It seems every time we mention that we live on a boat, people ask the same set of questions. So we are going to try and answer them here.

What do you do all day?

This has got to be the single most asked question. The answer we give is "Nothing. And it takes us all day to do it!".

If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty, then I will try and break it down.

Most days we try and get one job done in the morning. This could be fixing something that is broken, or washing down the deck, or doing some maintenance such as an oil change for the engines.

By mid day you really want to be finished your work. After a light lunch of cut fruit it's time to take it easy. If we are at a marina it's a good time to head to the air-conditioned club house for some laundry, or head to a store for some shopping. If we are anchored out it's a good time for a swim, or to sit and read a book.

Late afternoon brings a rain storm for 20 minutes which cools things off a bit.
After a light dinner it's usually time to hang out with other cruisers, maybe play a game or two, or just sit and chat.

How do you get water?

The boat has a large water tank on board. This can be filled at any marina. It is free if you are staying at the marina or purchasing fuel. If you are just stopping in for water they charge a very nominal fee.

We also have a reverse osmosis "watermaker" on board. This device takes sea water and puts it through a filter that is so fine that even the salt is removed. Bugs, germs, and other contaminants are thousands of times larger than a salt molecule, so they are also removed.

How do the toilets work?

We have two toilets on board, or as they a called on a boat, the head.

Our port side head flushes directly overboard. This can only be used when you are more than 3 miles offshore. The rest of the time, a valve closes the unit off.

The starboard head flushes into a holding tank. When more than 3 miles offshore this can be opened to drain overboard. When you are in a marina you can get your tank pumped out, usually for free. If you stop in a marina as you are passing you can often get a free pump-out if you are buying fuel. If you are not buying anything then its a few dollars for a pump-out. Some places will even come to you by boat and do the pump-out.

For instructions on how to use the head, click here.

Do you have showers on board?

Our two heads both have hot water showers. Some boats also have an outdoor shower on the rear deck to rinse off after a swim.

There is an electric hot water tank similar to the one in your house, but to conserve energy we use solar shower bags. Filled with 5 gallons of water these black bags are placed on the deck in the sun. The hose from it comes through the roof hatch in the head, and can be turned on and off like a regular shower. The only drawback is that you can not use them in the afternoon as they are too hot. But before noon or after 6pm they are perfect.

We will be installing a new hot water heater that will use waste solar energy to heat the water. This can then be mixed with cold water to adjust the temperature of your shower.

How do you do laundry?

Laundry without a laundry machine seems like a lot of work, but it isn't.

Let's start with laundry while in a marina. Every marina has coin laundry. Large inexpensive machines can clean loads of laundry at once. It's a great time to socialize as well with other cruisers.

When not at a marina it's a fairly easy job as well. You need a 5 gallon bucket with a lid, a plunger, and some biodegradable detergent.  In the morning when you head out you place your dirty clothes in the bucket with a bit of detergent (you don't need much), and add (fresh or salt) water to cover. Place the lid on the bucket and leave it for an hour. The motion of the boat while sailing performs most of the agitation required. Open the bucket, drain the water and add clean fresh water for rinsing. Close the bucket again and wait another hour.

You can also do the laundry when you are at anchor, but you will need to use the plunger to agitate.

At this point you clothes are cleaned and rinsed. Now you need to ring them out. This can be done by hand, but it is hard work. The simple solution is a hand wringer. Remember the old wringer washers from the 50's? Well you can buy the wringer part on Amazon (click the link here). This make wringing the clothes a simple task.

Now since it's only mid morning, hang the laundry along the lifelines on the sides of the boat. By mid afternoon your laundry is dry and ready to be folded and put away.

What do you do for electricity?

Electricity on a boat is self generated. It is not like living in the city where you can use as much as you like at any time of the day or night. But it's certainly not like camping or pioneer days.

To begin with, all modern boats use LED lighting. These produce the same colour light as the older incandescent bulbs (or any other colour), but with virtually no electricity. Our very large boat can run every single light on board and it will use less than 100 watts, a single incandescent light. And with all the lights on we are MUCH brighter.

Cooking is done with a gas stove, usually propane. This is the same form of cooking on high-end ranges for luxury homes. This offers quicker, more efficient, and better control of your cooking than an old-fashion electric stove.

Refrigerators cost a lot more on boats than in a house however. Due to size restrictions, most boat fridges are sized similar to bar fridges. But while a bar fridge for your house can run $100 to 200, a similar sized boat fridge can be a thousand. There are two reasons for this. First your house fridge is 120 volts while the boat fridge will be 12 volts, or run the compressor off your engine. The second reason is the design and insulation levels. With cheap(ish) electricity in your house you don't care about the energy usage of your fridge. But on a boat that wasteful house fridge will cost you a lot more when you need to generate the electricity yourself. The end result is most boat fridges use about as much energy in a year as your fridge uses in a week.

So how does the electricity work. The heart of a boat's electric system is the battery bank. The massive and expensive batteries can run you 75 kilograms (160 lbs) and $400 each. Ready for the scary news? You need several. We currently have 3, and are adding 2 more this year.

The batteries hold the electricity for when you need it. Most of the things on a boat are 12 volt so they connect directly to the batteries. For items that need 120 volts there is an inverter that converts 12 volt DC to 120 volt AC that then perfectly matches your house electric supply. The inverters are about 95% efficient though so that means a 100 watt device would use 105 watts through an inverter. That's why it's better to use 12 volt things on a boat. That extra 5% can add up quickly.

Replenishing the power in the batteries is done through a combination of sources.

The simplest is by using solar panels. They are expensive to buy and install, but then provide free energy for 20 years and more. When the sun is shining they harvest vast amounts. During rain, and at night, however, they produce none.

The next way is by using a wind generator. These can run from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The more expensive it is the more power they generate, the quieter they are, and the easier to operate. As long as there is a breeze they will generate energy 24 hours a day, and in the Caribbean there is almost always a breeze. The biggest down side to wind power is the noise. The cheaper units can be quite noisy, and this vibrates throughout the boat. We have a Rutland 1200, one of the top of the line units that is quiet, yet generates a lot of electricity in any wind.

Your boat engines have alternators on them. Similar to the alternator in your car, but much more heavy duty, these will charge up your batteries while you are underway if you are using the engines.

If you are sitting at anchor, with no sun and no wind (that almost NEVER happens in the Caribbean), then your last straw will be to use your gas powered generator. While not really all that loud, they sure seem to be when in a quiet tropical lagoon. They are quick ways to annoy other cruisers around you. But if all else fails it may be your only option. The other cruisers will usually understand as they have probably been in the same situation at some point. In fact, if you need to run it chances are they will need there's too.

There are a few other ways to generate power as well, such as towed generators for while under sail. They all have their uses, but are more for niche markets and not needed for general cruisers.

When you are in a marina you also get "shore power". This is a heavy duty extension cord that connects the power outlet on the dock to your boat. Available in 30 amp and 50 amp sizes, this gives you unlimited power. This will also then charge up your batteries overnight so when you leave tomorrow you have full batteries.

Got a question?

If you have any more questions, we'd love to hear them. Use the "Contact Us" link to send us your questions and we'll answer them.