Getting Exercise on a Sailboat

It seems like it would be difficult to exercise on a confined, moving space. Good news: as long as you’re willing to be flexible and work within the limitations, getting exercise on a sailboat isn’t tough. In time for a new year of resolutions, here’s how to exercise on a sailboat, and stay fit and healthy on board.

We spend a lot of time onboard, with lockdowns, passage making, quarantines and illnesses keeping us on the boat for days at a time. We don’t always have the luxury of doing hashes, so I have to be creative to try to stay fit on a 46 foot monohull.

Exercising With Dive Weights

We have all our scuba gear onboard Sava, including dive weights, which can do double duty for workouts on the boat. I have a variety of 2, 3, and 4 pound soft weights for scuba, so I combine them for whatever exercise I am doing, using more weight for bigger muscles.

Dive weights exercising on a boat
Dive weights are great for exercising on a boat!

For curls, I use the 4 and 2 together in each hand, but for lat raises, I only lift 2 pounds on each side. You can do all sorts of exercises with weights. In addition to those already mentioned, try squats, bent over rows, single arm rows, tricep extensions, the list goes on.

Exercise on a boat with weights
Examples of exercises with weights

Using Boat Gear as Weights

If you’re not a diver/ don’t have any weights, you can substitute common boat equipment for weights in your exercise routine. The most convenient to use are fenders, unless you are tied up to a dock and don’t have any available. These are bulkier than dive weights but you can use one in place of two and workout both arms at once!

Other easily available items onboard include boat hooks, dinghy paddles, buckets and water jugs.

Beach boot camp
A beach bootcamp using boat hooks!

Exercise on a Sailboat Without Weights

You can use your body as your weight for many exercises, so don’t use no weights as an excuse! You’ll likely need more space than the cockpit allows (at least than mine allows), but if you head up to the foredeck you can get a lot of exercise on your boat.

If you’re on a cat, you have all the room in the world and can jump rope on board! I’ve seen it done but I am not trying that on Sava.

You can do pushups, situps, planks (all sorts of ab workouts), crab walks, side kicks, lunges, leg lifts, and practice yoga in the bow of the boat, provided it’s not too choppy on the water. If it is choppy, just tighten those ab muscles and work harder! Sometimes I give up if the boat’s swaying too much and I’m falling down trying to work out. But it’s important to try.

Exercise on a boat list
Just some things you can do without weights

Making Boat Work Your Exercise

Cruisers know that many boat jobs are exercises in themselves, but you can make them more of a workout and kill two birds with one stone. For example, when filling up gas and water jugs, take the long way around the boat while carrying the full jugs, walk up and downstairs a few times with them, and lift them as high as you can a few/several times before filling up the tanks. Even cleaning the bottom of the boat is a workout, with all that scrubbing working your arms. Make the boat work pay off in your fitness too!

Off The Boat Exercise

If you are in a place where you can get in the water, you’re set for exercise and have so many more options for workouts. You can swim “laps” around the boat, get out your pool noodle and do noodling exercises like running in place, jumping jacks and side kicks. If you’re in a spot with an active cruiser community, you might join an already established noodling group. Or start your own with the guide book that started it all. If you have a paddleboard, you can hop on that and explore while exercising. Oh to jump in the water and be free!

Noodling group exercise on a boat
Noodling was popular in Bonaire!

This post is mainly about getting exercise when you are confined to the boat. And as you can see, there’s a lot to do without getting too bored.

Getting Motivated To Exercise on a Sailboat

Getting motivated to work out is the hard part, not just when you live on a boat. It’s easier to make excuses than it is to do it! My suggestion is to do a little at a time because every little bit you do counts. Start with a set of whatever seems easiest to you: bicycles, squats, curls. Save the hard stuff for when you are already inspired. If you do the exercises you like, you’ll be more inclined to continue working out. Once exercising makes you feel good, hopefully you will be more motivated the next time.

I am a middle-aged woman who likes to stay healthy, not a professional in fitness or health, so check with a doctor if you have medical issues or are new to exercise. It’s important to know your limits! Be safe and look after yourselves.

Do you have any tips or workouts for people on a boat or other confined spaces? Please let me know in the comments! I always like to add new ways to exercise on a sailboat. Let’s stay fit and healthy so we can live better and explore more. Happy New Year!

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