Living on a Boat

Lately, I’ve received a steady stream of emails from people looking for information related to off grid boat living.

Boat on the Ocean

Before setting sail, it’s important to understand the lifestyle and figure out if you can actually handle living on the sea. The first thing you should do is choose a marina that you can live in for 3 – 6 months. This is an important step to mentally and physically preparing to live at sea. Your body needs time to adjust, and your mind needs time to become accustom to this new way of living.

If you’ve determined that this is the lifestyle you want to live, then there are some steps that you need to take.

Choosing a Boat

Research, Research, Research. When choosing a boat, don’t jump right into the first cheap one that you find on craigslist. The upkeep on these things can be incredibly expensive, and if you don’t know what you’re doing you could be in for some unwelcome surprises.

When choosing a boat you should consider the following things:

  • When considering how much to spend on a boat, take the amount that you are willing to pay and subtract about 30%. You will want that extra 30% for any maintenance issues that may pop up.
  • Check for Leaks – Before purchasing a boat, do a thorough inspection to check for leaks. Any leaks need to be taken care of right away. Mold will become a huge problem, and can make your boat unlivable if left unchecked.
  • Mold – Mold can be a problem so make sure you check the boat for signs of mold.

Where to Dock

Boats docked at a Commercial Marina

Anchoring. Anchoring or ‘living on the hook’ is going to be your cheapest option, but it also means that you’ll have to be fully self-sufficient. To be able to pull this type of living off, you must.

  1. Have a way to generate your own electricity (solar wind etc…)
  2. Have a way to store enough water, or be able to generate your own drinking water.
  3. Be mentally and physically prepared to live at sea.
  4. Buy a good dinghy for coming to shore for work, supplies, etc.

Mooring. Another cheap option is called mooring. A mooring ball is a method of anchoring your boat without an anchor. It works by attaching your boat to a chain that’s attached to a heavy sunken cement block. There is usually an initial deposit or setup fee and a small monthly fee is usually involved.

Marina Living – Depending on the location, this option can be pretty similar to an RV Park. A growing number of Marinas offer electrical hookups and supply stores within walking distance of your boat.

We highly recommend Marina living for those who are just starting out. Before setting sail, marina living can help make sure you’re able to handle the lifestyle. Choose a marina that you can live at for 3 – 6 months. This is a crucial step to mentally and physically preparing to live at sea.

Safety Considerations

House Boat in the Ocean

This type of lifestyle is filled with hazards. While it is enjoyable and liberating, if unprepared it can quickly become a nightmare.

  • Pirates – Believe it or not, in certain parts of the world this is still a pretty big problem. Make sure you have the proper equipment to be able to defend yourself in case of attack. (SHOTGUN!)
  • Make sure you know what you’re doing! – If you are not familiar with boating, you should take at least 6 months of time to cruise around the shore. I highly recommend taking lessons and becoming familiar with your boat before sailing off into the sunset.
  • Communications – Cell phones when near shore, satellite communications, a marine radio, and a Ham Radio should all be on the top of your list of considerations.
  • Boats require a lot of maintenance. Make sure you know the ins and outs of your boat, and how to troubleshoot anything that might go wrong when you’re out at sea.

Check out our Off the Grid section for more unconventional and alternative ways of living.

The Ultimate Situational Survival Guide

28 Comments

  1. I live in NYC and will retire soon. I had an idea to buy a big enough boat to live aboard for a few winter months in Florida. Sometimes to sail out, but mostly stay at the marina. Tell me what you, experienced people think about it as an alternative to buying an apartment in Florida ??? Thank you.

  2. I have cruised on both sail and power boats for 45 years. I have lived aboard my current boat, 35′ fly bridge on a number of occasions. It has a generator, large head, AC/heat. Very comfortable for the two of us. Living on the dock is $450/mo. including water and electric. More social activity than I want but you can be selective. You eat the same food you would at home. Maintenance on the boat is about $2K per year (motors, detail, bottom every 2-4th year. If you are difficult to entertain, don’t try to live aboard or cruise for more than a weekend. On the other hand if you like to read, watch nature, perform standard maintenance and just relax you might love it. Main benefit to me? When you get tired of a location/people just move to a new one!

  3. I am disabled (Fibromyalgia/chronic pain) and living on SSI/SSDI is near impossible. I have wondered if boat living might be a solution to too-high rent? I don’t have a problem living in a confined space, as its not much different then renting a room. the motion I suppose I can get used to, for all I know it might even be soothing to my condition? However, I am in CA and finding a place might be hard. Plus I would have to learn how to handle a boat (One a lot bigger then some little outboard motor job on a lake, I mean). Really long as I have internet access, I could prob live anywhere thats cheap and I do like boats, even if I have limited experience with them.

    • attn j puma try living on a small [shantyboat] and use a small skiff to move it around and access land. extremely cheap to build and live on and for those who are handicapped it allows them a decent retirement.the main benefit is you live under the radar of most officials.

  4. when your living out on the sea and you want to go from country to country like say back and forth from the U.S. to the U.K. What immigration laws are there pertaining to that???

  5. has anyone investigated how to grow basic food at sea? I was thinking potatos, peanuts, garlic, kudzoo tomatos and rice. I have been told that only 144 sq ft. are required to grow enough food to feed a single person. If grow indoors using ‘druggy’ type tech with pressurized CO2, this might be reduced. Of course, this would require a larger boat, but it would also allow you to sell FRESH VEGETABLES to passing boats at sea. If anyone has looked into this would you email me. Cliff
    Oh by the way, my brother is so impressed with my seafaring prowess, he told me to never go out where the water is deeper than 2 feet; so I can walk ashore, WHEN–not if, my boat sinks.

    • Maybe you could grow edible seaweed in the ocean? Just mark on the GPS where your patches are. You know the Japanese wrap their fish in seaweed, it’s delish. Sushi and Sashimi is Om Nom Nom Nom good!!!

      Rice and Flour would be cheap enough. Potatos are cheap to. Maybe if you have a second person on board to watch the boat you could use a fishing kayak to go to shore and get some cheap brown-rice or some flour and stuff.

      Maybe you could cut a plastic food grade barrel in half and plant potatoes? Not sure. I know you could catch plenty of Fish, Crab, Lobster, Clams, and other high-protein foods but you would still need some carbs.

  6. I have been pondering the idea of buying a sailboat to live aboard at a marina in Florida. It is the cheapest way to live in Sunny Florida! Dock fee’s I have found range anywhere from $175 month to $500 month. I do not plan on sailing around the world, I am looking at it as simply a unique way to enjoy nice winters as cheap as possible. The problems you talk about with owning a boat are the same problems you experience owning a house! Replace roof, yardwork, plumbing problems etc…..I have renovated a 1883 cottage I bought and let me tell you a home can suck you dry…..I have done a lot of work investigating living in a marina on a sailboat….you know I have wanted to do this for some time…finally…you know what made me realize its time? I found out I have a terminal illness!!! In remission right now but life is short, take a chance! I lived 22 years in Florida and now have lived lived in Midwest for 12 years… and God I miss the warm weather, the beach, the lifestyle! It has its bad points but to me nothing as bad as shoveling snow off the drive way in 5 below temps!!!! So there is good and bad in everything….I am not worried about pirates unless there living around the inter coastal areas…I am not thinking of sailing my boat to distant lands looking for trouble….I want to spend time at the beach, on the water, fishing…somewhat kind of the simple life! Take it from me!!!! Life is short, and its a great life if you don’t weaken! Thanks

  7. Hooray for you!!! I have a travel trailer and some of the rv parks charge as much as $1,000 a month to park in!!!! A lot of them take advantage of people wanting to escape the winter months up north! Then when I park my travel trailer usually you are about 6 feet next to another Rv…..maybe I should sell the travel trailer and buy a boat!!! Anyway, good luck on your seaworthy travels and life is soooo short so enjoy! Good Luck and thanks

  8. For the production of fresh vegetables, may I suggest sprouting seeds and pulses? Seeds store very well are cheap and once sprouted, escalate dramatically in food value. A little research will be well rewarded.
    I am a marine engineer and love living at sea. I do it for a living but I got into it to get the skills required to live at sea permanently.

    • Troy, I would love to talk to you privately about your goal to live permanently at sea. I am a writer doing research.

      Cheers,

      Priscilla

      My twitter handle at gmail is my address.

  9. Judging from the posts here it seems that knowledge is the difference between an insurmountable problem and something easy to fix. So the earlier you start with sailing/boating living the better. I see many older people contemplating the lifestyle when they’ve never spent any time in a small boat. There may be a few surprises waiting for them.

    What about living in a large bus or cube/box van like this:
    http://chattanooga-tennessee.olx.com/box-cube-van-iid-2110055
    (Just do an image search on Google to see lots of examples – it should have a sliding door joining the driving area to the storage/living area).

    Then, when you get bored at sea you live ashore or go somewhere. Move all your valuables to the vehicle. This allows you far more flexibility albeit with more responsibility of course. The key is to leave nothing of much value in an unlived in place.

    • My wife and I had a van (good storage) and a car, coastal cruising we would take both vehicles to the new spot, drive back with just the one, then sail on down, then both of us would drive back again to get the other. this is called the intra coastal shuffle.
      four trips by land and one by water. about the same for living on land and moving, Its a bonus if your new marina has security, get to know the guards,bring them goodies when they’re on duty get to know them. Thieves like vans to target in marinas and construction areas,they know they are prone to have goodies inside, the marina residents often do a superlative job watching out for each others boats, but the parking lot is often hard to see especially at low tide.

  10. The shotgun thing is a load of crap. If you get attacked by the kind of pirates he’s talking about (and you won’t), they would have machine guns, rifles, and a bunch of guys. Pull out that shotgun and your dead. I would rather be floating away watching them take my boat on my dingy then dead. I’ve can’t even think of one time i needed a shotgun while cruising. Stay safe and stay away from places where there are ungoverned waters, you’ll never have any pirate problems.

    • I suppose according to your logic since I have never gotten raped rapes don’t happen. Anyways I have an AR-15 which is much better then a shotgun. And who says they would see me pull it out Shirley.

      I have never needed a smoke detector or a fire extinguisher. I guess I should save space and chuck them in the trash.

      Pansys like you are why pirates are able to stay in business. If your going to get killed by pirates you should at least die with your boots on and take a few of those pieces of scum with you. Oh please Mr. Pirates don’t kill me, please just throw me in the dingy and send me on my way.

      You think they would leave witnesses? I wouldn’t chance it. I’d rather do the world a favor and kill all those pices of crap so they wont get a chance to murder some more poor defenseless smucks.

  11. Does any one know any decent marinas in the Mediterranean I have a 25ft cobra bilge keel sailing boat spent getting her up to scratch, band I’m determined to get away from the misery of Britain I’m 34 n just wanna get up and go been sailing 3 years in north Wales but this year has been the worst rain rain rain I want abroad for at least two years

    Any one know any decent n cheap locations round the med

  12. My wife and I have been livin full time in an rv for awhile.It took some getting used too but its was very manageable.I’m curious to the boat livin lifestyle. We may try to go to florida this winter ,maybe rent a dock side boat for a few weeks or maybe a month to get an idea.I’m very mechanically inclinded , welding and fabrication skills. If I were to buy a small Barge or something like that and just back the rv trailer onto it.
    Would it be too big for most docks? Would it be too big to navigate close to shore to change scenery and locations occasionally. I would not attempt to take it around the world.
    Where are some good docks,moorgaes in Florida to rent for a month and try this out? thanks for the help.

  13. WELL BOO…HOO to the bad guys…I have live 2/3rds of the way around this world. I loved sailing when I learned(self taught and info from fellow sailors) to sail.
    I find most people more than willing to help, giving info and assistance when needed. I am single and love not having the strings and binding land lover’s problems.
    I think the best info is in the movie “Captain Ron” and even then he only had trouble when he created it.
    I love the independence of travel, and being able to take my own time getting anywhere. I love listening and telling sailing experiences and stories…got a few myself.
    SURE, be careful, but NEVER give up your dreams…just learn how to make them work.
    I am also in talking to other sea sailing lovers.
    John

  14. My husband and I are traveling to Florida keys to buy a livaboard. If you can steer us the right way on these questions…
    1. Is there a best time to purchase a boat (time of year)?
    2. Where are great places to dock our boat for few months stays?
    3. What is the best solar and wind power options? We want to use alternative methods of fuel when possible.
    4. Interested in installing a de- salination system for our water supply…any suggestions?
    Thank you for your experienced help, happy sailing. :)

    Christina

    • First off, I want to point out I am not a survivalist per se, although I could be if SHTF, I suppose. I appreciate the candidness and vividness of Tim’s comments and information, as well as others both positive and negative. As a new sailor with a wee 16′ Compac, which I anticipate replacing with a larger vessel within just a few months, I would be most interested in hearing about the ups and downs of living aboard for maybe a couple weeks at a time. Can it be done at anchor on the “nature coast” of Florida? I own a house and won’t give it up, but would like to experience some “camping” and roughing it a little with the realization I can come back home to civilization. I am not rugged enough to truly live on board full time and have to work my business on land. Is it possible to cruise the coast, anchor, sleep on board (supposing a bigger cruiser) and come ashore daily while getting a feel for the sea and sampling the “life”? I was thinking on the lines of a month long sabattical away from everyday comforts.

      Thanks for any relevant responses. You guys that live aboard and do it right get credit from me…maybe someday.

  15. I suppose I am a frugal sailor but you wouldn’t know it by looking at my boat, it’s 41 feet long and fully equipped for long term cruising, what I mean by that is…I repowered it myself with a new engine,it has two bathrooms with two composting heads, pressurized hot water,plenty of solar power and wind generator and battery banks,I have a large enough fridge and freezer.The list seems endless…auto pilot,very good ground tackle(anchors and chain with heavy duty windless,Garmin GPS’s,Radar,water maker,LED lighting to conserve power,genset,food stores to last for about six months and many more things to make my boat comfortable.

    For anyone thinking they can just go out and buy a boat and be on my level with a limited budget,it’s not going to happen easily. I have been preparing my boat for years,lots of money spent over time, blood sweat and tears. It is a major commitment and my boat is a piece of me and I trust it with my life.

    As far as experience I have a lot and have been a licensed captain for 15 years and work on the water. I also have another business that caters to the marine industry. Having the dream is great, I also had the dream many years ago, I have had my boat for 11 years and I know it inside and out. Before that I started with smaller boats and learned all I could. Believe me,it’s a wonderful existence but never forget that your boat is floating on Mother Nature,all hell can break loose at any time, to me that is a thrill in itself but for others it may not be.

    I say if your not experienced try it out first, if you have never even experienced it then you might not even last a week or you could love it like I did. I see many folks out there doing it in much smaller boats than mine that are not nearly as well equipped,on the other hand I see people doing it in much larger vessels too,it’s all relative I guess. I would encourage anyone thinking about it to give it a try, but it’s not that easy to buy a boat that you don’t know and start cruising the planet. You have a lot to learn believe me if your just a beginner. If your just wanting to live in a marina, anyone can do that but most who cruise and go places have much experience and well equipped boats. Good Luck.

  16. Boaters take showers lol. Most marinas have nice showers and laundry rooms. Being a single guy I’ve lived on my 24.5 cabin cruiser for 4 years and it’s fine. Depending on where you live though. I spent a year on the river and wind and boat wakes forsure make it uncomfortable. But the new marina has a cove no problems. I have a microwave, LCD tv screen and DVD player, heater and ac and fridge.

    Mold and moisture can be problems an investment in a dehumidifier can be priceless. Most marinas have grocery stores and attractions close by. Back up everything is always recommended though, water, canned foods, batteries etc.

    How you decorate your boat, and keep it clean is a direct appearance of yourself. Boats have everything homes have at least newer ones. Keep it clean, and full of luxuries and you won’t feel like your roughing it.

  17. I am a Vietnam Vet who has decided that livin’ on a boat is the way to be free and enjoy the freedom I once fought for. My vessels are not your ordinary types of vessels. The first vessel I built and still have was a 16′ canoe with two outriggers. It was modified many times as the years past, and has been since turned into my floating shop and store that I sell my art from to folks along the rivers in Central Florida (St. Johns mainly). I was fortunate enough to purchase a 27′ Bayliner Buccaneer sailboat for %500 bucks and have turned it into a full time residence. Living on the water is so very calming and peaceful. I wouldn’t live any other way and won’t until the day I die….probably eaten by a gator. You can see the vessels on my web site http://captnat.me. There you’ll see that it don’t take a lot to make a home on the water! Happy and safe waters to all!

    • Capt. Natural-Lee thank you for sharing your story. It gives me hope. Thank you for your service in Vietnam as well. I live in VA currently. I grew up in Orange City Florida right next store to St. Johns. As the winter rolls by the ocean calls my name. I love the Blue ridge mountains but the ocean and warm weather stole my heart a long time ago. I have spent the past year researching Sailing/Navigation/Living aboard. The more I read the more I crave the adventure and life style. Im 31. A former Marine. I feel like this is the time to really get out there and enjoy life in a simpler form . Every year goes by a little faster. I have been worried about the storms and my pets. Any advice on the pets and storms you or others have would be appreciated. I have a large boxer pit mix and a cat. They are like my children. Is this possible in your opinion to liveaboard with two pets. I will be able to afford a sail boat in the 30′ range when that time comes. I am going to start off slow. Sail around locally. Learn and prepare for everything. Might not leave Florida. Who knows. That’s what makes it exciting. Ive enjoyed reading these blogs. I hope all of you find your way on land or at sea.

  18. I stumbled on this site, and have read some of the comments. Mmm I’ve live up a lovely peaceful river in the southwest of gun free England. Absolutely love it.
    Finally settled on 36 foot aft cabin twin engined cruiser. Perfect for old git like me. Had my fill of Man’s noise and concrete and relentless rush to wherever and back again. Bye

    • England isnt “gun free”. The gangbangers and criminals still have guns. Btw your violent crime rate went up dramatically after the 97 ban.

      Most of the Crime in the U.S. comes from areas with the strictest gun control.

      If it wasnt for just a few of our anti-gun cities we would have one of the lowest murder rates in the world.

      Also look at how many guns Switzerland has and how much lower their crime rate is.

  19. I’m looking to move to Florida this winter & have been considering a 35′ +/- size cruiser to stay on while there. Im an RN & so would be working while I’m there & not overly fussy about exactly what city or town. Not new to boats/boating, engines, etc. Also looking to stay on the Gulf-side & wondering where the best rates for extended-stay are, & at which marinas. Not looking to “live off the grid” but have always wanted to try this, at least for the winter prior to moving full time (condo, house, etc) Any details or tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  20. Wow! What a range of opinions, You know it’s funny that some people are dreamers. Always looking at “What If” They are the ones that gave us Travel to the moon, Cures for Polio, measles, small pox, etc. Then there are others that say “Hell No” they gave us what? Keep dreaming people. If you try it and it doesn’t work Oh well, move on to the next dream. I would rather try a thousand things and fail, than try nothing and succeed. Keep dreaming, when you stop you’re dead.

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