8 tips for surviving winter as a live-aboard in the Salish Sea

A blanket of snow covers boats and docks in Poulsbo.

Winter is rapidly approaching here in Puget Sound. The days are getting shorter and cooler, and while fall is still giving us some of the most beautiful days of the year, the time has come to start preparing for the cold, dark, damp months ahead.

Here are eight suggestions for surviving the winter as a live-aboard:

  1. Give your boat a good cleaning. Purge anything you are no longer using, and store anything you will use again next year in a car, storage unit or at friend’s place. Scrub your interior until it’s shiny, vacuum all the corners and cracks, wash bedding. Starting winter with a clean boat is like starting a voyage with a clean boat — it just makes life better.
  2. Use a dehumidifier that can keep up with your needs. They come in many different sizes, but when you’re living aboard, you are creating moisture that wouldn’t be there if your boat was sitting empty over the winter. We use a thirty-pint unit and run it almost 24 hours a day.
  3. Get to know your neighbors. Sitting on a boat in the winter can be a little dreary, and its easy to let your spirits get down when you’re battling leaks and trying to sleep through noisy wind storms. One of the best solutions we’ve found for curing the winter doldrums is spending time with other boaters. Last winter, friends of ours would host a weekly happy hour on their boat with as many boater friends as they could fit in their 30-foot hull. And we’d often stop other live-aboards as we passed them on the dock to invite them in to share a pot of soup for dinner. It brightened our spirits on the dreariest of days, and probably theirs, too. 
  4. Pick and prepare for a few boat projects you can do inside. Do you need a few new wires? Or sew new settee covers? Completing a few things around the boat will make you feel like the time inside isn’t wasted. And come summer, you’ll be happy you don’t have to waste sailing days inside with the same jobs.
  5. Get yourself a Wonderbag. They’re available on Amazon and are an amazing alternative to an electric slow cooker. You simply heat your soup, chili or stew ingredients to a boil in a regular pan, put the lid on and tuck it into the Wonderbag. Then you can set it aside out of the way somewhere, and go about your day without worrying about an appliance overheating or starting a fire on your boat while you’re out.
  6. Save your plastic containers. All boats leak. It’s a reality of living aboard, and finding them is one of the most discouraging things about winter. Oftentimes there’s not a whole lot you can do in the moment to fix a leak other than putting something under the drip. Once you locate where the water ingress is coming from, make a note of it so you can make a permanent repair when the weather allows.
  7. Invest in good rain gear. Boots, jacket, pants and a good hat that covers your ears are necessary. It’s likely you have a long walk from your car to your boat, and that most of it will be exposed to all the elements the Pacific Northwest has to offer. When the wind is blowing rain sideways at you, you’ll be happy to be safely and warmly cocooned in your waterproof rain gear.
  8. Get up early and enjoy a sunrise. They’re never prettier than in the winter. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.

What tips do you have for surviving the winter aboard? Leave them in the comments below. 

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10 Responses to 8 tips for surviving winter as a live-aboard in the Salish Sea

  1. Marilyn Michael November 5, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

    • A hotpot that heats water very quickly is nice in a setting where sometimes, on a thirty amp dock, the hotwater heater is turned off as electricity is spared for other uses.

    • Stephanie Sutherlin November 5, 2017 at 9:17 pm #

      Ah, that sounds useful. We spend all winter shuffling our heat-producing appliances. Want to use the hot water heater? Gotta turn off one of the electric heaters first! Same if we want to boil water in the electric kettle or use the microwave!

  2. Kelly November 2, 2017 at 7:38 am #

    Love the food with friends (and strangers) but beware the “wonderbag” cooking concept. Excellent way to grow a plethora of bacteria. Be careful.

    • Stephanie Sutherlin November 2, 2017 at 11:04 am #

      Thanks for the warning. I have only used our bag twice, and both times it was only for a couple of hours. The food was still piping hot when I took it out, but I just read up on it and it does appear to be an issue. We will definitely keep that in mind when using it!

  3. Keith November 1, 2017 at 6:17 pm #

    Great tips even if you don’t live aboard! I second tip #10 from Stuart. Sail! Last winter there were many nice sunny days on the water and few other boats. Winter nights spent aboard were quiet on the water and cozy inside with the lamps lit, heater on and good hot meal with a glass of red wine. I gave #2 a try but found the noise was too much and we could not run it at anchor. It also takes up precious space. Its fine at the marina with shore power while away from the boat. We ended up keeping the diesel furnace on low at night helped reduce condensation. #5 is a super idea. I’ve done this at home using towels and/or a down coat to cover the pot and it works! Keeps soup hot all day and is perfectly cooked come dinnertime. I will try #9. It would be nice to have a dry cockpit by setting up a boom tent.
    Happy sailing!

    • Stephanie Sutherlin November 1, 2017 at 9:06 pm #

      There’s not a lot that’s more cozy on a cold winter night than a hot meal, especially when it is accompanied by a glass of red wine! We’ve also been told that a diesel heater would help with moisture, but we don’t have one on the boat, nor do we really have a good place to put one. And I absolutely agree with #10 from Stuart! We took the boat out a handful of times last winter and it definitely lifted our spirits just to be on the water!

  4. Darren November 1, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    Good tips. We’ve been living and working aboard for 5.5 years now, and your first tip is one of those, “Doh! Never thought of it that way before” kind of things. We’re going to do a “clean & purge” in the next couple of weeks. That should help to increase the feeling of elbow room inside! Number three is good, too. I think we’ll try and have more of our fellow liveaboard neighbors over this winter for happy hour. Good laughter is not underrated in the darkness of Jan or Feb!

    • Stephanie Sutherlin November 1, 2017 at 9:10 pm #

      We have so much fun with our liveaboard neighbors! They are definitely a saving grace in the darkest months. Nothing brings people together like shared misery. Haha! Isn’t it crazy how much of a difference a clean boat makes?! We work and live in ours as well, and I have such a sense of peace when everything is clean and put away. What do you guys do for work from your boat?

  5. Stuart Scadron-Wattles November 1, 2017 at 11:58 am #

    Nice piece. I’d add two more recommendations:

    9. Consider investing in a good tarp. A lot depends on your boat, of course, but you can add useable room to to some of them if you can tarp the cockpit,or after deck. We did this last winter during the heaviest of the rains, and eventually found a strong plastic tarp which we attached with a good bungee system that can survive both the winds and the rain. In bad weather, we had a “mud room.” In good, we had a porch.
    10. SAIL. Too many liveaboards who can, never leave the dock, even for a day sail, and they miss out on some great time on the water in some ideal (if colder– that’s why you have rain gear and fleece) weather for getting out an seeing those sunrises and sunsets.

    • Stephanie Sutherlin November 1, 2017 at 9:23 pm #

      I love these added suggestions!

      We tarped last winter and we HATED it. It acted like a sail in the wind and whipped our boat all over in our slip. Granted, it kept the leaks at bay until we could fix them, so it did serve its purpose and it’s a great suggestion. We are fortunate to have a full canvas enclosure, too, so if you can have a nice “mudroom” with a tarp, that makes it all the more worth it!

      As for sailing, YES! We sail whenever we can, including winter…though I will admit, I’m a bit of a wimp when it’s TOO cold. I know too many liveaboards who never leave the dock, even when the weather is nice, and it’s a darn shame! Where is your favorite place to catch a sunrise/sunset?

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Skol!