Living Simply: Lessons from growing up on a sailboat

By Julie Householder | 

My father taught me how to swim with a mask and snorkel before he was able to convince me to ride a bike without training wheels. I learned how to drive a 39-foot sailboat before I learned how to drive a car. I grew up traveling on our boat for up to a month at a time since I was in diapers.

This isn’t most people’s idea of a typical childhood. But for me it meant it wasn’t much of a shock one day upon arriving home from high school that my dad announced he was going to rent out the house and we were moving onto the sailboat.

Life would never be the same. Along the way, I’ve learned that sailboat life taught me a few valuable lessons that still come in handy on land:

Live Simply

My brother and I fishing

My brother and I fishing.

Officially moving onto the sailboat during high school years forced me to downsize my belongings. My space consisted of a couple of drawers, bookshelf space and two gear hammocks. Sometimes it is easy to get swept up in the mindset that we need to keep up with a materialistic lifestyle to match the current trends in technology, clothing, cars or activities. Not having space for extra clutter redirected my attention from unnecessary spending and proved that I did not need so much stuff to be happy.

Survive in Difficult Conditions

While the concept of living on a boat sounds like an absolute breeze, journeys on sailboats are not always serene. When traveling to the remote islands of the Bahamas, there were times where we would not see land for days. Not having access to a dock where we could plug into meant: no electrical power. We had to keep food in coolers with ice, did not have air conditioning, and could not use the microwave. We specifically chose to wear light clothing that was simple to wash in a bucket, or with a small hand-powered washing machine.

My mother bathing me in a cooler on the dive platform on the back of the 2nd Wind.

My mother bathing me in a cooler full of saltwater on the dive platform.

To conserve the water in the boat’s tanks, we would shower by soaping up in our bathing suits, jumping into the ocean and later quickly rinsing off the salt water in our shower. Food spoilage was inevitable. Most Bahamian island stores had limited food selection, which was dependent on what day ships delivered food to each island. My family would often live off of the fish and seafood we caught in addition to the non-perishable foods we packed from home.

I learned how to live with limited options and developed a profound appreciation for the resources that are constantly available in the United States. It is so easy to take basic things for granted and not be thankful for what we already have in our lives.


Practicing speaking on the radio.

Practicing speaking on the radio.

Everyone on the boat not only had to partake in normal chores, but also take on driving shifts whenever we were traveling. At the age of 12,  I was required to start taking shifts when sailing across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas on our trips. My father constantly drilled the importance of following the family boat safety rules and made sure that I understood that whoever was at the helm had the safety of the passengers in their hands.

My first time taking a five hour shift on a night crossing to the Bahamas.

My first five hour shift on a night crossing to the Bahamas.


I typically took the 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift when we did a night crossing, but if my brother did not wake up for his shift (which happened most of the time) I would continue until 3 a.m. Besides following the compass and GPS, I had to look out for other vessels, make sure the ropes attached to the small motorboat we were pulling behind us had not disconnected, and consistently check the oil pressure and temperature gauges.

This responsibility at a young age taught me to step up and accept challenges. The fact that my family trusted me to take charge, and essentially trust me with their lives, gave me confidence in myself and my abilities.

Finding Peace in Storms

Bad weather is not uncommon on the ocean. Sailing towards a dark storm looming ahead is not typically considered peaceful. However, my parents made sure my siblings and I would not fear storms. As soon as we were close enough to start feeling raindrops, a couple of us would immediately run to the closet in the front cabin of the boat and start handing out rain suits to everyone on board in preparation for the storm ahead. Whether it was 12-foot seas, howling wind threatening a knockdown, or a complete downpour, you could literally hear my father’s yelling and whooping in delight over the loud wind.

I quickly learned to have an appreciation for life’s storms that are out of my control. It is possible to find peace in chaos no matter how daunting it appears.

A special thanks to my father who has always instilled in me that, “life is not about the destination. It is about the journey.”

My father and I in the galley (kitchen) on my 18th birthday.

My father and me in the galley (kitchen) on my 18th birthday.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Be the first to comment on "Living Simply: Lessons from growing up on a sailboat"

Leave a comment