Living on a sailboat seems dreamy – but what are the trade offs?
How would your life look if you didn’t have to pay rent? Would you quit your day job, become an artist or writer, sail the world? I did all these things and living on a sailboat is what made it possible. If you’re tired of grinding it out 9-5 to pay exorbitant rent, moving onto a sailboat may be your ticket to freedom. But, before you tell your overbearing boss to shove it, there are 7 things you should know.
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1. Pay little to no rent!
You might be surprised to know that the cost of living on a sailboat full time is very low. In boat land we call rent “moorage” cost – it’s essentially the amount you pay per month to keep your boat somewhere. Moorage costs will vary based on the amenities being offered (think laundry, power hookup, internet, etc.) To give you an idea of the costs, here are some examples of liveaboard moorage we’ve paid over the years:
- Living at the marina: $550 per month – We spent two years living on a sailboat full time in Spruce Harbour Marina in Vancouver, BC and we had it GOOD! We were right downtown and the moorage cost included power hookup, a parking spot, storage space, showers, a woodworking shop, and laundry facilities. Not bad when you consider that the cheapest one-bedroom apartment we could find in Vancouver at the time was $1100.
- Living on a mooring ball: $150 per month – We had no amenities while staying on a mooring buoy in San Diego for a month, but hey we had a secure holding in a central location. Considering we were spending at least as much in coffee shops every month – it really wasn’t a bad deal.
- Living at anchor: FREE. Yes, that’s right FREE rent! For 3 years sailing the west coast of North America and across the Pacific to Australia, we by and large spent $0 on rent every month. In most cases you can anchor for free, though be warned that you should check the regulations in big centres like San Francisco, San Diego, and Vancouver because some municipalities place limits on how long you can anchor in a given are.
Keep in mind, for all of the above the moorage costs don’t include the boat itself or any maintenance and upkeep. You have to buy a boat to live on and they can be expensive. My husband and I bought a 35 foot sailboat from 1979 and that cost us around $10,000. Still, after saving $600 a month on rent we figure we’d more than paid for it after two years. Here are some examples of other liveaboards who’ve saved money.
Some sample liveaboard budgets:
- This UK couple is living aboard for £500 ($570) a month while sailing around the globe.
- This family from San Diego told Business Insider they pay just $2,200 a month to live aboard.
- These San Franciscans are spending just a few hundred dollars a month on rent and utilities while living aboard.
For more on the pros and cons of a marina vs. mooring ball vs. anchoring. See our post “Where to live aboard a boat?” for more info.
2. The catch: liveaboard spots are hard to come by
Alright – you’re stoked to never pay rent again, you’ve secured the domain for your new lifestyle blog, you’re about to put down a deposit on a boat….but, HOLD UP! There’s something you need to know: It can be EXTREMELY challenging to find a place to actually put your boat. Many municipalities have restricted the number of liveaboard slips (spots in the marina) that are available. You’d think that with affordable housing being an issue in every major city, that they’d be all over it. Unfortunately there’s a perception that liveaboards clog up the waterfront with dirt-bags, sea-vagabonds, and floating tarp cities. All that to say, my recommendation would be: FIRST, find a spot to put your boat, SECOND, buy a boat. A good place to start is to sign up for all the liveaboard marina waiting lists. But don’t stop there, there are other strategies you can employ. Read how we skipped a 10 year wait list and got into the best liveaboard marina in Vancouver! Your last resort is to “sneak-a-board”. Some marinas will turn a blind eye to this and others will unceremoniously give you the boot. So ask around with other liveaboards.
3. Ready to rough it?
Living on a boat is harder than it seems, especially if you live at anchor. Maybe you couldn’t find a liveaboard spot in a marina, or perhaps you like the idea of paying no rent at all, but if you’re looking at the anchoring or mooring buoy options it’s important to understand that living on the hook will be a lot rougher than at the dock. At the marina you’ll have access to power and water, on-the-hook you’ll be essentially living off-grid. This may sound sexier than it is – sure solar panels are cool, but is lugging jugs of water on the boat every week all that fun? It puts daily showers totally out of the question. Also, being at a marina makes it easy to get on and off the boat. On-the-hook you’ll be commuting to shore in a dinghy, less fun when you have to run big loads like groceries, bikes, and pets back and forth. However, if you’re adventure-ready and outdoor showers crank your gear, you’ll do just fine living aboard a sailboat.
4. Is living on a sailboat romantic? It depends on your partner.
It may be your lifelong dream, but if your partner thinks that living on a boat sucks, it can quickly become a waking nightmare. I know a few liveaboard couple who’ve broken up shortly after moving on a boat together- it’s just not for everyone. There can be a bit of discomfort associated with the liveaboard lifestyle: lack of space, motion, water dripping on your head. On the flip side, if you’re both game, it can be FANTASTIC for your relationship. Living on a boat requires communication, teamwork, patience and in those regards it can help you grow as a couple. If you or your partner is on the fence, I’d recommend that you test-drive the liveaboard lifestyle (e.g. airbnbing a boat, chartering, or boat-sitting) before you jump into the deep end and liveaboard full-time. I love this story by Sheena Jeffers, “When your partner falls in love with a sailboat” about coming to terms with her boyfriend’s desire to live on an sailboat. Don’t worry, it has a happy ending!
5. Living in a sailboat is a bit like living in a basement apartments
No offence meant to sailboat or basement apartment dwellers (I’ve happily been both) but the comparison is useful when thinking about the best boat for you to live in. On a liveaboard sailboat you will get less light (because you’re half underwater) whereas with a trawler much of your living space is above water. If you want a view from your breakfast table, a trawler is a better option. Sailboats also offer less personal space than an equivalent sized power boat. However, all things considered, the option to be propelled by the wind, enjoy the quiet of the water, and okay, enjoy the romance of it, all more than make up for the lack of space.
6. Don’t you wish you could find the time to ….
Whether you want to start an ecommerce business, learn to paint, pay off debt, or go back to school, living aboard can create space in your life for the things you really want to do. If you save $600 a month on rent that’s equivalent to 40 hours a month at $15 an hour. A whole week of wages every month! Many people, especially creative types, have lived on boats (Nick Cave, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Buffett, and Alan Watts to name a few). If you’re not sure what to tell your employer about cutting back on your work hours, you could look to Lyle Lovett’s song, “If I had a boat”, for inspiration. He sings, “Kiss my ass I bought a boat, I’m going out to sea.”
7. Sail into the sunset
The best part about calling a liveaboard sailboat “home”? You can untie the lines anytime you want. Whether it’s getting out for some serene weekend cruising or an action-packed ocean crossing, sailboats are an amazing way to see the world. All of the big North American cities we’ve sailed in (Vancouver, Toronto, and briefly San Francisco, and San Diego) have beautiful cruising grounds just a few hours away. Getting away from the city bustle and into nature is easy when you live on a sailboat. It’s also a lot more affordable than having a second-home or cottage.
Think you’re ready to take the plunge? You probably have other questions like:
Find all this and more in our Ultimate Guide to Living on a Boat.
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.