Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Stay in Shape – How To Exercise on a Boat

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Let’s learn how to Exercise on a Boat! For many cruisers it comes as an unwelcome reality that staying fit on a cruising boat takes work. You would think that grinding winches and pumping the head would keep you strong and firm, but it does take more.

I use the boom to do flys with the surgical tubing. Photo: Hunter Sharp
Exercise on a Boat – I use the boom to do flys with the surgical tubing. Photo: Hunter Sharp

There are two great hurdles to improving your fitness: Getting started and staying motivated.

For many, staying fit before living on a boat was a matter of going to the gym, but for the most part this is not possible when living aboard. You will need to reorient your fitness plan to what is feasible in, on and around your boat.

Look at a fit cruiser and ask them what they do. I have been watching and talking with cruisers for years and this is what I found out.

  1. The easiest exercise is something that you like to do and don’t necessarily do just for exercise. Walking and swimming are great examples.
  2. Set aside a specific time to do your workout or walk and make that the priority; first thing in the morning works best for me.
  3. Have a routine that is easy to follow, but not deadly boring.
  4. Find a buddy and make a date to walk, swim or do yoga.
  5. Jazz up your workout with music that energizes you.
  6. Set a goal for the day or week and review your goals. Keep track of your progress (both the improved ability to do the workout and the loss of weight or girth). I also use a timer for my sit ups – keeps me honest.

When I can, I read yoga and fitness magazines to give me new ideas and motivation.  Remember that doing something is better than nothing.

Many folks do calisthenics, Pilates or yoga on their boats. I have a space just large enough to roll out a yoga mat where I can do my morning routine. Rebecca and Mike Sweeney on the boat Zero to Cruising have turned their catamaran into a mobile gym with a TRX suspension training system that allows you to use your own body weight as resistance. You can go to their website and see videos of Rebecca doing workout: http://www.zerotocruising.com/shipshape.

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I could not find a reasonable place to use the TRX on our monohull, but can easily find space to workout using a length of one quarter inch surgical tubing, 54-inch long, with handles and a piece of webbing that has a grommet that allows me to attach the band to something on the boat. I bought this fabricated, but it would be easy to make your own. I use this for a wide variety of arm and back exercises by anchoring the center point to something on the boat or by standing on the tubing. You can make hand weights using the lead from your diving belt.

You can use your boat as a gym; I can do dips and hip circles in our companionway and have used fenders as an exercise ball. I have also used a variety of exercise programs on my Kindle and my tablet. I like to swim when the water quality and boat traffic permit, and many people do water aerobics using a swim noodle and this is a very fun social activity.

Yoga is a Great Exercise on a Boat (Or on the water)

If you are new to yoga, I recommend finding a DVD or a book to get you started. Kim Hess has addressed the difficulty of adapting yoga poses and practice to a boat in her book Yoga Onboard. Kim also has a DVD, Yoga Onboard a guide for cruisers and live-aboards DVD, so you can have guided practice on your boat or you can find Kim and take classes in Tortola this winter. You can contact Kim at her website: http://www.tropicyoga.com.

The Yoga journal website (http://www.yogajournal.com) also has videos to download, instructions on how to do poses and suggestions for home practice. I have yoga socks that have sticky soles and allow me to do some yoga poses without a mat.

Ideally you should warm up, workout and cool down with stretches. Rebecca on Zero to Cruising demonstrates a great warm up and workout at: http://www.strengthplus.ca/8-count-bodybuilder/. Don’t go from cockpit potato to fitness enthusiast without getting cleared by a doctor.

If exercising on your boat is not your thing try taking long walks and exploring the island. We enjoy getting off the boat early in the morning when it is cool and walking around exploring the neighborhoods in the area of the anchorage.


It is not perfectly flat, but I can roll out a yoga mat to do exercises on the deck. Photo: Chuck Shipley
It is not perfectly flat, but I can roll out a yoga mat to do exercises on the deck. Photo: Chuck Shipley

Sit-ups, Abdominal crunches, bicycle crunch

Lie flat with your lower back pressed to the deck and contract your core muscles. With your hands gently holding your head, lift your knees to about a 45-degree angle. Slowly, at first, go through a bicycle pedal motion. Alternately touching your elbows to the opposite knees as you twist back and forth. Breath evenly throughout the exercise.


Get into pushup position on hands and toes. Contract your abdominal muscles. Keep your back straight and hold the position. While you are there you might want to do a few pushups or turn the plank sideways and balance on one arm.


Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and step forward. The knee should be at 90-degrees and directly above the toes. Alternate legs and you can use hand weights and do a bicep curl.

Triceps dip

Back up to a chair or bench with your hands and place hands next to or slightly under your hips. Lift up onto your hands and bring your hips forward. Bend your elbows and lower your hips down.

Wall sit

With your back against a wall and your feet about 2 feet away from the wall, slide down until your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Hold the position.

Standing crunch

Feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and hands laced behind head. Bring left elbow to left knee and do the other side. Exhale as you crunch and inhale as you open. This is a good warm up.

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Devi Sharp is a retired wildlife biologist and exploring the Caribbean with her husband, Hunter, on their sailboat Arctic Tern.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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