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How to Move onto a Boat; part 1- Lose the Stuff

Making the transition from land to water can be intimidating. Moving from a 2,000 square foot home to a 600 foot boat not only means having to face the years of clutter in the closets to downsize your possessions but it also requires facing the reality that your home, your castle, is now subject to wind and tide with all your earthly belongings.

For many, the rewards of moving onto a boat exceed the demands of the lifestyle. Living on a boat can be filled with many mundane day to day tasks that are unheard of on land but the proximity to nature and the generally laid back attitude outweigh the hard work and sacrifice it takes to make the transition from a landlubber to a live aboard. Even if you don’t have a boat yet, you can start the process now to begin to simplify and prepare for your new and rewarding life living on a boat.


The biggest obstacle for many is downsizing an entire land life of stuff, which includes closets stuffed full, attics jammed closed, garages packed until the doors barely close, and even storage units crammed with long lost and forgotten treasures of years past.

It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly

-Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell sums it up exactly for most live aboards. For many, living on a boat is defined by the quiet beauty and harmony of nature and the vast ocean around them. For others, it is an ‘unburdening’ from modern society and the impressed rules and implied social conduct we’ve come to subconsciously take for granted as the norm. The desire to live on a boat signals a shift in thinking away from the pressures and societal obligations pressed upon us from children into adulthood. Living on a boat represents something ‘outside’ the norm. If you seek this type of freedom but you’re breaking away from a home, condo, or apartment you’re going to need to downsize.

Consider downsizing a three step process. The first step is the hardest- Starting!

The first effort at downsizing can result in extra cash from yard sales, ebay, and consignment shops but it will not be easy to objectively review these long lost momentos from a previous life to determine their place in your ‘new’ life on a boat. That’s OK, the first step is to go through EVERYTHING and weed out as much as possible. For couples, a good rule of thumb is both parties have to agree on keeping the object otherwise it finds a new home come Saturdays yard sale. This can be the toughest step to take preparing to move aboard a boat, but if you take a closer look you really don’t need too much to live comfortably on a boat.

Just by their very nature, most boats have all the furniture you’ll ever need already built into the boat. There’s no room for traditional lamps and side tables. A coffee table would take up the entire salon of most boats. You already have a bed. What more do you need?

Depending on your climate, clothes are the most overestimated item you’ll bring on the boat. In fairer latitudes, for men a wardrobe of a few pairs of shorts, a few shirts, a pair of nice pants and a button down shirt can take you a long way. In the rare event you’ll need something special- just buy it. It’s not worth losing the storage space and the likely risk of that special jacket or tie getting moldy and oldy in the back of a boat locker waiting for the one time you’ll need it.

Cookware needs to be selected with great care. Because of the size of most galleys, only a few pots and pans are needed to accomodate even the most lavish meal on a boat. A 12″ pan with the same lid that fits a 12″ pot compliment each other nicely when cooking for a group. A smaller pot and pan combo with matching lid can handle a couple for most meals. It’s also nice to have a metal strainer that fits inside the smaller pot. You can use the combination as a steamer with the lid and the strainer does double duty to strain pasta and other foods. Otherwise, 4 plates, 4 forks, 4 knives, and 4 spoons in addition to tongs, spatula, and a few kitchen knives make up the vast majority of your kitchenware on a boat.

Obviously, it’s wise to avoid glass containers on a boat. They’re bound to get broken eventually. Even for wine and cocktail glasses you can find some excellent plastic alternatives.

If you have children, a backpack full of select toys should be ample. It would be a good idea to favor toys that do not require electricity as batteries run down and 110v is not always available. Toys seem to multiply quickly on a boat no matter how few you start with in the beginning thanks to friends and family over time. Keep this in mind before the kids go hog wild picking out toys for the boat.

The most underestimated item brought onto a boat is inevitably books. Amazingly, with the simpler life comes a return to reading. Books become cherished friends and whatever port you land, bookstores are relished as highly as a boat chandlery. There are a few books you’ll want to keep long term on the boat as reference guides, but, in general, paperbacks are excellent because they are light and easy to trade with others for new and exciting adventures.

Beyond the items discussed, there are really very few items you ‘must’ have to live comfortably on a boat. Each person may have their ‘stash’ of goodies like a personal computer, a knitting bag, or supplies for a hobby, but otherwise most boats come with all the furniture and systems you’ll need already built in to make ‘home floating home’ as pleasant as possible.

After you’ve gone through you’re first round of downsizing, the next step is to find a place you can store the rest of your prized possessions for six months to a year. A storage unit is the obvious choice, but a family members garage might work as well. After you’ve spent some time on your boat, plan on revisiting your ‘invaluable’ possessions and repeating the sorting, selling, giving away, and trashing process. You’ll be amazed after even a short amount of time living your new life on a boat how little you needed or even thought about the warehouse full of ‘prized’ possessions locked away on land. After you’ve gone through this process a third time, you’ve probably trimmed the chafe away and are down to the few truly prized possessions worth keeping.

At the same time, it’s important to be wary of becoming a collector or clutterer on the boat. Luckily, it will become VERY obvious VERY quickly. There’s just not that much space on a boat. Here’s a good rule of thumb for bringing new items on the boat

For every item you bring on the boat, one must be taken off.

Maintaining a spartan boat is essential otherwise you’ll be stepping over and wading through masses of new ‘prized possessions’ in order to get from bow to stern.

Stay Tuned- How to Move onto a Boat; part 2- Lose the Overhead

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4 comments to How to Move onto a Boat; part 1- Lose the Stuff

  • Davina and Matt

    Funny you are writing about “losing overhead”. After the trip to the Keys this last week, I came back energized to clear out once again. We’ve already had a major yard sale and several trips to goodwill. I have filled a whole table in the garage with more stuff to be “rid” of. The more I get rid of the happier I am. I look so forward to the day that I can pack the back of the car and say goodbye and live simply on the water.

  • big cheese

    It’s incredibly therapeutic once you’ve set you’re mind to it.

    Exciting stuff. Good for you!


  • Carolina

    same here!!! have been downsizing storages for a year now! almost ready!! Thanks again for your great posts!!!

  • big cheese

    We’re STILL sorting and downsizing. It’s a continuing process!