Cruising and social media: what works?

Swing a cat in an anchorage and you’ll hit a boat with an active online presence. When we were in the planning phase of our cruising adventures (the early 2000s), blogging was nascent; only a few recorded their travels. Hungry for information and inspiration, I hung on every word and saved posts for reference; it helped keep the dream alive for years. Now there aren’t just blogs, but a range of social media outlets. What to do? How to decide? I chatted with a couple of our coaching clients about what they do for a broader perspective. Erin is boat mama to three boys, her family cruising the Caribbean since February; JD and Jen have built their family life around living aboard in San Francisco.

two people on a sailboat with a tropical island
Erin & Dave from Sailing to Roam, on the bow of their boat in St Lucia

Connect with your motivation

This blog began in July 2007, a few months after we bought Totem. I sought to capture memories of our family’s transition to life afloat and to keep our family updated after we left: motivations widely shared among cruisers. It’s evolved over time in terms of motivation and channels; now Totem’s blog/ Facebook / instagram indirectly supports our family as a part of the puzzle for our coaching and Jamie’s work as a sailmaker, and I have the privilege to help inspire others in to live more adventurously by sharing our experiences.

Family on a sailboat
JD, Jen, and Ruby of Tight Little Tribe

For Erin, for JD & Jen, the options were greater when they started (YouTube! Instagram! Facebook! Pinterest! More!) but their motivations are similar. Erin wanted to share their adventures with others and started a blog but “found myself wishing the blog was on Facebook, so that’s what I’ve tried to create, a Facebook page with mini blog posts for busy people.” It’s great, bite-sized information mirrored on her Instagram. Jen and JD came from slightly different places: Jen, blogging helped retain details of their baby girl Ruby’s alternative life afloat. JD, on the other hand, has told stories through video. “From a young age back in Kentucky my friends and I would write scripts, plan scenes, grab the camcorder and make ridiculously cliché 80’s style movies and music videos.” Together, they share a joyful look at life on the water.

What we all share? This form of content creation brings benefits, so that the effort we put in is a fair exchange for our time.

Choosing channels

two kids on a boat with text overlay for PinterestFor boaty folks looking to share their adventures, the focus swings to extremes. For Erin and many others, the more succinct mode for Facebook and Instagram allow active, engaging presence with less effort. Facebook Pages are well suited for the “mini blog” post Erin masters, and Instagram wins for ease of posting… as long as you can get your phone online, anyway.

The cruising blog is still around (hello, reader!) but more work and slower growth. Erin put it this way: “I’d also spoken to several people who had a successful blog (in terms of followers and website visits) but also said it was a lot of work for minimal monetary return.” I can attest to that! For me, it’s an outlet with more complicated rewards: a way to process feelings and hindsight perspective on experiences, a way to connect with and support others.

At the far end of the spectrum of effort-per-upload is YouTube. JD shared that he typically spent around 30 hours per video while making a series of videos that ranged from around 8 to 11 minutes each. That’s about 3 hours of editing per one minute of video – and he has experience with editing! Quality videos don’t make themselves. This is exactly what’s kept us out of the YouTube ring to date.

Twitter and Pinterest deserve a mention as part of the mix for Totem, although neither channel is particularly well fed/watered. But they’re useful as traffic drivers, and I appreciate there are some who only engage with us that way. Low effort for engagement return makes maintaining a presence worthwhile.

Key benefits

We all share similar goals to record our experiences in a kind of digital scrapbook, for ourselves and others. Community engagement is also echoed by many families. Per Jen, “I love feeling like I am part of something bigger, with a group of amazing human beings each working towards adventurous goals.”

Erin points out that they’ve been able to meet other families nearby because she keeps their social media presence current. I believe that making yourself findable is really important for cruising families, to help kid boats connect with each other. REALLY important! The point of Happy Boat Kids, Happy Boat is to provide ideas on why/how to do this.

Sharing our lives has grown a circle of friends in meaningful ways: some I get to meet eventually, many I’ve yet to meet but fill an important role. It’s why I’m knitting stripes to send my friend Amanda for her daughter Brie’s blanket,  a community project making a rainbow-striped blanket by many hands, all reaching to comfort Brie when she needs heart surgery in September. (See #briesblanket)

Sailing community and knitting. Really.

Erin has also garnered a number sponsors: it’s not income per se but has enabled her family to add some nice kit while waving money. She points out this comes with the responsibility to keep brands happy with what she posts, adds some work, and of course, succeeds when you have an honest voice instead of a pitch.

Some hope to generate income. It’s possible, but this is a long road through a crowded space that demands a lot of work and is probably going to net you less than selling doodles of stick figures on Fiverr. Few are successful, but those that are like our (awesome, earned it, work hard for it) friends on SV Delos have a combination of success factors that are hard to replicate.

Going remote

Many cruising grounds are in cell tower range and connectivity isn’t a problem. But for those going more remote (relying on satellite or radio), it’s more complicated.

Blogs and twitter are the easiest, as they can be readily updated from a simple text email and thus are doable over radio or satellite connection. Data-intensive social media channels are problematic. There are ways to get to Facebook (that’s another post!), but scheduling posts in advance is easier. Scheduled publishing is the option for YouTubers as well, uploading before going remote. Instagram posts can’t be scheduled, at least not without violating T&Cs – not worthile. It requires a phone back in internet-land to post; get a trusted friend involved, or fuhgeddaboudit.

Other ways to mitigate days offline is through connecting channels to repost. A blog posted through our Iridium GO is automatically posted to our Facebook Page, and every post to the Page is re-posted on Twitter. It’s a blunt tool approach to use the channels, very much not optimal, but better than nothing when data is limited. IFTTT (if this then that) recipes are a great way to work out the right daisy chain of reposts.

Comoros: many helpers for dinghy landing, not so many cell towers

Growing a following

At a base level, this isn’t rocket science. Provide quality content people enjoy and want to share; post routinely; engage with others. This organic method is what most do, and in a perfect world it’s all you need and optimize by being active. Wild card exposure to a bigger audience lifts awareness: Erin found an interview with a local paper evolved into a piece in the Daily Mail that gave her an early hit. Totem’s Facebook Page grew by multiples overnight in 2013 after a NY Times columnist mention; this month’s Today show interview didn’t hurt either. Giving interviews for other bloggers or magazines and recording podcasts help find new, relevant followers too. And then, there are those who leverage the boob effect. Good on ’em, it’s not for us though!

What about paying for a boost? I’ve seen this work with an Instagram Growth Service; effort involved in finding and attracting other instagrammers to follow you is relatively time consuming and data intensive (when you’re sipping data like a cruiser!). While that may offer a jumpstart, on the other hand, I don’t know anyone who has found Facebook boosting to actually work… incremental exposure for no bump in followers. Participating in groups that support each other’s posts in a given channel have the benefit of both community and a boost.

No pressure – really!

In a discussion thread among a couple of dozen boat families, many shared that they simply aren’t interested, or have other priorities, or prefer share differently. Artist, jewelry maker, and boat mama Elise said: “For those that don’t blog, the experiences and memories and stories are just as real and fantastic as those that do. How do you normally process and share? Online? Then do that. Via conversation? Then do that! Art? Do that!” A resounding YES! The explosion in social media has created pressure to engage that shouldn’t exist; there should be no guilt in opting out.

Trading when you don’t share a language: unforgettable whether it was on Facebook or not

I also chatted this morning with a fellow boat mama here in the Pacific Northwest. Beth shares her family’s travels on Facebook and intends to explore video, but recognizes “…keeping a balance of living without a camera is important to me too. Family time is what it’s all about, right?” Jen and JD admitted there are times when JD feels like filming “and I just want to be in the moment without a camera… which can lead to some marital strife when we aren’t on the same page at the same time.” A simple blog post can balloon into hours after arriving at final content and image editing. YouTube is even more extreme: “I can also go on editing binges where I get home from work,” shared JD, “and after Ruby goes to bed, I will edit till the wee hours. This can go on for days on end until I finish a project.” It’s a lot of work, worth a hard look before embarking and taking time away from other aspects of your life.


Jen commented that she didn’t want to have Ruby ever be upset about her online presence as she gets older, something a lot of parents grapple with. Kids growing up today are test driving the online childhood with outcomes unknown. My friend Charlotte has a fantastic article about why she chose to retire her daughter from her social sharing at age 5 (she admits, an arbitrary number). “If I write about and document every memorable, (and non-memorable) moment of her life, I feel as if I will mute her own interpretation of her childhood.” We want our kids to own their definition of self, and childhood memories, not be captive to how we framed them… we want them to be happy and proud, and they’re the only ones who can really do this. As our kids have grown, I’m able ask their permission to use a particular photo or have them choose from a selection to know it’s one they’d like.

For the most part, this hasn’t been a concern, although there was one afternoon in South Carolina where a series of three unexpected visitors knocked on the hull after seeing our location online. I really love meeting people who are interested in our way of life and it was all good, just a teensy bit unnerving!

Totem crew – early days, a gift of the blogging record to look back and see

Cruising and social media: what works? It’s different and evolving. This blog too may evolve (it at least needs a refresh, any website jockeys around?). We’d love to try video, but life is too full to expand for that effort. What do I wish I could tell my 2007 self? That this little family record would have a wonderful future, and to just stick with it.

With extra big thanks to Erin (Sailing to Roam: blog, insta, facebook) and JD & Jen (Tight Little Tribe: fb, insta, youtube) for their openness and honesty in talking about social media use and goals. Check them out!


10 Responses

  1. When we planned for our cruising we read blogs. There were very few when we started reading. We grew very fond of a couple and looked forward to the updates. They really helped us. We continue to do our blog because we hope to pay it forward as others did for us. I still like to think the people serious about traveling or finding out what is over the horizon will sit a read an entire blog post. We also do our blog for us. It is a way we can look back at fond memories of places we have visited. This is probably the main reason we do it. It is our diary.

    We made a decision when we started the blog to never have any advertising. Although it would be nice to generate an income while sailing, this is not what our blog is about. Others seem do do very well with this concept and their videos can be very entertaining. We commend them for the effort and finding a way to continue the journey.

    We do not make any monetary investment into growing our audience. Yes, we would love to have more readers, who wouldn’t. We just hope that anyone with a passion for sailing, travel and photography stumbles upon us becasue we think they will enjoy the read. . We hope we can give someone in a office cube a reason to take a break and for a few minutes and live vicariously through us until they reach their own dream. If we can help at least a few people in the world chase a dream, then all the effort and time that it takes to keep the blog alive is well worth it.

    Mark and Cindy
    sv Cream Puff

    1. Making my case perfectly: creating content has to serve YOU, ultimately, in ways that are sufficiently worthwhile – and we all come to the right mix in different ways. Sorry our flyby in the Caribbean didn’t include a better meet up with the Cream Puff crew!

  2. In-depth report!!! It’s so much a part of “the dream” now … but I really wonder how it affects that dream. If a cruiser circumnavigates without sharing it socially, did it really happen?

    1. It really is, in many ways, which is why I hope the people who don’t feel it… don’t feel obligated, or guilty for opting out. If the Roths and Smeetons didn’t write about it, did it really happen? Our world has changed!

  3. Behan – I have been following you guys via your blog, and more recently also via FB, since sometime very near the 2007 beginning. I don’t remember if I ran into you or Toast on-line first. Heck, it might even, though I think your blog introduced me to them, Bumfuzzle. I especially enjoyed following you guys and Toast and her crew in the beginning because for 21 years, until this May, I live in Seattle. I spent many a night boat/pet sitting for friends on Foreigner, who lived aboard on F dock at Shilshole for about 2 years. Please, encourage others, as you have, to initiate and maintain their personal adventure history via a simple blog, at least in the beginning. Let us more traditional web surfers find you in a traditional way first, then we’ll follow you to FB, Twitter, UTube and other social media!

    1. Thank you Gayle, on multiple levels! I do think that for those who want to record their adventures but aren’t really keen to blog, what Erin presents is an excellent model: the mini-posts echoed on her website. It’s little/no effort as a content producer and helps people find you in the vehicle they are most comfortable in… which is most of the reasons why I even bother with Twitter and Pinterest at this point. If you’re still around Seattle, I hope you’ll come to one of our September speaking events and say hi!

  4. I laughed at reading about ‘the boob effect’ – Finally, some science behind what we all knew to be true. Its a valid technique for sure, and we all know the yachts out there that use it to the max!

    1. I can’t fault those blogs (although I might get a little snarky sometimes, I confess); it’s just not our angle, but it is pretty funny to have Livia put numbers behind what we all know! Missing the Atea crew.

  5. I’d proffer an added benefit to an online presence: It can lead to real hugs! Great to meet you guys in person and share the adventurous energy with all the other folks in the room.

    Regarding carving a niche out for yourself AND making it pay… it’s a ton of work. The video/youtube side can have the biggest net return, but you have to put in soooo much work. I think it comes with a lot a fundamental questions to ask yourself before you start down that road.

    I remember watching a video made by another vlogger, and they filmed Delos coming into anchor. There were three people roving around with cameras on deck as they spotted the site and dropped the hook. It was pretty comical in a way. Sort of like a transcendent moment of detaching yourself from your body and watching from a distance. My point is, it’s a lot of work and your experience afloat is different. It’s not good or bad. Delos has created an amazing life that allows freedom while producing a pure and unmolested vision which they experience. They don’t have to take time away for a season to fill the kitty, and that’s a pretty nice point of sail to be on.

    And since I don’t have nice boobs, I guess I’ll have to stick to decent financial planning to make it work 🙂

  6. I enjoyed blogging while we were actively cruising and it has been nice to read back through some of the posts a few years on and remember what was going on. But it is a lot to keep up with and I haven’t written anything on there in a couple of years, but do keep updating Insta/FB. Will probably try to blog again in the future as we cruise with our daughter. Have some ideas for videos but it seems like so much work! Lol, would rather just be out there enjoying cruising instead of spending hours editing. I get that some vlogs are very successful on YouTube and make money via Patreon, but for every one of those there are probably 50 that don’t.

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