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.

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  1. i just realized i should have never signed that sierra club petition this morning protecting whales. because it is agenda21. i was wondering how earlier and i signed it anyways. but now god sent me this thought. we don’t need land to live on. We can live on a boat our entire lives and while maybe it wont be as good as being on land it can be done. that’s why they want control over the waterways, and they are using whales as a reason to get Obama to try to have stricter protection of cargo ship routes for the whales by pushing them west, but this just needs enforcing and the enforcing will come in the way of tax dollars to support ocean police and these ocean police will also prevent anyone from living on a boat. Just like you can’t live in your van unless you are in designated areas, soon you won’t be able to live on a boat.

  2. 1. Must be a sailboat. When the shit hits the fan, you won’t be able to buy diesel. At ANY price. You will be stuck. Wind is free.
    2. Must be large enough to contain enough provision, yet small enough to singlehand. For me, something like 40′ will do. I am seriously advocating stocking up with MRE enough for a year at least. With shelf life of 25 years, that is the only stuff to seriously consider. In addition to seafood you catch, this will get you going.

  3. In SF Bay, your boat must be at least 35′ to live aboard.
    Half the marinas here offer live aboard. The cost is between $500 – 800 avg.
    Most marinas will tell you they do not have any space available when you call but if you get to know the community, you will find that the harbor masters simply want to know what kind of person you are before they grant you live aboard priveledges. I recommend coming in on what they call ‘transient status’.

    Then after two months or so, they know you and you know the marina. You are then able to decide if it’s a place you want to stay.

    If you are looking into buying a boat, don’t forget it’s best to have it surveyed before you buy it. A survey will tell you everything about the state of the boat you are purchasing and give you a heads up about what needs to be fixed and when. Look for consignment shops where sailors can go and sell gear or salvage yards. Even craigslist sometimes has some great deals. A friend had someone one dock over give him a nearly brand new stove for his boat. After you buy your boat, start making friends in the community. Pick up a Latitude magazine and get connected. Once you are connected you will find that like most things, sailing is what you make it. If you are a millionaire who wants to blow all your money, there are plenty of people to take it, but on the whole most of us don’t spend a lot. You just have to learn how to keep an eye on maintenance and deal with the problems as they arise and not put them off so they stack up.

    My Harbor Master also lives in our marina.

    We are not smelly hobos, though there are some who choose this lifestyle because they are down on their luck. Most of us are professionals who love sailing or yachts. We have bankers, coast guard, computer programmers, doctors, teachers, artists, flight attendants and more at my marina.

    We also have a very nice bathroom. Even with the 200+ boats, you can usually find a time to have the bathroom all to yourself. They are accessed with the same key you use to enter the docks, so you don’t have to worry about just anyone buzzing in while you are there. Bathrooms do vary from marina to marina. We also have a laundry. We do not pay 3x the amount for water or electric. Water is included in our docking fee. We do pay for electricity in addition to the docking fee. My bill is about $20-30 a month for a 36′ sailboat. I have a TV, microwave, computer, refridgerator and air purifier.

    Most boats over 30 feet have showers inside.

    A desalinator would take care of your needs when sailing away from the marina.
    A solar panel or wind generator takes care of the power.

    Someone mentioned radar and GPS equipment. This is very important if you plan to sail in the open ocean. And as others have pointed out, it’s really important to get to know your boat and take a class or several classes to be properly prepared to go on any kind of real boat adventure.

    Yes, sometimes there are thieves at marinas. I can not speak for marinas on the east coast. I’ve found that most of us on the west coast are always looking out for one another. We watch our own boats and keep an eye on the boats around us. If there is a problem, we call the authorities. Gates to the dock are locked. You can also lock your doors/companionway. If I see anyone on my dock I do not recognize, I ask them who they are looking for and let them know I’m watching. Most are here legitimately. Anyone who somehow gained access and shouldn’t be here usually leaves the gate quickly. Though thefts at my marina is rare, thieves do frequent parking lots. Always keep your car locked!

    Most of us leave our boats open even when we aren’t around and it’s rare to hear anyone has a problem. This is a different lifestyle than that of the average land dweller. I’ve never found a group that is nicer and willing to help. Because we all know the dangers, we are always willing to help.

    Yes, maintenance can be expensive BUT often you will also find that there is usually someone at any given marina that has a lot of experience and sometimes a great deal of ‘know-how’. I happen to live next to a guy that builds custom sailing yachts and he helps me with everything from engines to rigging for a case of beer!

    I never feel homeless. In fact, I feel like I have my own little island all to myself!
    This is my own private floating sanctuary. I do keep my boat very clean and organized. I can be ready to go in 15 minutes.

    Though I love it and will never live on land again, it is not for everyone.

    There are also community gardens at a handful of marinas here that offer you dedicated space if you want to grow your own food.

    And the comments on fishing are fantastic. Learning to fish and how to prepare what you catch means you can eat very well and it helps you save your stash of food so it lasts longer.

    As for pirates, people on long voyages call in when they see pirates. You will learn in training to stay in regular contact with other sailors and authorities. Avoiding them will always be the best option unless you are looking for trouble.

    It is a small space. The advice to live on a boat at a marina before you try to set sail is excellent. It is not for everyone but for some of us, it is what makes life worth living! I dreamed of living on a sailboat since I was a young kid. I finally bought my boat many years ago and have never looked back.

    Smooth sailing.

  4. I’ve sailed the eastern coast for years and have lived aboard for many more. I’m on a 55′ motor yacht now and love my life. My port is on a river in new england and and though the winter has it’s difficulties I wouldn’t live any other way. I’ve been in the same port for six years now and have made some great friends.

    As far as I can tell their are two types of live aboard… the hermits and those that simply love life.

    The Hermits: seem to want to live off hook and come in and out with the tide. Horde all the little shiny bits they find and tend to be a bit skid-dish. think Gollum (My Precious). These are usually not mean or bad people… just a bit lost… just keep an eye on your shinny things if they come to visit… AND WHATEVER YOU DO… DON’T FEED THEM!!! or they will always be at your door…

    Those that love life: There are those who live “normal” lives, maintain jobs, raise children/pets, are productive members of society all while living aboard. These individuals are great people who like the land lubbers live as if they were in a waterfront condo and take their boats out on special occasion or the random long weekend.

    I personally have grown from one to the other…

  5. Everything you’ve said is so general, there’s no real information at all. It really doesn’t sound like you know anything about boats or living at sea. And repeating yourself three times, “research, research, research.” was embarrassingly bad writing.

  6. I have read in entirety the posts here. I am a 64 year old retired electrical engineer. Ex Army and self made. I have had to do life on my own and solitude is a way of life for me. I’ve done everything imaginable in life from cleaning bathrooms to sales marketing and public relations. I have hosted motor and sailed off and on for 50 years. I recently totally rebuilt a MacGregor Venture 25 just to get back into the mariners train of thought. Although my BOB (bug out boat) is a near perfect 1977 Ranger with extra sails and a new Yanmar diesel. I have never had any support whatsoever from family as my Dad views me as a competitor rather than a son. This has only served to make me independent in my thinking and trust myself and my decisions. Now you know a few base things about me. I’ve heard a lot of people here ask others opinions about whether they should llive aboard or not. For Christ’s sake people if you want to live anywhere boat included do it.!! The advice here to research, read, test out the lifestyle are valid points. If you are not secure and trusting in yourself I have no idea how you survive anywhere. If you are weak minded and need validation from any entity other than the great creator or whatever you believe, you’re in trouble living in a boat. Living aboard requires a certain knowledge of boats, the watery outdoors and land based society and survival skills. So much of living aboard is like living anywhere…all in your head. Being comfortable in any social setting including being alone..comfortable with your own thoughts! Please do not misunderstand me, I care deeply for others and wish everyone well but you must know who you are deep dark in the late of the night. Do no intended harm. Here I am only attempting to impart some different points of view and it’s an early rainy Sunday morning here in Oriental North Carolina at Pecan Grove Marina. If you travel the ICW you know where I am. In no way am I trying to take away from the need to have knowledge and skills on the water, ofcourse and obviously. The discussions about firearms, it’s America do as you damn well please. If you are venturing into another country..well be respectful and when in Rome do as the Romans do. You can get away with being insecure, needy and weak on land because there is always somewhere for you to hide who you are or someone’s shoulder to cry on. Living aboard your shortcomings will soon become apparent and doom you to failure. If being indignantly offended because of a gender or racial comment is who you are…grow the hell up. No one does or should care about your “little feelings”. Look, life is tough anywhere, rich, poor and in between. The discussions about cleanliness, if someone has to tell you to shower and how to dress…then you’re a pig and be happy with who you are. You will get further with others though by maintaining a certain decorum socially and physically. To the old salts and the newbies. Old salts, as hard as you try you cannot impart your experiences and knowledge effectively to anyone. Newbies, no one can tell you all you need to know, or if you doubt yourself no one can give you the confidence needed to live aboard or anywhere else for that matter. I’m not trying to insult or squash anyone’s dreams…I’m trying to help you. If you want to live aboard..prepare and do it. If you want to dream about it..then dream about it. Be happy and believe in yourself. Be honest with yourself..”to thine own self be true”. Know your limitations and live within them, trying to be better everyday. Do not expect your experiences to be a mirror of anyone else’s..expect your experiences to be YOURS and take those to your grave. In not addressing much boating into here because others have and there’s only so much to say about a boat. I’m trying to get you to go live whatever dream you have and ta hell with what anyone says or thinks (within reason). You only live for a while and if your house or your car or your profession is WHO YOU ARE,, please reexamine you! In a hundred years, or much less, no one will remember you. No one will know if you were happy or sad. No one will know, or care whether or not you lived your dreams. So get off your ads and go live.!!! Defend yourself to whatever measures someone forces you to. Other than that…Sally forth, be confident in yourself and your decisions, knowinly do no harm. Also as someone else here said. If living aboard is not your dream…go live an I that dream…but go live !! In closing I want to leave you with a song I learned in kindergarten and it is so true. Occasionally sing it to yourself..and live !!! “Row, row,row your boat gently down the stream..merrily merrily merrily rush..LIFE IS BUT A DREAM.!! Thank you..and have a great life.

  7. I recently bought a boat because I feel like taking an adventure, nothing is going to deture me from sailing non-stop around the world. My boat is comprised of cardboard boxes and rope, the sail is made from Glad© yard waste bags. The local media nick named me “boat boy” so you know Im legit. I watched “cast away” over 400+ times, I feel like ive got what it takes to brave the southern ocean. Thoughts?

  8. Wow. What a string. 6 Years! Living aboard is like being a “Mountain Man”, but on a boat. (If you’re Donald Trump you wouldn’t be reading this.) Here’s my 2 cents. If the boat has a marine head and holding tank and cooking facilities (a stove) the I.R.S (and hence other official authorities) will consider it a legitimate residence. Porta-potties don’t qualify. If the marina won’t let you have mail delivered there, rent a mailbox at the Post Office for a couple hundred bucks a year. Lived aboard an Irwin Citation 34 in St. Petersburg and Key West for 3 years. St Pete was $600/ month at the dock. Key West city field was $300 per month and they’d pump out your holding tank every week whether you were aboard or not. Get a good dinghy. It’s a haul into the dinghy dock. They put in new showers and washing facilities a few years ago, so they’re O.K. Lock your bike or they’ll steal it ashore. I recommend Wednesday night at Cowboy Bills Bar. (Topless bull riding.) Dockside living is most convenient, but you pay for the privilege. Figure $500 month at the seedy mom & pop marinas to HOLY SHIT for the upscale places. Costs vary widely state to state. Do your own research. Most places will make you carry liability insurance (figure in a hundred bucks a month) though a few will let you get away with signing a “liability waiver”. (A bunch of broke people promising not to sue each other.) Living on the hook is for the purists. If you can’t generate your own power and water, it’s pretty primitive, but completely doable. It’s also damned near free. (Do you have what it takes, Mountain Man?)Careful where you drop the hook. People like to complain and they don’t give a shit about legal technicalities. They tend to consider us, “Homeless people who live on a boat”. THE BOAT. Many boats sold in the secondary market are owner financed to some extent. Banks won’t lend money on a boat older than 20 years. I’ve bought two that way. The down payment is whatever you have and the monthly payment is whatever you can afford. Figure out what you can truly handle and stick to it. There’s always a slightly nicer boat for a little more. Buy all the boat you can afford, but don’t bury yourself. Be careful and realistic. My current boat (an old hunter 34 in decent shape) was purchased for $17500. ($3000 down and $500 per month.) Make reasonable offers and make lots of them. There are guys out there who are on their knees every night praying “Dear God, please send someone to buy my boat.” Make it win/ win and you get a boat. My last boat was $6000 down and $300 for 36 months. No bank. No interest. Simple promissory note with a complete stranger. If you’re not mechanically inclined, bring a fat check book or stay ashore. Normal maintenance runs about 10% of the boats value. (A $20,000 boat cost $2000 per year just to keep it fully functional.) Sailors are a tight community. There are always people willing to help in the sailing community, but you need to be self reliant as much as possible or you’ll become a pariah. (Geez… I wonder what he needs now?) In the final analysis, learn and research all you can, then go for it. There are times when you’ll wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”. There are times when you’ll have a rail buried in the water on a beam reach smokin’ along like a rocket sled on rails with dolphins surfing in your bow wave. There are also times when you’ll have your feet up, your arm around a warm, soft woman and your hand on a cold drink, watching a picture book sunset with a couple steaks sizzling on the grill. It ain’t for the meek. But, the rewards are proportionate. You may love the lifestyle. You may hate it. You’ll never know which if you live your life in fear.

  9. I came to this page to get real information ,,but as most Groupe pages it get taken over with BS an off subject riff raff ,,,I’m a disable vet ,,,I would like to know what type of boat to get an i would like to sail to hawiia then the philipines ,,,fron the east coast tks

  10. Ppl live in all types of structures from tents to mansions, but a true home is wherever you make it. I find it ironic to have an RV permanently parked in a RV lot, same with a boat permanently parked in a marina. Where is the adventure in sitting still? I understand ppl do it for financial reasons, but if you plan on sitting still go another route and free the spaces for adventurous souls on their lifes travels. You can sit in a 3 room apartment with a lot less headache!

  11. My husband & I are living aboard a 40 ft motor yacht.
    We love it, but we are having a problem transferring our identification. Any advice.
    We live at a Marina and have a P.O. Box.Address on IDs is still our old house.

  12. The amount of pollution produced by the last Gulf oil spill has done far more damage to our oceans than liveaboards ever will.

    • Ever wonder how large a blue whales turd is? People get upset if I put a floater in the ocean, but in my ENTIRE LIFE I’m NEVER going to poop enough to equal one blue whale turd.

  13. As a 2 1/2 year live aboard here are some thoughts
    boats are small even the big ones
    You must do your own matenence and enjoy doing it,
    It’s a life of experience not possessions
    Community in marinas is very eclectic
    The greatest income disparity is in a marina
    Everybody thinks there boat is the best
    You’ll always want a bigger boat
    There no end to the fancy extras you’ll be told you can’t live without
    Hundreds of years ago people crossed oceans in outrigger canoes
    Common sense is an absolute must
    Out of nessesity you learn very fast
    There lots of advice available
    There is no perfect boat
    Blue water boats are not the most comfortable often
    Speed isn’t important
    Don’t be the guy who has to have the best
    Or biggest, you’ll be outdone
    It is cheaper then land and there is freedom even at dock
    Best sleep of my life
    If you get pissed off at your.neighbors you can move the next day
    Lots of live aboards take pride in there
    simplistic life
    Get a survey and have an experienced boater give you a second opinion
    Never by wood unless your rich
    Diesel is by far better
    Popular brands have more spare parts available and more info of the positive and negative aspects and usually better resale
    Marinas often have length restrictions for life aboards
    Dryer climates are nicer
    Hot is hotter and cold is colder
    Don’t keep what you can’t put on the boat
    Sell it or give it to family
    The more “extras” the more that can break
    Go to a broker and look at ever boat you can
    Climb on and poke around
    I looked at a hundred boats before I bought mine
    You won’t sell it for more ever
    There’s always something to add
    It’s just not always nessasary
    Most of the people you meet are strange and difffernt but very amazing
    Pets and kids thrive
    Check on insurance before purchase
    Positive attitude is key
    It’s ok the try for a year and quit you’ll always have the memory
    Coastal cruising is very different than crossing oceans
    It’s ok to not know where you’ll go or what your looking for
    It’s not the key to happiness that’s inside you
    The open ocean is amazing as well as the bay
    Please don’t make it your “image or identity”
    There is a immense amount of information about every aspect of sail or power live aboard lifestyles
    It’s work but it’s working for yourself
    It might take all day to do laundry and go shopping and wash and wax but it’s better than sitting at a desk making a check
    The minute you leave the dock and sail away your bills come to a screeching halt
    Make a game about being simple
    Beans and rice for dinner…how long you can’t stretch 20 bucks
    Don’t become an alcoholic
    You’ll always have funny tan lines
    My son thrived and after 3 years on land and a new wife a 15 month baby girl and another on the way I’m a simple construction worker working on out new boat with hopes to move back aboard within the year
    Maybe I’ll never cross an ocean or maybe I’ll sail all the way around it doesn’t matter to me I’ll be with my family and it saves us money and I’ll get to be around them more
    As my old man said ” you can wish in one hand and #%€~ in the other and you’ll see what fills up first”
    Dreams without hard work will always remain dreams,

  14. 45,single,kids in college and can not wait to buy a $2500 22′ sailboat and slip it for $68/mo live-aboard at a local lake. I want savings. I want solar energy and a compost toilet. I want hard copy and closed circuit entertainment.I want a home and a truck I could afford to walk away from if they became too sick. I want money in the bank to move it to another lake if I partake of all lake slips in this one and want to move on. I want my bills so low I could change low paying jobs with ease. I want FREEDOM from so many things. Life is too short to not try. Yes, I have a college degree and I’m attractive and driven. I’m learning truck repair now to cut strings with yet another money leech. I just don’t want the stressful job or the dependence anymore. Raised on the water and a low maintenance person by nature,this is a long overdue treat to myself.

  15. Living on a small sail boat is fun… if off shore one must relies that you will become a single handed sailor. A 9000 pound craft is a busy ride getting out of port. One must balance your physical abilities , and knowledge against the certain radical self sufficiency of those who sail. You wlll not find one willing to sail with you or be crew. It is a proud moment when you are able to say you have rigged and single handedly piloted you boat.. you will have some real tails of terror… and joy. My first time out my tiller snapped at the base in a brisk wind close hauled. My boat the Garfish was in flight.. it was only with a roll of good duct tape I managed to save the situation and make port! Be prepared is the lesson. Another warning is ice on the decks in winter. one can take a nasty fall, or end up in the drink. A fracture or cold water drowning is possible. Keep your decks clear and deiced.. Marina decks are treacherous come winter..

  16. I believe solitude might be the hardest adversary off shore… I plan this year to head off shore and anchor off the several towns long my stretch of river. .. work, and human contact may be had this way. I hope to camp on some of the many islands in the channels.

  17. My wife and I have thought about buying a Trowler. But we als want to bring our Harley Heritage with us on the boat. Does anyone have any advice about putting a Harley on a boat?,

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