Ultimate Digital Nomad Lifestyle? Work from a Sailboat

Ready to anchor; realities of living and working on a boat

After working in higher education for over 25 years, I never thought I would become a digital nomad. Or that my profession would morph into me being a remote worker aboard a sailboat. I have discovered that working from a sailboat is the ultimate digital nomad lifestyle.

In this article, I will explore the reasons why.

Working with an Eye on the Horizon

Remote workers yearn to break free from corporate life and explore the world while earning a living. The freedom to work from different locations and immerse oneself in various cultures is a dream come true for many. And this includes me. I never take the privilege of what I’m doing for granted.

The digital nomad lifestyle, combined with the thrill of sailing, offers an exciting alternative to traditional office jobs. Like me, many cruisers have traded their cubicles for cabins, their office jobs for a sailing adventure, and their daily commutes for the open sea.

Working from a sailboat satisfies that persistent thrumb in the back of your head that tells you to keep moving–while you can. And it’s about honoring the voice inside of yourself that reminds you not to let work consume your entire existence.

My Transition into Digital Nomadism

I began teaching online English courses in 2011, long before the pandemic and the reality of working from home caught hold. However, I never presumed I would  trade my small office at campus for the cockpit of my 53 foot sailboat, an Amel Super Maramu.

I knew remote workers were performing their job duties from the comfort of their home, thanks in part to Zoom. I figured if my location did not matter to my employer or my students, then I should try digital nomadism. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I could make for my future because it is an ideal way for me to continue working and contributing toward my pension.

In Fall 2021, a few months after Covid secured people in their living rooms, my husband and I traveled back to our boat in the Sea of Cortez to begin our sailing season, a bit earlier than we had planned. The hurricane season ended in September, and the warm clear turquoise water beckoned. We thought to ourselves, “Why not?”

Isla Coronados in the Sea of Cortez
One of my favorite work anchorages, Isla Coronados in the Sea of Cortez.

Ultimate Office: Life Onboard

I knew my biggest challenge would be reliable, high-speed Internet. In fact, my husband and I planned to return to California if I couldn’t work easily from the boat or marina.

However, advancements like SpaceX Starlink and the proliferation of high-speed internet options in various ports have made it much easier for digital nomads to stay connected and work effectively, even in remote locations.

Working from a sailboat also offers an onboard environment that can be customized to suit the needs of a digital nomad lifestyle. We have installed solar panels to power our equipment and ensure a steady energy supply. We began with 700 watts of solar on our solar arch. And then we added 400 watts to our new bimini top. This eco-friendly approach not only reduces our carbon footprint but also lowers the cost of living, making our nomadic lifestyle more sustainable.

Cruisers' lounge in Puerto Escondido
Cruisers' lounge in Puerto Escondido in Loreto, MX. I spent hours here per day!

Pre-Starlink: Working from the Marina

Prior to adding Starlink to our boat, I discovered that I could work full time at the Puerto Escondido marina. I parked myself (and my laptop) in their dedicated “cruisers’ lounge,” on the third floor.

The Wifi in the lounge provided enough bandwidth and a good enough Internet connection to accommodate my Zoom meetings with students or other faculty. I may not have had my own personal meeting room, but the few people coming and going in the lounge all respected each other’s private space.

The sailing community around the marina popped in and out of the air-conditioned lounge throughout the day. I would gaze out at the picturesque views from third-floor level while I listened to fellow cruisers share a sailing adventure with family members via Facetime or cell phone.

Most of the visitors were simply checking weather since this was prior to Spacex Starlink entering the sailing world (Fall of 2021 to Spring 2022). However, I also shared the space with other cruisers who were working, like I was.

What My Digital Nomad Schedule Looked Like

My work schedule looked like this: my husband, Kevin, and I would stay on a mooring ball in the Puerto Escondido marina. He would work on boat projects while I worked out, usually doing yoga next to the beautiful marina pool.

Then I would head to the lounge when it opened at 8:00 a.m. My onboard environment on the boat offered me privacy, but using my personal hotspot the entire day held less appeal than hanging out with various cruisers from different cultures and backgrounds in the lounge.

After I would wrap up my work week in Puerto Escondido, Kevin and I would unhook from the mooring ball and sail to our next adventure at one of the five islands near the town of Loreto.

If I needed to check my email, we would drop our anchor at one of the closest islands, Isla Carmen.

This premier anchorage directly faced the town of Loreto where clear and strong cell towers provided good cell service. I had peace of mind keeping in touch with my students even as I snorkeled and dove the closest reef, which had an abundance of reef fish and clams to feed us for the long weekend.

Isla Carmen, Marquer anchorage
Ultimate digital life, at anchor all alone. Isla Carmen in the Sea of Cortez

Meeting a Diverse Group of Remote Workers

I met many young cruising couples working on their remote businesses and holding meetings in the cruisers’ lounge; also, I met quite a few consultants who were still in touch with their professional jobs and colleagues.

The travel writers, nurses on breaks, and graphic designers worked so many hours a week (or so many months a year). And then they would take off for long weekends, like I did, to explore the surrounding Sea.

Interestingly, the majority of working nomads like me were women. Two of the couples who hung out in the lounge regularly with me had businesses together. But besides this, women under the age of 60 regularly sat behind a laptop.

Productivity and Challenges

Working remote jobs in beautiful places doesn’t mean someone cannot be productive. Obviously my role as an engaged faculty member on the college campus where I am employed has changed. I do often miss campus events like graduation or opening day activities. And I meet all of my students now through Zoom.

In other words, how I live and work remotely is not perfect. There are sacrifices I have learned to live with, primarily because I paid my dues in being fully present and engaged on campus for over 24 years. 

I am still fully committed to my students’ learning, but the modality of my teaching and my nomadic lifestyle allow for my own continued growth and well-being. I understand, too, that I have this luxury because I am one of the most senior faculty in my department, so I get my pick of online courses before other faculty members.

Working While Sailing: Learn by Doing

I have always told my students that college simply teaches you how to learn.

My alma mater, California Polytechnic State University, has a “learn by doing” motto. Somewhere along the way, my own learning needed to transcend the four walls of my office and the same tired classrooms I attended semester after semester as an instructor.

Now that I am a digital nomad and writing about my own experiences living on a sailboat for at least 6 months a year, the intersection of the personal and professional leans directly into my students’ own inclinations; they want to write about their own passions and live a working life that fulfills their own calling.

What better way to teach this than to model that potential. 

VPN on computer
Changing the VPN on your computer is how many digital nomads work remotely.

Sailing Lifestyle Offers Multiple Opportunities

Living on a sailboat invites all types of opportunities. If a cruiser wants to work a full-time job (or even a part time job), Starlink’s premier Internet service now makes it possible to leave the marina and discover new environments, new cultures, new oceans. (See my article about Starlink and our sailboat here.)

In the Spring of 2024, my husband and I plan to sail across the largest ocean in the world and land in French Polynesia. If I did not teach full time, then I know I would explore the world of freelancing or marketing as we sailed to various ports of call. I have even thought about offering my services as a writing tutor to the various families who now homeschool their children while sailing. 

This past year I have gone to great lengths to get up to speed with how not to retire early. Because if I did, it would adversely affect my pension which, as everyone knows, is the great thing about having a government job.

Instead of hiding my VPN (the location where I am working) and not discussing what I’m doing, I now plan to showcase all of the positives (and the challenges) about a remote nomadic life.

The truth is that even though some businesses are now attempting to lure employees back to the office, the reality of remote work is here to stay. This means the harder task is for individuals to gain the courage and education of leaving a home base to embrace the adventure of nomadic living.

Unsavory Realities of Working at Sea

Doing so doesn’t mean there is the promise of fruity cocktails in pristine locations every night. On the contrary, working while traveling primes certain unsavory realities, especially on a boat.

For instance, when I am working while under sail, sometimes all I can think about is stopping the motion during one of my meetings so I don’t look like a bobble head in my designated Zoom square. Or the toilet smells wafting through the small square feet of our boat remind me that I cannot simply walk away with my laptop in hand.

And have you tried to look at your computer screen while you’re sitting outside (even under the shade)? I can last about 3 minutes.

on the beach with Flying Free in the background
Another empty beach in the Sea of Cortez.

Sailing is the Ultimate Way to Work Remotely

However, what I get upon reaching a remote anchorage in different locations is the wonder that if our night proves to be too rolly or bug-infested, we can simply weigh anchor and move our floating home to another location.

I’m not stuck at some AirBnB trying to sleep on an uncomfortable mattress. Or I’m not surrounded by annoying barking dogs and the smell of stagnant city life.

Sailing while working also means as the first mate without much knowledge of fixing mechanical problems on the boat (this is not true of all first mates, many of whom are female), I have a lot of free time. I work; I contribute a good meal or clean laundry; I bake bread. These tasks afford a simplicity of life that many yearn for when they buy a boat. 

 My hundreds of thoughts of about how to live this life well and with purpose can hopefully lead to fellow sailors asking me, “How do you work from a boat?” instead of “Why are you still working?”

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2 thoughts on “Ultimate Digital Nomad Lifestyle? Work from a Sailboat”

    1. Aw, thanks, Kathy!And, yes, that’s what it’s all about. “All work and no play…” Well, you know how the saying goes.
      We have loved following your adventure! Keep posting and sharing. Miss you and Scott! Can’t wait to see you both “out there” next year. 😉

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