Cruising Through Retirement

We call it "geezer cruising" and plan to do it for as long as we can.

How old is too old to enjoy the cruising lifestyle we love? Arlene and I relish exploring the waters of British Columbia with extended cruises (two- to four-month trips) during the summer and boating in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands the balance of the year. We have been boaters for 45 years — the past 23 together. As we approach our 70s and endure through aching joints, my loss of hearing and balance, and Arlene’s weak ankles and knees, we seem to be asking ourselves how old is too old to cruise more often.

Our discussion usually takes place while Easy Goin’ is hanging on the hook in a secluded cove and we’re sitting on the back deck enjoying the end of the day and absorbing the sights and sounds of the cruising life.

We are not the only boaters asking the question. By 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates one in fi ve Americans will be 65 or older. The baby boomers driving this trend are well known for their determination to cruise off into the sunset, figuratively and, in this case, literally, but there are some hurdles, physical and mental, to be overcome. The American Medical Association (AMA) says individuals older than 60 typically need more than twice as much light to see under dim conditions as a 20-year-old. Past age 50, high-frequency sounds can drop, and more time is needed to react to stimuli. These inadequacies, combined with lost balance and strength, make it clear that cruising as we get older is not without challenge.

First, there’s no one-size-fi ts-all answer, and there is no magical age limit on “geezer cruising,” as we lovingly refer to it. We don’t need to quit boating because of these and other challenges, but we need to compensate and do things a little differently. We all can adjust our cruising habits, implement commonsense changes that will reduce the high-risk safety issues for us, those aboard our boat, and other boats and boaters.

Older boaters with cruising plans should meet with their primary care provider to talk about their cruising plans and enlist the doctor’s support, as a good first step. Annual physical checkups are a good idea for geezer cruisers, to monitor their overall health condition and determine if they’re experiencing a high-risk trait or condition, such as forgetfulness, vision impairment, slow reaction time, unsteadiness, loss of hearing and so on. Understanding the severity of the condition and carrying out specific changes needed to compensate — new boating habits, altering the boat or repositioning gear — are big steps. One’s spouse and doctor can help monitor the condition for any progression or increased risk.

Anyone who has ongoing prescriptions should request an extended supply, sometimes referred to as a vacation supply, to take on the boat.

It’s also prudent to have an annual dental checkup. We should all want to push off the dock for an extended cruise with our teeth in good working order.

Anyone who has received his CPR training using Resusci-Annie would be well-served to take refresher training, since things have changed. First-aid training and a first-aid kit built with being far from emergency support in mind is a good idea.

Easy Goin’ has an overall length of 40 feet, smaller than many of the other boats we see while cruising. For many people, it’s financially possible to have a larger boat as the years go by, but we are not convinced that “bigger is better” is necessarily better. At its size, our boat is very maneuverable, which makes close-quarter operations — anchoring, docking, locking, mooring, passing through narrow channels — easier and less stressful. Its size also makes single-hand operation easier (if not easy), should it become necessary.

We have Easy Goin’ outfitted with thrusters for easy docking and an electric windlass with controls at both helms. Not only does the windlass eliminate the heavy lifting associated with anchoring, but it allows us to get the boat stopped and settled before going forward to cleat off the rode.

The boat has no long flights of steps, which makes tasks easier and increases safety. Making cruising easier with less risk of injury is very important.

Something we would like to retrofit onto Easy Goin’ is an electric dinghy davit. It would take a lot less strength than hand-lifting the outboard and pulling the dinghy onto the transom. It would also enable Arlene to stow the dinghy if I was unable to.

As we’ve aged, we like to think we’re a little wiser; we make more of an effort to avoid rough passages than we used to. After retiring, our style of cruising is a little slower and less stressful, because we have the time and we’re not as agile as we once were.

We’re more conservative in our choice of weather and tidal windows and generally don’t move on weather windows that look iffy. It’s a matter of not exhausting ourselves and not risking injuries or equipment breakage/failure. Our mantra has become this: “Don’t push it, relax and enjoy.”

We try to create routes with a little less daily mileage (40 miles is a long day) and try not to have multiple long days in a row. Once we arrive, we like to stay multiple days.

We’ve learned a few ways to add safety, comfort and solid communication to our cruising routine:

• Keep a notebook nearby, perhaps near the helm station, to jot down numbers, waypoints, reminders and weather reports.
• If balance is an issue, certain exercises will improve core strength. Ask a doctor, physical therapist or trainer.
• Captains should let their mate be their ears in difficult-to-hear situations.
• For those difficult-to-hear situations, establish a system of hand signals, or purchase a pair of wireless headsets.
• Make sure both members of the couple can operate the boat.
• Older backs are prone to stiffness and soreness. Invest in high-quality mattress for the berth.
• Keep a good pair of binoculars handy. We have two pairs — his and hers.
• Add extra handholds for people to grab on a pitching boat.
• Add safety lines, rails or higher rails.
• Invest in high-quality prescription sunglasses with UV protection.
• Wear a PFD.

We love cruising and don’t think there is a particular age at which people should plan to stop. Perhaps a couple’s style of cruising may change, the boat may change, the locations may be different, but the important factor is to figure out what works and do everything possible to avoid injuries that could place serious limitations on mobility. We plan to enjoy the cruising life as long as possible, and we will know when it’s time.