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The Cruising Life-How to Get Started

This is Part One of a two-part series on getting started in cruising while you are still young.

"Those lucky guys!" one of our friends reacted after he heard we were taking off to go cruising. "Lucky?" I thought. "I wonder if he realizes how much planning and how many sacrifices we made to make this happen?"

If the cruising lifestyle has cast its spell on you, but you don't know what to do next to make the break, maybe we can help. We will break the process into a series of eight steps to help your dream of cruising become a reality. In this, Part One of two articles, we'll address the first four of these important areas in detail.

  • Step 1 Making the Decision
  • Step 2 Establishing a Time Frame
  • Step 3 Organizing Your Finances
  • Step 4 Drawing Up a Pre-Cruising Agreement

Step 1 Making the Decision Believe it or not, this can often be the hardest part. By decision, we mean the actual time when you and your partner look each other in the eye and really commit that you're going to do it.

In our case, that decision came six years ago while we were in the hot tub. We started out joking about quitting our jobs and how great it would be to take off in a sailboat. After a couple of years, the joking became a little more serious each time the subject came up. It soon became evident to both of us that this was something for which we were willing to risk a lot of stuff, and that we were about to make a huge life change. At the time it seemed pretty scary. Finally we said, " No more talk, let's just do it! We'll make a plan, work hard, and stick to it."

Step 2 Establishing a Time Frame Once you've made the decision -the real and final decision-you need to set a goal of actually being on a boat and cruising within a specific time frame. With the date circled on your calendar, you're forced to stop dreaming and start working toward this goal. If you're like most people, you'll work better having a deadline.

The next time frame to establish is how long do you plan to cruise. Two years? Four years? No time frame? Each of these items will greatly affect how you organize your life and finances, for the time before and after you leave.

For many couples, waiting until normal retirement to set off on their cruise is the right move. If, like us, you can't wait that long, but aren't sure just taking off is the right move, you might want to try living aboard before quitting your job. It's a great way to learn your boat and get a feel for the space onboard.

We think that two years is the minimum amount of time you should allow to fully enjoy all that the cruising life offers. In our case, it took a year just to wind down from our prior fast-paced schedules. Any time less than that will just whet your appetite and leave you craving for more. We have met a number of couples who are not able to leave full-time yet, and are cruising part-time. These folks return home to work part of the year, and look forward to rejoining their boat and new friends the rest of the year.

Step 3 Organizing Your Finances "You guys never have fun anymore!" our friends exclaimed. They were angry with us because on this 4th of July weekend, we were busy building a back deck on a house and wouldn't come out sailing with them. They didn't know it at the time, but we had a plan.

If you want to go cruising, one of the most important things you'll need to do, assuming that you're not independently wealthy, is to get your finances in order. First, look at your debt. Is your car financed? If it is, sell it and buy a clunker for cash. Then throw away your credit cards. Credit cards facilitate impulse buying, plus most cards carry high interest rates. Get rid of them! Start an automatic savings program, or increase your contributions to your existing account. Compound interest works like magic. It's only common sense, and hey-it's your future. Both Larry and I also worked the equivalent of two jobs the last couple of years before we took off. The real key, though, is not how much money you make, but how much you can save.

One of the easiest ways to part with a lot of your money is by eating in restaurants frequently. Larry and I used to eat out several times a week. Why not? We worked hard and we deserved it. At least that's what we told ourselves. When you do the math, you'll see that when a couple spends $30 each for dinner three times a week, it adds up to $9,360 every year-close to a year's cruising budget down the drain for restaurants. If you want to go cruising any time soon, stop eating out.

Lastly, stop buying stuff that you don't need. For two years prior to leaving, we decided not to buy anything unless it fit and functioned aboard our future boat. In doing so, our values slowly began to change, and we soon realized that 75 percent of our past purchases were unnecessary items. By the way, it's been almost three years since we quit our jobs and moved aboard. Our friends that said we never had fun anymore? Well, they're still working nine-to-five, spending lots of money, and complaining about the traffic on the morning commute.

To see just how much money it takes to cruise, here's our spreadsheet, taken from a prior article entitled The Budget - What Does it Really Cost to Cruise? For more details on each line item of our budget, and to help you develop your own budget, check out the article.

Safari Cruising Expenses

Average / Month

Food & Sundries






Marinas / Dockage


Repairs / Upgrades / Maintenance


Charts / Nav Aids




Health Insurance


Boat Insurance




Total Monthly Expenses


Total Yearly Expenses


Can you find work along the way? In today's economy, absolutely yes. We often meet cruisers who stop occasionally and work to build up the cruising kitty. In fact, it's not uncommon at all,

Step 4 Drawing Up a Pre-Cruising Agreement A very important question to address before making the big change to the cruising life is, "Whose dream is it?" Often the dream is not shared equally by couples. Very often, in fact.

If this is your case, you may want to establish some type of Pre-Cruising Agreement between you and your partner. A properly drafted agreement addresses potential problems and offers solutions before you cast off for distant shores. Good friends of ours started out with a Pre-Cruising Agreement that worked well. Their particular agreement allowed the couple, Paul and Wyn, to sail for at least one year. Wyn, who was initially a somewhat reluctant cruiser, agreed not to complain if she was unhappy living and sailing aboard a boat. In return, Paul acknowledged that after one year of giving it her best, if Wyn wanted to return to life ashore, they would sell the boat and move back into a house without any hard feelings. Wyn told us privately that this agreement is what pulled her through many of the hard times during their first year of cruising. She was comforted knowing that in just a few more months she could move back ashore to the safety and luxury of a home.

Surprisingly, after the first year's cruise was up, Wyn's opinion of living aboard and sailing had changed completely. The first year's learning curve was steep, but once behind her, she was comfortable in all situations aboard the boat. She realized that she loved the cruising lifestyle and wants to remain in it indefinitely. Paul and Wyn have cruised for four years now, and are shopping for a new boat on which to continue their adventures. The Pre-Cruising Agreement made it possible for them.

In Part Two of this series, Sue and Larry cover steps five through eight.

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