How To Sail Around The World (With Timeline and Examples)


Every year 150 boats with crews complete a full circumnavigation of the globe, if(like me) you are in the process of planning the adventure of your life, or if you are just interested in how to sail around the world, then you have come to the perfect spot.

In this post, I will explain all of the aspects you need to consider before, during, and after a sailing adventure of this magnitude.

Firstly I will introduce you to 8 ways of sailing around the world; then, I will show how to plan and execute a circumnavigation.

There are 8 different ways to Sail around the world, 

  • Join a research vessel
  • Get on a friend’s boat that is already out sailing.
  • Date the owner of a boat
  • Get paid to work as a; Mechanic, Chef, or General helper.
  • Use Your specialty skill to help the crew; online marketing, language teacher, musician, etc.
  • Work for free but instead receive free meals and a berth.
  • Take care of children on board.
  • Become a boat sitter.

How to Sail Around The World in Your Boat

Choose the right boat

I have written an entire series on this topic, and if you want the full in-depth detailings on how you can make sure you get the right boat for your needs, read this.

Some aspects that you need consider are, size, number of berths and hull shape etc.

What You Need To Know

How long is it going to take?

Circumnavigating the globe on a sailboat will take a considerable amount of time. There are some aspects that we need to consider before we can come up to a reasonable conclusion on how long it will take you! 

To get some perspective on the matter here are some data;

The fastest boat to sail around the world is a trimaran, and the shortest time recorded is 40days.

If you are on a sailing cruiser, it will most likely take you somewhere between 1.5 to 5 years until you have reached a full circumnavigation.

If you join the A.R.C. world cruise, you will return in 1.5 years but will not have had much time to explore all the places you have passed through. Therefore, many people do half a circumnavigation with the A.R.C., stop and explore, and then continue on their own.

So if you’re interested in exploring the locations you sail through, then plan on returning home closer to the 5-year mark.

What Factors Impact Time?

The most significant factor in determining how long it will take for you to sail around the world is how much time you spend in each region.

Every region has a time window of when it is best to arrive and leave; these are often due to storm or other weather patterns that will impact your sailing safety and pleasure.

If you choose not to use your time window, you might have to stay another three months or so until the hurricane season is over.

A factor that is not very important in the long run is how fast your boat is, even though you have a faster boat and will reach the destination quicker, that time will quickly be eaten up by staying an extra day or two at a marina. 

Here’s an example:

Crossing the Atlantic takes around three weeks, let’s say we double that speed(which is unrealistic but will hopefully make my point clear).

Now it only takes 1.5 weeks, and you have an additional 1.5 weeks that you can spend on sailing around or going to the next place.

1.5 weeks might sound much, but considering that this crossing is only one of around five major crossings, the amount of time you can save by going faster is small compared to how much time you will have in each region(months).

So if you want to get done with it quicker, then it is a better tactic to spend less time in each region than getting a faster boat.

There are, of course, benefits of having a faster boat, much of this is discussed in my article;

BEST SIZED BOAT FOR OFFSHORE SAILING

Or check out my youtube talk!

Possible Routes

The northern route means traveling through the arctic circle and around the North American continent instead of heading straight through the Panama canal. Taking this route means that you will have to pass through the northwest passage, more on that below.

Heading east or west?

Most boats travel to the west since this means that they are able to utilize the trade winds going downwind, something that is much more comfortable. Although this is more enjoyable, the speed records for going around the world are set by going east into the wind.

Southern Route Going West, 2.5 Year Circumnavigation Example

This is the most common route to take when sailing around the world, the most significant difference between the southern and northern route is the Northwest passage north of Alaska.

The reason why most opt for the southern route is due to the colder climate and a more strenuous trip when crossing the arctic circle.

Southern Route is faster since you will not have to sail around the North American continent, but instead, you will enter the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal and its giant locks(more on that here)

The Atlantic Ocean, 9 Months

July to March

If you plan to explore the Mediterranean, make sure you have plenty of time here during the summer since this is truly the best time. It also synchronizes well with the tropical hurricane seasons in The Caribbean, starting in June and ending on November 30th.

This means you can spend the entire summer and autumn on the European side and from November to December cross the Atlantic to The Caribbean side. This will give you three months in the Caribbean before it is time to sail through the Panama canal.

The Pacific Ocean, 8 Months (Total: 1 Year 3 Months)

March to September

Many say that spending only one season in The South Pacific is too short, so make sure you plan enough time to explore the many paradise islands that you probably never will return to again! 

Most cruisers travel from Panama to Galapagos Islands and then head straight for Marquesas. I want you to know that there is an option here to head on a more southern route to include Easter Island on your trip, an Island that is well known for its hospitality but also those weird stones.

In this region, you will also have the opportunity to spend time in Fiji, Tonga, Bora Bora, and other magical places.

Your last big stop in this region is Australia, a land well worth exploring by car and a place to spend a lot of time exploring different animals and nature. Once you pass The Torres Strait, you will soon be in the next region.

The Indian Ocean, 6 Months (Total: 1 Year 9 Months)

October to April

Heading west after Australia, you can head towards The Suez canal via Thailand, Singapore, and the Maldives. Or you can stay south and reach the Atlantic through Cape Horn.

In this area, most people stop in Bali before continuing westward.

South Indian Ocean & South Atlantic Ocean, 9 Months (Total: 2 Years 6 Months

May to January

Due to the political situation around the horn of Africa and the Suez canal, most cruisers avoid that area and stay more south towards Madagascar and south Africa even though this has challenges of its own.

Rounding the southern tip of Africa is almost guaranteed to get you into some heavy weather, and you better prepare well.

Total Time to circumnavigate the world: 2 Years & 6 Months

Northwest passage 

July to August

This route will take you north of Canada and Alaska where you will have to find a way through the ice and snow that usually leaves an open path free from obstacles during late August.

The Northwest passage is around 782 Nautical miles, stretching from Canadian Baffin island in the east to the US Beaufort Sea in the west. 

Sailing the Northwest passage at 7 knots will take 112 h or 4.5 days of continuous sailing.

This does not take into account navigating around icebergs or having to turn around since there might be no ice-free route.

The crossing can only be done in mid-august when enough ice has melted to create a way through.  

Assuming that you leave the Caribbean when hurricane season starts at around June, this will get you in time to make the crossing in mid-august. If you make it, pop out on the other side in September, ready to head south and into warmer climates on the Pacific side.

Bottlenecks along the route

There are many variations of this route, but no matter what variation, you will end up going through one or more of these bottlenecks. (Unless you are competing in the Vendee Globe… but then you probably wouldn’t be reading this).

Panama Canal

Sailing across the Panama Canal is a story on its own, and I have dedicated an entire post to it (read this). The short version is that the canal will save you vast amounts of time since you won’t have to go around the cape horn, this is not as bad as the northwest passage, but it is still a cold and hard passage that will take its toll on boat and crew.

The Panama Canal is expensive; with all things covered, you will end up paying around USD 2500.

The Panama Canal will save you around 44 days and 8000 nautical miles! 

Suez Canal

Other than the security issues discussed above, the Suez canal is much cheaper than the Panama canal. The Suez canal is 5300 nm shorter than going around the cape of good hope. 

Torres Strait

Torres Strait Is the water that separates Australia from Papua New Guinea and is the gateway between The South Pacific Ocean and The Indian sea.

How much time do you need to plan a circumnavigation

Actually, you dont need that much at all, once you find a boat suitable to your offshore needs you can get going. You dont have to have a perfect plan before you leave, if you are waiting for that, then you probably will never leave.

All you need is “enough preparations” to get you going, and once underway, many of the things can be sorted out. 

A big one is to make sure you have an income or a big enough sum of money in the bank since this is one of the few things that can ruin your adventure. 

You never want to be in the situation where you have to sell the boat, you might not have enough money to buy that fancy rigg or upgrade the rudder, but you will still have your home on the water, and with that, you can make money, one way or another! 

If you don’t know anything about sailing, one or two years of planning and preparing is definitely enough time if you are dedicated to the mission.

12 Skills You Need to Sail Around The World

Here are some of the skills that we found very useful;

  1. Sailing 
  2. Medical 
  3. Language 
  4. Social 
  5. Financial
  6. Mechanical
  7. Electrical
  8. Sowing
  9. Glass fiber work
  10. Haggling
  11. Swimming
  12. Discipline

Planning your sail

Potential income

B.O.A.T., Break out another thousand, you have probably heard that a boat is just a hole in the water where you throw all your money. I would argue that your boat can actually make you some money (Sign up for the email list to find out when the “how to make money off your boat” article is published).

There are a few ways to make some good dollars.

Putting a Berth out for rent on Airbnb could make some serious cash when you are in places that are well populated by tourists; this could earn you anywhere from USD 30 per night.

Take people out for snorkeling trips or a cruising weekend. You’re probably going to do this anyway so why not invite some new people, maybe you’ll end up being excellent friends! This has the potential of earning hundreds or even thousands of extra dollars for your trip.

Both of the examples mentioned earlier are good, but they require constant work involving customer interaction. I prefer a more stable passive income generated from either index funds or a low maintenance youtube channel.

Prepare Your Boat

Equipping The Boat

During your journey around the world, you will spend a lot of time on your boat doing stuff that you would also be doing in your nonfloating home onshore. Things like cooking, cleaning, and repairs should also be possible to undertake during a sail.

This means that your boat should be in perfect order to make sure you have the best experience possible.

The Galley should be configured to make food underway; on a catamaran, This is less of an issue than on a monohull since it will not heel as much.

But your kitchen on water still should be able to operate during bad weather and therefore should have proper railings to hold on to, and many cruisers prefer a tight spaced galley instead of an open floor plan.

What sails do you need?

Getting the right sails is an entire article in itself, but I want to point out a few things here, firstly decide if you will travel in an easterly or westerly direction.

Most people go west(95%), especially sailors, with a catamaran since this means less upwind sailing.

Optimizing your boat for upwind performance requires another type of sails than it does for going eastbound and downwind.

The big difference between cruising your local archipelago and crossing big oceans is the number of different sails you will have to bring.

Since you will spend time in so many different weather patterns, you need sails that can work sufficiently in every condition, from storm to light winds.

Getting the right sail is very boat specific and differs widely, but there are a few key takeaways that I want to share.

Mainsail with a conventional single line reefing system with three reefs makes it possible for you to reef and raise the sail without leaving the cockpit. The system is also as basic as it gets and will most likely work when you need it the most.

Genoa is a sail that extends past the mast and is used to increase sail and is under low to moderate winds. These will come very handy during the low wind conditions mid-Atlantic or when coastal cruising. The Genoa is often combined with the spinnaker.

Asymmetrical Spinnaker resembles the Genoa sail but looks more like a balloon and is often called a kite or chute. The asymmetrical is easier to set and requires less crew to handle than the symmetrical spinnaker and is, therefore, the preferred option for long-distance cruising.

Storm Jib is a much smaller jib and is used to reduce the sail area to a minimum without losing too much speed rending the boat uncontrollable.

When picking out your sails, you should follow the O.S.R. Guidelines (Offshore Special Regulations).

Make sure you subscribe to my mailing list to get notified when my "choosing the right sails" article will publish! 

Prepare Yourself and The Crew

What is it that you want to achieve on this trip?

Make sure everybody is on the same page regarding what you want to get out of this circumnavigation.

This dramatically reduces the risk for crew mutiny 😉 jokes aside, understanding each other is very important if wanting to avoid unnecessary conflicts. 

To exemplify, consider the following; The most important thing to me is to complete the circumnavigation.

My friend’s most important thing is to get away from his lifestyle and enjoy some warm weather sailing.

These two missions might not seem very different at first sight, but when the time comes. You have to decide whether you want to leave for the Bahamas now, significantly increasing the crew’s workload, or staying another season(and enjoy the warm weather). The discussions will get emotional if you have not previously aired your goals for the trip.

Equipping The Crew

Ensure your crew has all the clothes they need for all the different weather types that you will encounter. Even though you might be sailing in the warmer parts of the world most of the time, once you get tired, wet, and the temperature drops, it will soon be freezing and hard on your crew. 

Raingear is a must, even though it might be warm, a dry crew is a happy crew. Especially during night time in the Mediterranean, where it can be quite cold even in the summer.

Prepare for Emergencies

You need to consider two categories of threats, those that originate from natural causes, such as bad weather, and those initiated by a person, such as robberies.

Make sure you have an ongoing threat assessment and never allow yourself to get overly complacent.

Ensure you and your crew have sufficiently practiced drills such as Man overboard, M.O.B., Reefing, Storm tactics, etc.

The importance of these drills cannot be understated; you will learn so much from practicing; here’s an example.

Weeks before heading to The Bahamas, we went through the Miami river to practice M.O.B. drills in the bay’s somewhat choppy seas. Even though the conditions were almost perfect, we realized a few things. Firstly, if someone falls overboard without a harness, there is little to no chance to retrieve them during a storm. Secondly, if someone is attached to harness and tether, but it is too long, the only thing that will happen is that the M.O.B. will be pounded between the hull and the waves, not a good option.

The conclusion we reached? We must do everything in our powers to make sure nobody falls overboard, because if they do, we might not be able to save them. Shorter tethers and strict adherence to rules, and we felt comfortable to continue our journey.

These same principles also apply to reefing, make sure you understand precisely how it is done, and plan contingencies, what will you do when the mainsail jams? Cut it? There might be a time for such actions, but this means you no longer have a mainsail for the rest of the trip. 

Plan and practice wisely, and when the time comes, you will handle stressful situations with ease.

Bringing a firearm or not?

Bringing a firearm might seem like an excellent idea at first, but there are a few things that you need to consider before bringing one onboard your boat.

Bringing a gun to another country isn’t something most countries take lightly, in many countries we visited they asked us if we had a weapon, we said no but asked what would happen if we did. They let us know that we would have to turn it in an get it back once we leave the country. 

These rules mean that you won’t have access to the gun when you might need it, and that you need to exit from the same port that you entered.

This inhibits your freedom of movement in the country and just adds administration to your trip.

And even if you get to keep your gun, what are you going to do with it that you cant do with a flare gun that you already have on the boat(or at least should have)?

Pirates

Yes, they still exist, no they dont have wooden legs or eyepatches, sorry 🙁 

Pirating is still a significant safety concern; it is very uncommon in most parts of the world, but make sure you check out the I.C.C. website to assess the threat in your area.

Theft is something that will sooner or later happen to you, no big deal, you will get mad for a while, and then you let it go. 

I only have one tip for you here, try not to take it out on the wrong people, not all the locals are horrible because somebody, who might not even be from there, stole your stuff.

Give the benefit of the doubt, and you will get plenty in return! 

Health Emergencies

Bring all the medications that you need at home, and then assess what you will need in each region depending on the local situation. 

Some basics include Malaria prophylactics, Imodium, and something for seasickness.

Ensure you get the right vaccines before leaving home.

CHECK OUT MY ARTICLE ON EMERGENCY KIT

Financial situations

Insurance can be costly, you dont need to have one, but I think that most cruisers are insured. Concerning offshore sailing around the world, there are many ifs and buts that they dont cover.

Two ordinary circumstances are; staying in hurricane territory during seasons and sailing through pirate-infested waters

Keep yourself updated, so if the accident strikes, you haven’t missed a loophole in the contract.

Make Sure You Bring The Right Paperwork 

Every country has its own rules on what they consider necessary for you to enter the country. 

Paperwork can be anything from yellow fever vaccine certificate to bank statements, keep yourself up to date on the local requirements. Here are some of the essential documents you will need for most countries.

VISA, Depending on where you are from, you might, or you might not need a visa to a particular country.

Usually, when entering a new country, the authorities want to make sure that you are the owner of the boat; make sure you bring an owner’s certificate in English.

If you carry a gun, bring the correct papers for that as well! 

Before you enter a country’s territory, make sure you hoist the yellow quarantine flag and understand how you are supposed to clear customs.

Understanding and following the right procedures will significantly reduce unnecessary troubles when making your first port of entry.

Final preparations before you head out

A few more, easily missed, boxes we need to check to make sure you have the best adventure possible.

 Prepay all your bills is an excellent idea since you dont know when and how good of a internet connection you will have, and you are also leaving the landlocked life behind so why not also leave the boring task of paying bills behind..

Ensuring that your bills are paid will give you more time to focus on the boat and reduces the risk of getting charged extra for being late on a payment.

If you have decided to keep your old home, whether it is a house or an apartment, it is good to prepare it for storage. 

This includes getting someone to check up on it from time to time, set the temperature high enough that the house won’t freeze, and low enough that you don’t waste money on heating a place that you are not using. It is also good to make it look like it is still inhabited.

Share your float plan with someone you trust and make sure you update it as your plans change. The most important aspect of a float plan is, when should someone start looking for you, and where shall they look! 

DOWNLOAD MY FLOAT PLAN FOR FREE

The importance of a going-away party should not be underestimated; this is the chance for all your friends and family to come together one last time before you leave. 

These parties are always the best since the air is full of excitement and adventure! 

During The Circumnavigation

So you are finally underway, this life-changing trip is off to a good start, but how do you keep the winds of luck blowing?

2 Things That You Always Need to Be Up to Date With

1. Weather

This will be as normal to you as checking your watch, understanding weather signs, and looking for changes is essential when sailing safely.

This includes understanding shifts in the tradewinds might be a sign of a cold front approaching, and heavy winds are on its way.

Understanding how the currents will impact your sailing, especially in places like the Bahamas where the sea bottom goes from 12 m to 2000m in a few minutes of sailing, is very important. This sudden drop in depth creates massive local currents that you just won’t be able to oppose unless you have a powerboat.

Seasonal changes are one of the most critical factors. We have briefly discussed hurricane seasons, but nature doesnt really use a calendar. She definitely doesnt wait for us humans to leave a place before it erupts into full blow storms.

Most cruisers will travel at the pace of the hurricane seasons and stay on the winter side of the equator.

It is also wise to keep in contact with cruisers in your area, for example, this might help you get the most recent update on the width of the doldrums (the area around the equator which usually have too little wind to sail)

2. The condition of your ship

Once the epic journey has begun, so will also the epic amounts of maintenance!  One of the things we totally underestimated was the amount that we would have to spend on maintenance and repairs while underway.

Suppose you’re sailing a catamaran, and there is a need to do repairs under the waterline, then you can do something called beaching. Beaching is when you put your boat on a sand beach, and when the low tide flushes away the water, the ship will stand on its hulls, and you now have full access to the bottom of your boat.

WANT TO KNOW HOW TO BEACH A CATAMARAN?

There is always something that breaks or is underway to breaking.

And when you are not repairing, you are maintaining engines, hulls, electrical systems, or the dingy. Make sure you check every line and sail for chafing often, and when you are out on a long-distance sail, you want to check that every time you are on watch.

The same thing applies to the engines: they are running smoothly at the right water temperature and with the oil at the correct pressure. Adjust your RPM so you will get the maximum fuel efficiency! 

WANT TO UNDERSTAND FUEL EFFICIENCY? READ THIS!

After You Have Sailed Around The World

Coming back to a life on land can be hard if you haven’t prepared sufficiently, but with some thinking ahead before coming back home, the transition from a life at sea to a life at bay will be seamless.

Before you return home, you should have a solid plan for what you want to do and where you want to do it.

Do you want to keep or sell the boat? Then you want a good plan on where to sell it and when so you can maximize profit. If you decide to keep it, you also have the possibility to relive good memories by taking it out on weekend cruises.

Do you want to go back to your old life, or have you been accustomed to a different lifestyle? How will you earn your income?

Don’t expect everything to be the same way as when you left. Just as YOU have, the people back home will have carried on with their life, and you might not come back to what you left! For good and bad, of course, make sure you plan your future life on land according to the situation as it is right now! 

Gabo

Owner of CatamaranFreedom.com. A minimalist that has lived in a caravan in Sweden, 35ft Monohull in the Bahamas, and right now in his self-built Van. He just started the next adventure, to circumnavigate the world on a Catamaran!

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