Sailing Journey: Lessons Learnt, Part 1

You learn a plethora of lessons and skills when you live on a boat. Especially, when you choose to live aboard for 21 years.

I’m sharing with you what I’ve learnt whilst living on a boat for a very long time. Mainly, for those that are toying with the idea of becoming a live-aboard. Especially for longer periods than a holiday jaunt. For those also that want a little insight into what this nomadic and eclectic lifestyle is all about.

North Queensland coast, Australia, Oceania
Somewhere along north Queensland, Australia

There are so many lessons learnt that I’m splitting this post into Part 1 and Part 2, so stay tuned next week for Part 2. Although, pretty sure that I can still think up more lessons.

These lessons are in no particular order and just the way that my brain dump presented itself – here we go…


Adapting to dynamic situations.

Weather and sea conditions teach you to adapt to ever-changing situations. This develops your gut instincts. Backpacking also heightens your gut instincts, though living on a boat takes this even further.

Trying to outrun a cyclone several times while sailing south to a job that you were supposed to start a few weeks ago, can be challenging.

Outrunning a cyclone, Middle Percy Island, North Queensland coast, Australia, Oceania
Waiting for a cyclone to pass – Middle Percy Island, Queensland, Australia

Keeping your cool whilst running aground with the boat high and dry for hours, until the next tide re-floats the boat forces you to adjust – quickly.

Building a boat from plans, extending the boat, and then buying another in New York isn’t easy. Think you need to be pretty flexible and resilient to take part in these adventures.


Living on a boat definitely teaches you to conserve.

In our throw-away world of excess, many may find this difficult to do as the ‘I can’t go without’ mentality naturally kicks in for some.

Conserving means watching water and power usage – although it’s 12-volt. Not buying fancy toys, furniture, or cars – there isn’t anywhere to store these anyway. It’s about going back to basics. Typically, it’s going without as you just don’t have the room for all the mod cons.

Sounds appealing?

Galley, Catalina 47', Long Island, New York, USA
Reality’s Galley – much bigger than Naiad’s Galley

When landlubbers moan about the difficulty of cutting back on water during a drought, I smile. Try carting 20 litres of water or fuel a kilometre or more. Or, heavy grocery bags a long way to and from your boat, then come back to me and talk about difficulties.

I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet. What I’m trying to explain is that living on a boat full-time is a very different way of life. It requires a complete mind shift and mindset as this lifestyle isn’t for everyone.


Conserving also goes hand-in-hand with saving.

You can’t spend your money on fancy toys and stuff that you don’t really need, eventually throwing away. So, you can’t but help to save. This is how you can also pay a mortgage off quickly.

Extending a boat, Townsville, north Queensland, Australia, Oceania
Extending Naiad in Townsville – doing the work ourselves saves loads of money

Once you own your own boat, day-to-day expenses are much cheaper than living in a house, especially if you minimise staying at marinas. It’s much cheaper to anchor, pick up a mooring, or rent the space between two pylons.

Yes, you have maintenance and outgoings, but you also have these for a house. I don’t see much difference, do you?


You need to be super organised.

Unless you’re on a huge boat and space isn’t an issue, you don’t have much available space for food, clothes (including work clothes), spare boat parts, including tools. And, everything else you need in your life. So, you need to become an expert packer of all things.

Typically, locker spaces are compact and scaled-down compared to a wardrobe or cupboards in a house. Your boat may be big enough to hold a hanging cupboard space, but this isn’t always the case.

Every available inch is important on a boat. No room is wasted.

Boat full of balloons, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Oceania
Innovative ways to make money

Especially when you’re getting ready for a long passage. You can’t just nip into a shop when you need milk or eggs.

As boats are continually moving – or on the move – during violent weather, things inevitably get thrown around. Everything needs to be stowed away securely.

When underway, you can’t leave anything on a bench for fear of it becoming a dangerous missile. Especially in a confused sea or during bad weather, it can be just like a washing machine out there…

Great leveller

Boats are great levellers.

Regardless of what type of boat you’re in – a multi-million-dollar machine or a home-built boat like Naiad – if the weather turns bad while you’re at sea, then everyone experiences the same bad weather.

Sailing boat, Queensland, Australia, Oceania
A 28′ Naiad before her extension to 34′ – sorry for the poor-quality film photo

The major difference is that if you’re in a larger boat, then the ride might be smoother.

Although, I’ve seen many expensive powerboats ploughing their way through rough seas against the wind, trying to arrive at their destination. Typically, in a hurry, whilst leaving a trailing plume of thick black smoke.


Some lucky people are born with patience. For others like me, this is a learned behaviour.

Building a sailing boat, Windsor, NSW, Australia, Oceania
Building Naiad back in the 1980s

Weather conditions, anchoring, sailing, motoring, nature, plus more, are an integral part of life on a boat. Everything dovetails into working hand-in-hand. Just like a puzzle fits together.

Getting Naiad ready to sell during 2007/2008

Delays are commonplace such as typically waiting for a good window of weather to start or continue a journey. Waiting for boat parts to arrive before continuing work or sailing. Waiting whilst working on maintenance jobs on a boat – some of which are yearly or when something mysteriously breaks down. Waiting to set sail again after a working stint.

Delays are commonplace. Especially, when waiting for a good window of weather to start or continue a journey. Waiting for boat parts to arrive before continuing work or sailing. Waiting whilst working on the boat’s maintenance jobs – some of which are yearly or when something mysteriously breaks down. Waiting to set sail again after a working stint.

There’s a lot of waiting in life and think that it’s more than when living on land.

Don’t panic. Be calm.

Apart from a boat teaching you patience, a boat also teaches you not to panic – so much.

Panic means a foggy head. When you need it most, you can’t panic and need a clear mind. For instance, when you’re riding out a 50-plus-knot strong wind, threatening you and the boat to drag onto rocks. Or, when you’re about to run aground and you need all your wits about you.

Catalina 470 at Chichiriviche, Venezuela, South America
Chichiriviche, Venezuela

Depending on the hour of the tide in which you run aground, this dictates if it’s going to be a long slog of waiting until the next tide, to bring enough water in to set you afloat once more. Or, whether you can quickly get yourself off the sandbar and free again.

As a side note, cruising folks believe that you haven’t been cruising unless you run aground. I concur.

So many more lessons than these learned, so check out Part 2 of this chapter next week.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts on sailing in Australia, the US, and the Caribbean.

Sunset, Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia, Oceania
Somewhere in the Whitsunday region of Queensland, Australia

More chapters on life as a liveaboard

Check out a couple more chapters in this liveaboard series!

6 responses to “Sailing Journey: Lessons Learnt, Part 1”

  1. gillmorris Avatar

    Great post Nilla. It’s good to reflect and see what we have learned through our experiences. I have a word document with all the lessons I’ve learned from different aspects of my life. I will write it as a post one day! Have a fab weekend. Hope you are all safe and wellx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks Gill and totally agree, it’s good to reflect on life experiences both good and bad. But hopefully, not dwell on the bad so much. 😉
      Have a good one! x

  2. the eternal traveller Avatar

    It’s certainly a different lifestyle.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes it is and not for the faint-hearted – very challenging but fulfilling at the same time… 😉

  3. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

    This teaches you really about the important things in life. Learning to be less indulgent and patient. Sailing your own boat is more than just a good sunny day putting your feet up. The skills required are immense. Living in a confined space takes some doing with only the necessities. Everything has a place and kept in its place. As you say so dangerous the items which could become projectiles. Bless you for your interesting journeys and stories.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Absolutely! You’ve hit the nail on the head.
      Many dream about an exotic sailing lifestyle, but not really realising that it’s not always easy.
      Thank you for your lovely feedback Nanette and hope that you’re OK.

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