Choosing the right liveaboard marina can make the difference between feeling like you’re camping full-time or living in a luxurious floating apartment.
We were lucky enough to spend two years living at Spruce Harbour Marina, the best liveaboard marina in Vancouver, BC—complete with a sauna, clubhouse, and woodworking shop!
The services and amenities at a liveaboard marina can have a big impact on your day-to-day life, from the basics like where you get your water, power, and pump-outs (emptying your holding tank) to fancy perks like pools, gyms, and clubhouses.
So, if you’re looking for a liveaboard marina, here are the things you should consider before making the move.
Finding a liveaboard marina can be a challenge because most marinas don’t allow people to live aboard their boats. Also, some jurisdictions have strict laws limiting the time that liveaboard vessels can spend at anchor or on a mooring ball.
This creates even more demand for liveaboard slips and results in long waitlists. At our liveaboard marina in Vancouver, BC there was a 10+ years waitlist!
We know that it can be a real struggle to find a liveaboard marina so we created the ultimate guide to North American liveaboard marinas. Discover marinas that welcome liveaboards and learn insider tips for skipping a long waitlist.
If you’ve found a marina, make sure you’re clear on their liveaboard policy. Are there additional liveaboard charges? Can your liveaboard status be revoked?
Understanding the marina policies could save you unpleasant surprises in the long run.
Though some boaters choose to sneak-aboard (live on their boats at marinas that don’t allow it), we don’t recommend this approach. Your home should feel like a safe and friendly environment, not like you could be evicted at any moment.
Location, location, location
Remote marinas typically cost less and may seem like a much better deal. But choose a marina that’s too far away from civilization and you may start to feel like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away,” without Wilson to keep you company. 🙁
Just as if you were shopping for an apartment, you’ll want to think about your proximity to public transportation, schools, grocery stores, and other services.
In Vancouver, we had a prime location, within walking distance of the Granville Island Market and conveniently located on a major cycling route. We were surrounded by great local pubs, specialty bakeries, funky art galleries, and gorgeous seaside parks.
It was also a great place to sail, with ready access to English Bay (a popular spot for sailboat races) and just a few hours away from the Gulf Islands, one of the most beautiful cruising destinations in the Pacific Northwest.
Having easy access to cruising grounds is a major plus! Is the marina located on a river where you’ll need to time your arrivals and departures with tidal flows? Are there any fixed bridges en route to your cruising grounds? Will you have to motor for hours to get through a busy shipping channel?
Finally, how protected is the marina? We were in a very protected marina and even so, we’d get bounced around once or twice a year when big storms rolled in. It made it near impossible to sleep—not exactly the gentle rocking motion I’d expected from sleeping on a boat.
Of course, you’ll pay higher prices to stay at a central marina but it will likely cost you way less than renting or buying real estate in the same area.
Sizing up a slip
Liveaboard boats come in all shapes and sizes (sailboats, power boats, catamarans, houseboats) and it’s not always easy to find a slip that will fit your boat. Generally, the marina will tell you the length limits for their slips, but there are a few other things to keep in mind.
Do you have plenty of water under your keel?
Slips can vary in water depth. If your liveaboard boat has a deep keel you could wind up high and dry on a king tide. If you have any concerns, ask the marina staff about the water levels at your slip.
Is it going to be easy to get your boat in and out of the slip?
What direction is your liveaboard slip relative to prevailing winds and currents? Do you have enormous slip neighbors that will make parking a tight squeeze?
Is your boat slightly undersized for the slip?
Having a bit of extra space is always a bonus because you can use it to park your dinghy.
Amenities will differ from marina to marina and they can make all the difference to the comfort of your life afloat. Here are the common amenities to look for:
Most marinas have 30 and 50-amp shower power hookups for each slip. These are generally metered so you only pay for what you use.
Again, most marinas have water hookups available on each dock. Depending on your location it may not be great drinking water. We installed an inline carbon filter on our galley tap.
Some marinas have pump-outs at every slip, while others have a mobile pump-out that you can bring to your boat.
Some marinas don’t offer pump-outs and you’ll have to move your boat to wherever the closest pump-out is located. This can be a nuisance moving your boat if you have to pump out your tanks every week.
One alternative is to replace your head with a composting toilet.
Is the liveaboard marina set up to handle household waste and recycling? Or, will you have to take your recycling to the local recycling depot every week?
Restroom and Shower Facilities
Given the option, most liveaboard boaters will choose to shower in the marina’s shower—even if their boat has a shower onboard!
This is because (1) humid air can really build up in your boat, particularly in the winter months, and (2) because taking showers will quickly drain your water tanks.
Whether coin-operated or free, a marina laundry room is a real convenience. Unless you fancy carting your dirty laundry up the docks to take to the nearest laundromat.
A locked gate and good marina security become even more important when you’re living aboard.
Many people (myself included) enjoy walking down a dock, checking out boats, or just enjoying the view. But imagine random members of the public walking your apartment lobby and hallways!
Some marinas are open to the public so just keep that in mind and maybe invest in some privacy window coverings.
Internet, Cable TV, WIFI
Almost all marinas these days offer WIFI, but you’ll want to check and see how good the connection is at YOUR slip. You may need to invest in a booster to get a strong enough connection.
Many liveaboard marinas offer internet, cable tv, and landline (or maybe it’s waterline?) phone service right at your boat. Pretty amazing!
We’ve had two bikes stolen at different marinas. Having a safe place to keep your bike is a must, and storing it on your boat can be a bit of a pain space-wise.
If you’re currently living on your boat, you know how valuable storage space is. Waterproof dock boxes and lockers can be enormously helpful for gear that you can’t fit on your boat.
Yard or Work Area
Some liveaboard marinas are affiliated with boatyards or have work areas and equipment for communal use. Boat ownership involves lots of maintenance, upgrades, and repairs, so having a place where you can spread out and DIY is a great thing.
Want to host a party but can’t cram everyone on your boat? No need to cut the guest list. Many marinas offer clubhouses that you can book to host larger gatherings.
Pools, Saunas, Gyms, Work Center
Just like high-end apartment buildings, some liveaboard marinas offer luxury amenities like pools, saunas, gyms, and work centers.
If you have a car, is parking included? How close is it to the marina? Will you have to lug groceries for half a mile to get them to the boat?
If you’re bringing along your beloved pet along for your liveaboard adventure, be sure to check with the marina about their pet policy.
And while you’re at it, make sure your boat is pet-friendly too! Invest in netting, pet lifejackets, and reboarding devices (even dogs can’t dog-paddle forever).
Check out our guide to boat dogs and sharing the liveaboard life with your canine companion.
Community is a big part of the liveaboard lifestyle! Most liveaboard marinas feel more like small towns than anonymous apartment blocks.
At our liveaboard marina, we had weekly yoga, frequent dock parties, and lots of baby showers and birthday celebrations.
One of our liveaboard neighbors would get out an industrial potato chopper and deep fryer and make french fries for the whole marina (and anyone who happened to be walking by)! We know of lots of sailor-musician types, so live music soirees are also common.
You will likely get to know your neighbors quite well. It’s a good idea to chat with someone who has lived at the marina for a while to get a sense of the community.
Don’t get too hung up if the liveaboard marinas you’re considering don’t have every amenity on your list.
Many people live on their liveaboard boats at anchor without basic facilities like showers and laundry, let alone luxuries like pools or office centers. You can often compensate with gear and a few liveaboard essentials to make your life more comfortable.
Ultimately, finding a marina that meets your basic needs and aligns with your lifestyle is what matters most. While having extra amenities can be nice, don’t let it overshadow the most important factor of all: enjoying the unique and rewarding experience of living on a boat full-time.
Fiona McGlynn is an award-winning boating writer who created Waterborne as a place to learn about living aboard and traveling the world by sailboat. She has written for boating magazines including BoatUS, SAIL, Cruising World, and Good Old Boat. She’s also a contributing editor at Good Old Boat and BoatUS Magazine. In 2017, Fiona and her husband completed a 3-year, 13,000-mile voyage from Vancouver to Mexico to Australia on their 35-foot sailboat.