So You Want to Live On A Boat?

I get emails quite often from people who dream of moving aboard a boat. Here is a typical email with my response to his questions. NOTE: Long post here.

Questions from an emailer:

“I am thinking of doing what you have done. My wife and I are 49 yrs old
not rich but have a little money to put towards a boat. I told her last
night I just wanted to sell everything and move on a boat. Then all
these questions popped up. May I bother you with questions about cost,
weather, problems incurred, etc.

We live near Raleigh, NC, had have access to the Inter-coastal waterway,
and the East Coast. I have always wanted to go to Ireland, and was
jealous of the photos you posted. How was your trip to Ireland? How long
did it take you, and what if anything would you have taken or changed
that would have made the trip better? When living on a boat what cost is
involved when traveling, like anchorage fees, etc. I am thinking of a
sloop, or similar sail powered vessel. Between 30′ and 40′ in length.
Are you comfortable and what is it that you miss about living on land?

Thanks for your blog!!”

My Response:

First of all, there is a saying that you are going to hear more and
more as you look into the possibility of moving aboard a boat – that
is: ‘Just Do It!’ (Thanks Nike) More than anything that I could tell
you, that is the best piece of advise that I could give. The things
that you mentioned like weather, cost, etc. are just nagging doubts
that are trying to stop you from ‘just doing it.’ Moving aboard a
boat is not hard – it’s just different – and as much as we get set in
our ways as we get older, humans are good at one thing: and that is
adapting. You will end up, like us, just figuring things out as you
go along. That, in itself, can be a bit stressful, but in the end you
will have the joy of looking back and saying to yourself, ‘look at
what I’ve accomplished!’

There is one other topic that I would urge you to do some real soul
searching about before you take the plunge. That is, your marriage.
How strong is your bond with your wife – how much does she really want
to participate in this adventure? Living aboard a small boat means
that you really cannot get away from each other – your bedroom is also
your living room which is also the kitchen which is also the bathroom,
etc. More marriages have been ruined by moving aboard a boat – just
look at all the boats for sale in Florida. Talk with some of the
sales people down there and they will tell you story after story
broken marriages and busted dreams. Husbands sort of hanging around
trying to sell the boat while the wife flies home to try to find
normalcy in her life again. Read some of the stories that are out
there about the conflict that couples go through when living in a
confined space. Then have a face to face with Mrs. about how you are
going to deal with these conflicts when they arise (and they will
arise – believe me.) My wife and I are very fortunate. We have a
strong bond together and we have much in common. Our hopes and dreams
are very close to being the same – certainly close enough that we both
feel that living on a boat is fulfilling those dreams. We both
understand each others roles in our relationship and are careful to
let each other have the space and freedom to act in those roles. In
short, we are a good team – not all marriages are like that.

On to some of the specific things you mentioned.

Weather is not an issue. Other live aboards may tell you differently,
but for us we simply became more aware of the weather around us. When
strong winds are predicted we would make sure the lines were tight.
If there was lightening in the forecast we would often just try to be
away from the boat at the time. You will make changes as you become
aware of the weather around you, but it is not a big issue for us.

Problems: hey, stuff happens. What can I say? You will figure it
out. Try to plan for the common eventualities and then just react
when things happen. There are lots of books out there that will tell
you how to make your boat safe in various situations – follow those
directions and you are half way there to solving your problems.
Remember the old adage: ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of
cure.’ Basically, we have the same number of problems as when we
lived in a house, the problems are just different. Don’t let the fear
of the unforeseen stop you from moving aboard.

Cost: That is a tough one for me to answer. You can live on a boat
really cheap. If you choose sail over power, it is even cheaper. You
can also spend a lot of money living on a boat. If you take a slip
every night and fall into the habit of eating out instead of making
your own meals you can spend a fortune. We are sort of middle of the
road. Our slip is quite cheap and we eat out maybe 2 times a week.
That is enough for us – but there are others here at the marina who
never eat out, don’t own a car and really live on little money. It is
hard to compare costs with living on dirt – they are really just too
different. However, here in Toronto, I would say that the cost of
living on a boat is less than half of what it would cost to live on
dirt. It’s not hard to figure out what your fixed costs will be, just
figure them out and build in a buffer for the unexpected and you will
have a good idea of what it will cost you.

Just for the record – we did not sail to Ireland. We flew – that was
a family trip. I would love to sail to Ireland and may do it someday.
I have not sailed outside of Lake Ontario so I cannot properly answer
any questions related to cruising like that. There are lots of others
online with blogs who are cruising who could give you some ideas on

Power or Sail: I am partial to sail as I am on a sailboat. However,
there are some definite advantages to living on a powerboat especially
if you do not have any boating experience. In many ways powerboats
are more like cars – you sort of just point them in the direction you
want to go, give it some gas and off you go. Sailing is a whole
different ballgame – I would not say that it is harder, but the
learning curve is a bit steeper. If cost is an issue, go with a
sailboat – the wind is free.

Between 30′ and 40′ is probably the most common size for the majority
of live abaords. Of course some live on smaller boats and many live
on larger – but for the most of us, who are not made of money
somewhere between 30 and 40 is the way to go.

Are we comfortable? That is probably the hardest question for me to
answer. Yes – we are completely comfortable yet in many ways I miss
the comforts that come with living in a house. I do all the same
things that I ever did, I sleep in my bed, eat at the table, watch TV
after supper, work at my job, read books – everything. The only
difference is that I do all those things while occupying the same 50
sq feet. I can’t leave something out to come back to it later because
I need the space for the next thing that I want to work on. I guess I
miss space. Does that make my stay here uncomfortable? I suppose,
but not enough for me to give up living aboard. My wife and I tend to
take the view that the world is our backyard. When you look at it
that way, I have all the space I could ever want. Even though we have
given up space, the trade off is freedom. Freedom to pick up anchor
and move anytime, anywhere we want. The freedom to put the boat on
the hard and go somewhere else. The freedom to change my neighbours
if necessary. I think the trade off is worth it – you may or may not.

Ok – that’s it for now – let me know if you have anything else you
want me to ramble on about.

Take care and remember, Just Do It!



  • Anonymous


    here I sit in Palm Beach, looking at your boat in the snow and remembering one winter I spent at the Pt Credit Yacht Club on a boat.

    Think what you are doing is great. At the moment we are ashore as is the boat. Like many people, we stopped cruising for elderly parents and hope we can return to the sea before we become elderly ourselves.

    Will be happy to answer any questions. I taught sailing at Humber for several years, was a professional sailor for 20+ years with 10 trans-Atlantics and a few other ventures. Now occasionally doing boat surveys and dreaming of future voyages


  • Michael and Katie

    Reading your site has really firmed up our resolve to live aboard. We’re in Tennessee on The River, but we’re looking at buying a 38-to-41 footer and moving to the Gulf coast. So thanks for taking the time to do this, and we’ll be opening our own blog once we get the deed done. Gotta sell a house and all that first.

    Our biggest concern is…not knowing how to sail! But I’m sure we can learn from the other live-aboards around us. We’re eager to get good at it, Katie will cook for anyone and everyone, and I can fix stuff, mechanical and electrical.

    Cheers and thanks again!

  • Alfonso Nuno

    To the people in Envy!

    I no longer Envy. I’m not rich or poor, but happy. I’m 31 and single with a small dog and for him and I our dreams is to own a 42′ Sport Boat. The thought of having a 360′ view of ocean is a rich man’s dream without the $10,000 mortgage you would pay here in Newport Beach, Ca..I’ve worked hard to get to this point. Now Its becoming a reality….There would be nothing better then coming home to Dewey (my little pup) and to watch a good movie on the ocean. 🙂 Well friends and some who are thinking of living on board, this would be the closest to paradise! Live life, Live Longer!!!!!

  • keith

    me and my wife are 51/53 years old. we live in n.j. and wanting to retire in florida.thinking about buying a boat and liveing on it. just the thought of this makes us happy.no, we never owned a boat but enjoy freedom very much! your site is very informative to us.where in florida is the tough question as some parts are very exspenive.i will do more research and thank you for your site.MR.&MRS.ROESCH.

  • mp

    We are in our early fifties. My husband is determined to get us on a boat in the open sea. I have soooo many questions regarding insurance, income, pirates, ability to live in close quarters. I am adjusting to down size and being confined to small spaces. Still have issues with income and insurance. As much as I don’t want to die in the sub burbs I am hesitate to give up comfortable life for adventure life. Where do I go from here?

  • Number_6

    My wife and I are in our early 30s and have two kids. Our current plan is to continue living on land until the kids have both graduated high school(another 8 years) and then when they are out on their own, we’ll go out on our own. We’ll sell the house(we don’t have a mortgage, so that helps) and use the money from the sale to get ourselves a boat. I may try to find someplace I can learn sailing properly so we can get one powered by wind, but if not, then we’ll just go the power route. My wife tends to get wanderlust, so the idea of being able to just move along to another place when we want to is very much appealing.

  • Dave Winegarden

    I owned and raced a Columbia 30 in central California for 10 years. When my sailing partner and wife lost a health battle, I kept with it for a few years and even moved onto the boat for about 6 months in a marina where the boat was slipped. Though it was a short stay, I have to admit that it was the most relaxing time of my life. Everything was small on a 30 compared to a house or condo, and I couldn’t really keep all my suits aboard her, but Good News made me happy as I worked my way through some trying times. I had a household in storage for a year or so. I sold her as I moved on and now have her photos. I still pay her a visit every time I make it back to the area. I guess the bottom line is, that if you want to do the boat thing, know that it’s less space… that you need to be well-connected in your relationship… or just single… to relax and enjoy your stay. No mortgage… no landline…no utilities… just relax and say you live on a boat.

  • boat engines

    People who choose to live on a boat have many different reasons for doing so and it’s estimated that approximately 15,000 people in the UK live afloat. It’s not just in tranquil locations either.

    Many will, of course, choose to live on peaceful canals and rivers surrounded by nature and rolling countryside yet equally there are those who prefer to stay in a busy marina or harbour, live on the coast or even stay permanently moored up in the heart of some British cities which are renowned for their canal systems.

  • Selphine

    I’m almost twenty-three, my husband is almost twenty-eight, and just recently I’ve developed a wanderlust, and have fancied the idea of being a live aboard, and just doing whatever. But I’m a bit scared, because I don’t know the first thing about boats. So, here are my few questions.

    1.) How much is a decent sized (30-40′) boat going to cost. And what if I wanted to purchase one that had a shower and fridge?

    2.) What would be the bare essentials to take aboard?

    3.)What kinds of repair/maintenance should we be prepared for?

    4.)We have a pretty small income, so not counting food, what would a two-person family probably spend monthly? Roughly.

    5.) Also, what kinds of things do you do in your spare time, being a live aboard and all?

    The trailer that we’re living in now is very small and we once lived inside a room for several months, so we are used to living in small corridors. I don’t believe that will be a problem.

    I hope this wasn’t rude of me. My apologies if it was.


  • Oceans-ho

    Has anyone been in my shoes. I need help in convincing my wife to sell our house on a lake and the other stuff like ski boat-truck ect and buy a trawler and live on the hook down south. Just wondering after I purchased a trawler I would have aprox. $175,000.00 to live on.
    My thought would be to invest most of that and live on the interest. Am I dreaming or could it be done………….. thanks

  • Greg Shoesmith

    I’ve been boating for about 20 years, but only as a fair weather type. I have a Carver 350 Mariner that’s quite spacious for one person to live aboard. I’m in the Toronto area, so winter living presents a problem to me. I’m thinking about full time living on my vessel due to a marital breakdown. I have a couple of questions: How do you keep the water systems i.e. engines, drinking water, various through hull, air conditioner/heating all from freezing in the winter? Is there a book/website that you can recommend that covers all the aspects of winter boat life?


  • Richard

    When you live on a boat where would your post go and do you need a fixed land based adress as well as your boat?

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