I’ve been working online from my boat for three years. During those years I’ve also sailed over 17,000 miles around the Atlantic and Caribbean, so I’ve worked from some pretty tropical places. It’s been liberating, but it’s also been challenging.
There’s water everywhere
This sounds so obviously as to be redundant, but really, when there’s a 300 metre stretch of water between your boat and that nice cafe, are you really going to want to take your laptop?
Are you really going to trust your dry bag?
How dry is that thing anyway?
When you work from a building, you’re very well protected from the elements. On a boat, not so much.
With splashes, rain, leaks and sea fog, there’s moisture everywhere. When it rains, I have to be quick bringing the WiFi aerial in from its clove-hitched position on the back-stay.
Being mindful of water – fresh and salt – is one of the key things I wish I’d thought about and prepared for.
‘We have wifi’ does not mean they have wifi
So you’ve transported your laptop from your anchored boat without dropping it in the drink. Now what?
WiFi is the lifeblood of a digital nomad and you can usually pick a hostel or a hotel that has it. But on a boat…?
I’d always imagined I’d simply head ashore, find a nice cafe and set up shop. Right, sure. That might work in a wealthy western town but the places I, and many others, wanted to sail to? Uh uh.
Any cafe owner can buy a ‘WiFi Here’ sticker but the chances of that connection working at all, let alone working well enough, is often a small one. Sometimes the routers simply can’t handle the amount of people trying to check their emails and sometimes they’re so slow you’d be better off using the coconut wireless.
If I’d known more about data SIMs when I set sail, I would’ve saved myself a lot of hassle. Plus, if you want to work online from a boat, data SIMs actually allow you to do this without trucking off to a cafe.
You need workarounds
I was recently in the Azores where the marina had a computer room. They were those huge old desktops where the screen is half a metre deep and every pixel is visible. No problem, I thought, I’ll just plug the ethernet cable straight into my laptop.
Oh wait, my 2016 MacBook Pro doesn’t have an ethernet port….
It seems obvious to me now, but many of the places I would sail to would not be up to date with the tech coming out of the USA and similar countries.
After the first year I went out of my way to get a data SIM (see our article How to Buy a Data SIM Abroad), so I frequently had 3G where I didn’t have WiFi. When I needed to send urgent documents, I would transfer files from my laptop onto a microSD card which I’d then put into my phone and send.
This needed a microSD adaptor for it to work in my laptop. Because my android phone couldn’t talk to my Apple laptop, I couldn’t find an easier way to do this – even Bluetooth wouldn’t work.
There probably is a way but my point is, you will always find problems that need a workaround. And you can’t buy tech on tiny tropical islands.
Tropical heat is no friend to the desk-bound
My goal for living on a boat was to do it somewhere hot. Somewhere I could just jump overboard in my bikini and not have to brace myself. I imagined refreshing swims, wearing hot pants every day and tapping away on my laptop in the afternoons.
I did not realise how hot the inside of the boat would get.
My yacht has a deep blue hull which is fine in England. In the Caribbean? Nope.
Pair the dark blue with a water temperature of 28 degrees celsius, an unrelenting, equatorial sun and a windless day and…no work is getting done.
Working from the boat in Panama was so staggeringly hot that even my old laptop was sweating. The ageing computer heated up so much I couldn’t even rest my wrists on the metal anymore.
If you’re dedicated to working onboard in the tropics, air-conditioning or a fan is essential.
Stretch out or pay the price
Sadly, most boats do not have executive chairs and ergonomically adjusted desks.
In my boat, a Nicholson 32, I have a chart table and a bench to sit at. I also have a saloon table, but there’s simply nowhere I can sit where my back is supported.
Boats are not offices and I had no idea how sitting crumpled in the space I had would affect my body. I was 25, I was indestructible! Oh no, no, no.
If you want to work from your boat, I highly recommending creating a space for working where you can sit upright, with your back supported and your forearms resting on your table or desk.
Stretching out is also key to successful boat working. Boats are usually small spaces and if you’re in a rolly anchorage, you’ll also be ever-so-slightly tense against the motion. Make time to stretch out every day.
Nothing destroys your income like having back pain that stops you from working effectively.