The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Great Things About Voyaging—No TV


Phyllis and I were, up until 5 minutes ago, sitting side by side reading. She is still reading. I stopped reading, picked up the camera, took a photo of Phyllis reading and started writing this post.

What inspired me was the sudden realization that, although we have now been in this condo in the Canadian Rockies (where we came to escape our uninsulated Base Camp and cross-country ski our buns off) for two days, that is equipped with not just one, but two, TVs, we have not turned on either—it has never even crossed our minds.

In fact, Phyllis and I have in the 17 years we have been together never owned a TV. And, at least to me, our lives are richer for it. Instead of watching the box after, and even during, dinner, as I did, in a previous life before cruising, we talk. Or I work on my photographs and Phyllis works on French. But most of all, we read. By the way, I’m not going to tell you that we are particularly cerebral in our choices. In fact, I just finished a truly brainless who-done-it.

My purpose in writing this post is not to lord it over those of you who escape the stresses of a far too fast paced world by escaping into the TV at the end of a way too intense day. I used to do exactly that back when I donned a coat and tie every day and worked in an office. Rather, my purpose is to share and celebrate another one of the many wonderful things about voyaging: it provides a serenity and ability to slow down that makes the escape of TV less attractive and less necessary.

Sure, there are coastal cruisers that watch just as much TV as people who are shore-based, but for those of us who have spent significant amounts of time offshore, it seems that the magic box’s siren call is somehow blunted. And that, in turn, frees us to read more and create more. And, best of all, to listen to nature, rather than what the producers of TV content, designed to act as a vehicle for advertising to sell us ever more stuff that we don’t need, want us to listen to.

It’s just another great benefit of voyaging that continues even when we are not actually voyaging. And one I’m truly grateful for.

If you are currently reaping that benefit, and all the others of voyaging too, that’s great. And if you are working toward the goal of voyaging, I wish you every possible piece of good fortune to help you get out there and leave your TV behind.

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Before cruising, I moved aboard s/v Sun Po on the Chesapeake in 1987. Pre-cable, rabbit-ear TV reception varied with the tide. Ditched the hand-me-down TV and have never missed it.

When travel lands me in a motel, I sometimes flip on the magic box but because I’m not addicted to a series, I can’t find anything to watch – except MASH reruns.

Good column,
s/v Ferrity

RDE (Richard Elder)

Television, by the very nature of its technology, is an instrument for brainwashing. Jerry Mander got it right back in 1978.

RDE (Richard Elder)

The reason why television is a brainwashing tool has little to do with who does the programing or how “good” the shows or sports events are. Our sensory capabilities originated and evolved in a physical world fill with real dangers. When we see something represented visually for a fleeting instant we automatically accept it as real and absorb it as information. If we didn’t react this way the saber tooth tiger would always have won and homo sapiens would only be a rare and insignificant fossil remnant among the other bones left in the cave.

When we watch television we are being brainwashed with little capability to evaluate what we are seeing. It is built into the medium. On the other hand when we read a book we must by nature continually interpret what we are reading and create meaning based upon our experiences and intellect . The death of reading and its replacement by visual media goes a long way toward explaining why so few in modern society can understand their ties to the natural world and the degree to which our species is fouling its nest.

RDE (Richard Elder) aka Crazy Horse

Must be getting cabin fever, hunkered down by the fire waiting out a blizzard, so I’ll use up some more of John’s blogspace. LOL

“Drop one of the few remaining hunter-gatherers into a sprawling, concrete city and observe his extreme distress. We delude ourselves by thinking that we are civilized and urbanized humans. But we are still hard-wired as hunter-gatherers and when we are almost totally separated from Nature, it causes significant psychological damage in both the individual and the society.”
The Sea Gypsy Philosopher

RDE (Richard Elder)

Hi John,
Come on down to beautiful downtown Driggs ID. One stop light in the entire county. We are not having a great snow year, but there is 65″ in the alpine and 18″ down in the valley. Miles of groomed and ungroomed cross country tracks, a downhill ski area, and the cost of lodging is a fraction of what you would find in a big name resort. Of course since it is in the US you can’t get here by train——.

Daria Blackwell

Before we left on our first extended cruise, we stocked up on about 100 movie DVDs, installed a monitor on the bulkhead and wired for laptop and stereo sound. We also stocked the library with lots of books we’ve always wanted to read. In all the time we were out there, we saw one movie and read at least one book a day. The minute we got back to our home ashore, we felt compelled to get Sky TV hooked up, mainly for news. Now we watch movies every night. Time to go cruising again!

Wilson Fitt

Way back when our kids were approaching their teens we had a portable TV with a bent coat hanger for an aerial. It was ditched one evening when smoke stated to curl out of the vents. We went without any TV for many years and did not feel any worse off. The kids, all grown up now, seem to have survived the experience without too many ill effects but I suppose that they watched plenty at their friends’ houses. Always seemed to be up on the latest anyway.

Now we have a TV set again and had a cable subscription until I realized that our per hour cost of watching was approaching three figures. The cable subscription was cancelled but I admit that we have an iThingy that brings Netflix in and have an unhealthy addiction to British murder mysteries.


If you are willing to stick with a “truly brainless who-done-it” I can see why you cant switch off the TV when it becomes brainless. may be there is a connection with you and the brain. Use the technology. Do the research to find an interesting program and watch it. It it turns brainless turn it off. Simple, simple but dont glorify why you dont have TV next you will be glorifying why you dont use the web or even worse use an engine on your boat. Get real.
And yes I have an engine and the web and a TV. I use all when appropriate but never mindlessly.


There will be no future if that is the response when get for posting a comment.


Hi John,

I find your comments quite relevant. When I worked in Africa we had satellite TV, with the proverbial 52 channels and nothing on. I watched Discovery channel, and my wife used to surf the food networks, to my delight. Upon our return to civilisation we just nver found time or the inclination to unpack the TV, and for the past five years we preferred doing things to watching others do them.

Paul Mills

Hi John,

I could not agree more with your thinking. When I am sailing I never watch tv, and never miss it. Sadly, when home….. . I just added up how many hours TV over the last 2 weeks of Christmas….. and then listed the bits I had really enjoyed and got value from; 3 programmes, or in essence 1 days worth! . Note to self remember this when reaching for the remote.

The whole brainwashing and advertising thing is such an issue. We nearly always watch stuff that we have recorded on Sky, and fast forward the adverts …. mind you, it’s amazing how many we know exactly what they are saying!

Yesterday I was just plain tired and a bit coldy and instead of TV listened to an unabridged book on Audible – and felt ‘fed’ by it. My boys also regularly listen to all kinds of stuff, ironically loving things like Sherlock and Poirot.

No snow at all here in Scotland this winter – however I am well versed in wind and rain 🙁


paul shard

Sheryl and I are heading home to Toronto next week to speak at the Boat Shows (Toronto & Chicago) and will undoubtedly see lots of snow and cold when we get there. And possibly find time to curl in front of the fire and read a bit…

Our business is to make a television program (Distant Shores) so I am going to be somewhat biased here…

I agree that many cruisers do not watch much TV, but note that many now carry a large library on harddrive. I must point out that while books are wonderful (and we do read some while cruising) they cannot actually “show” you something the way images can. As we show cruising destinations and sailing techniques, we find video is a great tool to do this – passing much more information across by video than by describing it. Many times on this recent cruise we have met sailors who say they were reassured by seeing our TV show as they felt they knew what they would have to deal with on a passage or at a destination.

Watching waves spraying over the bow, seeing the turquoise Caribbean waters hearing the wind in the rigging… we work very hard collecting images to bring the reality (good and bad) of sailing and cruising to viewers.


SV Distant Shores II – Iles Des Saintes – Guadeloupe

P.S. Today we are getting ourselves set up to film a very windy passage over to St Martin from Guadeloupe over the next 2 days. Forecast looks like 25-30 or higher – good to record some decent waves and sailing fast in open water.


I don’t miss live TV and there’s no way you’d find me paying a cable bill for it. Now and then, at a friend’s place, we catch a bit of it and are reminded that virtually everything is utterly unwatchable these days. (Even if the show’s halfway good, interrupting it for “NEW CONSUMER PRODUCT BUY BUY BUY NOW!” every six minutes renders it a pretty lousy experience.)

When it’s twenty knots at twenty below outside, you’ll sometimes catch us indulging in old episodes of stuff that’s known to be good…. but from disc, so we don’t waste time on ads, and there’s a hard-and-fast rule that the script writers must be at least as good as the authors we’d be reading otherwise.

Simon Wirth

Hei Matt
I’m still paying for a cable, but you are certainly right that it is ways easyer to watch the good stuff from disks. (Best thing there, as you say: no advertising 🙂 )
You are absolutely right that the script writer has to be as good as the authores I read. It is just easyer to find good authores. I sometimes read a book that isn’t really good, and sometimes watch a tv program that isn’t.
But in both cases I don’t get hooked, and seldome watch or read a second episod/book.


richard e. stanard (s/v lakota)

yes, and another benefit is seemingly endless opportunity to say to your boat, and sometimes to your surroundings: you’re tough, but i’m tougher

Alex Agnew

Hi John: I would be interested in hearing about your and others audio listening habits. We love BBC, NPR and books on tape. If you consume those media, do you think part of your TV time has gone there? I know they are not really comparable but am interested in what you listen to at sea if anything.

Simon Wirth

Hei John
Good to heare I’m not the only one doing things like this. I really love to listen to audio books. Especialy as I’m not a native english speaker (surprise surprise 😉 ) an really enjoy to listen to english books. I do this most of the time while driving, but can’t do it in really bad weather, or while doing pretty much anything else.
Always thought this was just me, because so many people today are listening to music while doing other things.

Horatio Marteleira

TV can be like politics and religion – watchers can get really defensive toward non-watchers because of the negative conotations associated to watching TV. There’s nothing wrong with it until you get addicted; at which time it prevents you from doing meaningful things.
My mother was right, I should have become a diplomat.


Addiction is always negative.
My feeling is that we are living in a new age were addiction to TV is replaced by addiction to always be connected and interact on social media like this.

paul shard

Very true Roland, many cruisers even choose an anchorage based on whether there is wifi and will relocate to get it…


Matt Marsh

If I ever manage to own waterfront property, I’m going to point a great honkin’ high gain microwave antenna at the nearest good anchorage and hook it to an unlocked WiFi router.

Horatio Marteleira

Hi Roland,
Good point…but not so fast.
Being a sailor and interacting with John’s excellent blog and respective followers (sailors) is a far cry from being addicted to social media.
The addicts you’re talking about are connected for the sake of being connected.
We’re like sailors holding a conversation about sailing-related topics over a couple of drinks at a pub, as opposed to people sitting at the bar getting drunk because they have nothing better to do.

Ed Kelly

Thanks for the insight. We certainly agree TV can be addictive, as can other media. Nothing substitutes for “being out there”.
But we enjoy our times on ANGEL LOUISE in countries where we can sometimes unteather her HD TV and view some of the local culture, news and information shows locals share. This is our second winter in London’s St Katharine Docks (following a 494 day circumnavigation of Europe via Rhine thru Danube and the seas and oceans & 74 connecting river locks making it possible). We have purposely enjoyed many free TV shows including BBC, including their Sunday morning news shows and specials on wildlife, et. cet… Despite being out in public daily for what will have been more than 12 months in two winters by the time we leave for good in the spring, we feel much better informed by having had the opportunity to share a bit of UK news and entertainment. (I still do not understand Cricket however!)
Without seeking to be disagreeable, I think that some cruisers who take to the sea enjoy not giving up the TV, even if only for an occasional movie and popcorn on some chilly squally nights. We also use the HD TV to screen our own slideshows and photos and presentations. It’s not always a bad tool.
Ed & Sue on Angel Louise, lying London

Colin Speedie

Hi John, Ed

It’s even better than that – Brits listen to cricket on the radio…..

Best wishes



We’re guilty of putty a tv in Halcyon, 32 inch….ouch! At least we can weather route on it. I do agree with you. It can suck you it. Howevere, after along passage, I don’t mind a little mindlessness, ie Mash works for me too. The sounds of nature, that’s a real and large magic box. We embrace that here in wyoming and colorado

Ben Carey

I love the amount of reading I get done when on passage or sitting at anchor. But I agree with Paul Shard. I’m biased as well – I’m creating a full length doc about our journey to find an iceberg. Video/film does inspire in a great way, as does reading. I think of course everything is best in moderation and a healthy dose of both reading and video watching provides a path to help us become the most well-rounded, and educated persons possible.
Thanks for the post & the pic John!


Thank you for a thought provoking, fun post and commentary. While ashore I often watch cable or DVD movies and I appreciate good documentaries and ‘how-to’ videos. But in my admittedly relatively limited ocean crossing experience, I have found video stimulation, like movies, to be a distraction. In four Pacific crossings, two crewed, two alone, all well-stocked with movies, we watched a total of zero. On one crewed trip we tried to watch Oceans 11 (a movie I personally like) but we couldn’t finish. The chance to sleep when the boat didn’t need attention always won. One of my solo voyages was a race and during those 14 days I worked the boat, slept, and worked the boat; sometimes I ate; I never even thought about reading. I tried to listen to music one lovely afternoon but the autopilot failed with the spinnaker up so, after the chute, the music was doused. I imagined the musically noisy autopilot was jealous…. I’ve also caught a few emerging problems before they became serious by noticing differences in the boat sounds. During a 19-day long solo delivery I read several books, but no music or movies. Frankly I’ve become ‘addicted’ to watching the great show that’s always playing outside, with the boat’s accompaniment, even while anchored: patterns of waves, clouds, glittering sunlight, moon and stars, effervescent water at night… Ironically, and a bit out of context, the best summary of my feelings on me indulging in distractive entertainment while sailing long passages is recalled from an old TV series (Banacek): “A wise man never tries to warm himself in front of a painting of a fire.”

Denis Bone

I must disagree with Richard Elder: Reading and the necessary predecessor, writing, are not dead! This site goes some way to prove that. The advent of electronic readers has solved the biggest problem I had, and still have ashore, with books, that of storage, or stowage aboard. As well as the books on my shelves I also have many boxes, packed with books when I moved house, that I am incapable of ‘getting rid of’ as I am frequently instructed to do by some television watching relatives and friends! Electronic books are also more accessible than paper books when you are afloat.

RDE (Richard Elder)

One more mind for which reading has not died! The advent of the E-book is one of many technologies that can add, not subtract, from the pleasure we derive from the sailing life.

Not surprisingly most people don’t get the distinction made by the authors I linked to— the difference between the medium and the message. People argue that as long as television is used wisely and one is strong enough to resist addiction everything is OK.

The thesis is much more fundamental.
1-Humans are genetically and evolutionally programed to accept and react to visual images as real without stopping to reflect upon and evaluate them. This mode of understanding had/has strong survival value. But it also means that it is virtually impossible to watch television images and selectively evaluate their veracity because they instantly enter consciousness as fact. Rejecting them requires a conscious effort to create alternative mental images and replace what you have seen with what you would prefer to believe. Therefore television is essentially an instrument of brainwashing or mind control, regardless of the intent or good will of the programer.

Reading, whether a paper book or digital text, is a fundamentally different activity. When you read you have to actively create meaning by referring to your knowledge of the language and placing what you are reading within the context of your personal experiences.

So next time you see a TV, Kill It! Large or small caliber weapons, machete or club, or simply hold it underwater until it ceases to talk.

Simon Wirth

Hei Richard
Thanks for your last statement, it brightens my day. 😀
And thanks for the explanations, it certainly explains why “how-to” videos work so well.
And for me, TV looses big time against readying, because it just isn’t as much fun. Paper rules, but because of its size just isn’t always usable, so e-books are a reall blessing.


I’ve been a McLuhanist pretty much since he published “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.” At the time, I was writing a school paper on the remarkable success of Nazi propagandists, and found within his work keys to cognitive doors I only dimly imagined. One quote sticks out… he refers to the “content” of a medium as a “juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.” In other words, we focus on the (often specious, occasionally genuinely lyric) content while completely missing the fact, the medium has re-engineered the way our minds, cultures, societies…interalia…function. This is true of all media-tech: ink, printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio, TV, cellphones, smart phones, yada, yada, yada.

But TV is nearly moribund. The watchdogs of our minds are now ignoring the many tentacles of the internet while focusing on blogs, and distance learning, and twitting [intentional] updating status pages, IMHO, OMG, ROTFLMAO.

While we can still consciously exercise our right to abstain from the content, in the absence of massive collective or statist action, humanity has never successfully prevented media-tech from reinventing, morphing, creatively destroying [pick a term or two] some aspect of humanity.

Given this is the case, we need to demand the right to abstain as it suits us, but we also need to recognize we are not changing the course of events, and we run the risk of being marginalized in some key way at some point.

Isn’t it nice to still be able to chose?

Richard William Lord

Just having a 14′ aluminum boat with a 30hp outboard perhaps doesn’t “qualify” me as being allowed to make a post or commenting here but——..

1/3rd of my heart loves fishing (catch and release), 1/3rd of my heart loves snorkling and 1/3rd of my heart loves the adventure of just boating, exploring new areas, both inshore and offshore..

In the past year I’ve had 2 friends that I invited to go on an over-night’er, fishing in the Gulf, chasing bait pods and inshore on the flats.. Camping that night on a deserted island and returning home the following afternoon..

Within 3 hours of leaving the dock, both friends were asking me to turn the radio on, “What..?? No tunes..?? Your kidding, right..??.. What do you listen to out here..??”

“I listen to the birds diving on the bait pods, listen to the game fish tearing them up.. Listen to the waves on the beach head and Osprey as they return to their nests.. Listen to the tone of the engine as we’re cruising along and find the sweet spot.. Listen to the wind both onshore when camping and when we’re offshore casting.. Listen to the dolphin in the middle of the night as they move thru.. You can hear their blow holes and their squeaks of communication amongst each other.. Just listen—you’ll hear alot more than you’ll ever hear on the radio..”

Both friends, at the end of the “over-night’ers” commented that they don’t understand what I “see in it”.. Boring, no music, no internet, no twitter, no facebook—–no T.V.”

Their “land inhabitants”.. City dwellers, I guess.. They don’t get it.. I don’t expect they ever will.. Maybe that’s a good thing.. I don’t know..

I like the solitude, the isolation of being alone and away from the so called “civilization and it’s land mass inhabitants”.. Away from others, but very close to nature and planet earth.. I’d like to think that “I hear” what I should be instinctively hearing—–the rythmn of our planet and the voices of it’s primitive, original inhabitants..

Then again, maybe I’m the one that “doesn’t get it”.. Maybe I should be watching Seinfeld reruns and CSI..

Richard William Lord


We gave up TV 12 years ago and never looked back. It was a time thief of major proportions. I honestly don’t know that we would ever have ended up cruising if we hadn’t given it up. It just makes you mind-dead and sucks all the creative thought from you.

Thanks for a great post!

S/V Kintala


La tv qu elle soit francaise ou Americaine l objectif est le meme , comme l ecrivent vos lecteurs de cet article dans leurs commentaires TV = lavage de cerveaux, j ajouterai = vecteur de la pensee unique ……
Excellent aeticle qui fait reflechir, peux t on s en passer ? Je dirai comme une celebre marque de vin en France : A ” boire avec moderation” ? . Ou un verre c est bien 2 c est trop ( avant de prendre le volant de sa voiture)
La redactrice de votre article j ai lu se perfectionne en Francais elle comprendra l humour de cette citation ….
Avec mes compliments pour l originalite de cet article qui fait reflecjir
Tres cordialement Ulysse ( qui regarde la tv avec moderation)

Paul Mills

Hi all,

Really enjoying following this thread. Also really enjoying , thanks for the reference whoever it was.


Simon Fraser

I am reminded of the time that, at the end of a week of sailing and racing, we were treated to a spectacular fireworks display as a finale. I said then and think now that no man made spectacle can compete with the glory of a sunset, or a rainbow, or the aurora, or a waterfall…..
I do watch TV, but its a poor substitute for the real thing.


Well, I think a TV is a very important device to have onboard, especially if you sail in cold places and I’ll tell you why later.
A modern energystar TV uses about 20 watts of energy, far less than the average 4 year old monitor. They also weigh about half as much so that if you have one on a movable bracket then it will put much less strain on it.
They also have the modern hdmi interface that makes it easier to use as an additional navigation display while underway, I can turn the TV around on its bracket and then displays through the cockpit window and I can discuss with the helm showing the mouse movements while I am at the nav table. (The helm has its own separate plotter and gps for safety).
It can play movies through the USB port and this is one of its biggest advantages if you are sailing in cold places.
So why is this an advantage. It enables you to play a Fireplace Movie which adds a lot of warmth and ambience on a cold night at anchor, you can turn the brightness down and it will use around 12 watts while psychologically warming the crew.
Someone earlier mention that we remain hard wired as hunter gatherers, well, as we all know, one of the most important things for hunter gatherers was Fire.

Dick Stevenson

Dear John and everyone,
Happy New Year.
With respect to multi-tasking, some tasks lend themselves well to day-dreaming and just letting the mind wander (an opportunity many forego in today’s connected world) while other I do turn to audio, in the form of books on tape. I listen primarily to books I know and know well and continue to be immensely entertained, especially with a good writer. This works for me as I am largely not capable of attending to a new-to-me book while working and when I miss parts of the book (because of attending to the job at hand for a moment), it does not matter as I know what is going on already. For sailors, Patrick O’Brian is particularly entertaining (and well read by the reader) while Austen and Dickens great fun as well. When well read the language jumps out in a way that illuminates the beauty of the writing and the musically quality of good writing such as rhythm, pacing and cadence.
Here is to a great year,
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Paul Mills

Hi Dick,

Completely agree with re-listening. Hazel and I have a copy of Frenchman’s Creek, read by Ian Nettles that we have had for about 15 years, and get something new from every time we listen; whereas the 39 Clues series that we are going through with the boys on our journeys needs real concentration.


Robert B.

I think the important criteria is not really if TV (or anything) is good or bad on a boat (or anywhere). The question is really was it a conscious decision to watch it. Problems arise when one gets sucked into something and suddenly much time has passed without realizing. There is a fair amount of programming out there that is genuinely addictive, and not in a healthy way. That’s when you have lost control. But there is a lot of good programming as well.

Time is the most precious of commodities and also the most personal. What is wasting time to me may not be wasting time to someone else. If you make the decision consciously, I think you will usually be fine no matter what your choice.

Of course sometimes you only learn this in hindsight. Like watching a 2 hour movie only to figure out that you would have had more enjoyment out of sticking sharp things in your eye.


richard dykiel

What’s this thing she’s holding on the picture? Is it made with paper? I didn’t think they were still making these these days.

Since I moved to the US in 2000 with my family, I never had a TV subscription: why pay $100/month for stupid shows laced with stupid commercials. And we held the line with 4 kids in the house. So yes, we have plenty of those paper things in the house and oh surprise, my kids got among the highest marks in English proficiency, despite it being their second language.

Paul J. Nolan

I loathe TV, have never owned one, and am delighted to find another who feels the same way. Someone who would have a TV aboard a sailboat is not simply unclear on the concept, but blind to the very basis of the sport. But, it takes all kinds, I guess. Or, as the man used to say, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City…”

Paul J. Nolan