A chat with a sailor whose boat is his home

Ever wondered what life fully aboard a boat is like? I spoke with Justin Butler, one of few ‘live-aboard‘ sailors, and asked him about what makes his lifestyle so different from the ‘landlubber‘ one most of us are accustomed to.

Justin, alone at the helm in the middle of an open sea, only a small amount of land is visible on the horizon. Photo used with permission from Justin Butler.

When did you choose to start living on board and why?

I’ve been living on board just under a year, but in my 20’s I lived aboard for ten years.

I had a motorcycle accident in my 20’s that left me unable to walk, I relocated from up-country to Falmouth and the family that I was living with broke apart, and I found myself homeless.

Not only did my financial security disappear but my psychological state deteriorated rapidly. I spent my last £500 on an old wooden boat to live in. But this time, I did it because I wanted to, I really missed the lifestyle.

What are the positives and negatives of living on a boat?

The self sufficiency and privacy is definitely a positive, I can play my Violin or Guitar and no-one will complain. I’ve spent three years renovating this boat and it’ll go anywhere, so it’s not only my home but my holiday home as well.

I sail to the Scillies at least once a year with my six-year-old daughter, just the two of us.

It’s also a largely tax-free life, it’s extremely inexpensive and minimalist, which I love, but it comes with extra jobs you don’t have to do in a house, like fetching water from shore for tea!

What have been your highlights on sailing and living on board, so far?

Due to the ‘whole lockdown thing’, I think my personal highlight was being able to get away to the Scillies with my daughter for three weeks, and I think that entire trip cost me about three hundred quid.

What experiences have you had living on the water that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?

Certainly the environmental awareness, its something that grows on you until you’re hyper aware of it, especially with things like plastic in the sea, which I don’t think I would have payed any attention to, had I not lived aboard.

How do you manage family life living on board?

I have my six-year-old onboard with me at the Weekends and on Wednesdays, and for her it’s just a massive adventure.

Coming to the boat on an inflatable dinghy in a forty knot gale is not something I look forward to, but she laughs like a train the whole trip.

Really the only issue is the lack of space, but she just adapts, as kids always do.

Justin and his daughter, both smiling on his boat, with an outboard and sea visible behind them. Photo used with permission from Justin Butler.

What makes living on board the perfect lifestyle for you?

It’s autonomous and extremely low cost, which gives me the freedom to do a lot of other things. I’m able to be off-grid and minimalist and that appeals to me.

What do you hope to achieve in your future of sailing and living onboard?

This year I’m doing the Jester Azores challenge, a single-handed, 1,200 mile nautical race, which is in June. I’m also applying to Plymouth University to do a degree in Paramedic science, and if I get in, I’ll just sail my boat around to Plymouth marina and tie it up there for three years!

You can check out Justin’s YouTube channel here

Please note- this interview and the quotes featured may have been edited for clarity and greater understanding.