and a man) should consider getting the hang of before moving on the boat for longer than a day sailing:
Imagine moving out of your huge climate-controlled home into a small space. A small space that moves! Constantly bumping into things and each other. Would you feel comfortable in it? If you think you can do that, you probably can live on a boat, too. But before you move, these are absolute musts:
- Stop buying. Home decorations and garden furniture from Ikea won’t fit into your 42 footer. You will not wear fancy dresses, shoes, and jewelry. Depending on your sailing area, all you will wear on the boat are shorts and t-shirts, or heavy weather sailing gear. And remember – boat handles best when she’s not overly weighed down.
- Move to a kindle type reader vs paper, there are waterproof ones, too. However, you will need nautical charts in paper in case all your electronics fail at sea.
- Your kitchen equipment must fit into one cabinet. Yes yes, all of it, even big fat juicer that you only used once! If you can’t adapt what you already have, it’s not a bad idea to get a set of stackable cookware set - it will save you tons of space and declutter your boat galley. Besides, non-stick pans take a lot less water to clean than traditional ones, and less water used – that means less power used running the watermaker.
- Get used to fewer cosmetics. Coconut oil for your skin, coral-friendly sunscreen, toothpaste, and dry shampoo bar. That’s all you will need! Ok, maybe you will want more, but that will simply not fit into your shower, and possibly into your daily routine.
- It takes longer than you think to get rid of your stuff unless you just give it away. Sell all you don’t need on Craigslist or on local ad sites (all Euro will count when you need to change unexpectedly broken engine), and give away to charity what you can’t sell. Yeah, you could probably put it all on storage, but you’d have to pay for it and most probably you will never need that again. Hey, but at least we will have another season of Storage Wars!
Long story short, imagine that you must fit everything you need to live - bathroom, closet, kitchen, and bedroom - into one suitcase.
Do you seriously need all of it? Greece - photo by @tamedwinds
- Learn new skills
Like… flush the toilet 10 times every time you pee and throw the toilet paper in a waste bin after you clean up. Ok ok, joking! Remember - unless you have a couple of millions on your bank account, you will need to do something for a living. And if your current job can’t be done remotely, you should think of learning new skills before you leave:
- Learn sewing, knitting, or some crafting. Some serious sewing skills might be worth pursuing, as there are all kinds of useful things to sew on a boat, such as stash bags, winch covers, cushion covers, 4-way wind scoops, stack packs, etc., not mentioning fixing your own sails. If you can do it yourself – you will save tons of money. If you can do it for others – you will earn some for another ice cream bucket. Maybe you can teach others, too! Sailors go crazy about Sailrite heavy duty sewing machines for a reason – they are very durable and have an extraordinary database of all kinds of sewing projects and resources. We all know it’s a part of marketing, but at least it’s useful for us! In other words, find a useful skill and master it – it will pay off.
- Or try something completely different, like editing videos for a blog. Some liveaboards make a living from YouTube – Sailing La Vagabonde, Sailing SV Delos, Sailing Uma, or Sailing Nandji – just a few big names (but we actually like small ones like MadCatSailing, and Wind Hippie Sailing Holly Martin). Hey, maybe you will be the next big hit? And even if you won’t be doing it for yourself – you can become a freelancer and do it for others. The same can be applied to any of your hobbies, so I hope you got an idea!
- Depending on where you're planning to cruise, consider learning the language – e.g. Spanish can save your back in Mexico and Central America. Duolingo.com is a good place to start. And the basic version is free!
- Develop your mechanical and electrical skills by doing diesel maintenance courses, outboard motor maintenance courses, any kind of plumbing and basic electrical, and get familiar with all kinds of power tools and how to use them. Throw in some carpentry and you will be all set. You will be so useful you will have all kinds of invites prior to getting your own boat! Boats always require work. And it doesn’t stop.
Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual by Nigel Calder can save you a few bucks. If you manage to read it - photo by Amazon
- Master new cooking skills
You see, you won’t be able to hit the nearest store for milk and bread in the middle of the Ocean, and most probably you’ll be doing your shopping once a month. So learn to cook out of what you have!
- Cooking with limited pans & dishes is a useful skill to learn when preparing to go cruising. In order to conserve the water for washing, practice one-pot cooking. My Chicken on the Boat recipe!
- Try out several different recipes for thermal cookers, or pressure cookers. It will be life-saving in rough weather conditions.
- Getting a hang of pickled fish, eggs, and veggies might be just a life savior out in the Ocean since you don’t want to waste the food but don’t have a room left in the freezer. Or maybe… don’t have a freezer at all. Since I’ve mentioned fish, how about investigating a little about fishing, with a focus on toxic coral reef fish? Check out the topic about ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP), and be cautious about what fish you eat, especially if it’s caught in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, or the Caribbean Sea between the latitudes of 35°N and 35°S.
- Read all you can find about provisioning, food storage tips, storing eggs and veggies without a refrigerator, keeping bugs out of your stored food, managing the spares, organizing the refrigerator. What about this book?
- Learn to bake bread, since you can’t buy it fresh each morning. There are millions of recipes online, try a few of them so you know what you like. I’ve recently tried this simple and fuss-free one.
If you are spending your life drinking coffee from a coffee machine, it’s just about time to learn to make it on the stove. Aeropress or Moka pots work well, but my favorite one is made in Jazva! I know it’s more fuss, and it’s definitely not suitable for stormy weather, but the results are worth it. We don’t make it the Turkish way by pouring cold water over the coffee powder and sugar. I like it Dad’s way and sugar-free (waistline-friendly). So here’s the recipe for two, but I drink it all myself:
Boil a cup (~250 ml / 8.5 oz) of water in Jazva, remove it from the stove, pour a half the water back to the cup – you will need it in a minute. Add 3.5 teaspoons of fine-grounded coffee into the Jazva with boiling water and stir well for some 20-30 seconds. Put it back on the stove and cook on low heat.
Hey hey, don’t move anywhere! It will start boiling and foam very fast. As soon as you see the foam rising, remove the Jazva from your stove, pour the remaining hot water you’ve left aside, and carefully stir for another 20-30 seconds without touching the bottom of your Jazva.
This careful stirring and low boiling trick will make the coffee grounds on the bottom burn a little, and it will add some good taste to your drink. Put the Jazva back on the stove and wait for the coffee to foam again. Remove from the fire and let sit for 5 minutes. Enjoy the best coffee ever in your favorite mug!
Proper Turkish coffee in jazva - photo by @tamedwinds
- Start to workout at home
And I don’t mean a treadmill, obviously. Think of training bands, yoga, Pilates, balance exercises, pull-ups, planks, push-ups, sit-ups, light weights (maybe you can use that set of stackable cookware you’ve got?). How about practice swimming? Even good swimmers can work on their technique. Another way to build up strength, stamina, and endurance as well! Think of any “portable workout” that doesn’t require much in the way of space or equipment. You will definitely need to be in good shape on your boat. If you do it at home (boat), don’t forget 4 most important things of any exercise, even if your exercise is a bicycle ride:
- Don’t skip a warm-up. You don’t want to hurt yourself in the middle of the Ocean. Actually, you don’t want to hurt yourself anywhere. Run, jump, warm up all your joints and muscles.
- Do your exercise correctly. If you’ve just seen that cool yoga asana on YouTube, please please please don’t try this at home! I highly recommend finding a professional trainer before you leave and learn to do it properly. Don’t leave it for the last moment – it might take a year before you master to do your exercises right.
- Stretch after the workout. You will reduce the risk of aching muscles, relax, and, well, now you know it’s really over.
- Don’t forget the water. Especially if you do cardio during the Caribbean summer, you will sweat a lot, so have a bottle of water nearby.
I’m following @amandabisk on Instagram for my daily workouts. She has plenty of holiday-friendly workouts that don’t require much equipment, and the workout is different each time. But there are literally hundreds of exercises that can be done on the boat. If I were to recommend one piece of equipment to invest in, it would be a suspension trainer – it occupies almost no space and can be attached to anything on the boat or on the shore, and you can progress at your own rate. I’ve been using TRX GO Bodyweight trainer in my club, it is durable and has a good price/quality ratio, but I strongly advise to learn exercises with a professional instructor before buying it.
Workout when living on the boat is fun. Nida, Lithuania - photo by @tamedwinds
Yes, you could actually learn to sail before you start your sailing life!
- Start with reading – we have a list of our favorite and most useful books prepared here and here.
- Subscribe to sailing and DIY YouTube channels, because after sailing, you will need to fix it. Haha. We found Sail life very useful. Or use the advice of our good buddies from SV Sailing Saetta and check out North Sails, who have quite a bit of information on their website, plus some books. You might be interested in having a look at their how-to’s here, especially the ones tagged "Cruising".
- Some Facebook groups, like DIY Sailors, are useful, too. For example, I recently saw a guy who changed old teak in his cockpit, sourcing all his teak from old patio tables off Craigslist. What an idea!
- Listen to podcasts. Andy Schell's 59 North and Sailing in the Mediterranean are among our favorite ones. Unfortunately, Sailing Anarchy is no longer active.
- Try practicing sailing whether you get a chance. How about getting out on other people’s boats as often as possible? You can learn something from every opportunity. Even if the boats are different than what you hope to own someday, the confidence and experience managing weather and stress will still be transferable and valuable. The more time you spend around boats and sailors, the more you will learn and every bit of that knowledge will help you to make the right decisions about the boat and cruising choices.
- Join sailing school. Widely recognized licenses such as RYA or ICC will open more opportunities when renting a charter boat, chartering your own boat, negotiating with boat insurance companies for your own vessel insurance policy and many more. Don't forget a VHF radio course to feel more confident when entering the marina, in need of help in dangerous situations, but what’s most important – so you know you can’t use the Channel 16 for a friendly barter with a neighboring catamaran.
- Do you have a local yacht club? Go join it! Most clubs also have a huge library of books and magazines to use and read, plus weekly gathering nights. You’ll meet some nice people and have an opportunity to crew boards for local regattas.
- Work on the boat. If you think of a superyacht, remember you need a special license (which is good to have), but the job itself might be more room cleaning and champagne delivery than sailing. So how about spending a season crewing on a tall ship instead?
Don't wait! There are tons of ways to get on-the-water experience without owning a boat!
How about spending a season crewing on a tall ship? Klaipeda, Lithuania - photo by @tamedwinds
- Learn to read the weather forecasts and nautical charts
- When it comes to weather, it basically depends on what part of the world you are, since every region uses different models and radars, so it's always a different map, site or app. For example, Windy.com is for the US and partly the EU. Swellmap.com is good for the UK.
Learning to read nautical charts is as important as knowing road traffic signs when you are on a busy street during the rush hour. I’ve been practicing reading charts on the Office of Coast Survey website, where you can find North America coastal waters and some regions of Pacific Ocean nautical charts with all symbols. They have lots of resources and free pdf’s to download, you can create your own custom charts, and get chart viewers.
Ability to read nautical charts is as important as knowing road traffic signs - photo by @tamedwinds
- Master main nautical knots
First things first: learn how to tie a bowline behind your back. And later – just dig into the never-ending world of the knots! We have the whole article dedicated to 5 essential (and beautiful) nautical knots for everyday situations. And Animated Knots is a great source to learn or practice your skills.
Some nautical knots are easier than others. Giżycko lake, Poland - photo by @tamedwinds
- Start planning for emergencies on the water early
Yes, lifelines, lifejackets, life rafts and means of communication are essential, but I mean another thing: even if science says that boating is good for health, it’s time to think of your well-being before you move on the boat:
- Take an emergency medicine course if you’re able to. Learn to treat emergencies that are most likely to occur at sea when there’s no help nearby, like hypothermia.
- Think of your own health condition and health issues of your future crew – would you know how to deal with it in case of an emergency?
- Investigate whether you need any vaccination in your future sailing area. Some vaccines need to be done more than once so it will take time. That’s why it’s important not to leave it to the last moment if you don’t want to delay your sailing plans. Check the mandatory ones with your doctor, also, noonsite.com is a good source of information on vaccination, along with other extremely useful cruising reports.
Since we are on the subject, pay a visit to the doctor yourself, do the routine checkups, visit a dentist and oculist.
Start planning for emergencies on the water early. Masurian Lake District, Poland - photo by @tamedwinds
- Start researching and “window shopping” for boats so you know what you want when you are ready
Where? Well, mainly everywhere:
- yachtworld.com, boat24.com, boats.com, boattrader.com, theyachtmarket.com and many others may be an obvious first option. Facebook sell/buy groups like Great Sailboats for Sale or Sailing Vessels For Sale By Owner, Craiglist, some local sites are a great option when you know what you want.
- In case you don’t know what you want, read all about it! Sailing groups, blogs, YouTube reviews, attending boat shows, talking to people… well, there’s no single suggestion. But what we can advise, is to take a notebook and make a list of things that are necessary for you. For example, our list includes things like a central cockpit for safety, aft cabin for comfort, a space for washing machine for me, and many other things to fit into 42 feet. We have agreed on 5 models that we love to narrow our search, and lots of, like LOTS of ones we don’t even look at. And obviously, set the budget you are willing to spend. It will help you, but in many cases, it will be hard to find the boat which is The One. So happy searching and researching!
"Window shopping", Wittier, Alaska - photo by @tamedwinds
- Be fanatical about being clean & tidy. Boats stink if not cleaned daily
- First thing first: learn tricks to fight mold. But don’t go too crazy, some chemicals are harmful not only to you but to the environment, too! In general, environmental organizations advice to avoid cleaning products containing the following:
- Ammonia: Toxic when inhaled, swallowed, or touched, potentially deadly when mixed with other chemicals.
- Antibacterials & Disinfectants: These include a whole list of ingredients ranging from Bleach to Triclosan. Overuses of these types of products possibly contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Butyl Glycol, Ethylene Glycol, Monobutyl: Very common in most general cleaners and is dangerous to the kidney, liver, and nervous system.
- Chlorine Bleach: Extremely strong, corrosive, and irritating to both the eyes and lungs.
- Petroleum Solvents: Commonly found in many cleaning products as surfactants. Other derivatives, such as formaldehyde, can be found in a variety of common household cleaners.
- Phosphates: Harmful to aquatic life and are often found in detergents and dish soaps.
- Phthalates: Disruptive hormones which are comprised of complex synthetic fragrances.
- Sounds creepy? I found this awesome list of non-toxic cleaning products on Sailors for the sea page:
- Thetford Boat Wash from Wolf’s Marine – multi-purpose wash that removes the toughest soils such as dirt, road film, dried-on bugs, bird droppings, and more.
- Concrobium, 100% natural mold cleaner completely safe to people, pets and plants, and provides not only removal of existing mold but also protects against new mold.
- Meguiar's® Marine/RV Boat Wash that safely removes scum, grime, and dirt without stripping wax protection.
- Shurhold Yacht Brite Wash for fiberglass, clear coat, metal, rubber and painted surfaces.
- Did you know that some vinegar spray can do a miracle? Why don’t you learn to make your own cleaning products?
- If you have a watermaker, a quick freshwater rinse after a wet passage will remove most salt from your cockpit and deck.
- You also want to learn from not your own mistakes on how to wash lines. Throwing them into a washing machine might seem a good idea, but think in advance if you have a couple of spare days to untangle them. Just saying…
Boats stink if not cleaned daily. Dodecanese islands, Greece - photo by @tamedwinds
Living on the boat is probably not for everyone. But if you decide to make this step – we promise, you will enjoy the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets you could ever imagine! Have more practical advice? Drop your comment below! And we wish you fair winds!
Good morning from Poros, Greece - photo by @tamedwinds
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@Wiola – thank you so much! It’s the best compliment when someone finds things that you love useful. That encourages to write more :)
@Patty – First of all – thank you for reading! Being a woman myself I wanted to dedicate it to my sailing sisters, and write it from my own perspective. I think men should know 100 things to sail with us :) Shhhh, don’t tell them! But on a serious note, I think these are things anyone – man or woman – should know.
This is the best-organised piece of advice I’ve read. Many of them I knew in the back of my head, but having them written by experienced sailors, makes me do my due planning (incl. exercising!).
Thanks a lot. Great job!
Not sure why these are 10 things only women should know. I would think men would have to know how to sail, knot, downsize, get in tight spaces etc.
@Anna – The only proper way ;)