Living Off-Grid on a Sailboat

For years, I have been awed by off-grid lifestyles. The people living off-grid just seem so creative and grounded. Every part of their life has been selected with care, and they do what they do to live more sustainably – which I am always down with!

While living in SE Asia, I was sort of off-grid. We had regular electricity (as in, regular wires, not regularly on), SIM cards for Internet data hotspotting, and there was a water source nearby. We also burned our trash and reused recycling when possible. Our stove was powered by kerosene, and our showers were buckets of water. We even had a water filtration system to clean whatever water we found, when there was actually water. Coming back to the States, we wanted to continue to feel at the whim of nature and reduce our footprint. Naturally, we bought a boat.

Motoring down the Potomac River. Don’t mind the poop(y) deck.

So far, I’ve shared how we reduce our paper consumption, and the kinds of bath products I use that are plastic-free and more sustainable. Today, I want to share the systems we have aboard that reduce our electric, water, and heating consumption. We aren’t totally off-grid, but we are getting there! We use significantly less resources than our bigger boat neighbors.

Origo Alcohol Stove

Our Origo stove, and our stash on Denatured Alcohol Fuel and drinking water below.

Our boat has room for a stove and oven combo, but we opted out of the oven in favor of more storage. We wanted an off-grid option, because re-wiring anything in our boat is daunting, and long-term we don’t want to rely on electricity. This left us with getting either a propane stove or an alcohol stove.

After lengthy research, propane became less of an option, because (believe it or not) there are boat regulations. If we wanted to have propane on board, the propane tank would need its own locker, in order to contain possible combustion. Building a locker on an already small vessel was far too big a project for us. So, alcohol stove it was!

We were really lucky to find an Origo non-pressurized alcohol stove on Craigslist for a fair price. Origo no longer manufactured these prized stoves, and to find one at a reasonable cost near us was a total win! Our stove runs on denatured alcohol (it might smell like tequila, but DON’T DRINK IT!), which we buy by the gallon. You can find this alcohol in Home Depot, Lowe’s, and almost any home improvement/outdoors equipment shop, and relatively cheap, too!

Grizzly Cubic Mini Wood Stove

The toastiest boat on the dock. Don’t mind the unfinished chimney hole.

As with finding a good stove option for our partly off-grid lifestyle, we needed a cost-efficient, non-electric way to heat our boat during the winter months. Being cold on a boat is terrible – everything is damp, cold, and will grow mold if you don’t find a way to lower the moisture and raise the temperature. Sailing in the winter is also pretty terrible, but that is a story for another time!

With boat heating, our options (outside of space heaters/electicity-powered heaters) were diesel, propane, and solid fuel. Solid fuel could mean coal, wood, or briquettes. Having a diesel engine aboard, we thought that it would be a simple hook-up to get heat that way. But upon further inspection, did we want to have to go get more diesel in the dead of winter? Heck no. Nor did we want any weird explosions or fires.

We thought about propane, but like the cooking stove, did not want to deal with building a propane locker and potential gas leaks/more explosions. Naturally, my wood working husband found the Grizzly Cubic Mini Wood Stove – and we couldn’t be happier with our off-grid heating of choice. It is so cute and cozy, and keeps us warm and dry all day and night. We even use coconut based briquettes that produce less smoke, and are more sustainable than traditional wood.

Manual Pump Marine Toilet

I see you, toilet reflection. Making toilet pics artsy since 2020.

Many newer boats will have electric toilets, which honestly are really nice. But if you are off-grid and need to reduce water and electricity usage… manual pump toilets are a great option. This toilet was already in our boat, and works great. It does need some fixing – usually, the toilet can suck in water from outside the boat to flush and clean the bowl. We just grab a cup of water and pour it in.

While this is a great option, I’m hopeful that in the next year or so we can get a composting toilet. They are less likely to fail (i.e. waste coming back up, pipes bursting, and more toilet drama) and require much less maintenance. They also totally remove that “boat” smell – you know the one – it is musty and not quite gross but not nice either.


Those are our off-grid systems! I hope you enjoyed reading this and feel more informed about off-grid boat life. We have plans to get solar and wind power aboard in the next year to get even more energy independent. Got more specific questions? Drop a comment below!


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