Boating Boondoggle or Recovery Relapse Prevention?



In other jobs I have had, going out on a boat on a Friday afternoon was considered a boondoggle. Something one would sneak off to do when no one was looking, or explain with a vague, “I need to, uh, deal with some family issues.”  So, when Sanford House Wellness Coach, Kathy Morrow offered to take our residential clients out on her boat, I was the first to volunteer to drive the van.


Why Go Boating While in Addiction Treatment?

For many, the idea of boating and “partying” goes hand in hand. The smell of suntan lotion; the smack of waves on the hull; and the sight of that big, white cooler reminds us that the last time we went boating, it was MAN OVERBOARD. Or we caused a scene or passed out on the front deck or rammed the dock… any number of dangerous, “water activities” fueled by our drugs of choice.


So why should we take our clients out on a boat if it recalls these negative images? Because, it stirs some good memories too. And because there is nothing so sweet as knocking off early on a Friday to enjoy Pure Michigan when you’re purely sober.


At Sanford House, our clients participate in all manner of evidence-based group therapy. They have rigorous individual sessions with their counselors. On any given day, they may scour the inner-workings of their family systems and relationships, study brain chemistry, participate in art therapy and have an acupuncture session. They might listen to a lecture on relapse triggers, read an assignment and write in their journals. Our residents are busy and diligent, committed to sobriety and a new life in recovery.


Downtime Excursions…

Founder Rae Green says, ” When it comes to our philosophy about downtime and extra-curricular “excursions,” I get excited. Wellness Coach, Kathy Morrow, and I are always looking for interesting, town and country ideas to spark dormant passions. Or to fire up a brand new activity our clients can experience in the safety of treatment. Often, one of our excursions will rekindle a yen for an activity a client ‘used to enjoy’ or serve as an awakening to something new. I love this, because sober, passionate involvement is one of the keys to successful, long term recovery.”


recovery boating

I can smell the water – it smells like summer on the lake when I was a kid…


Boating and Recovery?

Here are a few good reasons why boating is good for recovery…


Group therapy sessions begin to reestablish social mores and relationships with peers, but getting out of the “house” and doing something fun together creates new, stronger bonds.

Putting Skills into Practice

Outdoor activities and “real life” situations allow our clients to practice their coping skills. They learn to identify emotional triggers to relapse, respond properly and talk about how they are feeling. In the safety of treatment, exposure to the potential threats to sobriety, with positive outcomes, can help to rewire the brain.

Recovery in Motion

Vitamin D, fresh air and exercise – it’s interesting that people associate boating with being impaired. Why would anyone want to anaesthetize the streaks of navy blue water and the azure sky? Who would want to miss a silent sailboat passing? And getting in and out of the boat at the dock, is much easier when sober.


After a long time of ignoring the needs of the body for the cravings of addiction, relearning to take good care of oneself is a key to recovery. Don’t forget the sunscreen! Did anyone pack water? And how do we get to the marina? Do we have snacks? These are skills that have lain dormant and need to be practiced… (It helps to have Chef Leslie’s cheese and fruit tray…)


It just feels good to get the body moving and boats can take you places you would never be able to see from land. Our philosophy on robust excursions in treatment, is about expanding the path – or the wake of a boat. The overwhelming joy of sobriety after the long, dry spell of addiction is like looking out over a spectacular vista. And Sanford House addiction treatment centers are in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so we utilize the lakes we are famous for as a recovery metaphor…



Models of  Healthy Lifestyle

Kathy Morrow and her husband Mark are good examples of people who enjoy life without the need for alcohol or other drugs. Being with healthy, happy, “normal” people creates positive role models for those of us in recovery. Kathy says, “When we get our clients on the boat, it provides an opportunity to discuss things that would probably not come up in a group session. And in the safety of treatment, any emotional triggers generated – good or bad – can be discussed.”


boating for recovery

Our hosts – Wellness Coach Kathy Morrow and Captain Mark…




Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world. (She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing). Seven years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, "Excursions". She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction.