Cruising Life

Women’s Experience of Cruising – Research Findings

I always thought that my fellow female cruisers experience the cruising lifestyle in a sort of similar way.

That is, have similar expectations, apprehensions and passions.

That fears they experience, the interests and dreams pursued and the skills obtained, would be generally the same.

So, I asked some questions.

In fact, I asked all the lady cruisers I had met during our 15 years cruising. In fact, I wrote a survey, resulting in a very detailed survey.

A raft of questions tumbled out.

What did I discover?

Well, I found that cruising women had a whole range of apprehensions and that some of these decreased over time but others surprisingly, increased.

I found that these women dealt with fears in diverse ways. I discovered a myriad of reasons why they started the adventure and many more that made them continue or discontinue.

There are some good ideas about their ideal boat and what made the journey all worthwhile. There are some interesting bits about relationships and, some wonderful tips for the beginning cruiser. I also received some insights into what happens next after you return from ‘the big trip’.

The Sample

Forty-two women responded .

Half the women came from Australia and New Zealand and the Northern Hemisphere was represented by Canada and USA with 36%, some from Europe and one from Hong Kong. Five boats cruised with their families.

What age group?

Three quarters are between 50 and 60 but of those remaining, over half were actually older with one over 70.

Two thirds of the ladies have sailed for over 15 years and over half of the whole group have sailed for over 20 years.

Most started sailing due to their partner being a sailor, a few couples started together and 6 women have sailed since they were kids. The idea to go cruising was initiated almost equally between ‘him’ alone and ‘as a couple.’ 47% to 40%.

Interestingly, about a quarter of women in the group suggested the idea first.

Once the idea of cruising blossomed, the enthusiasm of other established cruisers and, the practical information gleaned from books, gave most couples the confidence to make it a reality. Half of the group related that a single episode, like, sundowners on a friend’s boat, lit the spark.

Initial Plan

Nearly half the group had read enough and completed courses to want to do serious ocean cruising or a circumnavigation.

Most of the other half, including the family boats,preferred to be open to how they felt and let the journey evolve and — guess what — they all did some long distance ocean crossings with, three of the five family boats, circumnavigating.

Naturally the amount of time all this took varied with the infinite variations in people’s lives, but at least three quarters of the group have cruised for more than 5 years. A quarter of the group have been cruising for over 20 years. (They must have been younger when they started and loving the lifestyle.)

Over half the group changed their mind from their initial plan. This was mainly a result of, the journey just evolves; influences with the vagaries of weather; the people you meet; the places you love and the ever growing confidence and curiosity to venture that bit further.

The Boat

Now, let’s look at the boat.

Most people have had only one boat, three quarters being mono hulls, with the average length of all boats, between 30 and 40 feet.

99% of people were happy with their boats although the greatest ‘wish list’ change was having a larger living area which meant, extending the cockpit, adding dodgers and waterlines.

More efficient storage and multipurpose work spaces with increased ventilation are also very important.

Fanciful ‘nice to haves’ included:

  • having all the labour saving mod cons e.g., washing machine, espresso bar,……..
  • to unlimited money and water usage and,
  • having more romantic candle–lit dinners under a star-flung sky with a zephyr breeze wafting the aroma of frangipani.


The attraction

There was much agreement that the greatest attraction to this cruising lifestyle is the unique ability to stay in exotic places, experience diverse cultures whilst being able to stay in one’s own accommodation.

The peace and freedom to live like this is also unique.

However trying to keep contact with friends and family, whilst balancing a sea-land based existence was the biggest issue.

Attributes needed

Overwhelmingly, the kinds of attributes needed to happily cruise are firstly, adaptability to all those quick changes that occur.

These may include, changing destinations because of weather, flexibility in relation to socialising, jobs, touring and cultural challenges.

Secondly, having the initiative to maximise information for personal comfort or the task at hand is considered an important asset.

Being independent and having a sense of humour were also seen as important attributes.

Personal challenges and growth

Cruising can be about personal challenges and to this end many women stated that they experienced a positive growth in self awareness in relation to living in a restricted environment as well as their response to stress.

The development of skills, both mental and physical helped in “making me more courageous, physically stronger with an ‘I can do it’ attitude.”

What women learnt about their menfolk was an increased respect for their sailing skills in varied situations and their ability to operate under stress.

Big points for those partners who understood the ‘learning curve’ she was experiencing and his ability to ‘fix anything’.

What do you do all day?

For that question ’what do you do all day?’ ….

The favoured activity at anchor of course was socialising with other yachties and, touring ashore, while, reading was the number one activity on those long voyages.

The most enjoyable aspects on a long passage were being part of a team and sharing unique events of nature that occur at sea.

We all have some and will always remember them. Seasickness was the least enjoyable event, understandably so.


Any new activity invites an element of both fear and interest and the level of enjoyment depends upon a balance between the two.

By far the biggest fear was the lack of control of the elements, with high wind strengths, especially of 40+, however, with time and experience and weather planning, this fear definitely alleviated.

The fear that increased was that of losing contact with friends and family, as, the more time you are away the less contact you may have.

Of course, technology, with email etc can alleviate this to a certain extent.

Another big fear is your partner going overboard.

Using safety devices, e.g. a harness, is a good way of coping with this one and also practicing Man overboard drills.

In essence most of the fears alleviated with experience but remain in the background to be managed.

Personal Relationships

Regarding personal relationships on board, those that had issues with their partner worked out ways of working with the problem – except one who left the boat and changed partners!

Strategies that aided dealing with issues included, good relationship skills like, viewing yourselves as a team with technical and emotional responsibilities, having open discussions about any issue and viewing life with a tolerant, philosophical outlook.

The 5-minute ‘get angry and get over it’ strategy was a good one.

Post Long-term Cruising

The last group of questions referred to those long term cruisers who have returned home. There are 22 people in this group.

What comes next

Most had firm ideas about what they wanted to do. That is, stabilise the income by getting employment or looking at investments and real estate.

The aim of most of the group was then to continue cruising in some manner. This may be a more balanced compromise between part-time cruising and land travel, living and working lifestyle and grandchildren. Being closer to family was a driving force.

Immediately after returning, there exists an overriding feeling of the surreal, that they had actually journeyed so far, especially for those who had crossed many oceans.

There is a yearning for the community lifestyle of fellow cruisers and the need for a new challenge.

What they miss

Many miss the freedom of being outdoors and the diversity of cultures.

To satisfy this need, some have chosen to land travel in e.g., caravans, and have been particular where they choose to live, eg near water, open spaces, within a community but not in a big city.

Benefits of life ashore

Living ashore has great benefits in being able to pursue hobbies and interests.

Being able to have a good yarn to other yachties at the local club and keeping email and other contacts with cruising friends helps to process one’s cruising experiences.

Keeping the travel link also helps to avoid the consumer trap that pervades living on land.

One never fits back into the same life again nor would many want to.

Most find themselves more adaptable, curious and confident to take on whatever is happening now.

Their advice

Their advice to someone starting off is to:

  • prepare well,
  • know how to handle the boat,
  • socialise and ask heaps of questions,
  • cruise one step at a time,
  • and most importantly, don’t aim too high or too expensively
  • … so you can DO IT NOW.

This is a summary of the diversity of responses I received. If you have any comments or questions feel free to email.

Karyn Ennor

About Karyn Ennor

I am 58 years old. I have been cruising for 16 years now and spent 12 years of that completing a circumnavigation.

I had never sailed before until I met my husband 20 years ago, but I have always enjoyed an outdoors life.

I learnt most of sailing skills from my very patient husband (Chris) and everything else from all the wonderful people we have met and the books that have been written.

My background is sociology and teaching English as a foreign language so, our cruising lifestyle provided fertile ground for all my interests.

We have been back in Australia for 3 years now and still live on our 34′ Catamaran MAGIC CARPET. After our years of cruising we have found it difficult to rejoin the suburban lifestyle and are long term Gypsies, I guess.

Chris and I have been writing articles about our journey and have been publishing in the Australian ‘Multihull World’ magazine for the last five years.

I find writing and attaching photographs of our travels a wonderful way to process our experiences. It makes it more real and we find we keep meeting our readership out on the water and so we get to share our experiences again, by answering their many questions and referring women to this website. It’s my version of ‘fame’ without the’ fortune’ but we feel pretty wealthy having so many friends and the time to spend with them.

Over the years, over coffee and a chat I have shared many ideas about cruising and I guess my idea for the ‘women’s survey’ came out of an interest in the commonality and diversity of experiences. There is also an interest to process and share/compare these experiences with other cruising women. I also wish to help those women who are just starting off to feel more confident about what they are doing.

Read also on this website
More info (external links)

How have your experiences paralleled or differed from those of the women in Karyn’s survey? Let us know.
Email or leave a comment below.

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