If you’ve ever dabbled into the world of unique lifestyles, you’ve probably seen a video or blog of people happily living out at sea on a boat or sailboat. If that lifestyle interestest you, there are a few things you need to know before you go buy a boat and set your sails.
The first thing to know is, can you even live on a boat? Yes, you can live on a boat, many people worldwide are living aboard right now. However, not every marina will allow you to live aboard, and some will charge more for you to. Along with that, many liveaboard marinas have multi-year long waitlists to get a slip.
If you don’t mind not having any electricity or water connections, you could look into getting a mooring. These are usually much cheaper, but many still have long waitlists to get a permanent spot.
How to know if living on a boat is right for you?
Before I go deeper into some more specifics about living on a boat, I want to introduce you to the reality of living on a boat. On videos online, you often only see the good side, such as awesome travel locations, beautiful sunsets, great fishing, etc.
However, they often don’t show stuff like having to share a bathroom and laundry machines, daily boat maintenance, lack of privacy in the marina, and overpriced electricity. Of course, if you have the money, you can bypass a lot of these issues, but I know that’s not the case for most of you.
So, I highly recommend you read this article I wrote “Living On A Boat Ultimate Guide (What You Need To Know)“. The article will tell you everything you need to know about living on a boat and it doesn’t just show the good stuff.
Can you live on a boat year-round?
Yes, you can live on a boat year round even if you live in a cold climate. During the off-season, you may even get a discount on your slip. However, because liveaboard slips are in such high demand, you may be put on a waiting list even in many marinas in cold weather climates.
Living aboard is much more common in warm climates for obvious reasons and because most boats are only built for warm climates. Boats aren’t as well insulated as a home or apartment is. However, there are many people who live in places like Seattle, Portland, New York, Baltimore, Vancouver (Canada), and Toronto (Canada) who liveaboard.
Specific boat types such as trawlers, pilothouse boats, and tug boats are often used in these cold areas. For example, one of my friends through Instagram @mvfreedomseattle lives in Seattle on a 43′ NORDHAVN trawler. It looks like this:
Trawlers are well insulated and have many closed-off indoor locations, making them great for cold Seattle winters. However, new ones are quite expensive. So, if you don’t have a lot of money, I advise you to get a used sailboat and head down south.
Pros and cons of living on a boat year-round
Can you travel on your boat and live in it?
Yes, you can travel on your boat and live on it, however, you will have to look at temporary mooring options for every place you go. These include:
- Transient marina slips
- Transient moorings
- And anchorages
Also, if you plan on traveling to another country, you need to make sure you have the correct legal documents. For most countries, this just includes a passport and proof of boat ownership, but they may require a visa or more. Check out this article to learn more about this.
Transient marina slips (non-permanent) cost around $0.8-$4/ft per night ($24-$120/ft per month). This is around 2-4 times more expensive than permanent spots. Moorings are around 2-6 times more expensive, but they only cost around $20 – $40 per night.
You could also try to find some places to anchor up for free; however, many places don’t allow this or only allow it for a couple of days. It’s also pretty dangerous if you’re not doing it right. Make sure to check local laws and regulations for every place you go.
Where can you live on a boat?
There are three places you can stay when it comes to living aboard. Those are:
Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but marinas are the most popular choice.
Marinas are the most popular because you have access to electricity and water. You’re also connected to the land, so daily chores are much easier to do. However, they do have their downsides as well.
For one, marinas cost a lot of money (although it’s generally cheaper than property rental costs). In an article I wrote titled “How Much Do Marina Dock Slips Cost? (With Examples)“, I determined the cost of marinas to be this:
It costs around $9-$20/ft per month to rent a marina dock slip. Marina slips in prime locations cost around $17-$30/ft per month. Utilities and other fees add another $50-$250 per month. Prime location marinas include places like Miami, Newport Beach, Key West, etc.
Because liveaboard boats are usually between 30-45 feet, it will most likely cost you well over $500 per month for a marina slip. In addition, many marinas will charge a $100-$350 per month liveaboard fee.
Moorings are designated anchorages outside the marina where you can connect your vessel too. These are most popular among sailboats, and they look like this:
These are cheaper than marina slips (sometimes even free), but they’re way less convenient. One upside to moorings is you get much more privacy. Although, You will probably need to get a watermaker for salt water, or some kind of water filter for freshwater in order to have water on board. And some solar panels for electricity.
These are most commonly used by people traveling from place to place who just want a cheap spot to store their boat for a couple of nights. Transient marina slips can be very expensive, so moorings are quite popular for transient spots.
Anchorages are similar to mooring, except you use your anchor instead of connecting to one already in the seafloor. These are usually temporary spots because most places don’t allow you to do this permanently.
Anchoring can also be dangerous especially if you don’t do it properly (see how). Wind, currents, and large waves can cause your anchor to slip and before you know it, you’re ramming up against shore in the middle of the night. Coves and small bays protected from wind and waves tend to be the best places to anchor.
What kind of boat should you live in?
If you decide to liveaboard, you still need to decide what boat to get, and that completely depends on you. However, I created a whole article that’s purpose is to guide you into the perfect liveaboard boat for you. Check it out by clicking here.
In that article, here are the top boats that people live on.
- Sailboats. Best for people who enjoy a challenge.
- Trawlers. Best for people who need space and experience cold winters.
- Houseboats. Best for people who don’t want/need to travel much on their boat.
- Yachts. Great all-around choice if you have the money.
- Sport Fishing Boats. Best for fishermen or people who want an affordable large boat.
- Catamarans. Best for people who want to travel the world.
- Canal Boats. Best for people living in canals.
- Cabin Cruisers. Best for solo boaters or couples who want to travel a lot.
- Pilothouse Boat. Best for cold weather boating.
- Tug Boats. Best for people who want an affordable boat that has lots of space.
If you scroll down in that article or click here, there’s a personality quiz that you can take and it will tell you the exact boat type that fits you the best out of these.
How can you live in a boat?
If you’ve done the research and decided that living aboard is right for you, you probably don’t exactly know where to start. So here’s a simplified step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Figure out how you’re going to store a boat
Before you buy your boat, you first need to figure out what you’re going to do with it once you buy it. Most marinas nowadays have a long waitlist that could take many years for you to get a spot. So call up the marinas you want to stay at before buying a boat.
If you don’t plan to stay in a marina right away or just want to buy a boat, at least make sure you have somewhere to store it. There are many places that do boat storage for you, and it can actually be pretty inexpensive if you do outdoor storage.
Step 2: Find out what boat is best for you
Each type of boat is different, and one may cater to you better than the other. I talked a little about this earlier in the article (click here to read that), but not in depth.
Sailboats and yachts tend to be the most popular type of boat to live on, however sailboating is challenging and yachts are expensive. So if check out this article, which will guide you to the best boat to live on for you.
Step 3: Make sure you can afford to live aboard
You need to consider many costs when living aboard, such as maintenance, insurance, fuel, electricity, marina rent, loan payments, etc. In an article I wrote titled “True Cost Of Living On A Boat (7 Liveaboards Answer)“, I go over these costs and found that:
On average, boaters who live aboard pay between $1,500-$3,500 per month. Sailboaters who live aboard pay around $1,000-$2,500 per month. This includes costs for a boat loan, marina slip rent, electricity, fuel, maintenance, and insurance.
Also in that article, I made a calculator you can use to get a more personalized answer depending on your situation. So, I highly recommend you check it out and use that calculator.
Step 4: Purchase the boat
Finding the best liveaboard boat type for you is only half the process. Finding the perfect boat is a whole new one. Especially if you’re on a budget, it’s hard to find the exact boat you want; however, here are some good sources you can use to find a boat:
- Boat dealers
- Facebook Marketplace
Is it cheaper to live on a boat or a house/apartment?
In the same article about the true costs of living aboard, I also answered this question directly. I found that:
This answer depends on many factors, but in general, it is 20-40% cheaper to live on a boat than in an apartment or home in a similar area. Once you fully pay for your boat, it’s about 2 times cheaper to live on it. If you moor in free areas, it could be even cheaper.
This is especially true if you live in cities with high rent, such as Seattle, Los Angelis, San Francisco, Miami, etc. for example, one of my friends on Instagram @sailingvesselki is saving about 1,000 per month living on a boat instead of a Seattle apartment.
He pays $1,000 per month for boat slip rent in Seattle and around $400 for maintenance, utilities, etc. If he were to get an apartment in Seattle, rent would cost around $2,200 per month (source) plus another $200 in utilities and such.
However, if he were to have a boat loan payment, it would be much closer to the cost of rent. But at least a loan payment goes towards your boat instead of rent money just disappearing once it’s spent.