Seasteading and Cruises

What is seasteading, and how is it related to cruising? Or, to ask a related question, is a seastead the same thing as a cruise ship? The concepts of seasteading and cruising are clearly related, as they both involve prolonged stays at sea, and they may also (but not necessarily) utilize the same technologies. However, the two are distinct in major respects, as seasteading is a more novel and radical idea than cruising, the latter of which takes the form of vacations at sea that most people (and certainly readers of this site) are familiar with. In this article, we explore the intersection of seasteading and cruising, which will require us to answer these three questions: what is seasteading? What is cruising? How are they related and how are they different?

We’ll begin with the first question and dwell more on it than the others, as many are probably not even sure what seasteading is. Although a complicated matter for reasons of law and technology, seasteading is in essence the concept of permanently residing at sea, outside the waters that a country can claim as its territory (which is 200 nautical miles, or 370 kilometers, away from a nation’s shores, according to the Law of Seas outlined by the United Nations). A seastead is therefore to be understood as the marine counterpart to a homestead. The idea is attractive, at least in part, because it may allow people to live in a community that has looser laws and regulations.

However, large ships (and a seastead would probably be classified as a large ship, even though a seastead, strictly speaking, wouldn’t necessarily have to be a ship) must fly a flag of some country, and the vessel is subject to this country’s laws, so presumably no seastead could simply invent its own laws unless it were declared a nation onto itself. (As a related note, this is why many cruise ships fly flags from countries that are otherwise unrelated to the cruise line’s business operations. Carnival, for example, is a British-American company, but a large number of their ships fly Panamanian flags.) For instance, there is a Dutch organization called Women on Waves that provides abortions for women who live in countries where the procedure is not legal. The ship takes women to international waters, where Dutch laws are in effect, to perform abortions. Women on Waves is not itself a seastead because the organization isn’t set up to establish a permanent settlement at sea, but it demonstrates how certain seasteads could be established with laws that inhabitants find preferable to their own country’s laws. It would also be theoretically possible for a seastead to frequently switch its laws by sailing around the globe.

There is much less to say about cruising because it is such a common activity. Basically, a cruise is just a vacation or trip that involves sailing on a body of water, often through the sea to popular destinations such as the Caribbean, Alaska, and Europe. Cruises are staggeringly diverse – they can take place on small or large vessels and are offered all over the world. Some cruises are short, lasting only a few hours, whereas other are quite long, lasting a few months or even longer. And this is where the distinction between seasteading and cruising becomes slightly blurred. If you are essentially living at sea for months on end on an enormous cruise ship – a cruise ship that is essentially a floating city (consider, for instance, our article on the world’s largest cruise ship) – it is almost as if you are taking residence at sea, which is exactly the goal of those who dream of seasteading.

Of course, the word “almost” in this last sentence is crucial, as you are not in fact establishing a permanent dwelling at sea when cruising; you are taking a vacation with a well-defined itinerary that has a definite ending date. The idea of seasteading is fundamentally different because it does not conceive of itself as a vacation at all. It is a new way of living altogether. Moreover, if a true seastead were to be established, it would not necessarily involve any sort of ship at all. The goal might be to build a city that is essentially constructed as a city on, say, a floating barge. In any case, this is the goal of one seasteading project, Freedom Ship, a crazy ambition if there ever was one that appears to be going nowhere.

In short, there are definite similarities between cruising and seasteading, especially if you consider long cruises that take place on huge vessels. However, it would be a mistake to emphasize the similarities too much, as seasteading, with its dramatic vision of permanent life at sea, is at a very basic level a different concept than cruising.

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