Cruising on small craft

This article is about travel by small craft, including both motor and sail powered vessels, where the vessel is owned or chartered by the travellers, and may be operated by the travellers. It does not include travel by large vessels, where the traveller is merely a paying passenger, and the operation and organisation are provided by the vessel's owners or operators; for that, see Cruise ships.

Small craft at anchor in a bay at Rineia, Greece

The topic does not include live-aboard diving excursions, whitewater canoeing or rafting, boat fishing, or racing of watercraft, though these are activities which may be included in the "Do" section below.

Cruising means different things to different cruisers, but all cruising shares the following characteristics: living on the boat and travelling, often for extended periods of time. To reduce fuel expenses, the most common cruising boat is a sailboat.

Cruising for a few weeks or shorter times is common. Not all advice here is relevant if your home harbour is within easy reach.

Some cruisers are "long term" and travel for many years, the most adventurous circling the globe over a period of five to ten years. Others take a year or two off from work and school to experience the cruising lifestyle.

Due to the transient nature of cruising, cruisers form their own community. Cruisers commonly, upon anchoring in a new area, will stop by nearby boats (in their dinghy) to introduce themselves. Cruisers leaving an area are happy to trade charts with boats going in the opposite direction.


There are several categories of small craft that may be used for cruising, including motor vessels and sailing vessels, both of which may operate over large ranges, and may cross oceans or circumnavigate the globe during a voyage, and smaller vessels, which may be used for day trips, overnight trips and short coastal and inland voyages. These include human-powered boats, such as canoes and kayaks.

When choosing a boat you should usually try and see if the smallest would suit; it is easy to want a boat that is too big to easily handle or to afford. A larger boat will cost more to buy, rent or service, will burn more fuel, and will be charged higher fees at most marinas. Look for quality instead of size; your space will be limited anyway (unless you opt for a ship), but a well-planned boat will do wonders with the space available – besides being more reliable. You do not want too small a boat when crossing an ocean, though, since a larger boat will handle waves better and will have space for the provisions and spare parts needed for longer journeys. About 36 feet (11 m) is the smallest reasonable size for typical cruisers, though some people have crossed oceans or even gone around the world in much smaller boats.

If you are going to charter your boat unmanned, i.e. if you are going to be the skipper yourself, you might have to show some proof of competence. Formal qualifications are needed to skipper your own boat in some countries, at least if it is big or fast (in at least Denmark and Sweden there are special exams for driving fast boats). Check what is needed.

In Europe the main document of qualification (in the cases where a document is needed) is the International Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft (ICC), which allows skippering sailboats or powerboats, at sea or in rivers and canals, up to a certain size. Nationals get the certificate according to national systems, while foreigners can get it from, for example, the Royal Yachting Association in the UK (RYA).

Do make sure you know how to fix elementary problems with your equipment (especially the engine) and carry adequate tools and spare parts on board. Repair services are not available at sea or in all ports and having your boat towed long distances is very expensive.

This self-sufficient sailboat has solar panels to charge batteries, and a wind-vane steering system.

Sailboat cruising[edit]

With a sailboat you will usually not move quickly, but sailboats are often well suited for life on board – also at sea. Cruising by the coast you will often leave in the morning and get to your destination in the evening, sometimes with overnight passages. Most long journeys are made by sailing boats, as you do not have to worry about fuel consumption, other than perhaps for electricity.

If you are going to sail (some use sailboats hardly ever setting sails), you need some basic skills. The basics are easy to learn – you won't sail as fast as others, you will have to use the engine for mooring and in tight channels and you do not want to ride a storm by sail, but you will be able to learn more day by day. Invite a skilful sailor now and then and you will learn all the tricks also.

Open sailboat cruising[edit]

With an open sailboat you will probably not want to sleep or dine at sea, so you will have to find a mooring each night, even in good weather (and in bad weather you might want to stay on shore). On the other hand you can land almost anywhere and (with many open boats) easily take the boat on a trailer for land transport. Few people go for long journeys in open boats, but they are nice for exploring a lake or an archipelago once you are there.

Motorboat cruising[edit]

Hull speed boats[edit]

With a displacement or hull-speed motorboat your speed and pace will be about the same as if sailing. You will have less height and draught, somewhat more reliable timetables – and you will not sail. Some motorboats are for sheltered waters only, but some are suitable for the coasts and seas also. For oceans you need quite a big boat, able to carry enough fuel.

Some recent designs offer considerably more speed than sailing boats with a fuel economy not too much worse than with traditional displacement speeds. Some of these designs use long narrow hulls as a multi-hull arrangement.

It is not uncommon to use sailboats as hull-speed "motorboats". Most modern sailboats of decent size have adequate engines for motoring, and there are many more sailboats to choose from than motorboats suited for life at sea. Just do not use the sails – but keeping a few sails for pleasant winds, for stability in rough seas and for engine failures (and preferably learning to use them) is hardly a bad idea.

Planing boats[edit]

With a planing hull you will usually reach your destination more quickly. Typically, overall distances will not be longer than with slower boats, but you will be able to go on quite long afternoon trips and spend more time at one-day destinations. And you might like the speed itself (but be considerate of those you pass, and of wildlife). Fuel consumption and range will be an issue.

Some think a fast boat is good for safety: you can reach shelter in time when bad weather is approaching. Do not overestimate your speed though, rough seas can develop quite quickly, forcing you to slow down.

Small planing boats are often very sensitive for the load, especially with a weak motor. Check whether you will get the intended performance with the worst-case load and circumstances.

Many planing boats are intended for sheltered waters, and some do not behave well at all in even moderate waves. Some that look seaworthy still have weaknesses, such as too small scuppers, unprotected air intakes near the water surface, weak windows and hatches that cannot be reliably closed. Check for such weaknesses, check certificates if at all possible, and watch out for later changes.

Kayak and canoe cruising[edit]

See also: Sea kayaking, Canoeing, Whitewater sports

Kayaks and canoes can go almost anywhere. There are people who go for kayak or canoe journeys of several thousand kilometres. It is easy to skip less interesting or too demanding passages by taking a car ride. In the wilderness the kayak or canoe can be carried past rapids that are too wild or shallow, and over short distances of land. There are places in Canada and the US where this was common in the fur trade era; their names often include "portage", from the French verb porter (carry).

There are several types. Sea kayaks are not good for rapids and white-water kayaks not for journeys on the sea; some kayaks are made specially for beginners. There is a whole lot of not always obvious stuff to learn about security. Making good use of a canoe or kayak requires a lot of training, but less demanding trips can be made after a short introduction.


The world is your oyster. At least those parts which have enough water to float your boat. Travelling is usually by sailing or motoring from one place to another, but in some cases vessels are transported by ship, road or rail to the cruising area of choice, where they are met by the crew. This allows transit across otherwise unsuitable terrain, like mountains and deserts, or over distances or through areas unsuitable for the specific vessel. In some cases folding canoes are even carried as baggage on aircraft, then used as a base for waterborne camping trips at the destination. Often it is possible to rent a suitable vessel at the destination, which usually is cheaper than bringing your own over large distances.

In some areas, small boats are a major part of the local transport system, especially in areas with many islands. For example, they are a common way to travel in Indonesia, the Philippines and among the South Pacific islands. In other areas, such as the Greek Islands, larger ferries are dominant in commercial transport, but there are small craft as well. Small craft may also be a means of travel within a city, for example on the canals of Venice. Houseboats are found on the canals of Europe and the rivers of Australia and Canada and are a common place for tourists to stay in Srinagar.

Ocean cruises[edit]

Sailing ship rounding Cape Horn.

If you want to cross an ocean but are not confident enough to go with a boat of your own and do not have friends that are, Hitchhiking boats is an option: you could get to work as crew on a private boat. Ocean Cruising Club has a bursary (scholarship grant) program to help defray the costs for young sailors interested in getting onto a yacht for a major passage or ocean crossing. Also ships of Sail Training International and similar associations are an option for the youth.

A common route over the Atlantic is Spain/Portugal/Gibraltar to Madeira, the Canaries, the Cape Verde, and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean (see Voyages of Columbus). The return trip is often via the Azores.


See also: Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation, Cape Route

At any given time there are cruisers who are actively circumnavigating the globe on their small boats. There are several potential routes. One follows the trade wind routes through the Panama Canal, remaining in the middle latitudes. Another takes the more extreme route via the five Great Capes (which more or less coincides with the traditional clipper route). Stops in Sri Lanka, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific Islands are other favoured destinations with mild or predictable weather.

Coastal cruises[edit]

North America[edit]

Cruisers on the East coast of North America commonly visit the north (e.g. Maine, Newfoundland) in warmer months and travel south on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) as far as the Bahamas in the winter. Some cruisers from the East Coast of North America make the winter trek south to the Caribbean and return to the north in summer to avoid the hurricane season. Others continue southward below the hurricane belt.

New England and New York especially Long Island Sound have a myriad of destinations for hopping the coast from the islands off Massachusetts (Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, The Elizabeth Islands) to famous Newport and Block Island in Rhode Island, and the Bays of Long Island.

The Chesapeake Bay is also a very popular cruising area. It is especially good for gunkholing, a form of cruising where each night one anchors in a different location. The Chesapeake, particular the Northern part is rich in gunkholes. Also, the Cheseapeake Bay forms a part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

On the west coast, a popular route alternates the Gulf of California and Mexico in winter with the islands of Washington and British Columbia in the summer. This includes the popular San Juan Islands and Puget Sound in Washington State and the Southern Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island in British Columbia offering some of the most visually stunning scenery available to boaters in North America as well as many vibrant and historical towns that cater to guests arriving in their harbors.


The coasts of Ireland, Scotland and Norway, though challenging, are rewarding destinations for summer cruising: Ireland for the friendliness of the people and stark beauty of the landscape, Scotland for the malts and mountains and Norway for its archipelagos and fjords. The Netherlands, France and the Mediterranean are popular European summer cruising grounds.

Baltic Sea[edit]

Boating on the Baltic Sea is good in the summertime and there is an abundance of guest harbors and towns worth seeing. The Baltic is also a safe destination, with well organized societies, short distances and no tides. The Archipelago Sea between the Baltic proper and the Gulf of Bothnia is the largest archipelago in the world, by count of islands and islets, with sheltered waters and short distances. The coasts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Estonia also otherwise have thousands of beautiful islands and well-marked channels.

One route through a Finnish coastal archipelago is described in Hanko to Uusikaupunki by boat.

Cruising on lakes, rivers and other inland waterways[edit]

River cruise in Melaka, Malaysia.

Canada's Rideau Canal is a popular cruise, as is the Erie Canal in the US and the St. Lawrence River which is the border between the two countries from Cornwall-Massena westward. So are the Great Lakes to which all three connect.

There is an extensive canal system in Western Europe, connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic and the North Sea. The regulations are harmonised in the CEVNI (with the International Certificate of Competence used as proof of competence). Many routes are possible without certificates and with little experience, while the certificate is mandatory on others.

The Saimaa inland archipelago in Finland, with some 14,000 islands, has fairways suiting any yacht, and even more labyrinthine parts to explore by smaller boat, dinghy or canoe. It is reachable by the Saimaa Canal from the Gulf of Finland. The connected waterways cover much of the Finnish Lakeland.

We have itinerary articles for several waterways in China, along parts of which it would be possible to cruise. See Along the Yangtze River, Along the Yellow River and Along the Grand Canal.

See also Felucca cruise on the Nile.

Get started[edit]

Having no previous experience of boating, you should usually start with somebody else being skipper, yourself just helping according to their instructions. The skipper can be a friend, the master of a manned charter boat, or somebody you learnt to know having found them at the local marina. Most people with a yacht are sometimes short of crew or company, so if you live or stay in a suitable environment, you just need the right attitude and perhaps a little luck. Some of the advice in Hitchhiking boats is relevant also for getting a chance to get on shorter trips. Some skippers are better than others on enabling your learning things while on board their boat. Try to get onboard several boats with different skippers. That way you also learn to know different kinds of boats.

The ability to cook a good meal at sea is highly valued in a member of the crew, as is ability to get recalcitrant engines to work, and cheerfulness when woken up in the middle of the night to stand watch on deck in a storm. The first two can be learned at schools or by experience. The third is something you either have or do not, and can vary from day to day – but trying your best will be appreciated.

If there are sheltered waters around, you might also be able to start on your own, with short trips with a small boat. The voyages need to be short enough that you aren't taken by surprise by bad weather (do check weather forecasts), the boat small enough that you can take it to the quay without breaking boat, quay or limbs, even in a surprising gust, and the waters sheltered so that mistakes don't mean danger of life.


While it is quite possible to just buy a boat and learn to use it, getting some training – formal or informal – before setting out on your own is definitely recommended. Formal training may be required to operate marine radio (which is both a handy tool to contact other vessels, authorities, harbour masters and bridge operators, and an important safety equipment), to convince a yacht charting agency about your ability to return the yacht unharmed, and even to enter some canals. Some certificates are recognised in more places than others.

There are a large number of training facilities throughout the world where you can learn the skills that are useful and necessary for cruising in small craft. These range from deckhand up to ocean navigation. Learning the skills of operating a sailing vessel is in itself often a reason for travel, as these schools are frequently in areas where the conditions are pleasant for a vacation. Many charter companies offer training as a side business or as part of manned charters.

There are also online sailing courses available from several recognized entities like NautiEd and American Sailing Association (ASA). These courses are handy if you want to learn the theoretical part at home and then train yourself in water.

Wikibooks has a manual for one yachting exam, the Yacht Officer Exam. Certifications are often limited to a particular jurisdiction and a range of vessel sizes; the linked book, for example, is for an exam required for "deck officers serving in all UK-registered yachts and sail training vessels of 24 metres and over in loadline length and under 3 000 GT". Of course, the training is useful even on other vessels, and a certification may help you get a berth anywhere.

Various Power Squadron groups in the US and Canada offer training for boaters; while not the only source of such training, they are the largest.

Manned charter[edit]

At many yachting destinations you can charter a yacht with crew, which means you can get the experience of cruising with small craft with no previous skills or knowledge related to boat handling. The skipper will probably also act as a guide. You will be able to visit many locations unsuitable for bigger tourist vessels.

Depending on destination and budget the crew may also be willing to take care of meals etcetera. A boat capable of comfortably lodging you, skipper, deck hand and cook is however quite big, so in many areas you might prefer to have a skipper only, have him quickly teach you the basics of boat handling and take care of deck hand duties and household work yourselves. The skipper is responsible for the safety of guests and the boat 24 hours a day, for as many days as the charter lasts. This means that he might be awake all night when circumstances require, not keeping to any ordinary working hours; do your best to allow him sufficient rest.

The common practice is that the charterer signs the contract and then the owner will counter sign to conclude the agreement. After the signatures, the charterer will have 3 working days to remit the first installment which is 50% of the total charter. The remaining amount along with APA (Advance Provisioning Allowance) will be due 30 days prior to embarkation.

Yachting on your own[edit]

Solo yachting requires a great many skills, which will require practice and guidance. If you think you will want a yacht of your own, try it out in little steps. Many people are attracted to the romance of cruising but find that they dislike the reality. First, take a few shorter trips with friends or take a class in sailing (if you think sailing is the way to go) or general boat handling. This will teach you the basics, and you will see if you like it at all.

Next, buy a small dinghy (6–11 feet) with sails. Sail it regularly. If you keep wishing you could go farther, you might be a real cruiser. You could also settle for shorter trips, which is what thousands of boaters do.

Next, crew on a yacht, just for fun. Local yacht clubs often have boats looking for crew. It helps if you are a good cook, or good company. Try to get references and look the boat over. Look for maintenance or safety problems. If you see any, go later with someone else. Never give your return plane ticket, passport or emergency money to the crew. Consider taking your own GPS so you can detect unspoken deviations from the itinerary. This is of course less of an issue on shorter cruises near home.

If you still dream about long cruises, take a class in celestial navigation. GPS is great, but careful navigators use a belt & suspenders approach: They keep a continuous dead reckoning track using a compass and a distance-measurement device called a log, and use coastal landmarks, GPS and celestial navigation to correct it. Careful navigation is needed to avoid stormy areas, shoals and other hazards. Currents can carry you into these without any warning, unless you navigate carefully.

Enjoyed the crewing? Buy a small boat, maybe 30 feet. This is small enough that you can handle it yourself, and big enough to take a family or your mate to anywhere in the world. Big boats are much more work; many rich people buy a big boat, and eventually sell it and get a smaller one because they are more fun.

Abandoned yachts can be found for sale cheaply in many distant places like the Panama Canal, Gibraltar, and Singapore – check the gossip. This happens because many people really do not like cruising and thought they would.

Introduce your family to sailing with the most pleasant cruise you can arrange! Share the planning so everybody buys in to the trip. Share the chores fairly, among everyone (captain takes a turn!). After they're hooked, send your significant other to a class (your relationship will thank you). Let the others take your dinghy out alone so they can love sailing, too. Teach everyone how to manage all the parts of the boat. This way they can get around even if you get sick.

Bareboat charter[edit]

You can also just charter a boat at your destination. You need sufficient experience to handle the boat, but in easy waters some advice and sound judgment may be enough.

Chartering a yacht locally is often much cheaper and easier than to get to the destination with your own. It may even be cheaper than just maintaining a boat of your own, if you are out only a few weeks or weekends a year. You may also want to charter different kinds of boats to try them before buying anything expensive.

In many countries there are rules about who is allowed to charter or skipper a boat of a certain size. There may also be specific rules for the waters in question, e.g. for a certain canal system. The rules about skippering a (foreign) yacht of your own may differ from those about skippering a chartered (domestic) yacht. The chartering business should be able to tell you about the local rules.

In addition to the requirements of the law you have to convince the folks at the charter business about your competence – and handle any situation that arises en route. For the former any documentation about competence or experience may help. Formal looking documentation may also help convincing the coast guard and police, regardless of formal validity. For the latter you will want to be honest to the chartering business. Many cater also to beginning yachters and they should regardless be willing to take at least a minor tour showing you how to handle the boat. Some offer to join you the first day or so.

Like when buying a boat, keeping it small may be advantageous. Big boats are more difficult to handle and in case of a collision (in the marina) or grounding, a smaller boat often means more modest damage.


Money is the main problem for cruises of more than a few months. Conservative cruisers have several years of savings, and plan to work about one quarter a year. Most have or acquire skills that sell easily in many parts of the world, such as nursing, doctor or dentist, accounting, boat-maintenance handyman, sail-maker, welder or diesel mechanic. Some cruisers make a little money shipping wines, jewelry and the like, but most can't compete with large commercial firms. Smuggling and other illegal incomes cause people to lose their boats. In 2002, very cost-conscious no-frills cruisers could maintain two people and a 28-foot boat on US$1000 per month. This rate roughly doubles when in a port, partying with other cruisers. This rate is halved for a smaller, simple, engineless craft due to low repair and running costs. Note, an increase in length by 25% will double costs.

Equipment and tips[edit]

Even on short trips it is important to check that the boat and its equipment fulfills requirements for safety in worst-case weather. Are the life jackets the right sizes? Enough fuel? Are lanterns working and visible (an aft lantern hidden behind the outboard engine is all too common, and also big boats have similar problems). You should make sure you remember where safety equipment is stored and know how to use it, and that any equipment and luggage is stored in good order at all times. Check that everybody on board knows and understands the safety procedures.

There are two rather different schools of thought concerning equipment:

  1. I'm on vacation. Give me every comfort there is. I can afford it, and I can find a good mechanic if I have to.
  2. I want the simplest boat I can get, so it will keep working (so I can go), and cost less (so I can stay away longer).

Cruising long-term is a way of life, not a vacation. Those who think it is a vacation are often disillusioned. When you visit a destination for a holiday week or two, you are an observer. You flit from place to place, having everything done for you, and never getting a true sense of the local way of life. A cruiser is a long-term voyager who becomes part of the local community as soon as the anchor is dropped. You may stay a day or two if you don't like the place, a week or two if a place is reasonably appealing, and a month or longer if it speaks to you. In general, when it comes to equipment, it's all up to you and there is a fair bit of work involved. So be prepared to fix it, replace it, or do without it if something fails while underway. There are usually no plumbers, electricians or mechanics to call in remote places or while underway, so the cruiser who can fix things is likely to enjoy it and succeed.

There are some areas of agreement between the two points of view. In general, it is most important to arrange your boat to be safe, so that heavy weather or a faulty engine are interesting adventures rather than disasters. See Stay safe.

Some conveniences are widely praised:

  • Many cruisers install labour-saving rigging. Some favourites are self-shipping anchors, lazyjacks to help reef sails, jib downhauls, and tracked self-erecting spinnaker poles. Spinnaker poles in the rigging is a classic sign of a cruising sailboat. Many cruisers consider boom gallows to be essential safety equipment.
  • Get a reliable automatic steering system. They free the person on watch from the tiller. Electronic systems use large amounts of power, which may make them dependent on the engine. In this case, if the engine breaks, then your automatic steering will not work as well. On the other hand, wind-vane systems need a well-tuned, easy-to-steer boat.
  • Have a set of sails for light airs. Most places with good weather have a lot of time where the wind is force 1.
  • Consider using reefing sails rather than carrying a sail for every occasion. Not only will the total cost of a sail suite be reduced, but changes of sail are more convenient – the sail stays in place.
  • Gravity-fed fresh and saltwater taps are more reliable than hand-pumps, and hand-pumps (with spare parts!) are more reliable than a pressurized water system run off the engine. Some people have manually pressurized water systems.
  • Saltwater washes dishes and decks, saving water. With coconut-oil soap you can wash yourself in sea water, as long as you sponge off with fresh water afterwards. Clothes washed in seawater look dingy and feel damp.
  • A yacht stove on a gimbal
    Get a stove with at least two burners, that's easy to light. Many people like liquefied propane (LPG). Avoid electric stoves run from the engine.
  • Get the simplest toilet system that's legal in your area. Carry spares for every seal and moving part. Be sure that the outlet is on the opposite side and downstream of any saltwater inlets.
  • Consider charging the boat's batteries with solar cells, wind turbines, or water-turned generators, as well as or instead of an engine. They're much more pleasant. Many people consider it rude to run a motorized generator in an otherwise quiet anchorage.
  • Reconsider whether you need an engine. They cost thousands of dollars and can break down. The propeller slows down a sailboat due to drag. The motor and prop shaft add three holes through the hull (inlet, outlet and prop-shaft). A sculling oar can move a 6-ton, 30-foot yacht around a harbour at 1.5 knots, with only mild effort. The hard part of sculling is holding the oar at the correct 40-degree angle – rig ropes to hold the oar.
  • If you must have an engine, consider using a long-shafted marine outboard. They can be repaired and replaced much more cheaply than in-boards.
  • If you must have an inboard engine, arrange the prop shaft and rudder so either one can be removed for repair in isolation.
  • Put things away, especially sails. They last longer, and if a storm comes up, your sail will already be stowed.
  • Plastic and metal crockery and glassware are unbreakable.
  • If you want an engine-powered anchor winch, consider using hydraulic, rather than electric. They can't short out or stop working when the battery fails.
  • Manual anchor winches are slow, but safe. If you don't have one, remember to place a manual sail winch with a chain tail so that it can back-up the anchor winch.
  • Bronze and stainless winches seem to have fewer corrosion problems than aluminium winches.

One humorous (but true!) way of thinking about a luxury yacht's equipment is to start at the icemaker and work out what's connected to it to make it work.

Here are some major comforts, eschewed by minimalists; the trade-offs are given in the way they look on the water. If there's a compromise, it's after the extremes:

  • Air conditioning: even most power boats can't afford this. The cruise ships are painted white to minimize the load and built as floating generator plants: They actually run their propulsion as a minor load off the air-conditioning circuit. A few sailing yachts (the Albin Vega is the only mass-produced model) circulate air from the cockpit, past the sea-cooled hull, where it cools and condenses excess humidity into the bilges, into the front of the cabin. In the Vega, the air circulation is driven by solar heat on the hollow mast, and a wind-powered ventilator on the rear cabin top. Vegas are said to be 5 degrees cooler than outside in most summer areas. Everybody else rigs canvas sunshades and a fabric windscoop over the forward hatch.
  • A bigger boat: gives you room for all your stuff, and you can have big parties! The price of the boat, and its maintenance costs, go up as the cube of its waterline length (it is the volume that costs, not the length). Think really hard before you get anything much over 35 feet. Alas, how will you get crew who want to go where you want to go? Some people are comfortable sailing solo, others prefer lots of crew. Knowing which your preference is goes a long way in helping with decisions about watercraft selection. Also, in the U.S. many marinas charge $50 per foot per month. Learning how to anchor well can save a great deal of money while underway by avoiding those marina prices.
  • An engine: real convenience when you have to get home on Sunday night. Real safety equipment, especially if you get a diesel (no spark system to short, more km per litre), with a non-electric starter (it can't short), and an engine-powered bailer (more safety equipment). Really expensive, $5,000 minimum, the propeller takes two knots from the ship's speed, and it's horribly inconvenient when it breaks down 8000 miles from the spare parts depot. Many trips are ruined by such an experience. A marine outboard with a generator gives most of the safety and convenience and can be unshipped for repairs or replaced. Keep it locked.
  • A hot shower: a real hot shower requires a waterworks powered from the engine (US$5000), with water-maker ($2300 in 2002), water storage tank ($200), pressure pump & tank ($400), water heater ($300), assorted plumbing ($1000) for a total of around $9500 for a small system. A dripping faucet burns quite a bit of diesel. However, even minimalists miss hot showers. For those who cannot commit, there are sit-down showers with hand-pressurized tanks that can be filled from a kettle or a solar water heater. These have been homemade (with bicycle pumps). Everyone carries a kettle, washbasin and pitcher (people need to wash more when the engine breaks).
  • A watermaker
    A watermaker: envied by minimalists... who carry multiple-hundred-gallon freshwater tanks where your boat has an engine (they call it "freshwater ballast"). Progressives top-off tanks with a small watermaker run from a solar panel or wind turbine. Everyone should have a canvas "rain catcher" trough to rig under the mainsail. Always have at least two sources of water for a cruise (lots of plastic bottles, if nothing else).
  • A refrigerator: iced beer is a luxury in the tropics. Minimalists grit their teeth and smile thinking grimly of the extra half year they will be able to stay on vacation with the money they saved by not having a refrigerator. Everybody has an icebox, but ice, if it exists in the local economy at all, is probably only available at the fishing boat service pier. The Eastern Mediterranean, Mexico, South America, and Indian Ocean rarely have bulk ice available at any price. In the U.S. fill the box with dry ice and you can have colder stuff longer.
  • Washer and dryer for clothes: the water-works problem, plus a washer and dryer problem. You're clean, and the minimalist is negotiating with a local washerwoman. This is a toss-up. Laundry is a wonderful excuse to meet locals. Many people have had success with large, sealed buckets towed in the wake, or rocked on the stern. In good weather it's easy to rig clotheslines.
  • A dishwasher: everybody hates doing the dishes. Minimalists lose crew if the rotation is unfair. There's just got to be some trick with dishes in towed buckets of soapy water.
  • A barbecue: there are little stainless-steel gas barbecues that clamp to a lifeline stanchion. In the tropics you can cook outside, which is much cooler. The only downside is the rather large amount of fuel they use.
  • A stereo system: a Bluetooth speaker will do.
  • Expensive radars on an expensive yacht
    Radar and imaging sonar: genuine, though expensive safety equipment, when it works. Try to minimize through-hull connections, connectors, wires and moving parts. Some masters actually put a packing gland around the connectors and fill it with silicone grease, which is not extreme after you've replaced corroded connectors twice.
  • A SSB marine radio, or amateur radio rig: very handy when you get tired of talking to your crewmates. There are insulators and antenna tuners to use standing rigging as the antenna. You have to have a license. Some radio-amateur stations can send e-mail, but this requires additional equipment and is limited to short, non-commercial, unencrypted messages. See Maritime mobile amateur radio. The safety advantage is minimal now that EPIRBs exist. The minimalist loves his wife, plans short passages, talks to the locals and carries a rack of great books.
  • Satellite phones (most often Inmarsat or Iridium): the phones cost from $1000 (hand-held Iridium) to $20,000 (Gyrostabilized permanently mounted Inmarsat). The calls cost $3/minute. The minimalist will wait seven hours for an overseas phone call to go through from Bora-Bora. If you need this, cruising might be a drag for you – why not charter a few adventures before you buy a boat? For $30/month, Orbcomm e-mail delivers messages a few times per day from satellites in low earth orbit. A hand-held e-mail terminal for Orbcomm is about $1000.


Eat and drink[edit]

See also: Camping food

The cooking facilities on a yacht are somewhat limited, although usually better than in most outdoor cooking.

On long expeditions, a selection of durable food is vital, especially as few yachts have refrigerators (see above). It is often possible to get some fresh food by fishing. Multivitamin tablets may be a good idea.

Drinking water is a special problem. Some can be got from rain and dew, and some vessels have watermakers. A large quantity of water needs to be carried in any case, as the watermaker can fail when there is no rain. Keeping the water drinkable for extended periods is vital. Treated tap water from municipal systems keeps better than untreated spring water. Take care not to fill all your tanks with possibly infected water from dubious sources. Getting rid of bacteria or amoebas at sea is very hard.


There are two common ways in which boaters sleep. Either the boat is big enough to have bunks, or at least somewhere to lie down, or you have a tent and spend the nights ashore. Ocean cruisers will sleep on the way, while others with a vessel of at least moderate size can choose whether some continue sailing while the others are sleeping or whether the voyage is paused for the night.

Most yachts come with bunks, a campstove-equipped galley and primitive toilet facilities on-board. Thus, you can choose to just pitch your anchor in a suitable place for the night or continue sailing. On coastal or river cruises such suitable places are not everywhere. One usual choice is to moor at a marina, which in addition to the berth may offer amenities such as fresh water, shore power hookups, Wi-Fi, showers and washing machines, often with shops and restaurants nearby.

If you want to sleep in your tent, you should check local legislation for camping in the wild. Camping sites are seldom where you want to have your boat.


When entering a new country you are usually obliged to follow a customs' route to a port with a customs office (in some regions the office may have its own harbour earlier by the fairway). Before clearing with customs and immigration, you are usually not allowed to land anywhere or doing anything else that might be seen as potentially circumvent the checks. Check formalities. You might be required to fly a signal flag to show you are in the process of contacting customs or contact them by phone or marine radio to announce your arrival. A list of crew and passengers is usually needed, possibly in several copies.


There are many opportunities for travel as a paid or unpaid crew member on a cruising boat. These range from skipper down to deck hand, depending on the skills, qualifications and experience of the member of crew.

Work at destinations doing maintenance and repair work on other cruising boats frequently gets by under the radar of the local work permit requirements, providing the vessels worked on are foreign registry.

Stay safe[edit]

Avoid falling overboard, as it is often fatal if you are not picked up – and picking somebody up in rough seas is a non-trivial feat. A safety harness should be worn when there is a high risk, and a lifejacket can keep you afloat for long enough for the boat to pick you up if they know you have gone. Even in sheltered waters the shore may be too far away for swimming, especially if the water is cool (often below 15°C in temperate climates even in summer).

Depending on your destinations and activities, see also diving safety, sun protection and cold weather. Under Arctic conditions, someone who falls in and is not wearing an insulating suit will be able to help in the rescuing for only a few minutes.


  • Choose a strong boat, and have it checked by an expert who knows what you plan to do with it. Both monohulls and multihulls are available that are safe and comfortable.
  • Minimize through-hull openings, e.g., share the salt-water tap with the motor inlet, and consider sharing the toilet and engine outlets. Use windowed junction box that lets one look out at the ocean through the seacock (one can see blockages!) Run the depth sounder over the side or transom.
  • Check that every through-hull opening has a seacock. Close them when the boat is unattended. Assure that toilets, engines, propeller shafts and sinks won't siphon water inboard. If your boat needs a bailer to keep afloat, it's broken!
  • Have more than one large freshwater tank. In some areas, they limit how long you can stay out, and how safe you are. Engine-powered watermakers should not be essential to return safely.
  • If you have an engine, prefer a diesel (economical, safe fuel, with no spark to short) with a hand-start option (i.e., it can be started wet with the battery run down – standard on workboats).
  • If you have an engine, include an engine-driven mechanical (not electric) bailing pump. This is one of the most powerful arguments in favour of an engine, because a mechanical bailer can save a boat. In a pinch, an engine's cooling inlet can be rigged with a screen and serve as a bailer- just don't let it run dry!
  • Tiller-steered external rudders are hokey-looking, but easy to repair, have no cables to break, and cost thousands less than wheel steering. The rudder should be cabled.
  • Many long-term cruisers dislike roller-furled sails. They claim that the furler tends to jam exactly when it is most needed, in high winds. Furler companies claim that their new designs solve these problems. Roller furling is substantially more expensive than reefed sails.


  • Prevent man-overboard: Have a toe-rail, non-skid decking, perimeter life-lines, and run interior lifelines from the boom gallows up to the bow at about chest-height. Make sure everyone has harnesses to clip to the lifelines for heavy weather. A low bulwark, 8 to 12 inches, is immensely helpful because it provides footholds, and keeps gear from slithering overboard. Some mount the life-line stanchions on the bulwark (which lets them use u-bolts and pipe!) and use a larks-head around the bulwark as an adjustable jib track.
  • Get good safety and salvage equipment. U.S. Coast Guard requirements are minimums. Practice a man-overboard drill with a dummy that weighs as much as your heaviest crew member. Include an EPIRB (emergency position-indicating rescue beacon), which might get you out of trouble. If you possibly can, don't trigger it until the weather clears so aircraft can reach you. The salvage equipment is for emergency repairs: good bailers, plywood covers for broken port-lights, softwood cones to block pipes spewing seawater (tie them to seacocks), a spare spinnaker pole to jury-rig a mast, plastic tarps or CO2 bags to cover hull breaches, etc.
  • Consider a sailing lifeboat instead of a stationary life-raft.
  • Consider rudder steps or a stern ladder so a person (like you!) can reboard.
  • Have at least a hand-held VHF marine radio. This lets one talk to authorities (like bridgemasters and lock managers) and other vessels. If you have a fixed-mount radio, keep a spare aerial (so that you can call for help with the primary gone with the mast).
  • Use multiple methods of navigation: a GPS or two, a plastic sextant, a copy of the Nautical Almanac, sight reduction tables, a rated watch (for celestial navigation), and a short-wave radio (backs up the watch from time broadcasts and gives weather reports).
  • Have the biggest radar reflector that will fit your boat.
  • Consider using oil navigation lights. Most sailboats with electric lights don't run the engine enough to keep the battery charged enough to keep the running lights lit. This is unsafe. Oil lamps aren't bad, especially if the boat has an oil tap (from a gravity tank) to fill them. With energy-efficient LEDs, you may get enough power from sun and wind to keep them on but it is up to you to do the maths (don't use nominal figures: typical solar panel gain may be 1 hr/day of that, less unless well placed).
  • Guns and drugs are far more hazardous to you than to anyone else. If you declare them, friendly customs officials can become very unpleasant. If you do not declare them, your boat can be confiscated.

Before setting sail[edit]

  • Make sure you can navigate, run lights and communicate without engine power – i.e., have battery powered GPS and celestial navigation as a back-up.
  • Have man-overboard equipment, and practice with it.
  • Learn to heave-to, and heave-to when you first think of it. Carry a parachute sea-anchor, which permits one to heave-to in any amount of wind to survive storms. Basically, put the bow 50 degrees off the wind, let the wind push the boat slowly backwards, and don't sail out of the "slick" your drag vortices make on the water. The sea-anchor prevents sailing out of the slick in very high winds, which would otherwise force a bare-poled boat to sail. The slick calms waves. Really. Most boats lost in storms attempt to "run with the storm" or "lie abeam." Heaving-to is a safer way. See the book "Storm Tactics" by Larry & Lin Pardey.
  • Practice sailing and anchor-warping maneuvers for docking, which don't need an engine, and are salty-skills fun anyway.
  • Inspect your boat before each sea-passage. A formal checklist makes it very fast. If nothing else, check for leaks, running rigging, standing rigging, lifelines and safety equipment, anchor and rodes, the engine, and navigation equipment. Check the rigging for cracks in metal, corrosion and chafing. If it's doubtful, don't go.
  • Plan routes to avoid heavy weather. The British admiralty has pilot charts designed to help sailors plan. Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes is an excellent resource for planning passages.

At the anchorage[edit]

  • Anchor well. More yachts are lost when the anchor drags than to any other single cause. Use lots of scope (extra rode; five times depth is good, although three is theoretically enough). Test the hold before you trust an anchorage. Use a "fully tested" chain rode on your main anchor. Nothing cuts chain. Many cruisers swear by a CQR anchor, but newer designs have been shown to be far more efficient. Set an anchor light while anchored. Set an anchor watch at least one full tide cycle in a new anchorage, during storms and whenever it's easy to be in the cockpit – if you drag even a little, panic and set another anchor!

At sea[edit]

  • Major storms are less than 1% of the time that cruisers spend on the water, but still be prepared. For the largest hazard, see Cyclones.
  • Keep watch in ocean passages. Almost all trouble is visible before it becomes serious.
  • Have an anchor ready to go at all times. If you can hear or see surf, and you should be in mid-ocean, set the anchor! Then figure out where you are! Anchors can prevent most groundings if set quickly.
  • If things look really bad, stay with the boat until it sinks. Prepare to abandon ship if you get worried, but don't actually abandon ship until the boat sinks. Often a boat is located, empty, by rescue personnel, and the crew in their much smaller, less-visible little life raft are never found. A good saying here is that you should always step up into the liferaft as the boat sinks beneath your feet.

Stay healthy[edit]

The most common health problem encountered by travellers cruising on small craft is seasickness. Seasickness might render part of the crew unable to work (but having work to do outside the cabin reduces risk of seasickness). Tips to combat seasickness include: staying on deck, keeping your face in the wind, and looking out towards the horizon.

Keeping water and food healthy is an issue in warm weather even on quite high latitudes (refrigerators use lots of power).

For some destinations, Tropical diseases are also an issue.


Near the coast you usually have access to the mobile phone networks (GSM, CDMA, etc.) and thereby Internet access of varying quality. When you visit towns you have access to the usual services, including phone, mail and internet. You can use marine VHF radio for connections to vessels, harbours and marine authorities.

When you leave the coast, you often leave those means of connection. Mobile phones are generally limited to 19 nautical miles (35 km) from the base station, possibly extended in some areas. Goodbye most Internet connectivity. Marine VHF coast station connectivity extends to some 30–40 nautical miles (55–75 km) and offers emergency services, weather forecasts, and in some countries, connections to the telephone network. MF radio coast station services cover most seas and coastal waters of the oceans and HF also the oceans. At least for oceans satellite telephones are worth considering.

Marine radio[edit]

The main communication channel locally is marine VHF. Get the radio and certificates for yourselves and for your radio station, i.e., your yacht and possible dinghy and life raft. Modern radios use DSC, for digital calling on channel 70, and also have access to AIS (and ATIS), i.e., info on ships in the vicinity, preferably to be added to your electronic chart and radar screen. They also have an emergency button, for sending a digital emergency call including information on your vessel, your position (entered by hand or automatically from your GPS), and the nature of the emergency if you have time to add that piece of information. After sending the DSC message to alert all listeners, you send the emergency message by voice on channel 16, usually with further details, and prepare for communication by voice.

In Europe, you typically need a certificate with call sign (and MMSI number if applicable) for your station, and a certificate for anyone acting as radio operator, usually the Short Range Certificate (SCR). In the USA, no certificates are needed for a VHF radio, but you still have to conform with the rules.

Any commercial ship can be contacted by VHF/DSC, as can many marine authorities, ports, locks and movable bridges. In some countries the coast radio can connect calls to normal phones, given that you have a suitable contract. An emergency call will be heard by all ships in the vicinity, as well as by the responsible authorities if coast radio stations are within reach. The emergency message should be forwarded to the authorities if any ship is in range.

Portable VHF radios can be used for communication between your yacht and a dinghy, and as a backup. They may be regarded as the same station as your yacht or may get their own call sign and MMSI number, depending on country and intended use.

The range between a sailing yacht with masthead antenna and a coast station is 50 M at most. Ship-to-ship VHF communication can reach 20 M at most. For distances beyond that, a MF radio (typically some hundred nautical miles) or HF radio (often intercontinental coverage on some frequencies) is needed, requiring a somewhat longer course for a Long-Range Certificate (LRC).

Snail mail[edit]

Have all your mail sent to one address. Have all the junk mail removed and have your mail-receiver send the rest in one package to a yacht club on your itinerary. Yacht clubs are better than post offices because they know that cruisers can be delayed, and do not return the mail after 30 days. The single package assures that you receive all of your mail, or none of it.


See also: Money

Credit and debit cards, as well as mobile telephones, are often supplied with various 'roaming' restrictions in place by default for security reasons. If you contact your card and service providers before you leave and tell them about your travel plans, these restrictions can be lifted (or tailored to your needs). Your cards will then work as normal in shops, chandleries, cafés, etc., as well as providing local currency from the 'hole-in-the-wall' ATMs in any town. A balance-clearing regular payment arrangement with your bank can ensure that your credit card is always paid before it incurs interest charges.

Mobile phones[edit]

See also: Mobile telephones

There are a few different technical mobile phone standards around the world. If your handset can cope with the local frequencies and standards, then with the provider's restrictions lifted, it will work too, albeit a bit expensively, when in port or near the coast abroad. If you stay in a country for some time, buying a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.

Check maximum fees: roaming data fees are often unacceptable and even calling fees may be so, if the phone picks a station on international waters or otherwise outside the normal destinations. SMS is often cheaper than calls. You may have to disable automatic network selection, update services and other features connecting behind the scenes. Talk with your provider, but also read the fine print.

Options for telephony[edit]

See also: Telephone service, Internet telephony

Although your mobile phone probably is your prime telephony option, there are others. You may be able to place calls through the coast radio stations (not all have this service), there are still pay phones available in many ports, and if you get Internet connectivity you can use "voice-over-Internet" applications.

Any device with the ability to install software, a speaker, a microphone and a decent Internet connection can be turned into a telephone, making calls over the Internet. As long as you have acceptable Internet fees (as when paying per day or month instead of per byte or per minute) this is probably the cheapest option. You need the software for the device (typically a smartphone, tablet or laptop), a service provider (to be able to reach and be reached from the telephony network) and a headset (or similar, which may be already available in your device).

Internet and e-mail[edit]

See also: Internet access

Internet access, for e-mails and maybe for browsing your favourite weather-forecast web sites, is often most economical from local Internet cafés, and these are easily found in almost every port. Some ports offer wireless internet included in the fee or as an option.

At sea, the mobile phone network is usable for internet access near the coast of many countries, but otherwise a satellite phone or other special equipment is needed. The marine radio frequencies offer much of the necessary service, but not general internet access.

Mobile phones offer internet access via the mobile phone network, for the phone itself and also for using the phone as a modem. The speed may be high in or near towns. Instead of using your phone, you can buy an equivalent separate mobile broadband modem ("USB dongle"/"connect card") for your computer. You can get them for free with some mobile broadband contracts, if so they may have to be unlocked for general use. Unless you get a SIM card with the modem, you have to get one separately – and changing to a local provider will mean getting a new SIM card regardless.

"Roaming" data fees are often ludicrously expensive, so check options by your provider. At least when staying for some time in one country, getting a local connection (prepaid or otherwise, available also for single days) is usually cheaper. EU is trying to become one country in this regard, but check the available deals.

Sailmail is a non-profit email service for yachtsmen operating via their network of SSB-Pactor radio stations or any Internet connection you have. They have a custom email transfer protocol, designed to be used on high-latency low-bandwidth connections, and associated Windows software. Mail sent to Sailmail addresses will be compressed before download (the radio links allow about 60–2700 kB/week, enough for mostly text emails). Using the Pactor service requires a suitable modem and marine radio license. US$250 yearly membership fee.


There are hundreds of books on the subject, and large numbers of websites and internet discussion groups dedicated to every aspect of small craft cruising.


  • Elbert Maloney, "Dutton's Navigation and Piloting"- a classic, professional reference, continuously updated.
  • Nathaniel Bowditch, "The American Practical Navigator"- A classic, professional reference, continuously updated.
  • U.S. Naval Institute, "The Bluejackets' Manual"- the navy way; the authority on Morse, flags, courtesies, fire-fighting at sea, jury-rigging, ship handling and basic sea law.
  • Lawrence and Lin Pardey, "Storm Tactics"- A must-read book.
  • Linda & Steve Dashew, "Offshore Cruisers' Encyclopedia"- expensive but so useful it has been compared to Bowditch and Dutton. Easy to read.
  • Eric Hiscock, "Cruising Under Sail"- just the facts, a classic.
  • Lawrence and Lin Pardey, "The Self-Sufficient Sailor"- The Pardey's message is wonderfully encouraging: Go simply, go cheaply and in a small boat, but go.
  • Lawrence & Lin Pardey, "Cost Conscious Cruiser"- more hints and tricks
  • Michael Carr, "Weather Prediction Simplified"
  • Steve and Linda Dashew, "Mariner's Weather Handbook"
  • Mary Blewitt, "Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen"- just the facts.
  • Merle Turner, "Celestial Navigation for the Cruising Navigator"- some theory.
  • van der Veeken, Suzanne, "Ocean Nomad - The Complete Atlantic Sailing Crew Guide | How to Catch a Ride & Contribute to a Healthier Ocean." Crew safety and preparation tips for offshore sailboat travel.
  • William F. Buckley Jr., "Atlantic High"- an amazingly well-written account of an Atlantic passage. Not a shred of politics.
  • William F. Buckley Jr., "Racing Through Paradise"- etc. about a Pacific passage.
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