Sailboat Life: The Challenges of Living Aboard in Close Quarters as a Family

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I asked for suggestions for topics that my teens (Jaedin, 19 and Abyni, 15) could write blog posts about from their perspective as ‘kids’ living the cruising life. One of the suggestions was, “How do you deal with being stuck in close quarters with your parents?”

When I read Jaedin that question, he said, “You should write that post about having to live with teenagers. You’re not annoying to live with at all.”

Which, honestly, is probably mostly true… unless you hate picking up after yourself. Then I imagine I’m really annoying, because it drives me to pick my ass to have to hound anyone to do basic things like pick up after themselves or remind them to do their night of cooking/cleaning once a week. I don’t suppose that is different for any other mom out there, so I guess that’s that.

In general, I’m probably just pretty boring to live with. I am fine reading, writing and playing solitaire. I don’t care for group games (unless I’m in that space and it’s somewhat quick) but I like conversation. I like listening to and singing along with Abyni and her ukulele (even though she’s learning, so she plays the same songs over and over), I dislike daily TV/movies (I don’t care to watch many myself at all, but I can ignore it to a point). I dislike background ‘noise’ (ie: video game sounds… UGH) but I’m usually fine with music, although I generally prefer silence if I’m by myself. So yeah, I’m fairly boring to live with, probably aggravating if you don’t like to hear me complain that your TV show is making me crazy.

All that being said, there ARE some challenges to living on a boat. Some of them are the same as they were on land, especially if you homeschool, so your kids are around all day Winking smile.

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1. Personal Space. Our boat is a pretty good size. Okay, it seems pretty damn big. There are four separate ‘staterooms’. Two have double beds, two (I think) are queen size. That means that we each have our own space where we can go and shut the door. This was a requirement before we even moved on board as far as I was concerned. I knew from our years of living on the road in a bus that privacy and having a space of your own was pretty important, if not absolutely essential.

2. Noise. Our house wasn’t terribly soundproof. I could usually hear a hint of the TV show that the girls watched in the living room, even in my bedroom with the door shut. The speakers for the sound system were up against the wall that was on the other side of my bathtub, so a relaxing bath when anyone was watching a movie/listening to music was impossible.

Still, it’s a little bit worse on the boat. Not a whole lot, actually, but it is. I can hear Abyni practicing her ukulele and singing pretty much anywhere (thank goodness she can sing well!), I can hear shows/movies playing in the salon, anyone can hear music when we play it (thus causing some grumpiness in the mornings from the late sleepers and from the people who want quiet in the evening).

The main problem with sound on the boat is that we don’t have air conditioning, so we’re essentially living outside. All of our windows are always open, so sound carries and flows through our entire floating home.

3. Personality Clashes. When you’re at home on land and you have a fight/disagreement or just get sick of the other humans in your life, going to your room is an option that pretty much blocks them out. Not only that, but if you’re really in need of some major space, you can go hang out at a friends’ house or go to the mall, etc.

Yes, there are places to go here. Someone can take the dinghy and go to shore or go swimming or paddleboarding. However there are a few more limits to that on the boat. Not to mention the aforementioned limits to privacy ON the boat. I for one find that I want to be ALONE, but in my OWN HOME when I’m feeling peevish or want to be away from humans. It’s a little bit harder to kick humans out of the house when its floating and its evening or the weather is bad.

Get several days or weeks worth of crappy weather and everyone can be on edge with no reprieve from being right next to other humans. In our case, we had some people who wanted to chill out and enjoy movies/TV shows on dvd… and that’s great unless you’re the one just wanting QUIET. Still, its doable and we all make it work. Yes, there are times when I wish people would all go away, but its not that different than I felt back on land in the house.

4. Socializing or lack thereof. When you live in such tight quarters and you’re living an unusual life, there is a bit of seclusion from the outside world that’s bound to happen. If you’re the sociable type, there are times and places where there are plenty of socializing opportunities (especially if you have the kind of budget that allows for bars/restaurants and spending money on things *which we didn’t*). There are going to be places and times where you need to deal with solitude, though. Especially when you’re traveling with others who prefer the solitude. In our case, I think we’re a strange mix of both, although by and large most of us enjoy seem to enjoy the solitude.

5. Doing without. Living aboard has a lot of perks and bonuses that most of us wouldn’t give up without a fight. However, there are definitely some challenges that make it hard. If you’ve read our blog, you know we don’t currently have a refrigerator (so little/no chocolate/cheese, good mood food). We have no hot water, so showers are a little bit of a chore. In order to do this cruising thing sooner, we’re on a tight budget, so there are a lot of things that we’ve had to give up. We eat a lot of boring meals with rice and beans because they’re super cheap. This tends to get really old after a while and no matter how much you think its not going to bother you, its pretty damn hard to never complain, which can add to the stress and overall sense of… not the best attitudes.

Now, at the same time, you get the chance to really have some awesome time together as a family, and in my opinion, those FAR outweigh all of the the ‘challenges’.

  • Late night family card games

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  • Jumping off of the boat and swimming for hours in the ocean

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  • Swimming with freaking dolphins together!!!

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  • Exploring uninhabited islands

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  • Cooking dinner around a campfire on a deserted beach

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  • Digging huge holes in the sand and building sand castles

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  • Cheering each other on whilst learning to wind surf.

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  • Snorkeling and seeing all sorts of new coral and fish.

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  • Discovering new places together.

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  • I have to add, even though it might not be ‘FUN’, there is something to be said for the awesome feeling that comes from everyone pulling together as a team and accomplishing things when everything seems to be going wrong… and this crew had plenty of opportunity to do just that. It was a great thing to see.

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  • Not to mention all of those late night conversations where dad told all of those crazy stories from his college years… (He wouldn’t let me video for SOME reason, so all I have are photos of the kids looking shocked or laughing Winking smile)

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And I’m sure I could list so many more…

So far, that is our experience on this wild adventure. I’m sure it would have been far different if we’d had the opportunity to do this earlier when the kids were younger. I wish we had. However, this is our experience, so take it with a grain of salt!

Cruisers, what has been your biggest challenge relationships-wise?

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