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Is living on a boat right for you?

living on a boat

Living on a boat sounds cool, but is it right for your lifestyle?

With real estate rocketing in cities like London, San Francisco, and Vancouver, more and more people are ditching their pricey digs for a more adventurous lifestyle: living on a boat. Living on a boat can afford you all kinds of benefits: cheap rent, amazing views, and may make you a more interesting person at dinner parties (results not guaranteed). But before you walk out on your sofa bed and five roommates, there are 10 things you should know.

Already know you want to live on a boat? Check out our FREE 6-part series that shows you how to become a liveaboard.

1. You can save a lot of money on rent!

Is living on a boat cheaper than a house? Yes! Living on a boat is cheap. We spent two years living on a sailboat in a marina in Vancouver with a full suite of amenities (power, parking, internet, laundry, showers, workshop) and it only cost us $550 a month (our next best option would have been an apartment for $1100+).

If you choose to live on a mooring ball or at anchor, it can cost you even less! In San Diego, we paid $150 a month for a mooring ball, and anchoring was free.

Of course, we had to buy a boat (that cost us around $10K) but over the course of two years we more than got our money back. It helped us save enough to set out on a three year trip, sailing from Vancouver to Mexico to Australia.

We found this cheap sailboat on Craigslist, lived aboard for two years in Vancouver, then sailed it across the Pacific (after spending a lot of money on retrofits!)

Some sample liveaboard budgets:

However, there are ongoing costs associated with boat living:

Liveaboard insurance

Liveaboard insurance is more expensive than recreational boat insurance. For our 35-foot sailboat we’ve paid:

    • $800 a year for liveaboard insurance (sailing in local waters)
    • $1,800 a year for liveaboard insurance while cruising (sailing internationally)

While some cruisers we met, didn’t carry insurance, most boat yards will REQUIRE you to have insurance (and will check your paperwork) before hauling your boat out of the water.

Living aboard is no free lunch. We hauled out annually for repairs and maintenance.

Liveaboard moorage

Liveaboard moorage generally costs more than recreational moorage. Between 2013-2018, we found it was typical to pay $550-750 a month.

Utilities

Your electricity bill will be a fraction of what you’d pay living in a house. When you live in a very small space (like a boat) you’ll consume less electricity for heating and cooling, meaning you’ll have a lower bill at the end of the month. Many boaters use solar panels which, while pricey upfront, allow you to disconnect from the grid altogether. 

You’ll likely use a lot less water too. Our boat was designed to hold 66 gallons (250 liters) and we refilled our tanks once or twice a week. The average person in the US uses 80-100 gallons of water per day! Refilling our tanks was a chore, so we got better at conserving water. 

how to live on a sailboat

It helps to be handy if you plan on living aboard. We did almost all of our own repairs.

Maintenance costs

Your maintenance costs will depend on whether you’re doing the work yourself and the condition of the boat. Generally marine products cost three to four times the price of household building supplies. Expect to pay $1000-$6000 annually.

Mortgage

Liveaboard boats can cost anywhere from FREE to $200,000. If you finance your boat, you will have monthly mortgage payments.

Taxes 

Boat property taxes vary by location. E.g. Californians are assessed 1.1% of the vessels current value annually.

 

2. You can’t trick your partner into living on a boat.

For some people, living on a boat is a lifelong dream, for others, not so much. No matter how romantic you find the notion, do not attempt to live aboard if your partner is not game.

There are plenty of challenges: lack of space, leaks, and potentially a lot of motion. Talk your partner into boat living and you may wake up one day to find they’ve jumped ship.

If your partner is on the fence, you can always try the liveaboard lifestyle before you commit. We list a few different ways to test-drive the liveaboard lifestyle  before you move aboard full-time.

living on a sailboat

Luckily, we both loved living on a sailboat. However, we know other couples who’ve broken up after moving aboard together. This lifestyle isn’t for everyone.

3. Buying a boat is easy, finding a place to put it – not so much.

Depending on where you live, it can be very challenging to find a place to moor your boat. Many big cities have liveaboard licensing requirements and as such many liveaboard licensed marinas can often have huge waiting lists (read how we skipped a 10-year liveaboard wait list!).

Don’t buy a boat until you know where you’re going to keep it. There are some unlicensed marinas that turn a blind eye to “sneak-a-boards” but you’re really risking getting the boot at any time.

Some of the best liveaboard cities

  • Alameda, CA
  • The Chesapeake Bay Area
  • Corpus Christi, TX
  • Portland, OR
  • San Diego, CA
  • Sausalito, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Tampa Bay, FL
  • Vancouver, BC

boat living

4. Marinas vs. mooring balls – location will affect your lifestyle

Living on a boat in a marina will be very different from living at anchor or on a mooring buoy. Some important considerations are things like electricity and water (in a marina you will have 24/7 access to both, whereas on the hook you’ll be living off-grid).

This can make a big difference, for instance if you want to have a shower (especially a hot shower) every day. Doable at a marina, difficult if not impossible on the hook.

Other benefits of dock life include being able to walk off the boat. Going back and forth in a dinghy every day can be a nuisance, especially if you’re transporting pets, bikes, and heavy gear.

Other perks of liveaboard marinas are comforts like internet, cable, and laundry.

There are so many factors to consider when deciding between a marina, mooring field or anchorage (too much to cover here), so check out “Where to live aboard a boat?” for more info.

Gotta love those long romantic walks on the beach, because (as we learned) there’s no such thing as personal space on a sailboat

 

5. Personal space – who needs it?! Living on a sailboat versus a house

The number one question people ask us is, “How do you live on a sailboat and not kill your partner?” In most cases, there is no personal space on a boat.

Imagine that every time you walk from the kitchen to the bedroom you must ask your partner to move out of the way so you can pass, and that about sums it up.

If this is your number one concern, consider looking at trawlers instead of living on a sailboat as you get way more living space and light on a 35-ft. trawler, than you do on a 35-ft. sailboat.

 

Boats you can live on:

While in a technical sense you could live on any boat with a cabin, the best boats to live on will offer house-like comforts including a galley (kitchen), head (toilet), and a comfortable berth (bed). There are six different types of boats you can live on and they all vary in size, comfort, seaworthiness, and cost.

 

Floating homes

Floating homes are the most house-like boat living experience but they are generally permanently moored and are not convenient to move or travel with. They can cost as much as land-based houses to purchase.

Houseboats

Houseboats offer space for comforts like a full-size fridge and kitchen. They’re great for travel in protected waters and some can even be beached on the land.

Tugboats and Trawlers

Tugboats and trawlers have decent head space and can accommodate comforts like big-screen TVs, full-size kitchens, showers and sometimes even bathtubs. As most living space is a above the water-line, they also tend to have lots of natural light.

Sailboats

Sailboats are a bit like the basement apartment of liveaboards and often do not have fridges, showers or hot water. However, they also generally cost a lot less to purchase than motor vessels and you can travel long distances without fuel cost.

Catamarans

Catamarans are double-hulled sailboats that allow you to sail around the world in comfort but come with a significant price tag. The bridge between the two hulls creates plenty of open airy living space up top with bunks down below in the hulls. However, not only are they  expensive to purchase, they also take up twice the space and require twice the rent and maintenance cost.

living on a boat

Cooking in a small galley with limited water supply takes some getting used to

 

6. The big compromise: creature comforts

Most inexpensive liveaboard boats do not have hot showers and laundry. They also have tiny bathrooms, kitchens, and hardly any storage.

If you can’t bear the thought of giving up bubble baths, then living on a boat is not for you. If, however, the idea of a minimalist, multi-purpose, stacking dish set cranks your gears – then you’re probably on the right path.

Bear in mind, that some boats will be better set up for living aboard than others (we have a list of  the best boats for living aboard).

7. You will have the coolest neighbors

Boat living tends to attract some interesting people: artists, musicians, engineers… Nick Cave and Rod Stewart both lived aboard in the U.K., as did Alan Watts in Sausalito.

Boat life also fosters a very tight sense of community, so you’re far more likely to get to know your neighbors.

8. Bring your home on weekend getaways

Who needs a second home when you can take your first home with you! Perhaps it’s kind of obvious but it’s great to throw off the dock lines and go cruising on the weekends.

If you’re living on a sailboat, you don’t even have to pay for fuel! Who knows, one day you may decide to sail around the world.

9. Leaks and climate control will become your obsession.

Boats leak, and if you live aboard in a wet city you’re guaranteed to wake up one morning with a soggy pillow or mystery puddle on kitchen counter.

Mold can also be a challenge and many liveaboards opt to run dehumidifiers and heaters to keep humidity in check.

living on a yacht

10. The best view in the city

It’s a cliché but one of the major pluses of living aboard is settling into the cockpit at the end of the day with a glass of wine as you watch the sunset.

We found life on the water infinitely more peaceful and a great escape from the bustle of city life.

Thinking of buying a boat? Check out our post “What does a boat cost to own?”

Sarah Smith

Friday 2nd of April 2021

Thanks for explaining that catamaran sailboats are going to be comfortable and provide a lot of living space. My husband and I had thought that we could only live on houseboats, but with your information, I would like to start looking into the catamaran sailboats. We'll have to find a luxury boat hire so that we can live on the water for a bit and decide what we would like to buy.

Sarah Smith

Friday 29th of January 2021

That is so amazing that even including parking, internet, and showers, living on a sailboat only costs $550 a month. My husband and I would like to downsize and explore now that we have both graduated college. We'll start looking for a sailboat and open parking spaces.

Jordan

Friday 29th of January 2021

What if someone wants to live on a motor yacht as a live aboard, just moored at the marina. Not sailing around due to fuel consumption, just living in it. Could that be an option. I was thinking of looking into the 75 to 100' range for motor yacht but for live aboard moored. is it possible? Thank you for this article it was very informative. I am a Canadian from Ontario, currently living in Vancouver now. Thanks again.

Fiona

Friday 29th of January 2021

Hi Jordan. Most live aboard marinas (the exception being floating home communities) have rules that the vessel has to be able to move under its own power. So as long as your yacht had a working engine, you would be fine. Having lived aboard in Vancouver, I think you might have trouble finding a 75 to 100' slip to moor your boat in. Most slips fall in the under 50 foot range. Thanks for reading and good luck in your search!

Audrey

Friday 9th of February 2018

Thanks for the insight! We're trying hard to get liveaboard status at our marina in Sausalito and having the toughest time. Hoping persistence wins!

Fiona

Thursday 1st of March 2018

Keep up the hustle! It's can be tough to find a spot but so worth it when you do. I seem to remember there's a bylaw that requires all SF marinas open 10% of their spots to liveaboards. I could be wrong but might be worth looking into. Also, we loved Valejo Yacht Club - great community run yacht club and they had spots a couple of years ago. Keep us posted on how it goes. Lots of our readers are SF based. If you wanted to guest post on your experience finding a spot in SF, that would be a very interesting read.

Tim H.

Friday 4th of August 2017

No worries, I searched the image on google and found that a mutual friend posted it on his photography website. I was just curious.

Comments are closed.