Author: Josephine Cotton

A Floating Asylum




          The issue that we would like to address is the unsafe passage undergone by refugees trying to flee their home country, and the chaotic lifestyle they are forced to adhere to—particularly passengers in and around the Mediterranean. More than 3,100 refugees drowned at sea in 2017 due to perilous and overcrowded journeys, fleeing certain death in their native countries only to die helpless on international waters. The organizations that currently manage transportation for refugees work for profit, overcrowding boats in order to make more money; they have little care for the safety of those crammed on board. Our floating utopia would provide a stable, safe and welcoming community from the get-go, a much needed repose from what is behind and what is ahead for those aboard. We also want to address the lack of proper legal help for asylum seekers, leading to the slow processing of immigration papers and to inhumane conditions in refugee camps. We want refugees to be treated as individuals with distinct rights rather than cattle that need to be herded from one camp to another. We should provide a safe shelter and lifestyle for the people in our community, for as long as they choose to remain.


           With our new utopia we plan to create a society dedicated to rescuing boats of refugees crossing the Mediterranean, and offer safe and inclusive passage. We join and help further the movement to help large populations of forced displacement. The goal of the community is to rescue refugees that are in immediate danger, rather than recruiting refugees that we find. If a refugee has a place they want to go in mind, we will do our best to help them get there. Our utopia solves the problem of unsafe passage undergone by refugees

We chose the Mediterranean because we wanted to be in the place where we could offer the most help. Because of the influx of refugees seeking asylum due to the crises in the Middle East, the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) is unable to ensure the safety and security of those they send on inflatable boats across the ocean to a harbor that rarely wants the responsibility. Our project is a response to this concern and offers both aid, hands-on assistance in this crisis and a long-term solution to the detriment these refugees face in their new countries.

The community will be comprised of one larger rescue boat that goes out to find the individual boats that can each contain a family, equipped with their own floating garden. Many of the families also fish in order to sustain themselves. The entire population will have a pescatarian diet due to what is available and for the health benefits. Once a week there is a feast between all of them where everyone can talk and meet one another, and there is also a weekly meeting between all of the families, where a representative from each household comes to discuss democratically any objectives or disputes. Because the community is so tight-knit and co-dependent, it is vital that they solve their disagreements head on, and every voice within the community should be given the chance to be heard.

Those on board will be dressed to sail, and the inspiration for their outfits is taken from the Portuguese fishing community in the 1950’s. They will all wear this uniform—men, women, and children— both to create an atmosphere of unity and for practicality. On the one larger ship intended for rescue missions, newfound families can meet with law aides and discuss their cases, while the individual families of the community live on smaller boats orbiting it. Any surplus from the attached gardens or fish caught throughout the week will go to the central boat to be distributed to those that were not able to grown and fish enough for their family. This will give each family enough space and privacy while still giving them a community to be a part of, that can be easily expanded through the addition of more family boats. The boats will be provided by a base on land, which can be traded with by taking advantage of the skills that these families can offer. If any additions to the community want to help the cause but adhere to a life on land, they may join this boat-building community and lend their skills from there.


A Day In The Life

         The day starts early—as soon as there is sunrise. The smaller boats harbor at night and only make day trips, and larger ones are dedicated to going further out to find lost or stranded boats of refugees making the perilous voyage. The small boats stay close together for safety’s sake, and the larger ones intended for rescue remain spread out in order to cover as much ground as possible. Any passengers that decide to join the fleet must be taken through a process to ensure they understand the terms of joining the community. Once they are initiated, jobs as part of the crew can be distributed according to the skills of those that are found, and any families can be brought to land to find a boat or join a family that already exists. Every night the smaller boats harbor together. The boats are also equipped for fishing, and many families supply themselves by fishing for their own food.

La Casa Móvil

Exterior sketch, 2018. Image by Josephine Cotton.



This family is housed not on land, but on the sea. What is the crux that keeps the modern family from reaching its full potential for happiness and a good education? Being stagnant. One of the greatest bonds between those in a family is the mutual understanding that all things are impermanent, and the world changes daily—just as people do. The glue that holds this family together is a passion for a nomadic lifestyle, and their house is on the ocean. Families spend thousands of dollars year by year creating a nest for themselves, endlessly needing to change the environment within it to be happy. The simple solution is to make a home that itself moves from place to place. The second-greatest value of this household is self-sufficiency. This boat is completely self sustaining: those on board support themselves by fishing and making goods to sell and trade in the places where they harbor. This is another reason for a life of travel by sea. If there is no luck in the market of one location, they simply sail to another. Different trades are also applicable to different places. Everything that can not be provided by the boat or by the sea can be bought on land with the money the family earns. The opinions of all members of the family are taken into account when deciding where to sail to next. And, by all means, the family may interact with people and places on land, as long as they remember that their life on board comes first if they wish to stay in the family.


The principles of this domesticity are as follows:

  • All members of the family must be able to accept that they will never be in one place forever unless they decide to leave the group.
  • Members of the family are not just family—they are the crew of a vessel, and therefore have to be able to sacrifice their own personal well-being for the good of the crew.
  • Any children on board will be taught to sail from as early an age if they are able. If sailing itself is not their passion, other tasks and skills can be provided for them to learn, such as cooking, fishing, sewing, making things to sell, etc. All people on board are expected to be given a well-rounded education in how to be self-sufficient.
  • If a member of the family wishes to leave their life on deck behind, they may do so. But once they have abandoned the family entirely, they may not return to the crew.
  • Before less-experienced sailors on the boat can captain the ship, they must be given proper training and pass a test to see both abilities on the water and where their true loyalties lie. A captain should never put themselves before the good of the family.
  • All leaders of the family must be decided upon by the rest of the family members, and the decision must be unanimous.
  • If any members of the family are dissatisfied with their place in the group or have any complaints they should feel free to share them with the rest of the family at dinner, when all of the crew eats together and discusses their lives, hopes, dreams, etc.
  • It is a priority that all members of the family should feel safe at all times. Any and all steps should be taken to make sure of it.



Interior plan, 2018. Image by Josephine Cotton.



  • Do you agree to stay in one location for no longer than four calendar weeks?


  • Would you be willing to sacrifice your happiness for the good of your family?


  • Are you willing to be trained in the art of sailing until you are able to comfortably sail independently?


  • Do you except that all members of the family are your equals and have the same rights that you do?


  • Do you agree to be exiled from the family forever if you are responsible for denouncing the rights of an innocent individual?


  • Are there places where you would like to visit? All members of the family are taken into account when deciding where to sail to next.


Signature of New Family Member:







By situating my ideal family in a boat rather than a house, I have enforced my belief that family functions best when it is given a mutual purpose. When a family is raised in some sort of community based around mutual labor, it creates both a good work-ethic and a sense of community, like keeping up a garden or a farm. Learning and teaching practical skills becomes an essential part of life, and by putting this family on a boat I have taken it a step further. I do not intend for the members of the family to be isolated—they may have as much contact as they wish with the outside world. Indeed the whole organization is meant to give them more exposure to different kinds of people and places, also providing more world perspective to people of all ages who are forced to spend time together because of the nature of their everyday lives. Of course, like in all families, those who grow up within it may eventually wish to leave the nest, and they are welcome to do so, so long as they don’t forget their roots.