Self-isolation hacks from those who know – offshore sailors

Stuck in isolation with time to kill? Here are the best tips on how to thrive in isolation and to idle the hours away constructively.

Sailors much like astronauts are uniquely qualified to talk about extended periods of isolation. There are plenty of resources out on the web to devise your own list of key things to keep the mind and body in balance during times of confinement whether at home or out on the water.


The first man to take up and succeed at such a challenge was Captain Joshua Slocum, a Nova Scotian mariner who completed the feat over the course of three years in the late 1890s. In the appendix of his memoir, Sailing Alone Around the World, he reminds “young men” with ambitions of such voyages to remain militantly certain of their own capacity to conquer a powerful sea. “To face the elements is, to be sure, no light matter when the sea is in its grandest mood,” he wrote. “You must then know the sea, and know that you know it, and not forget that it was made to be sailed over.”

Disconnect and unplug

Our lives can be complex particularly once we have a shift in the way things operate outside of our control. One of my favorite things about being off the grid is the forced freedom from the internet and Instagram. With so much time in the house, you could waste hours scrolling endlessly. Put down the phone, turn off the TV, pick up a book, build a model, learn to knit, draw – take a deep breath and tune out all the heavy news which keeps streaming on. We survived for centuries without data and you might find it as refreshing as I do.

Check out some of the suggested reading.

Get some fresh air

Sure, your physical environment may be seriously restricted but that isn’t an excuse for reducing your movement. We spend a lot of time on deck looking at the ocean, the sky, the horizon – you’d be amazed at what you see that you’d otherwise miss. Sit on a porch or a patio or your front steps if that’s as far as you can go, look at the birds, clouds, stars and surroundings.

Find a routine

On a boat you are working 24/7. Sleep-eat-sail-sleep, on repeat for one or two or three weeks at a time. Sliding into the flow of that can be easy to do. Everyone always struggles with the first few days, but once you’re into a routine the time flies by. So maintain a degree of structure; it will help pass the days.

Try to wake up at the same time, exercise then be productive for a while, eat meals on time like you normally would, take a breather and relax, go to bed like you normally would. On a boat that is called the watch schedule, but it keeps you disciplined and honest. Its good for your health and well being.

There are plenty of free exercise classes online:

  • HASfit.
  • Leslie Sansone’s Walk at Home.
  • Tone It Up.
  • jessicasmithtv.
  • POPSUGAR Fitness.

Tackle some boat, house, car, … work

You have periods of violent intensity onboard when things break but you don’t have the luxury of fixing them. The front passes, the breeze drops, and the tools come out. Similarly, we all have things we’ve been meaning to fix or upgrade around the house. Many people spend time getting a house ready to sell, why not get it ready to live in. Use this time at home to tackle something meaningful. Figure out how to do it yourself, and with the added benefit of online tutorials that we don’t get at sea.

YouTube is going to be your saviour here:

Connect with friends and family

These times are stressful for so many people. Whilst I personally advocate for alone time, but I also find it’s great to connect with friends the old-fashioned and modern ways. Random, long letters of substance. What are you doing? How are you feeling? What is life like? My emails, calls, houseparties, are all ones that now have take on additional meaning. Write a long note to someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Or better yet give them a call!

Embrace the lifestyle

It’s okay to wear the same clothes for days (or weeks) at a time, but make sure you brush your teeth twice a day and just like on the boat, always wear the right gear when you do go outside. Try reducing your clothing options, I have had a work colleague mention my excessive number of white t-shirts. Little does she know its the same one washed and dried!

Learn something, share something

Before those big expeditions, sailing trips, road trips or holidays most of us take time to pack the ipod/phone with plenty of new content. We’ve all watched a lot of great documentaries and listened to a lot of informative podcasts over these past months, and once you’ve run through your own collection it’s easy to pass your iPod on to your travel makes. I’ve learned a lot about a lot this way. So learn something new, then share it with someone else who may have run through their lineup of binges. Isolation is a great time to exercise the mind!

Further reading:

There’s no question this is an unprecedented time. The safety and health of everyone is paramount. If you are finding these times challenging and need to speak with anyone please take the time to reach out to your local support network or mental health services.

Josh Allsop

Podcast and community bringing together all things ocean. Sharing through story and experience.

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