We often receive emails from people with specific questions about living on a boat with a baby. So we thought it about time we do a post to answer some of those questions and give you a bit more details about how to live on a boat with a baby.
Living on a boat with a baby really isn’t all that difficult. It’s really just a matter of what you’re used to. Accommodating the baby’s needs and finding workable solutions to ensure their health and safety is the priority. I think that often we make things more difficult by overthinking the situation. Looking after babies shouldn’t be overly complex. Our experiences taught us that it is doable and just as rewarding caring for a baby onboard as it is on land.
Here is a bit of a background. Our son (aka The Boy), now 4 years old, was only 9 months old when we moved aboard our Alberg 30′ sailboat. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect at the beginning. Sure we read lots of books and articles about families cruising with young children, but nothing really compares to actually experiencing it yourself. We found a lot of our answers through simply trying it out.
17 months ago, when we brought our daughter (The Girl) home to live on our 40′ cruiser, she was just 2 days old. We were much more comfortable with the idea then and I don’t think we really had any nervousness about how it would work out.
Below is some information that will hopefully answer questions for a lot of you out there who are contemplating doing the same thing. I will try to give scenarios to discuss our situation in the smaller 30′ sailboat vs. the larger 40′ cruiser. Our new boat improves our situation in some areas of child care… as you will discover.
Experiencing pregnancy on the 30′ sailboat had it’s challenges – I’m sure that goes without saying. When I was pregnant with The Boy, we were still living in a house in the city. We would take the boat out for a sail now and then. Eventually ‘T’ would have to go on these little trips by himself. You see morning sickness and sea sickness seem pretty closely connected. Suffice it to say we had to have a pail handy and those sea bands really didn’t help me. As time went on, the issue was not morning sickness, but just the general tossing and turning of the boat in the waves while sailing. It was just uncomfortable to be a passenger.
Later when we discovered we were expecting The Girl (well we didn’t know it was a girl at the time, LOL!), we were living on the 30′ sailboat. At first it really wasn’t any different than living in a “dirt dweller’s” home. The boat was stable enough while at the dock so it didn’t have any effect on the morning sickness. As time wore on, however, it did become more difficult climbing in and out of the boat, down the companionway and of course up into the v-berth. Eventually I slept on the settee to avoid having to climb up into the v-berth.
During the last month of my pregnancy, we moved onto the boat we are on now – the 40′ River Queen cruiser. The only issue I noticed on this boat was that once we put the frame and plastic up for the winter, it was difficult for me to squeeze that belly down the side of the boat to the doorway to get inside!
Labour on this boat was probably no different than in any other home. We timed the contractions and then left for the hospital at the appropriate time, leaving my mother to care for The Boy. 2 days later, we brought The Girl home to live on a boat!
When we were living on the sailboat, since The Boy was still very young (9 months old), we had him sleep in the v-berth with us. ‘T’ made up a lee cloth of sorts that clipped on 4 corners and attached at the v-berth opening. This way we didn’t need to worry about him falling out. It served a dual purpose as well. A play pen. It was a great place to put him for playing if we needed some hands free time or didn’t want him to get into something we were working on – like receipts for doing our taxes, LOL!
As The Boy got older, he kicked us in his sleep a lot, plus he was growing! So, it became time to make him his own bed. ‘T’ fashioned a high lee cloth to attach to one of the settees. He attached it along the underside of the settee, screwed into a piece of wood. When taken out, it clipped on to 3 sides to create a safe little haven for him to sleep in. For practicality reasons, we used this bed for him at night time. During his daytime naps, he still used the v-berth.
Later, we moved to a larger boat when we discovered we were expecting The Girl. At first The Boy, not quite 3 at the time, slept on a fold out couch in the bedroom which pulled out into a single bed. We would stick a pillow beside him so he wouldn’t roll out and soon discovered that this was no longer necessary. When The Girl came, she slept in a floor bassinette for several months. This worked well until she could climb out of it. Then it was time for something new.
‘T’ bought a set of bunk beds from Ikea. Due to space limitations on our boat, he had to not only shorten the length, but the width as well. He built them in to the space we had set aside after removing the pull out couch. The Boy sleeps on the top bunk and The Girl sleeps on the bottom bunk. We have netting that clips all the way around on two sides. (The other two sides are against a wall.) This is where she sleeps for naps and at nighttime as well. We are fortunate that The Boy sleeps through anything as she was not a great sleeper from the beginning.
When we were on the 30′ sailboat, it wasn’t always convenient to set up the table for meals. Our table top was stored above the v-berth. It had a pipe that screwed in to support the table top, underneath one of the settees. When set up it didn’t afford a lot of room for moving around, so we mostly didn’t bother with it. Instead, ‘T’ and I would usually eat from a plate on our laps or along the counter space.
For The Boy, we used a portable booster seat/feeding chair with tray. We would set it up on the settee and he would be strapped in and fed his meals in that. When not in use, we would store it under the v-berth.
On the 40′ cruiser, we actually have a kitchen table where we eat at. For The Boy, he now sits on a small wooden toy box from Ikea that doubles as his chair at the table. The Girl sits on her brother’s old feeding chair with tray. It is attached to a chair and pulled up to the table. We just leave it attached when not in use.
As mentioned above, The Boy would sometimes play up in the v-berth when we lived on the 30′ sailboat. As well, when we had the frame and plastic cover on the boat during the winter months, the outside area of the boat made for a great play area. Especially the cockpit area. We set up a nice carpet on the floor in the cockpit and put his toys out there. He had a great time in that cockpit. It was also large enough that he could ride his little 4 wheeled ‘bus.’ He would also roam around on other areas of the boat. Up at the bow was where we kept his tricycle. There was a small space there for him to play with that.
During the summer season, when there was no frame on, play areas on the boat were much more limited. He would be more or less confined to either the inside of the boat or the cockpit. We let him play in the cockpit, supervised in the summer. We didn’t have a canopy to cover the cockpit from sunshine so we’d set up a blanket instead and also a little wading pool. Lots of fun. Of course, we often would go out biking and walks to nearby playgrounds and parks as well.
Inside the boat, we stored his toys in a plastic bin with lid under the v-berth as well as one of the drawers under a settee was reserved for his toys. His books and clothing were stored along with our clothing on shelves in the v-berth. Toys are something that we still battle with. Every once in awhile we have to go through and fill a bag for donation!
There is a lot more play space on our current boat. The kids can play anywhere inside the boat. As discussed in the section on Feeding above, toys are stored in a toy box which doubles as The Boy’s ‘chair’ at the kitchen table. As well, there are stuffed animals hanging pocket contraption in the back bedroom. More toys are also stored outside in a plastic bin with lid.
During the winter, the kids have a huge play area out on the back deck. There is a door from the bedroom leading out onto it. We’ve lined the floor with those colourful puzzle playmats. Most of their toys are out there and they go out there at will to play. The Boy also climbs the ladder to the top deck so he can play by himself sometimes – having a younger sister who pulls hair isn’t always fun to play with! In the summer this area is not available for playing on unless they are supervised and have life jackets on. (Note: see our article on safety aboard with children to learn about the ‘turtle’ watch that we use as well.)
Bathing a baby on the smaller sailboat was a little more challenging than our current situation. It was something we just got used to however, so it really wasn’t much of an issue. We had a simple white plastic baby bathtub. Since there was no shower aboard, in the winter we hauled warm water to bathe him in it. We simply laid out towels and set it up on the settee and gave him his bath there. Other times either one of us would carry the baby bathtub with us to the marina showers and set it up in the shower stall. Sometimes it seemed easier to do this. I would have my shower while the baby was in the bathtub right beside me.
In the summertime, we would either do the same as above or even put the baby bathtub in the cockpit and bathe him in there. We didn’t have warm water though, so we’d boil some hot water on the stove to add to his bath water or haul it from the marina.
On the larger boat, we still use the baby bathtub. We have the luxury of having a shower stall now! The baby bathtub actually fits on the floor of the shower stall. During the winter, we would either haul warm water for their baths, or bring them up to the marina showers as we used to do. In the summer, we have hot water right from the pressurized taps (another luxury!), so they bathe on board in the tub set in the shower stall.
Learning to Walk
The Boy was a late walker. He didn’t really start walking fully until about 13-14 months. There wasn’t really a lot of room for walking on the sailboat so we’d take him out and get him practice on the main docks. He was crawling early on and since we were in the boat, he climbed a lot too – up onto the settee, then up onto the ice box, up the ladder, etc.
The Girl started learning to walk around 10 months. We were on the larger boat plus she had the advantage of having an elder brother to emulate!
We have thought about it and don’t think that living on the smaller boat had a lot to do with limiting when The Boy began to walk. He really wasn’t stuck at home a lot – we were always out and about so there was plenty of opportunity to do it when he was ready.
When we were on the 30′ sailboat, we had a little portable potty that we used for The Boy. We would store it underneath the v-berth and pull it out whenever it was needed. We also had a little child-sized toilet seat that would fit on top of the regular toilet. We found that this wasn’t convenient however, as the toilet was raised up so high that his feet couldn’t reach the floor, even with a stool. So we stuck with the potty instead.
He was only partially trained when we were on the smaller boat. It wasn’t until he was a little older and on the larger boat that he learned to be fully trained. We tried the potty as well as the child-sized toilet seat. We ended up having more success with the toilet seat at that stage in the game. With The Girl, we haven’t begun to toilet train her yet. I imagine we will try both methods with her as well to see which one she works best with.
Toilet training on the boat really isn’t much different from in a “dirt dweller’s” house. It’s just a matter of the childs’ preferences and readiness as to which method works best.
Sailing / Cruising
When sailing out on the 30′ sailboat with The Boy, we used to put him in the baby car seat. We attached it to the cockpit and fastened him in. This way we could be hands free for handling the boat and he was safe and out of the way. As he got older, we allowed him to be out of the seat, but with a tether on his life jacket so he couldn’t stray out of the cockpit.
We have friends here who had their daughter attached to the cockpit in a similar fashion. C&V had a jogging stroller with no wheels bolted down to their cockpit. Their daughter would be strapped in there to keep her safe. While at dock, J&E sometimes had their baby daughter in a baby swing attached to the boom. What a great view!
Up & Down the Dock
When we are at our winter slip, we are very close to the main dock. It is just a short few steps to climb the ramp and be up on the mainland. The Boy wears his life jacket all the time he is out there. When he was younger he would also hold our hand. The Girl does this now, but when she was just a baby, we would simply carry her back and forth. Sometimes in our arms and sometimes in her carseat.
I think that covers the major topics of raising a baby on a boat. If anyone has anything else they’d like us to discuss, please let us know in the comments. I will finish with a list of things that I think are necessities for living on a boat with a baby. (The obvious are not mentioned.) You will notice that there really isn’t much here. Plus some are things that you would need if you lived in a dirt-dweller’s house.
Baby on Board Necessities
- baby bath tub – Pick the simplest, plainest, and cheapest one there is because if you’re like us and store it out on deck the sun will make cracks in it and you’ll end up replacing it anyway!
- portable feeding chair – When the child is old enough to be fed real food, having one of these is indispensable. Ours is collapsible and thus stores very small for when it isn’t in use.
- life jacket and tether – for cruising and at dock
- safety netting – Install this all around your boat. It’s a project we did on the sailboat and plan to do it on this new boat as well.
- ‘turtle’ watch – Alarm goes off when it gets wet. Have your child wear it when outdoors.
- baby gates.
I often get emails from various people asking all sorts of questions about Living on a Boat. Many are from people who are contemplating moving aboard themselves and are looking for information and knowledge from those of us who have already taken the plunge (so to speak.) With that is mind, I plan to do a short four post series on the topic of Living on a Boat touching on the topics that I get asked the most often.
This then is Part 1 in our Living on Boat Series.
Living on a Boat – Cheap Living
I recently worked my way though the book by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin called Your Money Or Your Life – Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. I had probably purchased the book 10 years ago, and while I had previously applied some of the ideas found in the book, this time I’ve really taken the philosophy to heart and have applied a greater part of the book to our life here on the boat. Just by living on a boat we already lived a more frugal life than most, but even with our already reduced housing expenses, I’ve found many ways to control both the amount of money coming into my life and more importantly the money going out. I highly recommend Joe and Vicki’s book to anyone who has a desire to get away from the consumer lifestyle that so many of us have been sucked into. It is especially good for those who are contemplating how to reduce their expenses so that living on a boat might be an option. Ok, enough of that.
We are living on a boat in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Mississauga a major city right next to Toronto, Ontario although without signs nobody would know where Toronto ends and Mississauga begins. Before moving aboard our boat 4 years ago, we lived in a little brick bungalow in Toronto. So, we’ve lived (and owned) on land and lived on the water … we prefer the water. As I look back at my old budgets from the house, and compare them to what I am spending today, I figure that my housing costs are approximately 2/3’s less today. Living in the house with the mortgage, taxes, gas, hydro and water came to around $1600.00 per month and that would be considered living cheap compared to most people living in Toronto. Here on the the boat we average out at about $600.00 a month living year round. The living on a boat number could be further reduced by converting to propane heat for the winter – a move that I am thinking about for this upcoming winter. Without the extra hydro required for the winter, our slip costs for the year would go down to a little over $350.00 per month! We also live in one of the more expensive marina’s on Lake Ontario – slips can be had for a fair amount less if you are further away from Toronto. Finally, I don’tthink there are any cheaper living accommodation’s any closer to Toronto that where I am. Right now, I am sitting at my kitchen table on the boat looking out the window with a full view of downtown Toronto. If I were to hop in my car, I could be at the corner of Yonge and Dundas (right in the heart of downtown Toronto) in about 20 mins. There are a number of business people who are my neighbours here (a couple of lawyers, a teacher, a banker, etc) that work either downtown or in some other part of the city. They are earning city incomes while living cheaply in one of the most expensive cities in Canada. Somehow, I would say that they’ve got it figured out in a way that most never do; high income with low expenses. Now, if you did not need or want to live close to a major city center, you’re living on a boat expenses can be even less. Say you are living on Canada Pension Plan or your retirement income – I’m willing to bet you could have your housing expenses down to less than $200 a month.
So I say again, there is no way anyone is living on land for $600 a month within 20 mins of downtown Toronto. Further, we are a 5 minute walk from the GO train which will take us to Union Station in 1/2 an hour for $8 bucks. So – Yes, living on a boat is cheap living.
Other Options for even Cheaper Living on a Boat
Anchoring. Depending on where you are in world you may also find a place to anchor out or ‘live on the hook’ as it is called. This would mean that you have have to be self-sufficient – able to generate your own electricity and haul your own water and waste but there are many who live on the hook for $0 per month – yep, it can cost you nothing to live on the anchor! Where we are, this would not work for winter living as we need the electricity and the safety of the harbor to be able to combat the ice that forms on the lake, but this would be feasible in many southern or more temperate locals. A dinghy is essential for this living situation as a method of getting ashore for work, supplies, etc. A couple of years ago, we anchored out in a little bay just off the Leslie Spit in the Toronto Harbor Islands area and met a gentleman who was living there during the week. He worked at one of the hospitals downtown and took his dingy to and from work each day. I think he was American and went home to the US each weekend, but during the week – his housing costs were …$0. Smart man.
Mooring. Again, depending on your particular water situation there may be mooring balls or a mooring field available for very low cost. A mooring ball is a method of anchoring without using an anchor. Usually someone has sunk a heavy cement block down to the bottom and attached a chain to it and a big ball or float of some sort. All you do is grab the chain and attach your boat and you are ‘home.’ The owner of the mooring ball (or mooring field, if there are a bunch of them in one area) usually charges some small fee to use that particular mooring. There is a mooring field just off of downtown Toronto called the Aquatic Sailing Park. It is absolutely lovely there – so private, yet so close to downtown Toronto. After an initiation fee of $650.00, their fees work out to $73.00 a month (summer only, unfortunately) and there is a work requirement of 16 hours in the Park itself. Hows that for living on a boat – cheap?!? Again, you would have to be self-sufficient as there are no hookups, electricity or anything like that. Plus a dinghy is a must have to get to shore.
Private Dock. This option may be available in your area but will likely require some searching around. Many rivers and lakes are growing private docks like seaweeds. Many of those docks are either virtually unused or only used a couple of times a year or on weekends when the owners are there. With a little creative negotiating maybe with cash in hand or on a trial basis you should be able to rent a dock or slip for a small fee for a month or two. I would suggest even trying for free in exchange for say a bit of yard work if it is a someones cottage or maybe even just to keep and eye on the place. Creativity and personal negotiation skills will be your biggest assets here.
House vs. Boat
Now let me say this before you say it, because I know you are thinking it … yes, the boat is much smaller than a house. I know it, believe me I know it! However, my backyard is bigger than yours I likely have a better view, and if I don’t like my neighbours, I just move. Can you say that? There are trade offs – some people may not be willing to live in a smaller place to be able to live more cheaply and to have more freedom. For us, the trade off is more than worth it. I’ve commented on Living on a Boat vs A House before.
Other Living Costs
- No Hydro bill.
- No Water bill.
- No gas bill (although you will have to fill the propane tank a couple of times a season.)
- No land tax.
- No cable bill.
- No phone bill – no land line, so you will likely need a cell phone.
- If you live on a sailboat, your fuel bill will be very low. As it is, our boat is a house first – and a boat second, so we don’t use much fuel either. Of course, that means we don’t go far.
Food. Depending on what your boat is equipped with, you may or may not spend a lot of money on food. When we were living on our sailboat (Alberg 30) we did not really have a proper kitchen. We had an Origo non-pressurized 2 burner alcohol cooktop and a nice sized toaster oven. Our fridge was very small – and only a fridge – no freezer. What ended up happening is we started to bring more and more purchased and prepared food onto the boat – just because the cooking and food storage was such a hassle. That is NOT the way to save money and live cheaply! We were spending a fortune on food. When we moved aboard the River Queen, we got a very nice 3 burner propane stove with oven and a full size fridge with a top mount freezer. Perfect for just normal every day, live on land type cooking. Unfortunately, we were so used to just bringing home take out that we did not use our new kitchen to its full potential and were still spending a pile of money on food. Since reading Your Money Or Your Life though – we’ve cut our food bill down to a quarter of what it was. We are cooking a lot more simple food – purchasing more in bulk and generally being aware of what we are spending on food. So the trick with food is – use what facilities you have and keep it simple. If you have limited cooking facilities and limited refrigeration – then you don’t have to buy expensive food because you have no way of cooking it or keeping it. Simple foods are better for you anyway. If people are interested, I will do a follow up to this and give greater detail about how much we spend on food and how we cook. Let me know if you want to see this.
One final comment that I would like to make about living on a boat cheaply is this: you don’t need, nor will you ever use all the crap you see for sale in all those glossy naughty yachty magazines. I’m not even sure what is all being touted in those rag mags these days as I don’t read them anymore, but back when we were looking to purchase a boat we got sucked in by all the ‘must haves’ that populate those mags. If it is shiny and electronic, you likely don’t need it. A simple $50.00 hand held GPS works just as well as the $3000.00 binical mounted model. Your boat will likely come with a VHF radio – it will work just fine, you don’t need that new hand held model which is waterproof down to 2000′ (why?) and will call the cows home from pasture at the same time. You don’t need all those extras and unless you are the guy buying the gold plated yacht, you can’t afford it anyway – and from what I’ve seen, he likely can’t afford it either. I talked about this issue way back when I first started living on a boat:
I’ll admit that I had read one too many of The Magazines and Books and that I was beginning to think that I would need a complete refit before sailing. (I no longer believe this.) So, we went to boat shows and priced out and bought those things that we just felt we could not do without. Things like a handheld VHF, self-inflating life jackets, etc., you know, just the bare essentials. Now I wish that I had spent that money on more important thing; things that would have made us more comfortable. A bimini cover and dodger for instance. But you just have to have a VHF in your hand when sailing, right? And you must have a self-inflating life jacket on at all times, right? Well, here’s the truth. I’ve used the handheld VHF maybe half a dozen times in two years and have only put on the jackets when in rough weather which we normally don’t sail in anyways. The VHF already on the boat would have worked just fine and the Canadian Tire life vest for 40 bucks would have worked just as well and could have provided a butt pad when not in use. Oh well, live and learn. What The Magazines and The Books say you need and what you really need are two very different things!
Other things you can do to save money on a boat:
- Build your own wind generator out of scraps. My neighbour did this – works great!
- Do your laundry in a hand washer – and hang everything out to dry – we do this.
- Haul out your own waste in jugs and dump down the nearest toilet to save on pump outs. See this post on how I managed the holding tank on the Alberg.
And finally – just stay home. You live on the water – you don’t need a cottage or a boat or all the hassle of going north or south or whatever direction cottage country is. Just brew a cup of coffee and sit out on deck, enjoy the view, suck in the clean air and enjoy the gentle rocking of your home.
Next up in our Living on a Boat series will be: Living on a Boat – Family and all. Until then, would love to have any questions or comments you might have on this topic.