We have been asked many times to share how we are able to live this cruising lifestyle over the longer term.

There have been lots of articles written about costs of cruising and what people do in order to get cruising. Some cruise for a short term, then go back to work; some long term. Some save and wait until they are retired. Some work as they go.

I guess for us that journey over the years has been similar. Working, cruising for a bit, then repeating the process. So, yes, our basic formula has been to work hard, live frugally and save our pennies.

But I want to cover off on a slightly different tack and talk to you about how we have set up our yacht to be self-sufficient, plus some of the things we do to keep our costs down. This, to me, is a vital key to managing to live this life for the longer term.

When I first started living aboard and cruising, apart from the engine, there was no power to run any systems, food was kept in an ice-box, I cooked on a gas stove and had oil lanterns for light. Navigation was by paper chart, communication via VHF radio. Darren put solar onto his first yacht, which enabled him to add lights, a fridge and an inverter to charge his phone.

That was it.

My how things have changed!

We have laptops, e-books, tablets, GPS, chartplotters, AIS, radar, HF, VHF, mobile phones, satellite internet, Wifi, power tools, juicers, two fridges, a freezer, electric toilet, lighting, a washing machine and a watermaker. We charge multiple cameras, filming gear, torches and I spend literally days on the laptop editing.

It is all mostly run purely from the energy we get from solar and wind. Amazing really.

So we have everything that we need. If you want to live self sufficiently, here is how we would suggest you do it:

  • buy a boat you can afford to run

  • learn to do your own maintenance
    and upkeep

  • set up your boat to be self sufficient

  • hardstand out on the ocean as much as possible

  • avoid marinas

  • do your washing on board

  • use less gas in cooking

  • air conditioning: do you really need it

  • ponder your galley appliances

  • vacuum-seal meats

  • ponder food and entertainment requirements

  • better source parts and equipment

  • share skills and barter

Now before we cover off on each of these items, I will just speak quickly of lifestyle.

This cruising life

In my years we both have seen a very distinct change in the types of people cruising out there.

There are those who are bare bones, those like us I guess who are moderate livers; then there are what seems to be a new breed of cruiser who want to transfer their land based lives to the boat.

Now this is cool. But, depending on how you set up your boat, it can be very expensive and, for me, importantly it can be environmentally and personally unfriendly.

I went to a boat show a few years back. I hopped on board a very flash catamaran. To me it looked like an apartment.
I commented to the salesman “wow, haven’t things changed”.

Now this cat had a real life 24 volt stand up fridge/freezer. They had it displayed with an espresso machine, microwave, an ice machine and TV/surround sound system. Each ‘bedroom suite’ had separate TV’s and air-con.

The guy was trying to sell me that I could use my hair dryer and bring along all my cooking appliances. I have to say I was gobsmacked. I could not stop laughing actually.

I wanted to look at the engine, check out the systems. I wondered why it had all these modern conveniences, however was not set up with a watermaker and solar for the longer term.

He replied, with a wink, “most people don’t leave the marina luv!”

So, ignoring that generalisation, I asked him “how do you run all of these things? Are these all 12V appliances”

“No,” he replied. “You would need to run your motor for a few hours each day to recharge the batteries to keep things humming along.”

That is where he lost me. I mean, awesome! But not for me.

Why? I love cruising for the peace and tranquility and connection it brings me. I love being able to get really remote, to
be away from civilisation and land for months at a time.

I love listening to nature – not the sound of an engine running for 2-3 hours in the morning, then again in the evening. I love the smell of salt air, not fumes.

If I wanted to live in an industrial zone, I would live in the city. While I can see how people would love all the above items on board I am not certain, however, if people realise the cost of it. The cost financially and the cost personally.

Essentially we are living in a tiny house, so for me the noise of it would be akin to parking your car in your lounge room and running the motor for a few hours, while trying to remain calm during the whole process. .I do not get on well with noise pollution. I get agitated by the sound of an engine. Except maybe when the motor is saving my ass in a squall!

Then there is the cost of fuel for all of this. Groovy if you are coastal cruising and can pull into the next marina. But that just simply does not occur at a remote atoll in the middle of nowhere.

Lastly, there is the environmental cost. For me, living minimally, with a low carbon footprint is important. I love that we are mostly self sufficient. I love that we create our own power. I love that we burn very few fossil fuels.

I love that we are mostly independent. I love that we do not need to bounce from town to town in order to refuel and take on water.

I love that we don’t impose our needs on remote communities that can also be struggling with finding water and fuel
to survive.

So, as I said earlier, we have many of the mod. cons. However, our goal is to live as sustainably as we can, in a way that we can afford and in a way that we enjoy, which happens to still include some luxuries. We just have our mod. cons in a different kind of way.

So, lets tackle some of the points I made earlier:

Buy a boat that you can afford to run

Boats are expensive. If you need to go into a marina, or store your boat in a marina, bigger boats cost more to berth. Marinas charge by the metre and if you own a catamaran, they charge you for both hulls. It all adds up.

Remember, boats live in a corrosive environment and are, therefore, constantly being run down, even when you are not on board. Maintenance costs are high. Specialised systems and mod cons are great to have, however they are expensive to run and expensive to fix when they break down.

Learn to do your own maintenance and upkeep

Boats need a lot of regular attention. Your engine needs regular servicing but it is pretty easy, so invest in yourself to avoid blowing blow your hard earned $ on hiring a diesel mechanic simply to change your fuel pump out, for example.

Thing is, you will find it hard to get a diesel mechanic to come out to your boat at anchor, therefore you will have to go into a marina. Which adds onto the cost.

Rigging would be another example. You can change out your own standing rigging if you choose to. We do not have the swaging gear, however to save on costs we take sections down at a time, take them into the rigger, get them made up. Then we re-install them.

When we changed out our standing rigging two years ago, it cost us about 4.5K. I have heard 20K prices being flung around. So, for us, that represents a big saving.

Repair your own sails. Now this can also be an expensive area where you can reduce your costs. Learn how to do minor sail repair, how to make repairs on your canvas work. I would not say it is fun, but you can save lots by sewing your own clears, cushions, squabs etc. Additionally, you learn a new skill and you will learn more about your boat.

So yes, get to know your boat. She will show you where she needs attention. Getting onto fixes early can help avoid expensive repairs at inconvenient times.

Set up your boat to be self sufficient

We pretty much run on solar and wind power and, as I said before, we have everything we need. We recently upgraded to 500 watts of solar which has given us a big boost.

A couple of years ago we changed our batteries out. We used to run Trojan Wet Cells, which actually we found very good. This time round we are trying out AGM’s. So, our House bank has four AGM’s (220 amp hours each) and we have
a separate engine start bank.

The house bank runs all of our power consumption, which is either 12V or runs though a 2000W inverter. By this
I mean, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, communication tools, lights, fans, instruments, watermaker: you name it, everything electrical that we have.

Now, here is where your change in habits kicks in. To do this we simply run electrical items during the day. So: charge laptops, wash clothes, make water, bake bread if you have an electric bread maker all during the day. This ensures that you have enough battery for night time usage.

We do not have a TV, but our stored power gives us lights, a stereo or a couple of movies on the laptop for us when we are at anchor; plus enough power over to run our chartplotters and nav. systems through the night when sailing.

Lights: we changed over to LED. It is surprising how much power you can save. Darren tells me the lighting system now draws only one ampere!

Think about investing in a Watermaker. This one item has considerably improved our lives.

We looked into a portable generator version, however did not want to have to store another item, nor carry the extra fuel to run it. We also didn’t want to have to pull out, unpack, hook up, run, then pack it all down again, just to make water.

We also looked at engine-driven. Lots of plusses here with the higher output but, again: fuel, noise etc.

So we have an installed a 12V version with an output of 30 litres per hour. It works really well for us. We simply flick the switch and run it. About three times a week say for a couple of hours suits our needs. Easy.

Now we both shower most days, although we do not have long showers. Importantly, we have not run out of water since this has been installed; nor have we had to do the dreaded dinghy run to lug 20l Jerry cans.

What I like about having the watermaker is that we can go to remote areas and not have to ask them to share their valuable resources with us. We are privileged to visit amazing places and communities and do not feel they should have to supply us because we choose to go there.

So, investment wise: solar panels $500; wind generator $1500; regulator $150-$300; 4x 225ah house batteries $1600; inverter $300 watermaker $6000.

So, for an investment of a little over $10K we live completely under our own steam as far as power and water consumption goes.

I would also add: consider investing in a wind vane or hydro vane. These are a fabulous self steering systems that do not require power. Your instruments and electronic self steering do consume a lot of juice.

We have one on our list ... the list ... the list...

Hardstand on the ocean as much as possible

Think of jobs that you can do while onboard. Now I know there are restrictions for people living in marinas, however I am talking cruising here.

You can paint your decks, replace your rigging, do your internal woodwork and painting, re-bed toerails and deck fittings, service your engine: all at anchor. Yes, you have to think carefully about how you will dispose of your waste, but it can all be done, by you, without the added cost of dusty hardstands.

Darren once even fitted a sea-cock while in the water. He took the boat up a creek, moved all his gear over to the opposite side of the boat to help lay her over enough, then changed the sea cock out. Brilliant!

Avoid marinas

Sarean has not seen the inside of a marina in over five years. Did I hear some of you gasping?

Wonderful places to meet people, eat, drink, be merry. Easy to get on and off your vessel and great that someone will come and catch your lines for you. Some even deliver a daily paper! However, be mindful, marinas also charge a premium for fuel, so we prefer to find diesel and petrol at a local supplier.

A marina berth for us is about $75 per night. For a cat of our length it is $130. No wonder people who spend a good deal of time in and out of marinas find cruising expensive.

Now this marina avoidance business can vary depending on where you are cruising: what is the coastline like, for example. It may not be hospitable to anchor out.

Luckily, because of the onboard setup we have even if we did go into a marina we probably would not even plug in.

Do your washing on board

We have been doing some big messy boat projects, so in the past few weeks I have been taking our washing to a laundromat. Two loads of washing and drying has been costing around $26. On a regular basis those costs would add up. Also remember, as a cruiser, you may not come across a laundromat for weeks even months.

I used to shove my washing into a lidded bucket, tie it to the deck and go for a sail. Things would generally have had a good old wash by the time I got to my destination. Then I would go through the process of rinsing and wringing them all out. It was a ritual I used to enjoy.

We have recently purchased a twin tub. We like this as we can re-use the water and it has a spin cycle. Bonus all round.

There are tons of options out there and you can run them off a good inverter. Watch your water and power requirements when purchasing.

Use less gas in cooking

So this is a good tip, especially prior to passages: I cook in batches.

We use a pressure cooker a lot as it cooks quicker, therefore saving on gas. I then freeze down the remainders or use them up during the following weeks.

You can also get thermal cookers, Wonder bags and solar ovens that will slow cook your meal during the day.

I have a solar oven on my wish list, I just do not know where I will store it as yet.

Air con: do you really need it?

So running an air-conditioning unit can be really hard on your batteries, almost impossible. Consider also the cost, noise and smell in running a generator.

So some secrets we have found to living without air-con is to create airflow in other ways: install 12V fans; sew or purchase windsocks they push through a surprising amount of air; create shade, I have sewn shade sail triangles which we suspend over the deck.

We also have an awning that rolls out of the side of the stack pack on the boom. These two things reduce the heat through the deck considerably.

Think about insulation. We are in the last stages of putting insulation in behind our headlinings, under the decks and along the ceilings. Also thick curtains and shade curtains on your windows and hatches help keep heat out.

Ponder your galley appliances

I have a friend who runs her engine every time she wants to make a coffee. She thinks I am nuts.

I don’t know if you can get a 12V espresso machine. I don’t know if you can get one that would run on an inverter. Luckily, we are tea drinkers. However we do have a French press for guests, which makes a jolly fine brew and only uses gas.

Also consider purchasing a hand blender, 12V appliances and/or appliances that will run off your inverter.

Vacuum seal meats

Now this is a goodie I learnt a few years back. Vacuum sealed meats do not need to be frozen. They will last up to three months chilled. Another small way to save on power consumption.

Food and entertainment

So turns out this is one of the biggest spends on the cruising budget for most people.

When it comes to socialising I really enjoy getting people over, with everyone bringing a shared plate.

When we go out, oftentimes we will share a main and we find eating local brings the price down.

Also when provisioning, if we are in a bigger town or city, I try to find wholesaler or bulk supply store.

Some people find it challenging to step outside of their usual foodie zone, and can spend quite a lot sourcing
a particular brand or item.

Parts and equipment

We try to carry a sufficient amount of spares.

This can be tricky depending on where you are cruising, however generally you can track down items on the internet to
be sent in, or shop locally.

So yes, we do not always shop at chandleries. We source things like fuel pumps from farming and machinery suppliers. Or water filters from hardware stores. Think laterally when sourcing your gear.

As an aside, we have changed over to battery-powered tools, which has been a boon as we do not have to run our emergency genny to run them. We simply recharge through the inverter.

Share skills and barter

You meet the most amazing people within this big wonderful cruising community, who have a wide variety of talents and skills. Do not be shy to ask for help. You will be surprised by how many will offer their skills. It creates community and fosters long term friendships.

A great way to thank can be with a meal, or to share some of your skills where they have a need in return.

I hope this has given you a few more ideas on how you can be a little more energy efficient, reduce your environmental impact.

And make those vital cruising dollars stretch further.

Meg Watson
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