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How to Live on a Boat
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Thinking of trading your landlocked lifestyle for a liveaboard adventure? You are not alone — thousands of households across America have decided to move aboard houseboats.
The allure of becoming a liveaboard seems like a romantic and simple idea. The hard reality is that living on a boat can be expensive and exhausting. Although you would be living on the water, chances are you will still have plenty of monthly outlays to worry about. Costs can include everything from monthly payments, similar to a mortgage, to marina fees — these can range from $2 to $320 a foot — and maintenance fees.
There are also some things to know about finding the right boat for you. Finding something that meets your living standards can be difficult — not only will you be giving up the space that land-based homes can offer, but you will also be in a constant battle against the elements. Plus, living aboard a boat is not always a cost-effective way to live, as boating expenses can add up very quickly.
All that aside, with the right amount of preparation and the right mindset, living aboard a boat could be the perfect opportunity for a new chapter in your life. Read on to learn more about eight things you should consider before deciding to live on a boat.
8 things to consider before deciding to live on a boat
Before you embark on this life-altering cruise, you need to take the time to learn about becoming a liveaboard. The term liveaboard means to live on your boat as your primary residence. A few nights on the water will not make a liveaboard, but moving out of your apartment would.
Moving onto a boat may seem like a cheap way of life. However, the costs associated with living on a boat will add up quickly. The biggest expense may be the boat itself — the upfront down payment can knock the wind out of your bank account sails for a while. You’ll need to put somewhere between 10% to 20% down on the purchase of a boat you can live on; depending on the price of the boat, that could get very expensive. Find out more about what your monthly payments would look like with our boat payment calculator.
According to The Essentials of Living Aboard a Boat by Mark Nicholas, the boat itself is not the only cost you need to prepare for. You should also get estimates on an insurance policy, investigate taxes for your state and look into the registration costs of your new home.
If you plan to become a liveaboard, you should also be prepared to pay docking fees to dock your boat which could be in the range of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Usually, docking will come with some amenities, like an on-land washroom, but may not include utilities, so you need to factor that into your budget. Access to electricity could cost between $3 and $30 a night, depending on where you are staying.
You do have the option of mooring your boat — in which you tie your boat up to a fixed structure like a mooring bouy — each night instead of paying to dock at a marina. This option can be considerably less expensive than physically tying up to a dock, but typically it involves moving your boat around more often. Plus, there are mooring rules about how long you can stay in one spot.
Since living on board a boat won’t mean you are giving up all the conveniences of land, you should include the costs of a cell phone, utilities, water, internet, parking for your car and storage for anything that will not fit on your boat. If you plan to move a motorboat often, then you should factor in fuel costs as well.
You may need to pay to have your boat’s hull shrink wrapped to protect it from winter conditions. Even if you liveaboard during cold winter months, you should expect extra expenses to protect your boat from the cold.
Finally, the maintenance of a boat is not an expense to take lightly. In his book, Nicholas noted that you should expect a routine maintenance charge for approximately 10% of the value of the boat each year.
Take a careful look at the specific costs associated with your boat before making any big lifestyle decisions. If you are looking for a more affordable way to live, becoming a liveaboard may not be the best option for you. It might be affordable if you are choosing to forgo many amenities, but Nicholas recommends taking a close look at what your necessities are in order to determine what the true cost of boat living would be for you.
Even when you live on a boat, you need to find a place that suits your needs. Not only do you need to think carefully about the costs but you should also consider the weather. Depending on the city you live in, moving onto a boat could be a more affordable housing option. However, those savings come with a tradeoff.
As a liveaboard, you will be more affected by the changing seasons and any inclement weather. Make sure to find a climate that you are comfortable with. For example, if you can’t stand the heat, then moving to a boat in Florida is probably not the best option.
Deciding what kind of body of water to live on is a factor you should not consider lightly, either.
Do you want to smell the salty sea breeze? Or do you prefer the laid back lake life? You can even live on a meandering river. In saltwater, you will likely encounter more corrosion on your boat, which can be costly over time. However, fresh water can also be problematic, because it tends to encourage the growth of water plants that can be damaging to the hull of your boat. No matter what you choose, be sure to do your homework and factor in the amount of work and cost it will take to maintain your boat in the water.
You could live in a big city like London on the River Thames in an effort to escape outrageous rent prices. Or perhaps in one of the Great Lakes to enjoy proximity to the work opportunities in cities like Chicago and Detroit. If you are becoming a liveaboard to escape everything, then maybe you’ll head down to Key West to relish in the island lifestyle without going international just yet.
Whatever you choose, remember that you can always adjust this as necessary. That’s one great part about living on a boat, you can move whenever you feel like it!
Trading in your current living space for a boat may come as a shock for most. The amount of living space you have on a boat will likely be much smaller than what you are used to in an apartment or home.
You will need to decide for yourself what you value most to take onto your new home. Think about whether you want a relatively spacious living arrangement or a sleek boat to take out on adventures.
Also, make sure to be realistic about the amount of space each member of your family will need. Everyone needs a little bit of their own space, so be respectful of that as you choose your boat.
Type of boat
If a luxury yacht, like the Hatteras 100 Raised Pilothouse, is within your means, then go for it! However, you don’t actually need to buy an expensive yacht to live well aboard a boat.
You could choose a large sailboat or a smaller rafthouse to suit your needs. The important part is that you need to be comfortable living in your new home. Check out a variety of options before deciding on the size you need.
As a general rule of thumb, many liveaboards work with the 10% rule. If your home is currently 3,000 feet, then consider downsizing to 300 feet of living space on your boat. That’s a daunting amount of downsizing, but it is definitely possible.
Rules and regulations
Moving onto a boat does not mean that you are exempt from living life without rules. In fact, there are, unfortunately, many rules that you will have to follow as a liveaboard.
For instance, if you want to live in a marina, you should be aware that some marinas will not allow liveaboards at all. Other marinas may allow you to live there, but you will have to follow their rules. For example, you may need to abide by “quiet hours” or keep your trash in certain areas of the marina. Check into the specific rules of a marina before deciding to live there.
Even if you don’t want to dock within a marina, you will need to find a mooring somewhere. Some moorings have their own rules about how long you can stay in the area. Mooring rules can vary by state or county, so ensure that you are familiar with their requirements. You can also consider anchoring yourself in some areas. However, you should be aware there is a push back against this kind of living in many areas. For example, in the south Florida area, there is a big push to oust liveaboards that anchor in certain public waterways.
Each location will have different rules. Some locations will limit the number of days you can spend in the area. Others will require that you register as a liveaboard. Each state has its own rules concerning boats that could cramp your liveaboard lifestyle. Plus, many cities and counties add in their own rules about specific areas you can and cannot live in. If you plan to liveaboard, make sure to familiarize yourself with those rules before you jump in.
Ease of travel
When you move onto a boat, that does not mean that the rest of your life stops. If you’re still working, then it’s important to consider how you will get to work. Getting around town may require a car or a bike — which will work best for you? Where can you safely park or keep your land transportation?
These are important things to consider before jumping into living on a boat.
Although you may not plan to leave the marina, building up your boating skills will not hurt. There are plenty of accidents or events that can happen on the water that you wouldn’t encounter on land. Plus, because you are living on the water, things tend to break more frequently and require more maintenance on a boat than they do on land. When something goes wrong, are you going to fix it or will you need to call an expert in to take care of it? All of these factors are things to consider.
If you plan to move your boat, then you will need to be a comfortable boater and know all the rules and regulations that come with boating. There are many different rules of the road for boats, and you should be well versed in them before heading out on a sail. You can take classes to learn everything you need to know about boating, but it is important to be realistic about your abilities before taking your new home out for a cruise.
Life on a boat will come with ups and downs. If you choose to live in a marina, then you may be bound to one place. With that choice, living on a boat might feel similar to living in a stationary tiny home. However, depending on your boat, you could change that at a moment’s notice.
If you are someone that cannot adjust to a changing tide, then the liveaboard lifestyle might not be for you. You will need to be able to make adjustments to your plans along the way, so make sure you are comfortable with that.
The pros and cons of living on a boat
If you are still on the fence about taking the big jump into a floating living space, then consider these pros and cons.
- Flexible living arrangement that could take you on countless adventures. Whether you want to take your new home around the world or just sail to the next port, you have options with this moveable living space.
- Dockside camaraderie among fellow liveaboards. Everyone is in close quarters in a marina, so you’re bound to make friends with like-minded people. Of course, you’ll need to choose your marina carefully, just like you would carefully choose an apartment in a good part of town for you — otherwise, you could end up in a marina with less than ideal neighbors.
- Simple living may be in reach with less space to fill with things you don’t need.
- If you choose to live on a movable boat, then you will hone your boating skills for future adventures by living aboard. Even if your boat is stationary, you will likely improve your boat maintenance skills as a function of necessity.
- There is a potential to save money on housing costs depending on where you live. If this is your goal, then you will need to be very intentional about your choices. Some estimates put living on a houseboat around $6,000 per year, but it is very easy for the costs to get out of control unless you make an effort to stay on budget. You’ll need to compare your current expenses on land to a projection of your specific boat costs to get a good idea about how much money you can save.
- Smaller living space may feel cramped over time. Although the allure of a minimalist lifestyle is attractive, it is not practical for everyone. If you cannot be separated from your stuff, then downsizing to a boat will be difficult.
- Can be an expensive lifestyle depending on your boat. If your goal is to save money, then this might not be a good move. The total costs will depend on which type of boat you buy and where you choose to live.
- You’ll be more exposed to bad weather conditions. If a storm rolls through, then you will be forced to ride it out in your boat.
- You may need to lug your laundry out of your home to wash it. Plus, toting your groceries onto a boat every week might get old.
- It is difficult to live with pets on a boat.
- Depending on the marina, you might experience problems with getting your mail. A P.O. box might be your best solution.
The bottom line
If you have a knack for boating and an adventurous spirit, then living on a boat might be a great fit. The idea of living aboard may sound romantic and exciting, but you should take your time with this decision. You would have to change up your entire way of life in order to make this worthwhile. Make sure that you are comfortable with the idea of downsizing your life onto a floating vessel.
If you decide to move forward with this major life decision, then take your time along the way. Don’t feel rushed to find the perfect boat within a week. Do your research and move forward after gaining a solid understanding of how to build a successful life aboard. Consider the costs of purchasing a boat before jumping in.