Living on a Boat with a Family of Four: The Good, the Bad, and the Tolerable

The boat life isn’t always filled with rainbows and dancing dolphins. For every cool experience we’ve had this year, there’s a tough one, too.

In general, living on a boat with kids has been easier than we anticipated. We’d imagined horrid smells, insane toddlers, and life-ending expenses.

None of that has happened, mostly.

Living with Kids on a Boat

Of course, kids will always bring good and hard times. That’s true wherever you live, but kids on a boat can be tough-er. One things that’s unique to boat life so far is that keeping the boat cool/warm evenly throughout the night is a challenge. The kids’ room is the hardest to keep climate controlled consistently.

That means they’ll wake up in the middle of the night if they’re too cold or hot. Last night was one of those nights thanks to an unseasonably warm weekend.

kids-in-their-roomThe things I thought would be hard with kids are actually not an issue. I thought they’d go stir-crazy in the small space, but they’re just fine. I thought I’d be constantly worried about them drowning, but they’re easy to keep corralled or always in sight when we’re outside (or they’re wearing a life vest).

We do find ourselves having to help them more with simple tasks. They are less independent now simply because things like flushing a toilet are more difficult on a boat. They are not strong enough to operate the hand pump toilet in their bathroom. Our cooler-like refrigerator renders them helpless and they need assistance getting items out of the bottom. All of our closets and cabinets have latches to keep them from flying open in high seas and their small fingers cannot open by themselves. 

There’s no doubt, though, that the few unique difficulties of living on a boat with two little boys are 100% worth it.

Expensive Boat Repairs

erica-paddleboardingYou’ve heard the old adage that a boat is a hole in the water you throw money into. For us, that’s not been the case. We’ve spent very little money on the boat since we bought it.

Part of that is because we’re okay with cosmetic blemishes. They don’t bother us too much and many of the dings and dents give the boat a lived-in feel, which we like. We see pristine boats all the time, but we always love seeing an older boat with some scratches because you know it’s seen some stuff in its life.

Mechanical issues are different, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to fix them myself or invite my generous and handy Father-in-law to help. I’ve learned how to fix boat plumbing, troubleshoot and fix almost every electrical problem, and replace decking where soft spots have come up.

In January we’re planning to haul out the Wanderer for a bottom repaint, an engine and generator fluid flush, and overall health checkup by a professional. Until then, there are only small projects to undergo. My next one is fixing the autopilot, which is super important if I actually want to enjoy driving her.

Running a Web Business from a Boat

captainWorking on a boat has been tough. In my house, I had an office with a closing door. That meant I had privacy and quiet to do meetings via video (which I do daily).

I haven’t found a reasonable, affordable, travel-proof replacement for an in-home office. I can work in the salon when Erica’s gone with the kids or from the top deck when the weather is nice. But when the weather is bad, like today, hosting video meetings is hard.

I usually end up in a coffee shop, but the background noise and scene is unprofessional. That’s not good when almost all of my video meetings are sales meetings with potential customers.

I’ve been brainstorming how to solve this issue, but so far I haven’t come up with a good solution. A full time co-working space is overkill. One we get the bimini top replaced, I should be able to work from the top deck in the rain. Until then, I’ve got to figure out something else.

Happily Married in a Small, Floating Home

scott-and-ericaFinally, many people worry about married life on a boat. Mostly, they worry that the small space will put a stress on their marriage. We were mindful of that possible dynamic, too.

In reality, it hasn’t happened. If anything, we are closer than ever before. We are partners on this journey and the close proximity has only served to make us more self-sacrificial and other-minded. We’re forced to be more thoughtful and helpful with each other. We usually do our Daily Temperature Reading right before bed and our smaller mattress means more snuggles.

erica-driving-boatGranted, some fun things like showering together or making a big nice meal together aren’t as easy, but there are ways to experience those things without the luxuries of a big house on land.

All in all, the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to living on a boat (so far). We’re optimistic that the future will hold more of the same.


Author: Scott (Captain)

I'm the husband, dad, and captain of the Wanderer. I own a web company that dabbles in application development and SEO. I work from anywhere with a decent internet connection, which is most often the deck of our trawler.

7 thoughts on “Living on a Boat with a Family of Four: The Good, the Bad, and the Tolerable”

  1. I love to hear your story, thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚
    Me and my family are also planning to live aboard in a near future, so we’re now reading as much as we can on other family’s stories like yours. I’m an ops guy myself (a.k.a. sysadmin) working remotely too, so I’m really interested on how you solve your work-space situation πŸ™‚

    Cheers, and keep up the good work.

  2. Hey guys! So stoked to come across this blog!

    I too own a web company (I currently work out of my 86 VW Westfalia camper van – that is usually parked at nearby beach/surf/fishing spots in Rhode Island), my wife and I have two kiddos (6 & 2.5) , and we are thinking about getting a trawler next year and spending the summers / weekends / vacations on the water.

    We’re looking to get something similar to what you guys have (~36-44ft). I haven’t dug through all your posts yet to see if you go into this in detail – but I’m a bit worried about the “rolly-ness” of a trawler – do your kids handle it ok? and what about their beds being in the forward cabin (more prone to bouncing, etc.)? Do you have to pick your travel days very carefully?

    Happy holidays – looking forward to following you guys on your adventure.

    1. Hello Dave! Glad you found us. We haven’t had any issues with our trawler. We haven’t noticed it bouncing or rocking more than any other boat (with the exception of a catamaran). We have only taken it long distance one time and we have been staying at a marinas tied up to a dock. We plan to live on the hook next year. I think the key is to find one with a low profile and deep draft. Our hull has a four foot draft which helps with the rolling and rocking. Honestly, our boys sleep better in the front because they like the movement. It rocks them to sleep. Of course,there is a limit where the rocking becomes too much and then it wakes you up. We have only experienced that a few times when hitting large wakes from boats going by. I hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions

      1. Great to hear Erica – thanks so much for the info. Yea we are actually leaning towards either an Albin or a Marine Trader – whichever presents itself first in good condition for our budget I suppose πŸ™‚

        We are heading down there first week of February actually to North Captiva for a little vacation away from New England winter. Bummer were on the west coast – we could swing over and say hey!

        Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.

  3. I’m an ex over the road trucker and currently work as an IT consultant to various retail liquor chains. I work from home constantly and have reached back into my trucking experience for technology help. For any calls that need to be made in a loud environment I use a Blue Parrot B350-XT noise cancelling head set. It can totally mask the sound of a diesel engine or open windows in a truck and will surely mask background conversations.

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