5 things you should know before becoming a liveaboard family

Parents and a child sitting on a boat pointing at something in the distance as they sail towards the sun

If you’ve decided to set off on the adventure of a lifetime, it can seem a little daunting, like there are a million and one things you should know before becoming a liveaboard family. You might be worried about getting everything right, from finding a reliable boat accessories supplier to planning your route to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Luckily, though, if you’re keen to try out this new lifestyle then you aren’t alone.  There are many families who have left behind land life in search of freedom, adventure, and, most importantly, the opportunity to spend quality time together as a family.

This is a guest post by Emily from Two Get Lost

Whether you’re reading this article because you’ve already decided that becoming a liveaboard family is right for you, or whether you’re simply curious about what living on a sailboat as a family could be like, you’ve come to the right place! 

As a primary school teacher living on a sailboat for three years now, I’ve met a host of different liveaboard families having the most amazing adventures on all kinds of sailboat budgets

I will share the top five things I think you should know before becoming a liveaboard family, for better or worse!

#1 Safety first

The top worry of so many parents before making the decision to become a liveaboard family is safety.

I had a really interesting conversation with a group of liveaboard mums when I first moved aboard.  They were talking about the reaction they got from friends and family when they announced their family sailing plans, and how they had been made to feel irresponsible for taking their kids to live on a sailboat.

Child in bright red life jacket standing on a boat
Keeping kids safe on board a must for a liveaboard family

As someone who doesn’t sail, I’m sure this way of life can look very risky.  But they pointed out that in their land lives they were walking along a busy London road 5 days a week to take their children to school, or driving during rush hour to make the school bell.  If a child is killed in a car accident it’s a terrible tragedy, but these mums were all too aware that if their child went overboard then they would be seriously judged as parents.

The point I’m trying to make is that life is risky, but just as you make your kid wear a seatbelt in a car, you take similar precautions on a sailboat.  There are all sorts of wonderful inventions that keep you and your children safe onboard, lifejackets are just one of them.  If you plan on becoming a liveaboard family then read up on the best safety precautions to take and implement. 

More than that, leave the voices of people who haven’t lived this lifestyle behind. All the mums I spoke to felt far, far safer at sea with their kids than they did crossing the road!

#2 Size does matter when you’re a liveaboard family

I’ve met families of six having the adventure of a lifetime, and families of three that have been living through a nightmare, and it all came down to space.  Before you go ahead and buy a sailboat you’ve fallen in love with, think very, very carefully about the layout of your boat!

Unfortunately, living on a sailboat does mean living in a small space.  However, there’s a very big difference between a 32ft sailboat and a 38ft sailboat.  In fact, there’s a very big difference between an older 38ft sailboat and a more modern sailboat of the same size.

Consider the right size boat for a family so everyone has appropriate living space

If you’ve never lived on board as a family before, then make sure that every member of the family has their own private space.  That might mean opting for a newer boat than you’d have liked, as they tend to have much better layouts, or it might mean going for a catamaran when you’d dreamed of a monohull.

That being said, don’t buy a sailboat that is bigger than you need.  You will seriously regret the extra expense, maintenance, and added difficulty to sail it, especially if you envision having to sail single-handed while your partner is busy with a young child.

No boat will be perfect.  A wise saying is – choose the smallest boat you can imagine living in.  If you can, try to make sure each child has their own cabin, and then you know you can all hide away if the sight of each other gets too much!

#3 Homeschool considerations

Taking your kids on this adventure of a lifetime will teach them more lessons than you could ever imagine.  They’ll be learning about the world around them every single day.  They’ll learn to minimise their use of resources, about other languages and cultures, they’ll learn how to harness the power of the wind and sun, they’ll learn about weather patterns and coastal habitats, and how to catch their own food.

If you plan on just a year-long adventure and your kids are still young, then consider taking a year off and leave teaching to the experts.  Your kids will learn so much from the incredible adventures you’re having, and a year really won’t make a difference in the long run. 

A group of children talking with an adult
Consider how you will tackle home schooling and education while you’re a liveaboard family

If you’ll be doing this long term then do some proper research into homeschool curriculums and accept it will be a steep learning curve for you as well as for your kids!

Unless you’re a teacher of your kid’s age ranges then chances are, you don’t have any experience or knowledge of how to teach them.  This is something practically every parent I’ve met has overlooked before moving aboard and has been a huge source of worry and frustration for liveaboard families.

Teaching children isn’t easy.  I know teaching how to add to ten or learn the alphabet should be easy, but there is a reason teachers train for four years before being let loose in a classroom.  Even if the kids they’re teaching are only four! 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at any point then make sure you ask for help.  Use a teacher contact from back home, or even turn to other parents in similar situations.  It will help to put your mind at ease that it isn’t just you (and I promise, no matter what you’re facing, it really isn’t just you!)

#4 Plan to socialise as a liveaboard family

One of the biggest complaints from liveaboard kids (and their parents!) is that finding other boat kids of a similar age can happen few and far between if you aren’t proactive. 

If you’ve taken your children out of school then they’ll be used to having a big network of peers around them, and suddenly transitioning into a more solitary way of life can be a big adjustment, especially as they get older.  It also makes life harder for you as a parent, as the fewer friends they have around to entertain them, the more that job will fall to you!

The good news is that there are things you can do to mitigate the risks of being alone for too long with some forethought and planning.

Firstly, make sure you stay in touch with friends and family back home.  Getting the internet when sailing has become easier than ever so make video calls and emails a part of your regular onboard routine.

Kids eating a meal around a fire
Keeping social with other families with kids

Join Facebook groups for sailing in your area, where you can reach out to other families with kids of similar ages and plan to meet up.  Other liveaboard families are facing the same problems as you and will usually be keen to sail in convoy for periods of time, giving your kids some time to socialise.

There are also some great liveaboard friendly marinas that tend to attract families – Marina di Ragusa in Sicily and Lakki marina in Greece are two popular ones in the Mediterranean.  The Caribbean is another cruising area that’s particularly popular with families. 

If you’ll be living aboard year-round then plan to spend the off-season in a marina where you know there will be other kids.  Asking around on sailing groups before you book up will help you work out the best marinas to head to!

Another great idea is to look into local nurseries, schools, and clubs and take your sailing journey slow.  It’s often possible to enroll your child in a local school or nursery for the winter season, or for them to join a club for a month or two.  Bear in mind that the older your child gets, the harder it will be for them to integrate into a foreign-speaking school.

#5 You won’t always be ‘living the dream’

Remember that becoming a liveaboard family isn’t going to change who you are, as an individual or as a unit.  You will still have your tired days, your kids will still fight and there will always be worries to work through, they might just look a little different! 

Leave behind the idea that ‘living your dream’ will be all sunsets, laughs, and splashing in crystal clear waters without a care.  There will be a whole lot of that, but there will also be days when things seem impossible and a lot harder than life on land.

a sail boat in a tranquil harbour

If you keep this in mind and try to remember that the bad days are also part of the adventure, you’ll find it’s much easier to work through problems without constantly second-guessing why you chose this lifestyle.  Focus on the things you have gained from becoming a liveaboard family. 

Time together is one of the most precious things to be gained from living on a sailboat as a family.  It doesn’t matter if that time is spent hiking through rainforests, watching dolphins play off the bow of the boat, or battling through storms – you’ll be facing it all as a family, and you’ll be making memories that will last a lifetime, together.

Thanks so much to Emily for sharing these thoughts on becoming a liveaboard family. Are you tempted to give it a go? let us know in the comments below

About the Blogger

A lady sailing a boat

Emily is a keen traveler, adventure seeker, and scrabble fanatic. In an attempt to follow her dreams of learning to sail she quit her full-time job as a primary school teacher three years ago, bought a sailboat in Sicily called Hot Chocolate, and now explores the world from her tiny home on the ocean. She writes travel guides and blogs about her experiences at sea and documents her adventures through film.

You can find out more at Two Get Lost.

Follow Emily’s adventures on social too YouTube | Instagram | Facebook

See all our guest posting opportunities on the Globetrotters blog here – everything family travel & expat life with kids.

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A mother and sun holding on to their hats on a sail boat
a father and daughter sitting on a sail boat sailing towards teh sun. text Are you ready to be a liveaboard family

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