Can Boats Go Around The Earth? (Beginners’ Explanation)

Sailing around the world is called circumnavigation.

It was once the exclusive province of governments and international organizations, but now anyone with the ability can do it.

Here’s How Sailors Go Around the Earth:

It takes three factors coming together to circumnavigate the globe. The first is offshore experience; you must understand what will be encountered and how to react to emergencies. The second is the proper equipment, including the right boat. Finally, it would be best if you had a solid plan, including the route.

Let’s look at what you need:

You Need Offshore Experience:

There is no substitute for spending time on the water in difficult conditions.

Being able to handle a boat in any condition is a must, as you will encounter unforeseen circumstances time and time again.

Extended trips are the best way to prepare. By going on long excursions, you get acclimated to living on your boat and understanding your needs in food and equipment.

The advice of experienced mariners is also invaluable here. Many people have not just circumnavigated but had also been on long voyages across the oceans and other continents.

Ideally, you will spend years on the water before attempting a circumnavigation.

Even those with long experience can (and do) fail in attempting to go around the world, but the best chance to accomplish the feat is if offshore sailing is second nature to you.

You Need the Right Boat and Proper Equipment:

Few boats are built with circumnavigation in mind.

You can modify and reinforce a boat to better withstand the rigors of extended offshore travel, but it is better to start with a tougher boat.

Longer waterline length is not automatically better. Modern designs that go for more space are not necessarily more seaworthy, either. You certainly want a larger boat for comfort in your long travels, but it must be solid.

You want a boat that can take the swells and the pounding of heavy seas.

Most often, you will be relying on batteries for power, so it is good to have solar panels and wind generators to keep power topped off. You will also need to be familiar with your boat’s storage capacity and arrangement, as you will be making the most of it.

Essential pieces of equipment are sea anchors, an autohelm, storm sails (for sailboats), an EPIRB, a satellite phone, a heavy-duty life raft, flares, and tools to work on your engine and/or your rigging.

Extra water and food (and fuel) is also a good idea, as you cannot rely on maintaining your scheduled ports-of-call.

You Need to Plan Your Route:

Being able to resupply and effect repairs is crucial to success in circumnavigation.

The simplest route is to head south and then sail around Antarctica. But this is a dangerous route, with some of the heaviest seas in the world and few islands that can offer support.

If you get in trouble here, you will be on your own, and rescue is unlikely. It is also less glamourous as there is little to see and experience besides vast stretches of empty ocean.

The most common routes go west from England or the east coast of the US, through the Caribbean and the Panama Canal, and into the Pacific.

Hawaii is an obvious destination, then onto various South Pacific islands, and then to southern Asia and India, before going either around the Cape of Good Hope or the Suez Canal.

But there are many variations and other routes to go here. The experiences of others who have made long voyages are again your best resource for ideal places to go and how to get there.

With the experience you have built up in taking extended trips, you know your consumption and your capacity for supplies. You can plan ports-of-call based on this.

How Big Should a Boat be to Sail Around the Earth?

If you ask an experienced sailor, they will tell you they could take a 24-foot boat around the world – but that doesn’t mean they’d want to!

The ideal size boat to comfortably go around the world is 35-45 feet. This will provide the best combination of comfort, hull speed, and cargo capacity.

You will have enough space so you will not be crowded, enough waterline to make good speed, and the stowage for weeks (perhaps months) of food and water.

You can certainly take a larger boat, but costs tend to expand rapidly, by the cube rather than the square. You might also require an additional crew.

You can also take a smaller boat, but it will be a rougher, longer ride. The current world record holder for the smallest sailboat to make a non-stop, unaided circumnavigation is Szymon Kuczynski, who did it in a 20-foot boat in 2018.

The construction of a boat notwithstanding, few people would recommend a circumnavigation in anything less than 30 feet.

How Long Does it Take?

Kuczynski did it in his 20-foot boat in 270 days, but there are no definitive answers to this question.

There are various routes and other factors that determine how long it takes, but there is a generally accepted average of 3.5 years to sail around the world. This assumes a comfortable pace and taking some time to appreciate the places you are visiting.

If you are trying to do it more rapidly, for the sake of having done it, rather than setting records or casually cruising, it will take far less time. Practically, any route you take that will still guarantee access to repair facilities along the way will still be more than a year.

There is a sailing rally called the World ARC which usually takes 15 months to sail 26,000 miles around the Earth. They have a few stops, but they stick to a tight schedule.

Not all boats in the rally complete it, but many go the entire distance. These are larger and faster yachts, most over 40 feet.

Powering around the world will generally take less time. While you will cover more ground in less time, you will still assume a comfortable pace to maximize fuel. You will also spend more time in port refueling and waiting out bad weather that a sailboat would be continuing in.

You can still expect it to take more than a year if you want to enjoy the places you are traveling to along the way.

How Much Does it Cost to Live on a Boat and Sail Around the World?

The cost of living on a boat depends on how many people are going with you and how much and the quality of the food you consume.

If you live on rice and beans, it will not cost as much as those dining on steak and sipping their wine.

Practically, it will cost you between $500 to $1,500 a month. The more frugal you are, supplementing your diet with fish you catch on the way, the less it costs, but some areas cost you more, depending on the local economy and resources.

If you must buy supplies in an area that is being hit by famine, even basic staples like rice will be expensive.

Therefore, it is a good idea to have a good stock of dry foods in your hold.

How Much Does the Fuel Cost?

This depends, of course, on whether you are sailing or motoring around the world and where you get your gas.

Most cruisers report an average of about $4.75 per gallon.

If you are sailing, the engine is your secondary means of power, so it is a much smaller percentage of your budget. For a 38–40-foot boat, this will probably run $500-$600 for a year, depending on how long you run the engine and the places you fill-up.

Motoring around the world will make that cost much higher. Depending on the size of your boat and the speed you maintain, fuel costs could exceed $3,000 a month. You must understand your engine’s range and rate of fuel consumption.

Not every port has a convenient gas dock!

The approximate fuel needed to circumnavigate in a motorboat varies. A solid estimate for a 40-foot yacht would be about 15,000 gallons. If you spend 2 years on the voyage, that is about $3,000 a month.

This assumes a cruising speed of about 10 knots.

Final Thoughts

Circumnavigating the globe is a dream for many, but sailors can still make that dream a reality.

There is a wealth of information; many people live to blog their preparations and the trip itself, so the information and inspiration are readily available.

If you have the experience, the equipment, and the right plan, you will have the best chance to succeed.

Sources and References:

What you really need to sail offshore

How Big Should a Sailboat Be to Sail Around the World?


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