Friday, May 10, 2019

Working from Boat

(as opposed to working ON boat, which is another thing altogether.)

One of the perennial conversations I get into on the liveaboard forums is the whole unpleasant business of making a living while on the water. “I would LOVE to do this” the conversation usually goes, “but how would I LIVE?!” So I thought while sitting here working that I would take the opportunity to discuss some of the factors governing working from floating home and how (or if) one might do that.

Full disclosure: both the wife and I are semi-retired at this point. A substantial portion of our incomes come from social security and previous investments. That is, of course, never enough. At any rate, Here are some of the things we've learned working aboard.

First of all, don't assume you can keep doing what you've been doing, even if working from home. I'm rather fortunate in that I've been a writer and publisher for some years (after a life in the theatre), but my wife is an artist, and in her work as a sculptor she has sometimes been engaged in making truly HUGE, room-sized sculptures and installations. In 29 feet, that wasn't going to happen.

You may have to scale the work you're doing to the space you have.

So you adapt. You scale your work to those things you can do in the space and with the resources you can carry with you. In Gail's case, most of her work of late has been collage work, much smaller and more compact than a lot of her previous efforts, but beautiful nonetheless.

Next, consider boat services—hull painting, hull cleaning, fiberglass repairs, and the like—are also a common option, especially if you find yourself moored in areas where such services are difficult to find or majorly expensive. I know a number of folks online who do a good deal of marlinspike work: making rope fenders, splices, and line repairs. Look at it this way: you're in a boat, you're around places where there are boats, what are the things you have to do for yourself that you might also do for others. Many marinas and marine service companies are more than happy for you to do work for them under the water table, as it were, in exchange for slip rental, power, or other services. Don't discount in-kind exchanges.

Telecommuting is, of course, also an option, but only if you have reliable internet access. You may discover that a lot of online jobs like customer service or teaching online might work for you, but that the bandwidth at your marina or aboard if cruising isn't fast enough or reliable enough to let you take the position. When not near a WiFi note, we have to use one of our phones as a tether to access the net. It works, but it's not quick and can burn up your data plan way quicker than you'd anticipate. Satellite internet works, but is beyond a lot of folk's income. . . ours included. If you can't find a position that will let you do your work via some occasionally indifferent internet connections, you may have to create one. Don't shy from this. It's entirely do-able. Think about it this way: if they searched to find your service through an agency or online company, they can also find you at your own website.
Can't find a company that will support your working from the boat?  Create one!

Being able to do the work is only a part of the story, though. You've got to get it to market, and let the market get to you. The internet has certainly made this a great deal easier. I have an online publishing site for a lot of my work, and my books are sold through Amazon and other outlets, but in the case of those needing a physical address, it can be an issue. Certainly, a lot of marinas—provided you stay mostly in one place—will allow livaboards to receive and send mail directly from the marina. Post office boxes, too are a good option (the USPS just began a mail imaging service, which will provide you with an image of the outside of your first class mail to give you an idea of what might be waiting for you.). Long term cruisers may want to look into mailing services like St. Brendan's Isle, ( that will not only forward mail, but will open it on your instructions, scan it, and forward the image to you through the web.

Then, of course, there's the landside option: tourist towns are always in need (in season) of waitstaff, bartenders, housekeeping services, dishwashers, auto valets, and a whole host of jobs of that ilk. A few weeks waiting table can help underwrite a few months on the hook.
Remember why you're working at all:  to be here.

But whatever you do, remember why you're doing this: to live the liveaboard life. The worst thing you can do is let a job or on board business so eat your life that you have no time for the water, and no joy left with which to greet the seagulls in the morning or the herons at sunset. Then what would be the point?

Don and Gail Elwell
and First Cat Magellan
Aboard the EV Tesla's Revenge

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