Living on a Boat Full Time: Ultimate Guide for Liveaboards

The fun, the sun, the family time, and the unmatched satisfaction of steering and operating a boat -- don’t you just wish it never had to end? Well, that wish has become an astounding reality for a lot of boat owners who tossed the lines and decided to become full time boaters. That’s right: the community of liveaboards is ever growing.

If you just can’t get enough of boating and it pains you to tether your trusty vessel to the dock at the end of the day, then maybe it’s high time you joined in on the bandwagon. Seriously contemplating living on a boat? Here’s everything you need to know.

Factors to Consider When Living on a Boat

Although you might already be romanticizing the idea of living on a boat, there are some serious considerations you have to make before you take that jump. Even some of the most experienced boaters will step away from the liveaboard life because of certain factors that just don’t work for their comfort, convenience, or preference.

Here are a few things you should consider before you make that big change:

Are You Prepared for Minimalist Living?

One of the biggest changes you’ll probably have to adjust to involves storage. Most boats won’t have enough space onboard for lots of storage space, you’re going to have to live with bare minimum. That also entails frequent trips to the grocery store since you won’t have enough room to stock up for long periods of time.

Do You Know How to Perform Basic Repairs?

You’re going to encounter many different damages onboard especially during certain seasons. It helps to have some level of skill and knowledge when it comes to basic repairs so you won’t have to call a professional every time, especially when you’re too far away to find anyone to help.

What's the Weather Like?

Your local climate is going to play a role in how convenient (or how uncomfortable) your boat living situation is going to be. It’s usually not recommended for people who live in rainy regions, or those that experience severe winters to live permanently on a boat.

Is Your Family Prepared?

If you’ve got kids, then this is going to be a major change. Consider their daily route to school, and whether they’ll adjust to the new environment with comfort and ease. If you’ve got smaller kids that still like to run and play, there might not be enough room on deck to accommodate their rambunctious behavior.

Are You Willing to Give up Certain Appliances?

Washing machines, dryers, and elaborate home entertainment systems will not have a place on board most boats. Whether you’ve got a generator or a solar energy system, you probably won’t be able to supply enough power to sustain the entire range of household appliances you enjoy at home.

Where is Your Water Going to Come From?

Clean water for bathing and drinking can be tough to source when you’re living on a boat. Some boat owners install a system that lets them distill or purify water from the lake so they can safely use it for drinking and cleaning.

What About Waste Management?

You can’t just toss the contents of your portable toilet overboard. See to it that you know where your local waste management and disposal system is so you can access it whenever you need to safely and legally clean out your toilet. That also goes for whatever garbage you might accumulate on board.

Pros and Cons of Living on a Boat

Truth be told, liveaboard life isn’t for everyone. While it can be exciting and freeing, it also comes with its fair share of drawbacks that might be a little too inconvenient for those who are more comfortable and accustomed to living in a standard house.

Pros

  • Opportunity to travel whenever you feel like it
  • Usually more cost-effective than living in a standard house
  • Forces you into an eco-friendly lifestyle
  • Calmer lifestyle in touch with nature
  • Deep sense of community

Cons

  • Lots of time and money spent on maintenance
  • Limited living space
  • Susceptible to bad weather conditions
  • Bugs and pests abound
  • Compromised security and safety

Essentials for Living on a Boat

essentials for living on a boat

Because you might be used to living in a traditional house, converting to life on a boat can be a bit of a challenge. To make sure you’re ready for the undertaking, see to it that you have these basics taken care of:

Personal Items

You might have closets full of clothes, accessories, personal items, and just stuff you keep around but haven’t touched in years. Well, with the kind of limited storage space on a boat, you’re going to have to purge your closets of anything that isn’t essential.

Strip your closet down to just everyday wear, casual clothes, and maybe one or two formal outfits. You should try to do the same for your shoe closet. As for seasonal items like winter clothing, you can store them at a friend or relative’s house. If you have a locker at work, keep work clothes there.

Some liveaboards go as far as renting out a storage unit to keep all of the items they want to keep but might not be immediately necessary on board. Of course, you could also try to beef up your onboard storage by installing extra cabinets, but it’s probably not going to be enough.

Power Source

While your range of appliances might be particularly limited, that doesn’t mean you can’t have any onboard. Television sets, electric fans, mini refrigerators, and electric grills can find a rightful place on a boat - given there’s enough power to use them.

There are various services these days that offer to equip your vessel with solar energy for clean, easy power you can store up yourself. But of course, solar power can only take you so far when the stormy weather starts to settle in.

Shore power might be your best bet if you’re looking to fire up more energy-intensive appliances. See to it that your local marina will let you hook up to their power source while you’re docked. Of course, this also entails paying an extra fee.

Finally, you can try traditional fuel power with a generator. Keep in mind though that power generators tend to be noisy, which may disrupt your neighbors. There’s also the issue of cost and eco-friendliness which aren’t typical of a gas powered generator.

Maintenance Essentials

There’s going to be a whole lot of maintenance going on. Unlike a regular house, a boat is more exposed to the elements, which means it may be more susceptible to damage. That’s especially true if you won’t have the chance to dry dock your boat, leaving its hull soaked in water for extended periods of time.

Another thing to keep in mind are repairs. To some extent, you should know some basic electrical, plumbing, and mechanical skills to readily respond to minor damages as they occur. You’re also going to have to buy some reliable tools and cleaners that should always be within reach in case you need to fix something on your own.

Food Management

You can’t expect a boat to have a full-sized kitchen. And that also means you’re going to have to learn how to manage with a limited cooking space and amenities. For instance, you’re probably not going to be able to roast a full turkey for Thanksgiving.

Most of your liveaboard menu is probably going to consist of recipes that mainly entail the use of a grill. Fried and boiled entrees can also be a practical choice. That said, you’re also going to have to prepare sufficient surface area where you can prepare your ingredients, especially if you like coming up with elaborate dishes.

And then of course there’s the choice of food items in particular. If you’ve got a mini fridge on board, then you should be able to store a few veggies and meat for about a week max. Other than that though, most of your storage will be ice boxes that can only keep things cool for a certain period, unless you’re willing to replace ice cubes on the daily.

The Cost of Living on a Boat

Although the idea of living on a boat might be freeing, it’s anything but free. There are a ton of costs associated with the liveaboard life, which means you might spend just about as much as you would living in a traditional residence.

Here’s a breakdown of what you might expect to pay when you live on a boat:

Boat Mortgage

Roughly $500 for a $60,000 boat at 8.34% interest for 20 years.

Registration

This varies from state to state, ranging between $25 to $250 annually.

Boat Insurance

Insurance is in the range of $200 to $500 a year, depending on the extent of coverage, the kind and quality of boat, and its intended use.

Property Tax

6-10%, depending on the state you’re in.

Maintenance

According to experts, you should expect to pay 10% of your boat’s cost in maintenance fees each year. A $60,000 boat could cost you around $600 yearly to keep in shape.

Slip

Premier marinas can charge as much as $240 per foot per year. There are cheaper options though that can cost as little as $12 per foot per year, but that also means downgraded facilities.

Fuel

Most boats will use 3-8 gallons per hour at cruising speeds, with gas costing between $3-4 per gallon. Also consider the cost of a power generator if you plan to use one.

Utilities

Marinas and mooring points will charge for garbage removal, electricity, and water. Some also offer cable TV and WiFi connectivity that you can access for an added fee.

All of that of course, goes on top of the cost of food, clothes, and other personal essentials that you might require. It’s also worth mentioning that if you’ve got a bigger, more expensive boat, you also end up paying more than the estimates above. If you’re taking your family along with you, that becomes an added expense.

Other potential costs include storage fees if you’re planning to rent out a storage unit, winterization expenses, upgrades and accessories, and personal maintenance including laundry fees.

Safety and Security Considerations

marina

Living on a boat isn’t any more or less safe than living in a traditional residence, it’s just that your concerns might be different. Understanding the potential dangers can help you better prepare for them and minimize the risk of accidents, injuries, and damages on board.

Parking

Sure, your boat might be parked just fine in a slip. But what about your car? Parking slots for cars in marinas aren’t usually secure, leaving your precious vehicle exposed to the elements and potential break-ins.

Consider beefing up your auto insurance to keep your car safe from these threats. You might also want to consider parking where there’s a CCTV system in place just for added safety.

Fire and Fumes

The limited space on a boat can make it extra prone to fires. You also have to think about gas leaks that could combust, or that could endanger your health with fumes.

Of course, the obvious solution would be to install smoke and CO2 sensors to tell you when there might be a potential threat. It’s also important to perform routine checks to ensure that everything is working fine.

Thefts and Burglaries

Houseboats are just as likely to experience robberies and break-ins as any traditional residence. And because the last thing you’d want is to have someone take anything from your already limited possessions, it’s important to take the necessary steps to protect your liveaboard.

Choose a marina with good security, well-lit premises, and CCTV systems installed. You can also install your own CCTV cameras as well as alarm systems to tell you of the presence of an intruder.

Emergencies and Accidents

Who are you going to call in case you run into a major accident that requires prompt mechanical service or medical care? While your family and friends might be a phone call away, it’s always better to know people at your local area who you can call for help.

See to it that you get contact information for your marina neighbors, the coast guard, and marina personnel. Have them at the ready in case you need to make a quick call during an emergency.

Social Life When Living on a Boat

The thing about the liveaboard life is that it’s way more social than the typical suburban household setting. For starters, your neighbors are going to be much closer to you than when you live in a traditional house. That’s also why people who live on their boats in marinas tend to enjoy a deep sense of community.

Living on a boat means helping those around you, and getting their help in return whether for small or significant things. If you’re not ready for that kind of social interaction and you prefer something a little more secluded, you can try tying your boat to an end corner where you’ll have fewer neighbors.

Some localities will also let you tie your boat to a mooring point where you’re not likely to have a lot of neighbors at all. Otherwise, be prepared to live closely alongside other liveaboards who might tether their boat next to yours.

What About Pets?

Of course, living on a boat doesn’t mean you can’t take old Fido with you. Although you might have to acclimate your dog or cat to the boat first, lots of boat owners have successfully transitioned to liveaboard life with their furbaby in tow.

As long as there’s a safe place for them to stay, and you give them enough time to run, play, and stay active onboard or on the shore, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

Best Places to Live on a Boat

Chesapeake Bay maryland

While you might be accustomed to your locality already, there’s no reason you can’t move around once you start your liveaboard journey. That said, you might also want to consider whether you’d want to stay in a place that’s known for its liveaboard friendliness. Some of them include:

Chesapeake Bay, Maryland

Its warm climate and friendly boaters make it a wonderfully calm place to live. They’ve also got some of the best premier marinas in the state.

Lake of the Ozarks, Wisconsin

Beautiful, picturesque, and incredibly close to nature, the Lake of the Ozarks also has a number of prime locations and points of interest that you can access only via boat which says a lot about how boat friendly they are.

Corpus Christi, Texas

They’ve got great food and a wonderful ambiance that can be great for boaters looking for the perfect marriage between luxury and nature. Their marinas are also mostly new and polished, but since they’ve only recently been developed as a boating spot, prices aren’t too exorbitant just yet.

Is Boating for You?

It can be loads of fun to live on a boat. But again, it isn’t for everyone. There are some major adjustments that need to be made if you’re going to successfully transition to life on a boat. So how do you know if it’s not for you?

  • Prefer living somewhere with lots of space
  • You rely heavily on appliances, gadgets, electronic devices, and high speed internet
  • Have a large family with lots of kids that all need their own personal space
  • You’re not too handy and you have a hard time with doing repairs on your own
  • Have a job that requires most of your daylight hours, leaving you with little time for maintenance and cleaning
  • You enjoy a more private lifestyle where people won’t always be around to hear or see what you’re up to

Time for a Change

Living on a boat can be loads of fun, but it’s going to require some major changes. So are you ready to dive in head first? See to it that you’ve got all the basics down, and maybe try it yourself for a week to see how you fair. Of course, it’s going to be rocky at the start. But with proper execution, you should be able to transition to that liveaboard lifestyle in no time.