Groups Of People Who Live Their Lives Almost Entirely At Sea

Most of us, at one time or another, have dreamed of the pirate's life. Okay, maybe not the pirate's life specifically, because other than the treasure, you have to admit the peg leg, a hook for a hand, bad teeth, and a parrot pooping down your back doesn't really sound all that glamorous. But if you're willing to bypass the yo-ho-ho-ing and the bottle-of-rumming, you can still aspire to a life at sea. Lots of people do it, and some people are even born at sea and eventually die there, too. You don't have to take it that far, but you should be aware of just how much — or how little — glamour a life at sea actually has to offer.

Offshore real estate

The Bajau people of Malaysia literally live at sea, from the time they're born until the time they die. And not on good, solid boats with watertight bulkheads, either. They live in huts on stilts, the kind of lodging that tourists would pay top dollar for in the warmer months, but that look like they wouldn't survive a couple big waves or a stiff breeze during the rest of the year.

The Bajau people come from a tradition of seafaring, and in some places the younger generation is choosing to leave the sea in pursuit of better financial opportunities on land. According to Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Bajau of Malaysia don't have that option because they are refugees, and as refugees the Malaysian government has forbidden them from living on land. The people go to shore only to trade goods, and the kids don't attend school, so while it might seem terribly romantic and idealistic to live your whole life in tropical waters this way, there are some considerable drawbacks.

It probably won't surprise you to hear that most Bajau fish for a living, though it seems like they're missing a rather obvious opportunity. If only they had the internet, they could probably make some bucks offering their huts to American tourists on Airbnb, who will quite happily pay ridiculous sums to sleep in converted airplanes, igloos, and gas stations, all of which sound less awesome than stilted houses in tropical waters.

The never-ending cruise

Lots of people sell their homes after retirement so they can buy an RV and travel the world. But having to drive your own house around is for suckers. People who really know how to retire in style do it on a cruise ship, where someone else does all the driving and all you have to do is wake up in the morning and look out the window.

According to US News and World Report, some retirees are choosing to leave land permanently and book back-to-back cruises that sometimes have them at sea for years at a time. Before you get too excited about the idea, though, it's not really for the faint of pocketbook. One retiree estimated her expenses at $165,000 for the entire year. That'll eat through your social security check — and the stolen social security checks of all your neighbors and family members — pretty quickly.

Interestingly, though, if you compare the cost of assisted living to the cost of cruise ship retirement, it's really not far off, although on a ship you won't get the same kind of daily living help you would get at an assisted living community. So if you're still pretty able-bodied and a $165,000 annual bill is something you can afford, well, not only does it come with meals and housekeeping, but also an ever-changing view. Sure beats campgrounds and traffic jams.

Sea gypsies

Nomadic seafarers are surprisingly common in the waters of Asia, although that way of life is starting to lose out to the comforts of the modern world, especially among the younger generations. According to National Geographic, the Moken people of Myanmar live their lives almost entirely in large canoes, moving to land only during monsoon season, when the sea is too rough for daily living. But even for these very traditional people, that way of living is becoming less and less practical. 

Moken families live in a kabang or "mother boat" and usually tow a couple smaller boats behind them. Like the Bajau, the Moken are subsistence fishers, which is one reason their numbers have dwindled to around 2,000 in 2014, down from 12,000 a decade earlier. Modern Moken people have to share their traditional waters with commercial fishing operations and tourists, so many of them are abandoning their old ways of life simply because living on land is easier — a sad but familiar story.

UPS on the high seas

Most people who dream of life at sea don't really imagine going the sea gypsy route (sounds impractical), nor do they consider cruise ship retirement, because let's face it, most people don't retire with a fat 165 grand per year stuffed into their back pockets. But there's no need to hang your head in disappointment! A glorious life at sea could still be yours — on a cargo ship, where you can at least pretend to live the pirate's life, if that's what you're into.

Sadly, as a crew member on a cargo ship you won't get to do much yo-ho-ho-ing. Well, you could, but your fellow crew members would probably get annoyed. If you're lucky, a bottle of rum might be forthcoming, but only after a very long, very hard day's work. According to FedNav, cargo ship crews might spend up to nine months at sea, so forget watching your kids hit their milestones or playing golf on the weekends. If you're lucky enough to become an officer, you might only have to be at sea for five months at a time. If you do make captain, you get to shout things like "hard a-starboard!" but you also have to balance that out with being the guy everyone wakes up at 2 a.m. because someone got drunk and fell overboard. Not that that ever happens or anything because that's a seafaring stereotype. But you know, yo ho ho.

Be one with the fish stink

If nine months seems a little long, you could go for the shorter eight-month season of the barramundi fisherman on a boat that one enthusiastic captain described as "like a 50-foot prison cell."

According to Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia's barramundi fishing season begins in February and ends in October, and there's not a whole lot of yo-ho-ho-ing aboard these ships, either. Crew members put the nets out and haul them back in again, then they have to sort, filet, and freeze everything they catch, excluding the box jellyfish, which often wind up in the nets and can deliver a sting that is immensely painful and sometimes even deadly, depending on the species. And if you're super lucky, you could also get attacked by crocodiles, which will make a great story of romance and adventure on the high seas. Well maybe not romance, exactly, but adventure. If not, there's always that lovely fish odor, which must be a great conversation starter at parties.

Exploding is an occupational hazard

Offshore oil rigs gained some notoriety after the Deepwater Horizon accident of 2010, which killed 11 people and then, just for fun, dumped more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. And in case you thought that was just a freak accident, there was also the Piper Alpha, which exploded and killed 167 people in the North Sea, and the Alexander L. Kielland, which capsized in the North Sea, killing 123 people. Oh, the glamour and romance.

If you do decide to pursue a career opportunity on an offshore oil rig, you have to keep the mortal peril in the back of your mind, as well as fielding criticism from people who will tell you that oil rigs are evil and you should get a job with a solar company instead.

In case you haven't been sufficiently put off the idea, CBS describes work on offshore oil rigs as "a noisy, grimy, cramped existence," with 12-hour workdays and living quarters that are "part barracks, part locker room." The good news is you're not stuck out there for months at a time — many rigs have a two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off work schedule (though you can always work extra hours if you can't stand being away), which means you might only miss about half of your kids' milestones and about half of your weekend golf games. That sounds almost okay if you can get your mind around the whole potential-for-exploding part of the job.

Adventure on the high seas

Not everyone who joins a seafaring branch of the military ends up spending months at sea, but it's definitely not uncommon. If you're in the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, for example, you might be deployed for seven months at a time. If you're really going for adventure on the high seas, this is probably the route you want to take — Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship Boxer spend their time helping out refugees adrift in the water, training with U.S. partners, and visiting more than a half a dozen different countries.

Navy deployments can be similar in length — according to The Balance, if you're assigned to a ship you'll spend three years bouncing between ship and shore and will spend between six and nine months at a time out on the water. When you're not at sea, you still have to spend some time onboard during one- or two-week training cruises.

Life aboard a Navy vessel is also kind of cramped and un-fun at times, but the perks are at least superior to getting stung by jellyfish, attacked by crocodiles, and exploding. The Navy likes to make sure new recruits know that sailors have access to a recreation room where they can play games or watch television, though the official materials don't mention whether HBO and Showtime are included.

Any job where you start life as a 'puke' must be awesome

Nuclear submarines are a type of military vessel, but the living conditions are markedly different from the conditions on an aircraft carrier or a battleship. For a start, according to The Guardian, you should try not to use the bathroom when a submarine is diving because the submarine's shape will literally change as it descends and you might not be able to open the door again.

So apart from that sucky little detail, what else is there to love about life on a nuclear submarine? Well, there are the months at sea — if you're on a surveillance mission, that might be six months at a time. If you're the new guy, you get called a "puke," and if you're comprehending anything here you really should be able to guess why. While you're at sea, you'll be elbow-to-elbow with fellow submariners, you'll get to sleep on one of a three-high stack of bunks, you'll get to climb a lot of ladders, and you'll also get to accidentally bang your head on stuff, just all the time. Also there's the part where you're basically living atop a nuclear reactor. But hey, the good news is you can evidently bake potatoes on the engine throttle, so that's awesome. More adventure on the high seas, right?

Sailing the seas of money, money, money

Let's say you do want to retire on a boat, but you're not so into the idea of having all your meals cooked for you, your room cleaned every day, free entertainment whenever you feel like it, and someone to drive you around all the time. Those things just sound horrible, don't they? Okay, let's say you want to drive your own boat around and be master of your own pancakes. Well, for a mere $1 million, you can own a 50-foot yacht with all the comforts of home. Can't afford that? Don't worry, you can rough it in a smaller yacht for just $250,000, or the equivalent of about 18 months of full-time living on a cruise ship. But fair warning: Yacht owners never say "yo ho ho," and the rum has to go in a fancy cocktail.

The amount of time you spend at sea is, of course, totally up to you — but in the absence of an actual home (the kind with a foundation), you'll be sleeping onboard even if you're sitting in a marina somewhere. According to Coastal Living, this isn't something that just a few seriously wealthy old people do — it's something that loads of seriously wealthy old people do. There's even a magazine dedicated to the lifestyle called Living Aboard, where seriously wealthy old people can read about how awesome it is to live on a yacht, as if they didn't already know that.

Saving the world

Many people choose a life at sea not because of the glamour or adventure, but because they genuinely love the ocean. Research vessels are one way you can turn your love of the sea into an occupation, and also feel like you're doing some good for Planet Earth. According to the University of New Hampshire, the crew of a research vessel might spend eight months of the year at sea, although the voyages themselves are typically counted in weeks. As a crew member, you won't get to do a whole lot of actual research, but you will get to visit some pretty cool locations. The Atlantis of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, for example, has visited underwater volcanoes and hydrothermal vents, which sounds way more meaningful than filleting fish or drilling oil. Or exploding.

The one thing we've left off here is actual pirating, which is still a thing in the waters off West Africa. Most modern pirates don't live at sea, though, so that sort of excludes them anyway. And if you really want to wear an eye patch, put a hook on your hand, and have a parrot poop down your back all day, you can do that in pretty much any of the above places after you've set sail and the rest of the crew mostly can't get rid of you. Just try to keep the yo-ho-ho-ing to a minimum, please.