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Living On A Boat Ultimate Guide (What You Need To Know)

Especially in today’s world, it’s hard to escape the high prices of city living. In places like San Francisco, the average rent is over three grand! Which is just crazy. Because of this, many people are ditching the standard way of living and deciding to live on a boat.

Although living on a boat may seem extremely exciting, there’s a reason why it’s not considered the “norm”. Some who try it love it, while others hate it. Reading this article will help you understand if living on a boat is right for you.

How to know if living on a boat is right for you?

There are MANY things about living on a boat that are not ideal. With every pro, there is also a con that you will have to deal with. Being docked at a marina, you are usually very close to your neighbors. So if having to hear others talk or play music bothers you, you may not enjoy living in a marina.

Along with that, there are many other cons to living aboard. The ones I dislike the most are you don’t have a yard, sometimes the water smells like fish, and marina wifi usually sucks. To understand more about if living on a boat is right for you, the heading below will help.

13 things people who live aboard wish they new before going full-time

So after looking back on the struggles I had living aboard and asking many others on Instagram, here are the top things they wish they knew before living aboard full time:

There is always work to be done on a boat

Whether it’s engine maintenance, cleaning, waxing, painting, etc., there is always work that needs to be done on a boat. There is much more work that will need to be done than an average suburban home will have.

Cruisersforum.com did a poll and found out that liveaboard boaters spend 10 hours per week doing maintenance on average. One way to limit maintenance time and money is to get a sailboat with a small outboard or no outboard.

It is possible to pay for most maintenance work to be done for you, however, this can end up being thousands of dollars every month.

Personal privacy is hard to acheive in a small place

Not only will you be close to your neighbors if docked in a marina, but you will also be close to your partner. Most boats are much smaller than an average-sized home, so there isn’t much space to get away and be alone.

My liveaboard friend on Instagram @svbeflor points out that couples with great teamwork will find this to be barely an issue. However, if you believe it will be an issue, look at getting a larger vessel with a flybridge. This way, you can always go up there to get some alone time.

Organization is key

If you are not an organized person, you may get frustrated with the lack of space inside a boat. However, most people will eventually learn to be organized because it is a must when living aboard.

Internet and cell service is hard to get and is usually quite slow

Cell phones lose reception once they’re around 15 miles from shore (source). So having a satellite phone such as this one on Amazon is a must for those who travel far out of radio communication range.

Most boat marinas have internet that you can connect to from your slip but don’t expect it to be lightning fast. If you need internet when out at sea, a few satellite options are available. Iridium Go (link to Amazon) is the cheapest option available; however, other options provide much better connections. My favorite is the Iridium Certus Thales.

Small mistakes can cost you your life

If you are sailing out in the middle of the sea, you always need to be attentive to your surrounding and what you are doing. There is always a danger to living on the water. Some may like it, while others will hate it.

The importance of a water maker

If you’re traveling long distances in saltwater, the amount of water you have to bring can get ridiculous. This is why getting a water maker such as this one is extremely important to save space and weight.

Along with that, a water maker allows you to stay anchored away from a marina and still have fresh water in your boat.

The importance of a large grey water tank

Like a watermaker, a large grey water tank is important if you plan to travel long distances. Most marinas will pump out your greywater, but this isn’t possible if you’re out at sea.

Shaving cream, shampoo, toothpaste, and much more are all toxic to the ocean. So it’s never advisable to dump your grey water in the sea.

Simple things such as receiving mail is more complicated

Many simple things may become harder to do without having an actual address. Getting a doctor, voting, and receiving mail are a few things that will become more complicated.

Limiting your water and electricity use

If you’re out at sea, you want to use the least amount of water as possible to save water and space in your grey water tank. Electricity is the same. Unless you have loads of solar panels, you will most likely need to limit electricity use when out at sea.

In the marina, these utilities are provided but usually cost more than if you were in a regular home. So it’s a good idea to get in the habit of limiting your use of them.

Laundry can be a pain

Not having a washer and dryer on your boat can literally be the deal-breaker for many people. Fortunately, many marinas have washers and dryers available for use, but they may often be out of service, or you will have to wait your turn to use them.

Sometimes you’ll just need to take a break

The hassle of living in a boat can be fun for young travelers or people looking for an alternate lifestyle. However, sometimes it can get exhausting, and you will want a break.

You will probably want to take a vacation at least once a year. This vacation could be as simple as visiting mom and dad for a week or as elaborate as visiting Australia for a month. As long as you are away from the boat, your mind can reset. So when you go back, you will enjoy the hassle again.

You need to watch the weather religiously

Bad weather affects you much more on a boat than if you were in a home on land. This is especially true if you are anchored or traveling outside a marina. However, even if you are docked in a marina, the weather still can have harsh effects on your boat.

This is why watching forecasts every morning is essential. You always want to be prepared for whatever mother nature throws at you.

Living on a boat can be expensive

Although it can be cheaper to live on a boat than in an apartment or home, it also can be more expensive. Not only do expensive boats cost more, but they also cost more to repair. Maintenance will be costly on a boat no matter what, but especially if you have an expensive boat.

Many maintenances can be done by yourself; however, it will still cost you a lot of time.

What are the benefits of living on a boat?

Living on a boat is not for everyone, but the ones that do it get some awesome benefits. So if I were to convince you that living on a boat is the best lifestyle, here are the benefits I’d list.

  • Makes you a more interesting person. Everyone will want to know about your unique lifestyle. If you enjoy being the center of attention at dinner parties, this is one way to get there.
  • Can be much cheaper than living in a home. You can get a boat and a place to dock, anchor, or moor for much cheaper than you can a house. This is especially true if you live in a high cost of living area.
  • Gives more meaning to your life. If you love being unique and traveling, nothing is more fulfilling than breaking the norm and living aboard.

How much does it cost to live on a boat?

The cost of living on a boat depends on many factors. It can be cheaper than living in a home or apartment, especially in areas with high rent, but it also can be more expensive.

On average, boaters who live aboard pay between $1,500-$3,500 per month. Sailboaters who live aboard pay around $1000-$2,500 per month. This includes costs for a boat loan, marina slip rent, electricity, fuel, maintenance, and insurance.

If you want to get a more personalized answer, go to the article by clicking here and scrolling down to the “Cost of living aboard calculator”.

How much do marina slips cost?

One of the most significant factors that go into the price of living aboard is your marina slip. Although you can anchor or moor for very cheap, it’s much better to be in a marina with many amenities that make life easy.

Marina slips cost depends mainly on their location. Prime cities such as Miami, L.A., and Key West will cost much more than regular cities. According to my data, renting a marina dock slip costs around $9-$20/ft per month. Marina slips in prime locations cost around $17-$30/ft per month.

If you want to see the average cost for your city, check out this article here.

Can you permanently live on a boat?

Yes, you can permanently live on a boat. However, you will need to make sure your marina allows full-time liveaboards. Many marinas will charge you more for this. Also, because living aboard is in such high demand, these slips often have year-long waiting lists.

So if you plan on making the switch to a more aquatic life, you must search for marinas as early as possible. If you don’t want to stay at a marina, you could moor or anchor; however, this would mean you are not connected to city power or water.

Weather is another huge thing to consider if living aboard permanently. Make sure your heater works well and doesn’t cost you too much in electricity.

How do you visit other countries on your boat?

One of the biggest perks of living on a boat is being able to take your home all over the world. However, you need to make sure you have the correct documents to do so. So in order to visit another country, you for sure need these two things:

  • Your passport
  • Proof of boat ownership

The most common proof of boat ownership is the title. You may also need (or need to do) these things when boating to another country (depends on the country, your boat, etc.):

  • A visa
  • Cruising permits
  • Pass customs regulations
  • Pass quarantine regulations

So, always check the specific requirements for each country before visiting, because not all are the same. If you want to learn more about this subject, check out this article.

Sailboat vs motorboat for living aboard

Sailboats and motorboats both have their pros and cons, so the answer to this depends on what kind of person you are. I’ve laid out the pros and cons for each below to make it simple.

Pros and cons of getting a sailboat

Pros
  • Cheaper
  • More widely available than motorboats
  • Less maintenance
  • better for the environment
  • Can travel far without needing to be refueled
Cons
  • Sailing is not easy
  • Sailing is very hands-on and requires a lot of attention to properly do it
  • Slow

Pros and cons of getting a motorboat

Pros
  • Travel much faster than a sailboat
  • Less skill needed
Cons
  • More maintenance needed
  • More parts that can break
  • Generally more expensive
  • Need to stop to refill fuel often

If you want to save money and challenge yourself, I recommend going with a sailboat. If you get a watermaker and a sustainable energy source, you can travel for much more extended periods of time than in a motorboat.

If you don’t plan to travel very far and have enough money, then a motorboat may be better. Although motorboats may have more maintenance due to their engine, it generally needs to get fixed by paying someone else. This means motorboating is usually a lot less hands-on than sailing.

What is a good size boat to live on?

Although some people may be able to live in some pretty small areas, any boat length under 30 feet will be tough. lifeofsailing.com says the ideal size is 35-45 feet long.

For a single person, you will probably be fine on anything larger than 30 feet, but I do not recommend a couple living in a 30-foot boat. Especially if one of you gets claustrophobic easily.

If you plan on bringing your whole family aboard, I would look for something 45 feet or larger. Even 45 feet is pretty small for 3 people. Unless you get something 60+ feet, it’s basically like living in a tiny home.

What are the best types of boats to live on?

If you do decide living on a boat is right for you, you still need to know what type of boat suits you best. In an article I wrote titled “What Type Of Boat Is Best To Live On? (Personalized Guide)“, I go over the top boats to live on. These include:

  • 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.

I highly recommend you check out the article if you’re not sure what type of boat will suit you best. I even included a personality quiz at the end of it that you can take and it determines exactly what boat type suits you best.

Where is the best place to live on a boat?

Location and price are the two main factors when determining the best place for you to live aboard. You can find cheap mooring or anchoring locations if you’re worried about price. Marina slips will usually always be more expensive.

As I said earlier in the article, prime cities such as Miami, L.A., and San Fran will be much more expensive than sub-prime cities such as Philadelphia, Housten, and Daytona. If cost is the main issue, check out this article here that gives a marina price estimate for over 60 different cities.

From that article, some of the best bang for buck locations include:

  • Houston, TX
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Savannah, GA
  • St. Petersberg, FL
  • Panama City, FL
  • Mobile, AL

Where can you purchase a boat/sailboat to live on?

The best places to look for used liveaboard boats is Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, and boattrader.com. If you want a new boat, go directly to dealers in your area.

Can you anchor a boat anywhere?

Although there are places you can anchor or moor (many times for free), you can’t do it anywhere. Most places have laws in place that will deter you from doing so. Along with that, not everywhere is safe to anchor.

If you do anchor down for the night, search for an area that is protected from wind and waves. If possible, also look for approved docking areas online.

Can you live on a boat with a pet?

Living aboard with a pet (especially a dog) is not easy. If you plan on doing this, organization is key. There is limited space on a boat, and when you add a pet, dog bed, pet food, cage, etc., space starts to run out.

If you plan to travel, every country has different laws for importing animals. Therefore, you will have to check online before crossing any borders if it’s okay to bring your pet.

Although the video below is directed toward dogs, it’s still an excellent resource for someone trying to bring any pet aboard with them. So check it out to learn more.

Instagram links to the liveaboards who helped me write this post

@svbeflor
@mvblackmagic

Sam