Reader Q&A: Living and Working Aboard

By Rich

I got an email from a reader with the following questions about living and working aboard. I thought I would post my email response here in Q&A format to help any other readers that may have similar questions:

Question: What’s been your experience trying to work while living about your boat? Have you had significant issues with connectivity or power while cruising nearshore? Do you end up spending most of your workdays docked in marinas or are you able to anchor out and still effectively communicate with the outside world? How about sharing a space, even with separate cabins, with someone else trying to do their thing? Would having to listen to another person’s phone or video calls end up driving your shipmate nuts?

Answer:

The short answer is that it is totally doable – I did this in 2015 with my Sabre 42 and we have done two seasons (2020 and 2021) on the Hylas. Here is the article I wrote that should cover everything you need as far as the working aboard logistics, but it is tailored to the Hylas:

We are at anchor or on a mooring the vast majority of the season in New England and we use several different cell phone carries to be sure we always have a signal. We use T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon. As we travel, some of those carriers will have terrible signals while others will have a strong one. So multiple carriers of hotspots are highly recommended unless you are happy to stay in one port like Newport for most of the season. We have a diesel generator on Rover to power the fridge, freezer and the laptops. I runs about 3.5 hours per day split over a morning and an evening run.

If you are looking for a boat in the 40 foot range here are some things to consider:

1) If you are interested in an older model like our 1989 Sabre 42, check to see if the refrigerator is DC powered or powered by the engine. If it’s the latter, be aware that you will either need to use it as an ice box and periodically source ice blocks, or run the main engine daily to cool the fridge. If you don’t move the boat to new locations fairly often, running the main engine to cool the fridge can be bad for it since marine diesels will run too cool when unloaded and will build up carbon. If you do plan to move every few days to see new destinations, this is less of a consideration. Alternatively, you could consider a newer model like the Sabre 426 that has a DC fridge. If you get enough solar panels the fridge will be powered by the sun and this problem goes away. Of course the other side of that coin is the new model Sabres are 2X the price of the older ones. Trade-offs!

2) We don’t have solar but if I were to do it again I would absolutely have solar. Even without the fridge you would need to run the main engine every other day or so to charge batteries in an older model boat. In our case, the Hylas uses a ton of power so we have to run the generator a lot to keep the batteries charged up.

3) If you do buy a boat to do this, I would strongly recommend that you spend at least one season locally living aboard near your home so you can get the boat into shape before you travel to New England. You will find that the challenge with living aboard is making things comfortable. That means eliminating deck leaks and eliminating things that cause smells on the boat. Smells come from defective toilet systems and mildew, and mildew comes from leaks and condensation. Before you commit to a season you want to get the boat totally sealed up and eliminate any mold and mildew. The only way to find all of the leaks is to be aboard during several different heavy, long downpours. Do this near your home port so you can move off of the boat for periods to take stuff apart and eliminate all of the leaks. You also want to do whatever it takes to get the toilet system to not smell. That often means replacing all of the waste hoses on the system, potentially rebuilding the toilet itself, and making sure the holding tank doesn’t leak. But it absolutely can be done; there is no reason at all that a waste system should smell.

When we bought our Sabre in 2014, we cruised that fall, hauled it out and then went to work:

https://svrover.com/category/winter-2014-2015-projects/

We thought we really had the boat sorted, so I moved aboard for the 2015 summer season in Newport. Ooops, we didn’t quite have it sorted:

So instead of going to Florida that fall as planned, we hauled out again in Annapolis that winter and were not back in the water before summer of 2016:

https://svrover.com/category/winter-2015-2016-projects/

By the time I headed south in the Fall of 2016 for the Bahamas, we had really gotten the boat “right.” But as you can see it took two seasons – one living aboard – to really get to know the boat and get things where living aboard was comfortable and enjoyable. After that the boat was great and needed very little work for the next several seasons before we sold her in 2018. So once you get “over the hump” with projects the boat will be reliable and comfortable but you’ve got to get there first, and you want to be close to home and not living aboard until you are through most of the larger issues.

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