What’s it like living on a boat? You may have spent hours online, researching everything from what it costs to live on a boat to the perfect stackable space-saving cookware, but nothing will give you a better idea of the liveaboard lifestyle, than actually living on a boat! Because divesting yourself of your worldy posessions and cramming your life into a 200 sqft space, is a huge decision, we recommend that you try before you buy. Below we’ve listed 5 ways you can test-drive the liveaboard lifestyle, but before jumping into that, we’ll quickly cover what you should be looking for in a test-drive boat.
What to look for in a liveaboard test-drive boat
In order to have an experience that’s as close to liveaboard life as possible, you’ll want to find a test-drive boat that is:
Similar in size/style to what you’ll be living in. Living on a 50 ft trawler will be very different from living on a 30 ft sailboat. If you know what type of boat you want and the length you can afford, try to find a test-drive boat that is similar. Note: that power boats and catamarans afford more living space than an equivalent length monohull sailboat.
In a similar location. Living at the marina is VERY different experience than living at anchor (read more about the differences of marina vs. anchorage living). Try to find a boat that is set-up similarly to where you hope to live. If you’re hoping to get into a particular marina, try to find a boat there. Get to know your potential neighbors and you may get the inside track on a liveaboard slip.
Available in the sucky season. Whether it gets too hot or too cold where you live, you’ll want to test-drive living on a boat when the weather is least enjoyable. There’s plenty you can do to make things more comfortable in the winter (defhumidifiers, heaters) or summer (AC) but you’ll want to get an idea of what you’re up against.
5 ways to test-drive the liveaboard lifestyle
1. Airbnb a boat rental
If you search Boatsetter you’ll find plenty of options for sleep aboard boat rentals. If you live in a smaller city you may have to travel to a larger city to find boat accommodation. You can even hire a captain to take you out sailing for an additional charge.
2. Charter a boat for your next vacation
Chartering a boat is an awesome way to travel but it’s also an opportunity to test-drive living on a boat. If you look in the right places, you can find cheap charters and get the experience of sailing and living aboard. The downsides to this option are that you will likely be breaking from your daily routine, unless your daily life includes sipping rum and chilling out in the Caribbean sunshine! Keep in mind that you may need to have certain courses to qualify for a charter (check with your charter company).
Boat-sitting is an opportunity you can track down at your local marinas. Many people don’t like to leave their boats unattended when they go on vacation (because, unlike houses, they can sink!). Make a one page poster with a photo and little write-up about who you are and that you’re looking for boat-sitting opportunities and ask the marina manager to send it out on their e-mail list or post it on their community board. Be sure to include any boat related skills or knowledge you may have. If you’re mechanically inclined you could even offer to do some work on the boat in exchange. At least some working knowledge of boats is a good idea, though an owner should give you detailed instructions on boat systems (e.g. how to turn-on the bilge pump!)
4. Spend a week living aboard your cruiser
If you already own a boat with a cabin (even if it’s not your ideal liveaboard vessel), take out a transient slip at your local marina and move aboard for a month. It may feel a bit like camping but at least it will give you an idea of the lifestyle, and more importantly what to look for in a liveaboard boat.
5. Week-end on a friend’s boat
Don’t own a boat? Ask around to see if you have friends or family who own a boat and would be willing to let you liveaboard for a weekend. You’ll want to demonstrate some working knowledge of boats (or at least a willingness to learn) and show that you take safety seriously. A boat owner’s biggest concern about lending out their boats is that you’ll hurt yourself or damage their property. You may be able to allay some of those fears by telling them that you wouldn’t take the boat off the dock. Also, many marina’s don’t allow people to liveaboard so a weekend may be the most you can pull off without drawing attention to your sneakaboard status.
However you decide to go about it, test-driving the liveaboard life before you commit and buy a boat, is a smart way to learn what it’s like living on a boat and if it fits your lifestyle. So find a test-drive boat using one of the options above and and go about your daily life: go to work, walk the dog, pick-up groceries, enjoy a sun-downer in the cockpit and soak up all the benefits of liveaboard life.
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.