Living on a boat isn’t the same as living on dry land.
It’s a whole different lifestyle.
Before you think, “duh,” realize that, for the many ways in which you think they’re different, there are hundreds if not thousands of details that haven’t crossed your mind yet.
The lifestyle differences range from the beauty of waking up with a river or oceanfront view every morning to realizing that the sound of rushing water may mean a real problem with the bilge pump.
There are small details that can mean big arguments, such as who gets what portion of the very limited closet space, and big fat deals like choosing to move the boat to a warmer climate or fitting her out to make a cozy nest during the winter.
And for every problem, not only is there a solution, but sometimes that solution is the very reason you want to liveaboard. If you can get to a point where you live with only a small wardrobe, you can find freedom from that god-awful question of, “what will I wear?” And, once you get the travel arrangements worked out, it can be an awesome adventure to take your home to a new port with new views, new people and new experiences.
I wondered about the liveaboard lifestyle when I saw Harold, the owner of my marina, fit out a 50-foot yacht as his retirement home. That beast sat at the back of the marina parking lot for a couple of years as he worked on her, taking her pretty much down to the hull and fitting her out just as he wanted for his dream home.
What Is the Liveaboard Boat Lifestyle and Is It Right for You?
Is the liveaboard lifestyle truly what you want?
Think it through. Get past the daydreaming. You’re not Sonny Crockett and you won’t have a pet alligator. Ferraris don’t come standard with a liveaboard lifestyle.
Then again, if that’s what you really want, then go for it. Figure out how to get exactly the life you want because, really, we only get one shot at life.
There are a lot of message boards and boating websites devoted to liveaboard tips and information. Find some people who have made the transition and talk with them. Learn all you can before you start packing your bags.
If you haven’t thought past the idea of the breeze gently caressing your skin as you go about your everyday chores, or kicking back on the deck just before dinner to watch the sun glint off the water, then realize that you’re not just living on a boat. You’re living on a boat somewhere in the world.
Do you want to use a marina that offers the amenities you’ll need and yet will still be an easy commute to work? Then you’ll need to look for a marina in the vicinity of work. Or, is this your time to tell the working world you’re done?
Harold barely let his boat touch the waters of Long Island Sound before he headed her south. After two winters of snow piling on that blue tarp, she was never going to see the white stuff again. A boat is pretty darn mobile, so not only can you pick your shelter, you can pick where you want to put it—and move it. Again, you’ll have a lot of questions, so be prepared to ask and learn.
Living anywhere isn’t free. However, if you want to do something as romantic as live in a tropical location, a boat might be the best option. You already know what you’re spending with your current lifestyle so use that as a starting point to draft a list of how you’ll spend money.
For me, I got jealous of Harold when I thought of how he’ll never use a lawnmower again and how he’d be paying lower taxes when he got out of New England. Then again, what he’d spend to fill the tanks in his yacht would cover a couple of years’ worth of gas for my little Chris Craft. There will be tradeoffs.
Can you afford to move to your boat?
If you’re thinking of the liveaboard lifestyle, were you inspired by how much you love spending time on your own boat or are you envisioning another vessel?
Even if you’re sure that you want to use your current boat, it doesn’t hurt to attend a few boat shows to learn more. You might find a few tips on storage that you didn’t already know or meet someone who can save you time and money as you transition from dry land. Bottom line, expect to learn and keep on learning.
If I know one thing about my house, it’ll always give me something to do. A boat is just as generous, if not more so, and you’ll learn every day unless you have the funds to hire someone to do everything for you—but what’s the fun in that?
What about family and friends?
A liveaboard lifestyle is just that… a lifestyle. You already have one and you need to think about what parts will change and what will stay the same.
Will you be moving alone or with family? Living together on a boat is different from spending recreational time together for a few hours or a long weekend. Will you need time apart or are you all people who find themselves energized by the company of others? Can you resolve problems quickly?
There’s not much room on even the biggest boat if you’re holding a grudge. Of course, there will be fun on the water but be honest about the dynamics with your loved ones before you squeeze all that into a smaller space.
Neighbors are a big part of any home experience. What kind of community do you want to be part of and are you cut out for the typical day of life on board a boat? Sound carries well on water, so don’t expect that every conversation will be private, whether on the phone or with someone on board. Also, you may learn more about your nextdoor neighbor than you wanted.
You’ll always have the ability to move the boat if it’s not working out well but if you’re someone who loves solitude, then seriously consider how you’ll get what you need.
What are the benefits of the liveaboard lifestyle?
There are definitely some benefits to the liveaboard lifestyle. Most marinas are secured and exclude unwanted guests. Compared to an apartment building where anyone can come and go, you can get more peace of mind. In addition, you’ll likely spend more time planning for the safety for your boat than a house or condo, where you’ll stop at the locks on the doors and a few smoke detectors.
Of course, the beauty of being on the water can bring you joy every moment of the day, from spectacular sunrises to gentle rocking that will lull you to sleep. If you think it through, you can take advantage of many services and modern technology to make life easier, such as having your favorite coffee delivered right to your boat.
A good WiFi signal can provide you with entertainment, communication and even office capabilities. No need to visit the post office every day, you can find a service to digitize your urgent mail and get it delivered to your fingertips. A lot of work will come up front, when you need to set up your new lifestyle.
You can tweak it as you enjoy yourself, finding the positive reasons why you’re happy with the move and minimizing the bother that will come with living this special life.
What resources do you have?
My marina owner had a lifetime of experience as a boater and all the resources of a marina to refit his boat and make it into a home. What do you have? Do you have enough money for the right boat, expenses you’ve planned and the unexpected bills that you don’t see coming yet?
Are you healthy enough for a lifestyle that can be physically demanding? Can you perform the basics of getting on and off the boat even in bad weather?
Harold was in better shape than I was and he was about to retire. He knew he’d slow down eventually and planned some interior amenities to help him age in place, such as making the stairs easier to manage with handrails in a few extra, strategic spots. Of course, he took advantage of every nook and cranny for storage. And he made sure that cute little white dog would be comfy, too.
I remember the cold April day when Harold invited us for a tour of the boat, when she was not quite done but very close. I remember popping out from under the blue tarp after more than a half hour admiring all he’d done and listening to his plans. I remember that my eyes took a long time to adjust to the colors of the real world again. But, mostly, I remember that by the time I returned to my boat, I was happy to just be a weekend boater with a house on dry land.
The liveaboard lifestyle is right for some but not all.
The important thing is to find out what we want in our own hearts and then go for it.