Looking for a cruising sailboat for our family of 5 live aboard full-time and sail around the world is hard work (ok, not really, but there is a lot of information and opinion to sort through). We are still a couple years out from our departure date, so we have time, which is good, because it is taking us a while to narrow down what exactly we are looking for. Jeremy and I have the benefit of having lived aboard before, though we had no kids at the time. But it gives us a better understanding of what we are looking at when we look at boats, as well as a better feel for what to expect. Because there are 5 of us, and because we want the flexibility to be able to go anywhere, we have some specific things we are looking for, but we have to remain flexible because, well..we are on a budget.
One of our new past times is to look for boats online. “Window shopping” as it may be called. While we live on Lake Ontario, a Great Lake, the town we are in, and those that are nearby, are not big in the arena of sailboats, or at least larger, cruising “bluewater” boats. So we’ve used the beauty of the internet to be armchair shoppers, it’s quite fun, really!
Cruising Sailboat for Family of 5
What is a bluewater boat? It is a boat designed for cruising, or going offshore; it has been tested by other sailors to be competent at being at sea. This means the boat weighs enough to not just be bounced willy nilly across larger waves or swells. The keel is weighted, and designed, to provide enough ballast to keep the boat smooth in the water. This isn’t to say that in large swells or a storm that it won’t get tossed about. Boats are small, and the ocean is mighty- this is not to be forgotten.
There is a lot of discussion about what makes a boat a capable offshore cruiser, or bluewater boat. This is what we are working towards for our family.
A bluewater boat is going to have some features which make it easier for living aboard during passages (going offshore). Some of these may include but are not limited to:
- A heavier displacement (weight) for moving smoothly in heavier seas
- A galley set up for cooking while underway (read: swaying and rocking back and forth)
- Batteries and power generation (solar and/or wind)
- Plenty of storage: water and fuel tankage; provisions
- More robust construction, in terms of the hull of the boat itself, and sails
- Easily managed by a small crew
*This list is by no means inclusive.
For our price range, a lot of boats which get classified as bluewater are older (70’s or 80’s built). This is okay, except the likelihood of repairs being needed is greater; also, some insurance companies may have a problem with insuring an older boat (from what I’ve read). So recently, we have expanded our search to newer boats (late 80’s to early 90’s) which have proven themselves capable, but maybe don’t have the same reputation and title of bluewater as some.
Our goals with our adventure is to see the world via a sailboat. Our intention as of now is to set out from the east coast of the United States, since that is where we live. We’ll head south (either via the St. Lawrence River to explore the Canadian Maritimes [my vote], or through the Erie Canal and down the Hudson River to NYC) down the east coast, eventually landing in the Caribbean. After exploring the Caribbean for a bit, we will move on to other places before the next hurricane season arrives. And from there, this is where the plans get fuzzy…Cross the Atlantic? Sure! Go through the Panama Canal? Sure! Explore more of Central and South America? Sure! Head to Africa? You betcha! So, the plans will come the farther along we get, but we all agree we want to see everything. We aren’t labeling our goal as a circumnavigation, yet, but eventually I’d like to say we did. Because we want to cross oceans we are looking for a bluewater boat.
Budgeting for a Sailboat
Our budget for our cruising boat is on the smaller side from some people we’ve talked to. Everyone is different, and that is okay. We want to pay cash for our boat (that’s a work in progress!), and that is a huge limiting factor in how much we pay for our boat. We want to have this adventure with our kids, which means we aren’t waiting 10 or 15 years to do this.
So while we want an established bluewater boat, something we can feel comfortable and safe aboard, we just cannot, or choose not, to afford the top of the line. Which means concessions are in order. In looking at an older boat, or even a newer boat, outfitting the boat for offshore sailing takes effort and money. Most electronics will need to be updated, in addition to mechanical repairs or upgrades; in addition to any ‘toys’ which we may want on board. “BOAT” means b.reak o.ut a.nother t.housand.
Advice we have received has been to expect to spend another 25% of what you paid for the boat repairing and outfitting it for your needs.
Like most things spoken…or unspoken, size matters in our boat. Size matters in how it handles, how comfortable we are below deck, and above deck (cockpit). Size definitely matters in cost! Not only the initial cost of the boat, but the upgrades, upkeep, maintenance, and travel fees.
The general rule of thumb for boats is: the bigger the boat, the more it costs.
Painting the bottom of the boat is going to take more paint, and take more time on a larger boat. This not only means more in materials (paint, thinner, etc), but in time spent on the hard (land), and if you aren’t painting it yourself, it will cost more in labor.
The longer the boat means the longer the lines which are run (ropes attached to sails and various things). This is more money when they need replacing. It is also more money in the form of larger winches. Bigger sails (which cost more) require more human power to adjust and trim, and they typically have fatter lines, and all this means larger winches.
A bigger boat requires more power to move it. Larger sails, as I just said, as well as a larger engine for when being motored is necessary. It seems obvious to say that a larger engine costs more, and costs more to upkeep-larger or more parts; more oil, etc.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Bigger boat = Bigger money.
Way to Compromise and Balance
Size is obvious the first of many things upon which we have been discussing ad nauseum.
If we said, ‘We are going to cruise for one year, then move back to land,” well then, I would compromise to a smaller size boat. We could stuff bodies and supplies in every nook and cranny and be gone.
But I don’t want to do that. I want to have the luxury of flexibility. We may say after one year, this isn’t working, we need to do something different. But we may say (and what I hope happens), let’s keep going- let’s go farther.
We are a family of 5, which is a lot of bodies to find beds for. In the spirit of having that flexibility, I want everyone to have their own bed, and have a little bit of their own space. Not always, that isn’t feasible, but if someone is sick or having a rough day, having a quiet spot to curl up is important.
I would like it to be known that I am an introvert. I also have HSP (highly sensitive person) tendencies . I hate to say I am an HSP, because I don’t like this about myself. It is a fairly new knowledge, which came about when I was pregnant with our third child, Ivy. Basically, too much continuous noise and chaos tires me out, makes me grumpy. Having some time alone to read, or just be alone in quiet, helps. My head just has trouble taking the cacophony 24/7; turns out, there is a LOT of noise and chaos with 3 children. This means when I make our schedule, I plan days when we hang at home to recharge in between busy days out. When we travel, I add margins to our days where the kids and I can have a little downtime. It really helps everyone, not just myself.
Bunks and Cabins
In looking for a boat to live on, I need my own cubby where I can close a door or hatch and recharge.
Our kids will be a couple years older when we start, but they will all still need bedtime. And Jeremy and I will want to hang out together without them, either after bedtime or in the early morning. Keep your mind out of the gutter, or in the gutter; but if you are a parent, you know what I mean.
One of the common features on boats is to have the main living area, the saloon, and the seats there, (settee) convert into beds, much like on a camper or RV. Which is excellent! The more beds the better, but not for every night. Picture your kid sleeping everynight on the ktichen table, what a pain that would be! First, the kitchen table has to be completely clear every night by the kid’s bedtime. Then, there would have to be ninja stealth anytime someone wanted to come get a snack, or water in the middle of the night. And first thing in the morning, me making coffee would probably wake him or her up. Yuck. I just don’t want to live like that all the time. For a week, or even a month, it could work. But I draw a line at full time.
Finding a cruising sailboat for family of 5 which has 3 cabins is really difficult for the length range we are looking in. Someone is going to get the short end of the stick. And yes, I said 3 cabins. 1 cabin for the parents, and 2 for the 3 kids. The plan is for each kid to have their own bunk space, with a curtain to pull shut for quiet time.
Heads and Galley and Self-Sufficiency
In boat speak, the head is the bathroom. Having a head with a functional shower is a necessity on our boat. When we lived aboard, pre-children, our boat had just a toilet and sink, which meant that we were showering at the marina shower, paying quarters to get the water to run, everyday. I got really good at showering fast. And it made me really appreciate the luxury of a long shower or bath. I told Jeremy then that when we lived aboard again, we would have to have a shower. And now that we have kids, you betcha! That is essential to my sanity.
We were living at the marina full-time, so it was not so inconvenient to shower at the marina, but it was not ideal. For this adventure, we plan on living on the hook, or at anchor, most of the time, which means no access to bathrooms on shore for everyday necessities.
In boat speak, the galley is the kitchen. Having a small but functional galley is essential to cooking for 5 people. Though in a house, a big kitchen is frequently swooned over, there just isn’t that much space on a boat. Plus, cooking while underway, when the boat is moving and rocking, being able to hold on, brace one’s feet, and still function in the galley means having a smaller space.
One of the biggest ways we intend to keep our budget minimal while living aboard is to NOT live at a marina, or be tied up at a marina when visiting a new place. We will be anchoring out, and taking a dinghy in to land to explore, shop, whatever, etc. It costs money to dock at the marina, and typically marinas charge by the foot. This means, if a marina charges $2/ft, and your boat is 40 ft long, you will pay $80 a night to stay there. And that doesn’t include power and water, which I think varies as to if and how much those are charged. Now, $80 a night for a hotel is a steal, for a few days, but not if you are living full time, on a very limited budget. $80 x 30 days = $2400 a month. That’s $2400 is a lot of money! Cruising is fairly budget friendly, even if boats are not, because you are bringing your home with you. To then pay for an ‘extra’ home for your boat, to be tied to a dock, defeats the purpose. That isn’t to say we will never be at a marina, but anchoring out will be the norm for us.
This means a few things, a big one being a way to generate power ourselves. We will need a combination of solar panels and wind generators, along with batteries and a generator for backup. It will also mean an inverter, and we will need to be conscientious of our power consumption. We are also looking at water-makers, which is, the ability to make our own drinking water; this allows us to not be limited to what water our tanks can hold. I’ve heard water-makers are tricky, they break a lot, and are a pain…so we’ll see how that goes.
Living on a sailboat, not at a marina, is definitely an exercise in self-sufficiency!
Secret confession: I have always wanted to live off-grid. When we were farming my goal was to one day have our own straw bale home and live off-grid. A boat is the perfect place to do this!
In coming up with compromises, size seems to be the biggest one. What size are we looking at? Well, anything from 39ft to 50 ft, with a goal of being below 50 ft. So, maybe between 39 and 49 feet. I have looked at smaller boats, say mid-30’s in size, and it is just hard to come up with enough spaces to put bodies for sleeping comfortably. Not to say it can’t be done, or isn’t being done, it’s just more difficult. Ideally I would like to stay as close to the 40 ft mark as possible, just to keep costs overall down.
We will spend most of this upcoming winter continuing to “armchair shop”, as it may be, until next spring. Our goal is to buy our boat next spring, which gives us all of next summer to sail her around Lake Ontario, get to know and understand all the systems, and do any repairs or upgrades we may feel are needed before casting off to go cruising full-time. This may or may not be the best timing, after talking to other people who are cruising, but for the moment it is what we are working towards, but as always, we are remaining flexible. I think for me, having the boat will make the goal seem more “real.” And I think for my child who is a bit of a homebody, allowing him to get used to the boat and think of it as a ‘home’ and safe space will make the transition easier.
We are reading books, talking to other sailors, watching videos, and looking at lots of photos. Looking at boats and layouts is helpful to figure out what the options are for fitting our family of 5 on a sailboat to go see the world.
Books we are reading:
These are a few of the books about boats and sailing we’ve been reading recently as we research boats for our big adventure.
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