Living on a Boat: 5 Things You Need to Know
There’s no magic about how to live on a boat but there are ways to make this alternative lifestyle easier. Being organized, realistic, and adaptable will help. If you’re not living aboard by yourself, you’ll also need to be a good communicator and listener so you hear your partner’s deal-breakers and can decide on compromises. Before you so much as move a pair of socks aboard, do some preparation.
Here are a few tips and important things to keep in mind if you’re considering living on a boat.
Is living on a boat right for you?
First, decide why you want to live on a boat. Is it for the romance, the adventure, or to save money? Make a budget to decide if you really will save money.
Next, consider a typical day and run through how you’ll address issues like staying warm and dry, or cool and comfortable in the climate you’ll be living in.
Here are a few additional questions to ask yourself before deciding if living on a boat year-round is right for you:
- Think through bringing groceries aboard, doing laundry, and managing pets when you’re at work or on vacation.
- Will small kids be safe on a boat?
- Will you have WiFi to work from home or to stream entertainment?
- How will you receive deliveries and mail?
- Who will fix and clean the boat?
- Are you ready to live in close quarters with dock neighbors and will your family (immediate and distant) be supportive of this choice?
- Can you declutter enough to fit your life onto a boat?
- Do you have any medical issues that will make boat life challenging?
- And finally, do you have a backup plan if you decide it’s not for you?
Cost of Living on a Boat
If you don’t already own a boat, buying one to use as your liveaboard vessel will be your obvious first step.
Boats themselves aren’t inexpensive, with large new ones going for hundreds of thousands of dollars. You may be able to find a pre-owned model for a fraction of the cost of a house but remember that boats are depreciating assets so don’t expect an increase in value over time.
All boats, whether liveaboard vessels or not, come with their own costs of ownership. To learn more about what to expect, be sure to read Costs of Boat Ownership: How Much Does it Cost to Buy & Own a Boat?
There are multiple expenses that go with living on a boat in a marina:
- There may be a boat mortgage and there will definitely be a monthly slip fee
- Property taxes
- Utilities, like water and electricity
- Repairs and maintenance
The time and money that must go into maintenance are higher on a boat than in a house – sometimes 20-25 percent higher. If you’re handy, you may be able to tackle some projects on your own. Otherwise, you’ll be hiring marine contractors and boatyard staff.
Is living on a boat cheaper than living in a house?
Real estate prices may be high, but don’t assume that the cost of living on a boat is significantly lower. If you want a boat but can’t afford to have one along with a house, then maybe living aboard is a solution.
Where is the best place to live on a boat?
Choose your liveaboard location carefully for maximum comfort and the greatest likelihood of actually using your floating home as a boat.
- Living on a boat that’s in the water in the north like in Boston will mean the boat will need to be shrink-wrapped or weatherproofed during the winter and may not be able to go out due to inclement weather.
- Meanwhile, living in Florida will necessitate having air conditioning for much of the year.
One major consideration is where to find a slip that will allow liveaboard status. Not all marinas allow liveaboards and those that do charge a premium.
What type of boat is best to live on?
You can live aboard any kind and size of boat, but to maximize comfort and ensure that the new living situation is sustainable, your liveaboard boat should:
- Be large enough to accommodate the whole family
- Have a galley (kitchen)
- Have a head (bathroom)
- Have a sleeping cabin
- Offer protection from the elements, including excessive heat and cold
- Be easy to maneuver for kids, the elderly, and pets, so it’s important to find one with minimal stairs and safe decks
The best way to live on a boat year-round may be to buy an actual houseboat that makes a large and stable platform and is often less expensive than any other kind of recreational vessel. Powerboats offer more interior living space than sailboats, and catamarans are not only larger than monohulls, but they’re also more stable so you won’t rock all night in a rocky marina or rolly anchorage.
Before you take a plunge, try a long-term liveaboard boat rental
Living on a boat may sound fun and romantic, but it comes with many of the same issues as living in a house including expenses, maintenance, and stowage problems.
Most liveaboards advise doing a test drive before you commit. Don’t sell everything and make the leap. Take it in stages and if it turns out to be everything you hoped, embrace your new lifestyle with gusto—just don’t forget to actually go boating.
Zuzana Prochazka is an award-winning freelance journalist and photographer with regular contributions to more than a dozen sailing and powerboating magazines and online publications including Southern Boating, SEA, Latitudes & Attitudes and SAIL. She is SAIL magazines Charter Editor and the Executive Director of Boating Writers International. Zuzana serves as judge for SAIL’s Best Boats awards and for Europe’s Best of Boats in Berlin.
A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana founded and manages a flotilla charter organization called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations worldwide.
Zuzana has lived in Europe, Africa and the United States and has traveled extensively in South America, the islands of the South Pacific and Mexico.