Skip to main content

Body, Mind, and Soul: Healthier Living Aboard

When my husband of 20 years suggested one day that we live out his retirement dream a little early, it meant, of all things, buying and living aboard a boat. My first thought was that he was going through a midlife crisis. While he had been researching long-distance cruising boats for a few years and had talked about cruising when we retired, I can honestly say that I hadn't seen this coming. 

Granted, we both enjoyed boating and being out on the water, but my definition of boating usually was limited to a few hours during a warm, sunny afternoon followed by a nice hot shower back home. Moving aboard a boat, regardless how well appointed it might be, was not something I had expected to have to contend with in this lifetime. It took some strong soul-searching and reflection on just how short life is to agree to this life-altering change in accommodations. 

So how did things turn out?

Fast-forward five years to today, and all I can say is that never in my wildest dreams did I think I would come to enjoy this healthiest of lifestyles. While we are not official liveaboards in the sense of living on the boat 24/7 (we still own a home 100 miles away), we do average three days per week aboard, and in the summer we spend many weeks aboard. It still amazes me today how we have come to enjoy this lifestyle and how it has improved both our physical condition and mental state of mind.


At first glance, living in a smaller space like a boat may be viewed as a negative, until you realize that the smaller space motivates you to take notice of what surrounds you. Fresh ocean breezes and the beautiful San Diego Bay, with its miles of paved walkways, are at your doorstep and provide all the inspiration one requires to step outside and enjoy it all. But it is more than just the walks that I've come to appreciate; it is the whole lifestyle of living on the water that has helped me to become healthier than I've been in years. It's a lifestyle full of outdoors, exercise, eating better, and allowing more time for myself.

What is a typical week like living aboard a boat in San Diego? For me it is like a never-ending vacation in paradise. Even work is more enjoyable than ever, at least that is what John tells me. Our typical weekday mornings start out with John getting up before 6 a.m. and taking Daisy, our 10-year-old Chihuahua, for her morning walk. I get up soon after John leaves for work and have my coffee while watching the morning news shows. 

There's something extraordinary about mornings on a boat. I'm not sure if it's the cool air and morning dew outside while you stay warm inside your own piece of floating paradise (our Nordhavn 40 has all the comforts you'd expect), or watching the calm water reflect the sky and clouds above, like an oil painting beneath your feet. The occasional gentle sway of the boat, thanks to a nearby sailboat heading out to sea for the day, reminds you that you are free from land and all the hustle and bustle associated with it. The sound of seagulls flying above reminds you that nature is all around. 

By around 9 a.m. things start to pick up around the docks, with people going about their daily routines. It is a positive atmosphere, one full of people pursing their passions. During the summer I will head up to our top deck and perform my morning Pilates before things get busy around the dock. There is something special about morning exercise as the sun rises over the boats in the marina and soft music plays in the background. 

After a light breakfast, I take Daisy for her late-morning walk. We cross over to the bay and set out for a 45-minute stroll. I never tire of the views of downtown San Diego and Coronado Island. I try to use the gym at the marina three times a week for light weight training. On the rare occasion when the weather turns poor, I use the gym's treadmills to keep up my cardio. We enjoy living aboard at a private marina because it is a lot like living in a small gated community with our own recreational areas, restaurant, outdoor pool, and security. There are also designated places to store your bicycles. 

Another form of exercise that comes with living aboard is moving provisions from the car to the boat. This requires the use of a dock cart (the wheelbarrow type with two wheels in front). If you have ever pushed one of these carts loaded with supplies up a gangplank at low tide, you will appreciate the workout your legs get. The first few times I did this, I thought no way, but now I find it fun and challenging.


Keeping the boat clean also provides a form of exercise not much different from cleaning the house, but it is much more enjoyable. Even our relatively small boat has enough rooms that cleaning takes time. Polishing all the teak tones up the arm muscles, while going up and down the stairs helps keep your legs in shape. John gets his share of exercise washing and waxing the exterior, though recently he hired a crew to take care of this exhausting task. He finds that the ongoing boat maintenance takes up enough of his time.

While John is at work, I usually spend my afternoons either visiting nearby beaches and parks or shopping at local boutiques. As I mentioned earlier, living in San Diego is like a never-ending vacation on the water. Daisy goes everywhere I go, and we are always finding new places to walk together. 

Meals aboard range from simple chicken salads to the occasional gourmet rack of lamb. Our diets have changed significantly since moving aboard, as our awareness of staying healthy has become an everyday habit. We have never eaten so much fresh fish, vegetables, and fruit. It helps that many of the nearby specialty food stores we shop at focus on healthy fare. While we still enjoy our occasional wheat pizzas and steak, we've found that moderation is the key to enjoying it all. When you find yourself spending so much time outdoors and exercising, you naturally want to eat healthier. 

Taking a long walk after dinner along the bay is the norm for the three of us, and it serves two purposes. It gets us off the boat for an hour before retiring to the saloon for a little television, and it gets Daisy out of her bed. When we don't cook on board, we have our favorite restaurants to choose from, all less than a five-minute drive away. Most restaurants near the water serve healthy meals using the freshest ingredients. Since downtown San Diego is only a 10-minute drive, we usually dine there once a week and spend time walking around the Gaslamp District for exercise. 

Another benefit of living aboard: It has cured my headaches, which I suffered from for four years and for which I was prescribed numerous medications that never worked. John also has found that his stress headaches have disappeared. 

Looking back over the last five years, I can honestly say that living aboard has changed our way of life. We find that when we are on the boat, we are not stressed out or worrying about all the chores that come with owning a house. Those tasks are waiting for us when we get home. John's daily commute is reduced from 90 minutes to 10. We exercise more than ever and eat healthier. We spend more time together and work as a team when running the boat. We consider ourselves blessed to have experienced this wonderful lifestyle and would recommend it to anyone who's interested in improving the quality of their life.