What Sailing Taught Me About Life

Dec 08, 2021
What Sailing Taught Me about Life

Over the past twenty five years I have piloted various vessels ranging from small sailing dinghies to fifty foot twin engine power boats and a few things have revealed themselves to me as universal.  The sea is the ultimate teacher for me, bringing forth knowledge not attainable in other arenas.  Here are the top four lessons I have learned thus far:


Life on a boat moves slower in relation to land life.  It was not uncommon that after returning from an extended trip that when I would find myself at the first busy street with automobiles that things would seem really intense.  “Somebody throw out a line!” I would often be thinking…

‘Cruising’ life (living aboard full time on a sailboat and traveling place to place) moves at less than ten miles per hour and things don’t always happen as fast as one might want them to.  We are forced to slow down because that is the new reality.  Plans change due to weather and sometimes in order to make landfall during daylight (always preferable), we found ourselves making a slow boat move even slower.

At one point in my life, I lived on a 35’ sailing sloop that had no engine.  When the wind died, there was nothing to do but wait.  Sometimes this would double or even triple the amount of planned time.

Awareness- reading weather, repairs.

The raw experience of life aboard I found to be directly tied to the weather.  Sunny days were full of activity while stormy days could be very sedentary and muted.  The awareness of what is coming and how to read cloud formations became a daily event which colored our lives.  

Tuning in to the systems aboard the boat, I learned that things were only as complicated as I made them out to be.  Conveniences such as pressurized running water, refrigeration, auto-pilot, lighting….all of these took maintenance.  Every penetration on the boat eventually finds a way to leak.  The sun and the salt is not easy on things and the biggest issues would present themselves over lack of movement and inflection in areas which are meant to move.  The salt would build up and the sun would bake in corrosion.  Without movement and fresh water, these areas would atrophy and degrade.

The importance of feeling

Nowhere in my life has it become more important to embrace physical sensations than on the sea.  The ability to sense a temperature change, rise in moisture, shift in the wind and change in wave pattern can make the difference between a controlled voyage versus avoidable emergency situations.

Instruments are essential (wind direction and wind speed, barometers, radar, etc.) and there is no replacement for physical sensations and just plain paying attention.  We had a system called AIS which essentially is a radar system for other ships.  This tool would allow us to assess other vessels in the area to analyze if we might be on a collision course.  As with anything there were limitations to this amazing technology, the AIS did not pick up fishing vessels or their nets.

Feeling the barometric pressure drop in my bones, I would often be compelled to mobilize the rain catching system before the first rain drop fell thereby maximizing our harvest of fresh water.

Embracing the present.

Overall the most important lesson that I learned on the water was to live in the now.  It is so easy to forget this lesson living in an intense and changing world where I often catch myself wondering what crazy event might be coming next and how I could prepare for it.  Likewise, living in the past is easy to do- questioning decisions and evaluating what has already come to pass.

The present, the incredible NOW is really all we have.  As humans, our advancements and fancy technology offers us the illusion that we have time.  We don’t have time, time has us.  All we have is this present moment and we can choose what to do with it.  

Using patience, being aware and feeling into our realities, I have learned to maximize my enjoyment of the present to create my world.  Embracing the present affords me the perspective to let all the petty details fall away, choosing love over strife, peace over chaos.

What lessons will the ocean teach you?