Living Aboard Vs. Living Abroad

sailboat dodger spray beneteau

Definitely abroad… spray covered dodger from a recent trip of mine

The difference is in placement of that ole “R”

For many years I’ve pondered the nature of of living aboard in contrast to cruising. Starting in 2002 when I first began my research into the lifestyle, I met with significant confusion. The internet was a small place back then, but there were still a number of resources available. I figured that a simple “Excite” search of “Living aboard a sailboat” would immediately bring me to a page or two that detailed a systematic process to analyze the life. The overwhelming amount of information was all focused on sailing across oceans. While interesting, and useful to a great extent, it didn’t help one bit in finding a marina, managing services, and finding out what to expect at the dock. Frankly, even these days that’s not too far from the internet truth: most sailing magazines are focused on getting away from shore as fast as possible.

With that in mind, what makes a person a live aboard versus a cruiser?

Cruising: As a verb, cruising implies movement. Cruise ships are often places of leisure and relaxation. A warship goes on cruise, and it means a steady pace to accomplish some mission. In sailing parlance, it probably denotes someone (or someones) who reside solely (or predominantly) aboard their vessel for substantial periods of time, with an intended purpose of traveling to different locations via the water. The reason for this travel may be intrigue, work, family, safety, curiosity, or even boredom. But the fundamental verb is moving. Cruisers may stay in an single port, or even a region, for a lengthy period of time, but they are in a state of near-readiness to leave, if they choose. By the nature of their housing arrangement, they do “live aboard”.

Living Aboard: As a verb, implies staying. It describes the choice of home, as opposed to living on land. As mentioned, cruisers live aboard, but so do folks who are quite happy to stay in one location while aboard their vessel. The narrow boats of London, barges of the Netherlands, and that old relic floating in the harbor with the weirdo on board could all be classified as liveaboards.

For myself, I always believed I was a live aboard more than anything else. While I tried to maintain a sailboat capable of cruising, I recognized my primary goal was comfortable living aboard my boat while living a “typical” livelihood. This meant having easy access to shore to pursue my career (as a military officer), as well as access for my social activities like church, dinners, and exercise. A marina was a convenient platform to accomplish these things from. While it certainly seemed like a transient lifestyle to my peers, in many ways it was anything but. While I didn’t own a house, or rent an apartment, it was easy to be lulled into the mindset of permanency that shore living induced. I had a small storage unit for those things that wouldn’t easily fit aboard, but were so “essential” to my life that I chose to keep them nearby. Many of my tools fit aboard, but why not keep a few sheets of plywood available for a rainy day up the road?

The perfect cruising boat (which is a unicorn – imaginary) would have plenty of margin aboard for activities like construction and repair, exercise, and other hobbies. But in reality, the boat gets put into “cruising mode” before leaving port, which means things are less available, less convenient sometimes, and the purpose of the sailboat is now two-fold: both safe travel and tolerable living conditions.

On the other hand, the live aboard sailboat is focused on comfortable living and convenience. And in my view, there’s nothing wrong with that. So don’t let the popular magazines sway you: it’s OK to be comfortable as a working guy or gal, with the unique living arrangement, knowing you can prepare and pull lines at your leisure.

What do you think? Are liveaboards mischaracterized?

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