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  • Writer's pictureSailing Koinonia

Why our family made the unconventional choice to live aboard a sailboat

We have an amazing opportunity

We’ve been incredibly blessed with the opportunity to do something many people contemplate but few get the chance to do. And even those who get the chance, rarely act on it. Casting off the dock lines and living on a boat for a while, traveling aboard our floating home. We are a tight little tribe who loves being together and we love boat life. We have homeschooled our three girls for almost 10 years. While COVID-19 has rocked the world, one silver lining is we have the opportunity to work and earn a living remotely. We’re also relatively young and healthy, so we want to seize this moment to make unforgettable memories as a family and look back on these times with no regrets.

We aren’t thrill seekers

Making the choice to live on a boat sounds exciting but it’s also a little scary. Fear is natural. A healthy dose of fear is a sign that one knows and respects the thing revered because it can’t be controlled, only managed. Living on the sea involves different risks than living on the land but not greater risk. As land dwellers, we just get used to all those risks. Living on a boat sounds scary because the risks are less familiar.

Probability of dying:

  • Heart disease - 1 in 6

  • Car accident - 1 in 103

  • Falling - 1 in 171

  • Walking down the street - 1 in 623

  • Commercial plane crash - 1 in 29.4 million

*** Sources: Google search; if it’s on the internet, it must be true.

In all seriousness, living on a boat definitely requires lots of adapting and preparation. Operating a sailboat that is 47ft long and weighs 20 tons isn’t anything like sailing a Sunfish. We’ve spent over 20 years sailing and learning — and we continue learning. We’ve taken a number of safety and seamanship courses. Our children have gone to sailing camps. And while the risks and expense of our former land-based life will be reduced, other risks are increased. But we are prepared and those risks are understood and accepted.

According to the American Boating Association, the Coast Guard reported only 613 boating accident deaths in 2019 (compared with 38,800 car accident deaths). 86% of those deaths were from drowning where the victim was not wearing a life jacket. Also, in 80% of cases, the accident occurred on vessels less than 21ft and 25% of cases involved intoxication. In over 70% of cases, the operator of the vessel had no boater safety instruction. The point is: the risks of someone dying in a boat accident, if they remain sober and follow basic safety precautions and rules of navigation is very small.

We totally understand that none of the stats matter to someone who doesn't know much about boating or does’t know how to swim — living on the water sounds terrifying to them. But we’re not them. Contrary to popular belief, people who choose to live on a boat are generally not thrill seekers out to live on the edge. They just want to live a different kind of life for a while. They are experienced, well informed, and very safety conscious. The barriers to entry are high, so it isn’t a decision to be made lightly.

My family is the most precious thing in the world to me

This side of heaven, I want what every caring father wants for his family: the best. Since Amber and I have been married, we've dreamed about a time when I could work remotely and I could spend more time being present with her and our girls, especially during their formative years. It's not just about quality time but quantity of time. It is pure illusion to believe if I just work harder and earn more money, I can "buy" more time and freedom. It doesn’t work that way. Giving my family “the best” means being the husband and father they deserve now and modeling the priorities we espouse but rarely live: God first, then family, then everything else. Time, relationships, and health are the most precious commodities we have in this life.

We’re not interested in media attention or starring in a floating reality show

There's a new generation of “cruisers” out there working hard to monetize on their unconvenational lifestyle. A handful of trailblazers did a pretty amazing job of marketing themselves, gaining impressive followings on social media, and publishing high quality video content. You probably know most of them. A few have even made national news and published books that have inspired and helped a new generation of sailors. But there is a danger too. Through the lens of YouTube and social media, boat life looks exotic and fancy free. But that’s not reality. There has been an explosion of copy cats who think they can make an easy living peddling videos for likes and Patreon donations. Believe me, this is a hard and mostly unrealistic way to earn a living. The market is saturated and very competitive. There are far better and faster ways to earn a living working remotely than spending 60+ hours a week editing videos, endorsing products you don't like, and in some cases, stooping to base levels to gain attention. That's just not the kind of life we want to live or portray. If you're reading this, we hope to inspire and help you along but we have no interest in turning this life into a reality show.

“Koinonia” means: fellowship

“Koinonia” is a Greek word found in the Bible and it’s also the name of our boat. The name means: fellowship with God and other people; literally to break bread. And that's exactly what we intend to do while we're traveling and exploring new places aboard our floating home. As strange as it may sound, we feel called to this new life and to a new tribe of people with whom we have an instant connection through sailing. By God’s grace, we will live out our Christian Faith amongst our tribe authentically, wherever we go, and build deep and meaningful friendships with the people we encounter along the way. As a pastor and dear friend once said: turning strangers into neighbors, neighbors into friends, and friends into brothers and sisters in Christ. We think God is calling us to show the love of Christ to the cruising community: an eclectic group of folks who, in the words of Sterling Hayden, either “couldn't or wouldn't fit in.”

This hasn't been an easy decision

This is literally the hardest thing we've ever done. It takes a lot of nerve to sell your home, most of your material possessions, buy and refit a boat to live on, and then cast off. It's a radical change! We've prayed through this decision and God has provided and opened doors in the most incredible ways. The things we're having to give up are mostly things we don't need anyway, and the things that truly matter: like our family and friends, we won’t be giving up just because we change our geography for a while.

This is a new chapter in our life. We are excited. Please pray for us. We hope you'll check back in often to see what we're up to. Let us hear from you!

Ben Ward

S/V Koinonia

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