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  • 1 Post By Paul & Sheryl Shard
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Old 08-06-2003
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Paul & Sheryl Shard is on a distinguished road
Earning Your Living While Cruising


Where there's a will, there's a way. The cruising life can be sustained through a number of different fiscal strategies.
There's no doubt about it. Once cruising gets into your blood it's hard to return to a regular life ashore. This inevitably brings up the question, "How to earn a living while cruising?" Well, it is possible. During our travels over the years, Paul and I have met many long-term cruisers who, like us, are earning their keep while traveling the world in a comfortable style.

From our experience and from the surveys we've conducted, there seem to be four basic approaches:

1. Earn from investments.
2. Find work en route.
3. Work en route for employers or clients back home.
4. Fly home occasionally to do contract work.

Earn from Investments    Cruising on investment income seems to be the most common method of earning while cruising. Most North American cruisers we meet are retired, have sold or rented out their home, and are living a relaxing more cost-effective lifestyle aboard their boats as opposed to life ashore. Their pensions and retirement funds are in place and provide the funds they need for a more simple life afloat. But you don't have to be retired to take advantage of investment income.

Pete and Annie Hill, authors of Voyaging on a Small Income, left the rat race at a young age and have been cruising for years on the interest they earn on a small amount of income they have invested. They supplement their earnings through their writing.

Paul and I did a similar thing on our first long-term cruise from 1989 to1992. Before setting sail on my 30th birthday, we had both been stashing our cash in various investments to fund a two-year cruise based on a cruising budget of $1,000 per month plus a $10,000 contingency fund. This included making the maximum contributions allowed to our Retirement Savings Plan or Retirement Investment Fund. In this way, our savings were sheltered. When we began our cruise we were no longer employed so when we withdrew money from our retirement fund it was taxed at a very low rate.

"Communications abroad and afloat are not as easy, reliable, or as affordable as when living ashore in most cases, so it may be a good idea to simplify your investments before setting sail just for security and peace-of-mind..."

Rules and rates vary based on the fund(s) you have and on the tax laws at the time, so check out the current legislation. Like Pete and Annie, we supplemented our income through writing and photography, but this was bonus money. Our investments formed the foundation of our cruising kitty and since we had chosen secure low-maintenance investments, earning was stress-free.

We gave our parents power-of-attorney, and when we needed money, they transferred the funds out of our investments and put the money into accounts we could access through banks or ATMs.We've met a few cruisers who rely on complicated investments and are stressed out since they can't get good regular phone connections to their stock brokers nor keep up with fluctuations in the market when they are island hopping. Communications abroad and afloat are not as easy and reliable, nor as affordable, as when living ashore in most cases, so it may be a good idea to simplify your investments before setting sail just for security and peace-of-mind, unless you have a money manager you totally trust.

A popular form of investment income for cruisers, whether they are retired or on sabbatical, is renting out their home. This can be great or a total nightmare depending on the tenants you have and whom you leave in charge to manage the property. You do need to leave someone in charge as a contact for tenants and to handle any problems that arise—repairs, complaints, etc.—and to make sure the rent is collected. It is hard to keep on top of what is really going on when you are far away and hard to reach.

Finding Work En Route    Finding work en route can be a difficult thing to do since most countries require work permits and have strict regulations about transient labor, especially if there is a serious unemployment problem in their country.

"I say, it's a no fun, being an illegal alien..." While the right skills can pay off in life over the horizon, keep in mind that there are often legal issues ashore to factor in.

Even if you have the necessary papers to work in a foreign port, potential employers may be worried by the fact that you arrived on your sailboat and are likely to sail off again making them leery of investing time and training in you. Of course, this all depends on the type of work you do. In some cases, your skills will be highly valued in the places you visit, and employers will be happy to have you for however long you chose to work with them.

From our experience, the types of jobs found most easily en route are in the tourist industry—waiters, bartenders, tour guides, diving instructors, etc., and skilled labor such as mechanics, plumbers, and carpenters.We have also met cruisers with professional careers such as nurses, doctors, dentists, computer consultants, and teachers who cruise, then stop for a while to work along the way, but in all cases the work they obtained required pre-arrangement through their professional associations, and in some cases exams had to be taken to obtain the necessary licences to practice in the countries they were visiting, and the wages didn't compare to what they earned back home. However, they find working in a foreign country is an exciting and valuable part of their cruising experience.


The first day of work abroad may give you first-day-of-school flashbacks. Although the pay scale may differ from home, the experience is likely to be rewarding.
Paul did this the year we wintered in Gibraltar. Paul's parents are British so he has dual citizenship and can work anywhere in the EU with his British passport. We were nearing the end of our two-year savings and were about to head back to the Caribbean then home. But here we were in the Mediterranean with our own yacht and so many places to explore. So we decided to work for the winter in Gib since Paul had computer skills valuable to many of the businesses there. We lived aboard at Marina Bay and, while our neighbors worked on their boats, Paul donned his navy blue pin-stripe suit and did the nine-to-five thing while I worked on articles and marketed Paul's photography. On weekends, we scripted and filmed sequences for Call of the Ocean, a television documentary that was later licensed by the Discovery Channel.

We made lots of new friends and had a fun winter but since living costs were more than we expected and wages weren't what they were at home, we cruised on a very strict budget the following year which took a lot of fun out of cruising for us. In fact, many cruisers who rely on stopping and working en route do find it stressful. Even when they get a good-paying flexible job they seem always to be worrying about where they will find work next and if they will be able to earn enough to keep cruising.

Even more stressful is relying on getting work under-the-table which many cruisers do when they can't get the necessary work permits in the places they are visiting. In some countries this isn't a problem since things are very relaxed. However, in most countries working illegally is a serious offense and you risk stiff fines, deportation, and confiscation of your boat. It's up to you to do the research and weigh the risks.

To reduce the risks, many sailors keep their work-for-cash confined to the cruising community, doing work for other cruisers such as engine maintenance, refrigeration repair, plumbing, canvas work, carpentry, etc. But this is still risky since it's technically illegal when these services are available ashore in the port you are visiting. It isn't very reliable work either and since most cruisers are on a budget, they'd rather do barter for work done, i.e. dinner for an outboard repair, etc.


If you can deal with the red tape, have the right boat, the right connections, and the right licenses, you may be able to charter your own boat. 

So many potential cruisers we meet, dream of sailing south and chartering their boats to earn their keep afloat, but this is not an easy thing to do. There are strict regulations in the islands about chartering for the safety of paying passengers, operators licenses are required, the competition is fierce, and those we know that are successful have large beautiful boats, skills in the hospitality industry, and are well connected with charter brokers.

 Having said that, we do have several cruising friends who successfully charter their boats in a casual under-the-table sort of way. They enjoy entertaining and supplement their cruising income by having lots of friends come down for a week or two who pay all the expenses during their visit plus a bit extra for the experience. It works well since the hosts aren't catering to strangers, they earn some cash to help maintain their boats, and their friends get an affordable sailing vacation.

Working on Board    Although this is a little harder to manage, with a little creative thinking and organization, doing work on board for an employer or client back home can be a satisfying way to earn a living while cruising. Some of the cruisers we have met are working on projects such as software development or design, or are writers with book contracts or magazine assignments.

We've met a lot of artists gathering inspiration for their paintings or drawings and doing commissioned work. In Bermuda we met a financial planner from Connecticut who had sailed to the island and was living aboard his boat there for the summer. He was plugged in at the dock with all the phone/fax/internet connections he needed to run his business and was in constant contact with his office and clients back home. When he had to, he flew home for meetings or to sort out problems and at the end of the season, he made the passage back home. Working for clients at home means cruising with guaranteed work for people you know at wages you are used to. There are no cultural or language barriers to overcome or legal issues to worry about. As long as the work does get done and communications stay open, we find this a nice way to work.


The authors alternate between filming abroad and taking trips home in a schedule that keeps them refreshed whether cruising or shoreside.

Occasionally Work at Home    This work option has a couple of benefits. If you can organize contract work back home, you can cruise part-time knowing work is waiting for you. You don't feel so tied to a job, and still feel free when you are sailing. It can be a refreshing change to be back in the work force for a short time knowing you'll soon be back to the boat. It keeps you from taking things for granted, keeps you up to date and in touch with your industry, as well as in touch with family and friends. Paul and I have been doing more of this lately and have found it to be a nice balance. When we're on board, our cruising experience is enriched through the research and filming we do for our television series, Distant Shores, which now airs in Canada, the UK, and Asia.

Every two to three months we fly home to do post-production on the episodes we've shot, conduct seminars, and complete book projects. We have lots of dinner parties and spend as much time as we can with our families whom we cherish. Then when it's time to return to the boat, we're refreshed and recharged and can't wait to get back and continue our adventures. Other people for whom this arrangement seems to work well are those that take on seasonal construction work, consultants who keep in touch and are called in to advise or manage short-term projects, and office workers who fill in during holidays or maternity leaves.

Flexibility is key. There are lots of options for earning a living while cruising but when considering them, it's important to take into account the level of comfort and security you and your mate (this is important) need to feel safe and happy while cruising. But with an open mind fueled by a love for life afloat you may be surprised at what can work for you.

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