Want to Get Out Cruising? Don’t Be a Pioneer

JHHGH1-1020462Sure, diesel electric drives, lithium ion batteries, unstayed carbon masts, and composting toilets are fun technology and interesting too…well, no toilet is that much fun.

Some might even be a better way to do things. And if you want to experiment for the fun of it, that’s cool too. In fact, we really appreciate it, since that’s how the gear we use gets improved.

But if your goal is to actually get out there cruising as soon as you can for a relatively reasonable amount of money, we recommend that you only use gear that has been in wide general use for at least 20 years. Here’s why:

Low Volume Equals Lots of Bugs

In a low volume high complexity business like providing gear for voyaging yachts, it takes an inordinately long time to get new gear debugged, hence the 20-year recommendation.

You Will Be The Tester

Most new voyaging gear is really, really, buggy because low volume marine manufacturers do not have the budget to test properly and, even if they do have a budget, simulating the environment of an offshore boat at sea is hard to do. So you, who buy the new gear and go sailing with it, will be the tester. And being a tester and paying for the privilege is just not a lot of fun, at least in my experience.

At Sea is Different

Just because a piece of gear works well in a shore-based application does not mean it will work well offshore. In fact, after you add in salt water, violent and continual cycle loading, low and fluctuating voltages, and lots of humidity, I can near guarantee it won’t.

At Sea Consequences Suck More

Consequences are worse offshore. If your car’s lithium battery has a melt down, you stop and get out of the car. On a boat half way across the Atlantic…

Even if it’s just that your new-tech battery bank fails half way across, that’s very different than the same thing happening to a car owner close to a dealer.

It Might Be A Better Idea…But

Even if a piece of kit has been around for over 20 years but has not come into the mainstream of offshore use like, for example, unstayed carbon  masts, I recommend you avoid it if your primary goal is to get out there and particularly if you don’t have really deep pockets.

Sure outlier gear might be a better way. And maybe it’s not in general use because sailors like me are a bunch of old stick-in-the-muds. But what if there is a good reason? Do you want to find out the hard way what that reason is, instead of enjoying the cruising life? And what about the resale value of your boat equipped with a major system that’s not in mainstream use?

(If you have and love an unstayed carbon mast, please don’t have a melt down and write to me to tell me I’m a total idiot who has never been to sea with an unstayed carbon mast and knows nothing. You will be right, at least about the experience part, so let’s just stipulate that. My point is simply that even after several decades since the first ones appeared, unstayed carbon masts are still a rarity in the offshore voyaging world.)


All that seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? But I can’t tell you the number of times I have forgotten to not be a pioneer, almost always to my cost. If your primary goal is to get out there cruising, try and be smarter than me.


How about you? Let’s have your new-tech horror stories. Sharing them will make you feel better. I should know. Please leave a comment.

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for 25 years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 20 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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