Many people go cruising in their early retirement years, but can you keep cruising at 75+? What does it take?

Cruising at 75+

In a recent post I mentioned that Dave is 78 and I’m 56. Several readers contacted me, basically saying that Dave is one of the few active cruisers they know over 75, and wanting tips on “geezer cruising” (note that we’ve both been sailors since our teens and began cruising full time when Dave was 64).

First off, there’s no one size fits all answer. Actively cruising – that is, going new places and primarily anchoring out – isn’t for everyone at any age. Cruising outside the continental US, without its support systems (weather forecasts, Coast Guard, towing services, network of marinas, and the ICW for those on the East Coast), is harder no matter what the age. A large part of the equation is wanting to do it: there’s no age limit on cruising!

That said, here are some things that we think are important in being able to cruise in later years.

Health. Dave is in generally good health, but we take care of health issues as they arise and don’t leave a place with good medical facilities when either of us has an issue going on. For example, this past spring Dave was diagnosed with a prostate infection, which required an 8 week course of antibiotics and then follow up tests. We delayed leaving for the Bahamas until we had the all-clear.

Dave also tends to be in the “use it or lose it” camp and works to maintain his physical fitness, balance and agility – all of which are helped by living on a boat and all of which help us avoid injuries. That said, we also have tried to lessen the boat’s physical requirements – but it’s still a good daily workout! It’s a bit of a circular proposition: you have to be physically fit to cruise, and cruising keeps you physically fit.

Staying injury-free is a key concept: broken bones, bruises, pulled muscles and such all take longer to heal as we age and it’s harder to regain full function afterwards. Many of our choices are driven by trying to lessen the chances of injury – as I proofread this article, I realized that every single item I mention refers to it!

It goes without saying that you have to be mentally sharp, but I’d argue that cruising tends to keep your brain working: figuring routes, solving problems and having new experiences has to be better than sitting on the sofa watching reruns!

Boat Choice. Barefoot Gal (a 34’ Gemini 105M catamaran) is a smaller and lighter boat than our previous boat (a heavy blue-water capable Tayana 37). The sails are considerably smaller, making the main easier to raise, the genoa less strenuous to furl and unfurl, the spinnaker simpler to set, and all the sails taking less muscle (even with winches) to trim. She requires a much smaller anchor (35 pound vs. 66). All of this means she’s easier to sail or motor and translates to less chance of serious injury if something goes haywire.

Barefoot Gal is also very maneuverable, which makes all close quarters operations (anchoring, docking, locking, mooring, passing through bridges and narrow channels) easier and less stressful. She is also faster both sailing and motoring, making days shorter and less tiring.

With a catamaran, it’s easier to get into and out of the dinghy, as well as to load and unload provisions and gear. She’s more stable for doing anything on deck – underway or at anchor. No long flight of steps down the companionway also makes it easier to move items with less chance for a serious fall.

By no means is a small catamaran the only good choice for older cruisers, but choosing a boat that makes cruising easier with less risk of injury is very important.

For many of us, financially it’s possible to have a larger boat as the years go by . . . but Dave and I are not at all convinced that bigger is necessarily better.

Watermaker. Cruising and primarily being at anchor (or even in a mooring field), you have to either lug jerry cans of water, make periodic trips to the water dock . . . or have a watermaker. We opt for the watermaker – 40 pound jerry cans get old to lift aboard and pour into the water fill, and docking has other chances for injury (as well as conditions sometimes making it impractical).

Dinghy Davits and Outboard Crane. The boat came with dinghy davits, which we have beefed up and added extra purchase on the blocks. We added an outboard crane so that we could put the motor on the stern rail when going from one anchorage to another. This takes a lot less strength than hand lifting the outboard and then putting the dinghy on deck as we did when we first were cruising our first boat, meaning that we can have a larger outboard and that I could handle these chores without Dave should he be sick or injured (we think it’s very important that all systems on the boat be set up so that either of us can do everything by ourselves).

As Dave read my draft, he remarked that another item on the davits, crane and other systems “under load” was to have good blocks of a decent size. Yes! We have upgraded many – our preference is Harken, despite their cost – and they make a huge difference.

On the dinghy davits, we found that adding a block with an integrated cam cleat so that the line cleated automatically when pulling the dinghy up make it much easier to raise the dinghy when the motor is on it. (The line gets safety cleated around a horn cleat once the dinghy is raised all the way, too.) Pull a foot or two, and the line is already cleated while you reach to grab the next handful of line . . . no having to hold it with one hand.

Many people go cruising in their early retirement years, but can you keep cruising at 75+? What does it take?

Electric Windlass. Okay, we think that an electric windlass is an important piece of safety gear for all cruisers, as it means that you’ll re-anchor as many times as necessary to get a good set in a good location. But it’s even more important as we get older.

With it, we have no hesitation in moving if conditions change or another boat anchors too close for safety (yes, I know that if we were there first they should be the ones to move . . . but some people refuse). And if we’re suddenly on a lee shore, an electric windlass is much safer to use when the bow is bouncing up and down and we need to get out of there NOW!

Weather Windows and Routing. I don’t want to give the impression that we are scared by weather, but we do make more of a effort to avoid rough passages than we used to. We don’t recover as fast as we did 15 or 20 years ago and we’re more prone to injuries as well. Simply put, we’re not as strong or as agile. Our style of cruising is a little slower and hopefully a little less stressful.

  • We’re more conservative in our choice of weather windows and generally don’t move on ones that look “iffy.” I’m not saying we wait for perfect weather and we’re not looking to motor everywhere in flat seas, but yes, we’re willing to wait a few days for better weather.  It’s a matter of not exhausting ourselves (what good is it to get somewhere two days sooner if we’re just going to use those days to recover from a rough passage?) and not risking injuries or gear breakage.
  • We’re a little faster to move to a more protected anchorage than we were 15 years ago. I think this is simply a function of more years spent cruising . . . and riding out some squalls in places we wished we weren’t.
  • We try to create routes with a little less daily mileage (we try for no more than 50 miles) and try not to have multiple long days in a row. We try to get into a new anchorage by late afternoon, rather than right at sunset. Sometimes  long days can’t be avoided and sometimes there’s no alternative to an overnight passage, but we realize that we don’t have the stamina that we used to and plan accordingly.

We love cruising and don’t think there is any particular age at which people should plan to stop. Perhaps the style of cruising will change, the boat may change, the location may be different than the original dream. The important factor is to figure out a style that works with any limitations you may have, and to do everything possible to avoid injuries that could put serious limitations on mobility.

  • Jan Bogart
    Posted at 23 June 2016 Reply

    We are the same age, and my husband will be 73 this year!

  • John Feemster
    Posted at 23 June 2016 Reply

    Good then I won’t feel so bad at 55

  • Cheryl Bular
    Posted at 23 June 2016 Reply

    Everything you said is very accurate. We’re in our early 70’s and have found life aboard is much less stressful if you maintain a positive attitude, keep one hand for the boat, and wait for weather, always.

  • Florian
    Posted at 23 June 2016 Reply

    I still remember an elderly English couple that I got to know in Cannes decades ago. They were both approaching their 70ies, but were very lean and fit. When they showed me their boat it was obvious why: they sailed a 26 metre steel cruiser-racer, a sleek and apparently very fast boat. They had converted everything demanding & mechanical to electrical and had re-rigged the boat, so that one person could operate it from the cockpit. When asked by me why they went through all this hazzle the elderly lady – who could have jumped out of a Rosamunde Pilcher movie – looked at me, smiled and said: “My dear, we may not be the youngest anymore, but we love racing and speed…”. The next morning I helped them getting out of the marina, and once they had cleared the breakwater they hoisted every piece of canvas that they had and went off like a rocket. That was the day when I decided to die whith oak under my feet and the wheel in my hands. They were amazing !

    • Florian
      Posted at 07 December 2016 Reply

      And a bit more about ourselves: we are in our ‘Screaming 50ies’ and sail a girl much older that we are, a 65 ft. 1923 timber gaff ketch with internal keel that allows us to sail very close to beaches and reefs due to her low draft (1.6 metres). Like all others we believe that age has the benefit of getting smarter (sometimes at least 🙂 and having more experience; being mindful about what can, and cannot be done, is paramount to stay healthy in your later life. If the weather looks iffy, we have a cuppa instead, if an anchorage doesn’t look ok we look for the next one, etc. ‘Smart / cautious / mindful’ doesn’t mean ‘boring’ – it just allows us to experience more in a safer way.

      Did I mention that I am legally blind (I still can see a tiny bit, but honestly not a lot) ? Probably not, but I can assure you it does not matter at all – I sail mainly by the seat of my pants, the feel in my feet, sense of smell (coastlines !) and hearing; feeling the movements of the boat, hearing how wind & waves play around us, using a few smart alterations on board and playing it safe always allows for a good run. Everything on our ship is manual, even hoisting the Gaff Mainsail, so it gives us a good workout & at the same time forces you to slow down and think first. However, while keeping the ship as authentic as possible we have a lot of modern safety features – admittedly in disguise – on board; most importantly an active AIS to avoid collisions and passive radar reflectors, but chart plotter, radar, electronic & manual charts (the latter more for my wife than me :-), etc. make our life easy.

      And we love the stream of ideas that frequently comes in from ‘The Boat Galley’ ! While most of the stuff is suitable for more modern cruisers a lot of ideas have been adapted, modified and integrated in our ship. Great job, Carolyn, keep the goodies coming !

  • Rebecca
    Posted at 23 June 2016 Reply

    Boat Galley thank you! This post encourages me and gives me comfort we are not to old! Husband and I are planning our retirement and boat purchase and crusing are in focus for next year.

  • Sandy
    Posted at 24 June 2016 Reply

    My father-in-law is still cruising at 83! We just did the reverse of your current trip this winter and loved it 🙂

  • Randy Hicks
    Posted at 24 June 2016 Reply

    Excellent advice. Thanks.

  • Kathy
    Posted at 24 June 2016 Reply

    We are both in our 70’s and are still living aboard and cruising. Our home is a motor yacht and we basically did many of the same things with our mechanical systems over the years. Either of us can run the vessel and we work hard to maintain our capability to do so. Thanks for encouraging others to continue to enjoy our water based life-style.

  • Deb
    Posted at 24 June 2016 Reply

    We have Guy in our club that single hands at 95. He is amazing. He does short cruises and takes a nap when he gets there.

  • Claire Ford
    Posted at 25 June 2016 Reply

    Great article! My husband is also 78, and I’m 65. My philosophy is, “Never sit down!” You stay young by moving, and cruising helps with that along with thinking skills. We’ve just moved up from a 28′ to a 44′ and can hardly wait to get out on the water again. Think young, be young. Also, we love TBG articles and suggestions.

  • Donna Chiappini
    Posted at 27 June 2016 Reply

    Thank you for this article. I’m 59 and my husband is 61. We have been coastal sailors for over 10 years now. We recently purchased our second and hopefully last boat, a brand new 45′ monohull that will take us into retirement. But, we have a few years to go before we can officially retire. I worry all the time that by the time we actually can retire, we won’t be able to sail for one reason or another. As sailing for long trips is our retirement dream, keeping our health now is paramount. We look forward to posting and blogging about our amazing adventures like you do. You two are an inspiration.

  • Tom Alvord
    Posted at 28 June 2016 Reply

    It is always enjoyable to read the boat gallery articles. I look forward to them arriving in my email.

  • Donna Blagg
    Posted at 28 June 2016 Reply

    We too are cruising in our later years. We will both be 70 this summer. When we were 35 we took an early “retirement” for 5 years ans cruised the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and the eastern coast of Mexico. Since then we went back to work, cruising only locally (Florida gulf coast and the Keys) as time and vacation permitted.

    Now we are back into cruising full-time nearing our 70’s. And have added some features
    to make our boat safer in our later years. One huge improvement that you did not mention (nor may it apply to many boats) is that we have added Treadmaster decking. I now feel totally safe walking anywhere, no fear of slipping on the cabin house or any deck surface.

    This application is now 4 years old. We did this project ourselves and could not be more pleased with its durability and safety security.

    Hope this may help those with slipping on deck concerns.

  • Henry Kivett
    Posted at 17 July 2016 Reply

    I read with great interest your article and I too am at that age (76) and up till now was about to give it all up. Thanks to you I may give it another shot at trying. My boat is a 1986 CS 30 and over the course of 5 yrs have rigged it for single handed operations. The only thing i don’t have is the water maker and davits and for the cost of it have not considered it. I do have a brand new dinghy (still in the box) and hoist system attached to the radar mast. Is there a cheaper water maker out there if so let me know where the cheapest one i have found is $4000.00. I can live without the davits but water and fuel is a different thing altogether.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 17 July 2016 Reply

      Unfortunately, I don’t know of any that are much less than that new. If you are lucky, you might find a used one that someone wants to sell at a good price. Good luck and don’t give up!

  • Barb Fonner
    Posted at 31 July 2016 Reply

    My husband and I just turned 73 in June. Last December we bought a 36 year old 55 ft. Ocean Alexander Flush deck from a seller on Vancouver Island in British Columbia (we live in Florida).. We have never cruised before or owned a boat. This was totally uncharted territory for us. After months of repair on the hard replacing black water systems, practically all the wiring, and other repairs too numerous to mention….we are now cruising the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf Islands. We read everything we could, got lots of training, asked thousands of questions at the repair marina, had a few false starts, some days of buyers remorse, a few “marital spats”, and spent way more money than initially planned for the first year!!! HOWEVER, we are in better physical shape now than four months ago. My hubby lost of ten pounds, and we can bend, stoop, hang, hoist and climb and contort these old bodies like twenty years ago. We are actually quite amazed and out kids say we look better and younger than the “before” picture. Now we just need to find a Florida winter activity that will keep us tuned up for next year in Canada. I don’t think golf is going to do it. We did it!!!! So can you! P. S. Everything we bought at the suggestion of The Boat Galley has turned out to be great!!! This website was kind of my bible! Thanks Carolyn

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 31 July 2016 Reply

      That is SO great to hear, Barb!

    • Michael. Meyers
      Posted at 22 September 2017 Reply

      I did it at 65. At 70 i sold my beautiful sail boat and bought a 42″ power boat. I’m not sure l did the right thing.
      Sellers remorse. My new boat has everything but character.
      Good luck with your choices and decisions.
      Mike Meyers

  • Jim Creighton
    Posted at 07 December 2016 Reply

    May I suggest to your readers that they consider a junk rig for their elder years’ sailing. It is particularly practical for elder sailors. It can extend the years you can sail comfortably. Without going into the subject here, I suggest going to The Junk Rig Association website and find their publications on the subject. See also the website called Teleport Expeditions and read their account of transiting the North West Passage in a junk rigged boat I built for myself back in the 80’s.

  • Erika
    Posted at 06 January 2018 Reply

    Thank you for sharing all of this! I’m 53 and my husband is 71. We plan to buy our boat in the coming year and move aboard shortly afterward. Most people think he is too old and that we are insane; but it is a shared dream and we hope to be able to at least get in a few years if not more before health issues send us back to land. Your post gives me great encouragement and some useful tips! Much appreciated!

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