Are you considering living on a boat? Whether you already own a yacht or are looking to purchase a yacht, there are lots of considerations before committing to living aboard full time and there are ways to do it so you maximize your chances of success.
Real estate prices may be staggering but don’t assume that you’ll save a lot by moving onto a boat. There’s still the boat mortgage, a slip payment, insurance, taxes, and utility costs. Depending on the size and value of the vessel, boat insurance may be just as expensive as house insurance. Property taxes will probably be less as will electricity since you’ll be heating, cooling, and lighting a smaller space. You’ll also save money on gas and water, but Marina charges for most of these services, so the costs won’t be zero. Make checklists of your must-haves and estimate monthly costs to compare to your landside accommodations. Then make a budget and stick to it.
Stuff breaks on a house and doubly so on a boat. Maintenance to keep a boat in working order is worse than a house in terms of expense and frequency. Basic plumbing, electrical and mechanical skills will be needed, and unless you’re handy and a good problem solver, you’ll be relying on marine contractors who are few and expensive. Boating supplies, parts, and labor can all be up to 25% more than for a house. If you take on the tasks yourself and you’re self-employed, every hour you spend working on the boat is an hour you can’t bill to clients.
If you move in the dead of winter in the north or during a sweltering August in Florida, you’ll be gambling. Not only is it physically harder to lug boxes and bags down an icy dock or in the sweltering heat, but you’ll also be betting that everything will work when you get there. Test all systems beforehand (like the heat, water, lighting, or WiFi) or you’ll be miserable from the start.
Boats are tiny houses and they come with storage issues. If you move from a 2,500-square-foot house to a 45-foot boat, your closets will be smaller and fewer, and you won’t have a two-car garage. Reduce your clothing, keep winter clothes in off-boat storage, and downsize your kitchen. You’ll need to grocery shop more frequently and store less food aboard. Say goodbye to stacks of old magazines, mementos, extra bedding and towels, and the junk drawer. Stock up on a different set of cleaners that will be more boat-specific but have a plan where to keep them.
Plan for your work and leisure connectivity needs. Marina WiFi is notoriously sketchy so figure out how you’ll do Zoom calls, stream movies and do online banking. Whether that means getting a dish for TV or high-speed internet, it’ll feel like camping if you’re cut off from work, friends, and family.
Think through whether you’ll lock the boat or if you want to invite strangers aboard. Install CO2 and smoke alarms and place fire extinguishers around the boat strategically. Keep an eye on bilge and battery levels. Will you be safe walking from the parking lot to the slip at night and will your car be secure outside of a garage?
Pets need to acclimate to their new environments just like you do. Dogs and cats need exercise, privacy, access to the potty, and lots of patience since this will be their new home too. Make stairs and docks safe and figure out how to get pets back aboard if they fall in the water. Take note of small spaces where they can get trapped and wires they can chew.
You need to envision the minute details of life aboard and decide how to manage them. How will groceries come aboard and who will do it? Can this person carry loads of bags from a distant parking lot? How will laundry get done? Will you need to regularly visit a pump-out station or will you only use facilities in the marina including showers and toilets? Who will watch your pets when you’re at work or on vacation? Who will accept your Amazon deliveries? Are you ready to become your maid? Will you be comfortable with neighbors only a few feet away in the next slip? Is your climate amenable to comfortable life aboard or is too hot or cold much of the year? These are just some of the mundane questions you’ll need to answer to enjoy life aboard.
Living aboard means you should have a plan for the long term as well as a Plan B. Most liveaboards advise to not sell everything and move. It’s a better idea to test out the lifestyle for 3-6 months with Plan B being moving back home if it’s intolerable. Are you contemplating this move only to save money? Is it for a short period in preparation for full-time cruising? Will this move cause strife with your family members who may not agree with your choices? Look ahead a year or two and write down your long-term goals and decide if living aboard will help you accomplish them.
Don’t make your boat a stationary closet. Make sure it’s ready to go out with minimal preparation. Presumably, you moved aboard because you love boating, not living in a small damp space. Be sure to leave the boat for land-based vacations and a change of scenery. Go skiing, hiking, camping, and to museums. The boat can be your home and your hobby but not your obsession.
The fastest way to fail in any endeavor is to make it what it isn’t and then try to sell that idea to your significant other or your family. Everyone needs a voice in the proposition of living aboard because stress in a small home grows very big, very soon. Talk to your partner and kids about deal-breakers, listen actively, and address their concerns with a plan.
Resentment over unmet expectations looms large in small spaces. Living aboard is like anything else in life – it takes careful planning, good communication, and a reality check-in with yourself and others. It’s not hard to live on a boat, but as you prepare to move into your tiny home on a big ocean, you do need to be realistic about what it takes, how much it costs and if your personality is suitable for this undertaking. Go into it with your eyes open and get granular with the details. Then boldly step off the driveway and onto the dock for an adventure that may become a lifestyle.