Working from Boat: Experiences of a Sailing Editor
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
From the bedroom via the kitchen to my office. I love my short commute. As a contract editor, I work from home. My MacBook fires up with the touch of a fingerprint and I am permanently online—pretty standard for any worker from home. But sometimes I move out of my home office to work from my boat.
I am not only an editor, but also a sailing addict. To support my passion, my husband and I have Andiamo!, a sailboat on which we cruise through the BC waters for weeks at a time—more weeks than a person would have holidays. So I aim to make a seamless transition from home office to boat office.
The floating office
When it’s time for me to work in my boat office I set up my MacBook on the dining table belowdecks. Electrical power on Andiamo! is limited when we are not connected to shore power. Only when the sun is out can I charge my laptop. Because that is when the solar panels produce enough output to run the navigation instruments, autopilot, fridge/freezer, as well as my electrical office needs. Or I can charge it when the engine is running. Other than that, I am taking full advantage of my laptop's battery capacity.
I have all the style guides and any other documents I may need printed out. My second copy of Canadian Oxford Dictionary lives on board. There is no room nor power for a printer, so it takes a little bit of planning, and some creativity.
The temptations of working from boat
I could be working during a beautifully and usually smooth downwind sail, but that means missing out on some of the best sailing. I am also actively involved tacking the boat when we sail upwind. In those conditions the movement of Andiamo! is far too lively for me to sit at the table down below and focus. I might get nauseous trying to read in those conditions, so I’d better make sure I have my laptop stowed securely! Downwind sailing, upwind sailing. So… when do I work?
Creating the right conditions
For me to be able to work, the boat needs to be in a relatively calm state. In the morning, after breakfast, before we leave. Departure is normally not before 11, so a few hours are available to work from boat. Sometimes there is no wind, but we still like to move the boat to another destination. If the sea is calm I can get some daytime hours in, with my husband on watch, motoring.
We’re not on the move every day. At least 75 percent of the cruising period Andiamo! is stationary somewhere; either tied up to the dock in a marina, a mooring ball in a BC park, or at anchor in a sheltered bay. You know what that means… I would like to explore our beautiful surroundings (#StetWalk*), rather than work. On days like those I usually don’t start working until cruisers’ midnight. Which means any time after dinner. No TV distractions on board, and luckily I’m a night owl.
Also, we are not sailing to a schedule, so we can accommodate our trips around my work schedule. When I have to, I can work for days on end for as long as necessary.
Guaranteed Wi-Fi worries
I don’t require a lot of internet connection; I can spend hours, days, or even weeks working offline. Marinas usually supply Wi-Fi, though the strength of the signal is not guaranteed. Sometimes the signal barely reaches our dock. That is why I once ended up hosting a Zoom meeting from the marina office at Fishermen’s Wharf.
When the Wi-Fi signal is too weak, or when we’re at anchor or moored somewhere, I can use my phone as a hotspot for the laptop to establish a slow, but reliable internet connection.
There are times though that I get a bit antsy. That’s when we sail in areas without cell phone towers. No towers—no phone—no internet. Particularly when that happens for days in a row.
Off the grid proactively
For instance, it can take the entire day to sail up Jervis Inlet. At the far end is Princess Louisa Marine Park, with the spectacular Chatterbox Falls. We would stay for three days, and then take a day to sail back to the “connected” society. So before I sail into the remote area I let my regular clients know that I will be off the grid for several days. Which is not great for a service-providing business. What I am most worried about though, is that I miss out on new enquiries. It’s as if they wait for me to be off the grid to try and contact me.
Even when surrounded by cell phone towers I sometimes come across surprises. I’ve discovered the hard way that it’s best to not anchor under overhead power lines that supply islands. No cell phone reception there, and therefore no internet. So now we make sure to steer clear of those spots.
Work from boat is possible, with some planning and creativity. And coming back to my home office makes me appreciate even more the readily available luxuries we so easily take for granted.
What place do you sometimes work from outside your home office?
* Stet is a Latin editing term for “let it stand”: where an editor writes it in the margin when they cross out some text, then change their mind and decide to leave it in. US editor Tanya Gold adopted the StetWalk hashtag to describe when an editor takes a physical and mental break from staring at their screen to go out for a walk. Editors share on Twitter what they experience on their StetWalk.
Merel Elsinga is a copy editor, proofreader, and advocate of plain language based in Sidney (BC), Canada. She has a background in Dutch law and a post-professional lingering passion for sailing and cooking. Her mission is to help lawyers create plain language contracts.