I often get emails from various people asking all sorts of questions about Living on a Boat. Many are from people who are contemplating moving aboard themselves and are looking for information and knowledge from those of us who have already taken the plunge (so to speak.) With that is mind, I plan to do a short four post series on the topic of Living on a Boat touching on the topics that I get asked the most often.

This then is Part 1 in our Living on Boat Series.

Part 2: Living on a Boat – Questions.
Part 3: Living on a Boat – Family and All
Part 4: Living on Boat and Alcohol

Living on a Boat – Cheap Living

I recently worked my way though the book by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin called Your Money Or Your Life – Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. I had probably purchased the book 10 years ago, and while I had previously applied some of the ideas found in the book, this time I’ve really taken the philosophy to heart and have applied a greater part of the book to our life here on the boat. Just by living on a boat we already lived a more frugal life than most, but even with our already reduced housing expenses, I’ve found many ways to control both the amount of money coming into my life and more importantly the money going out. I highly recommend Joe and Vicki’s book to anyone who has a desire to get away from the consumer lifestyle that so many of us have been sucked into. It is especially good for those who are contemplating how to reduce their expenses so that living on a boat might be an option. Ok, enough of that.

We are living on a boat in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Mississauga a major city right next to Toronto, Ontario although without signs nobody would know where Toronto ends and Mississauga begins. Before moving aboard our boat 4 years ago, we lived in a little brick bungalow in Toronto. So, we’ve lived (and owned) on land and lived on the water … we prefer the water. As I look back at my old budgets from the house, and compare them to what I am spending today, I figure that my housing costs are approximately 2/3’s less today. Living in the house with the mortgage, taxes, gas, hydro and water came to around $1600.00 per month and that would be considered living cheap compared to most people living in Toronto. Here on the the boat we average out at about $600.00 a month living year round. The living on a boat number could be further reduced by converting to propane heat for the winter – a move that I am thinking about for this upcoming winter. Without the extra hydro required for the winter, our slip costs for the year would go down to a little over $350.00 per month! We also live in one of the more expensive marina’s on Lake Ontario – slips can be had for a fair amount less if you are further away from Toronto. Finally, I don’t

The view out my kitchen window.

The view out my kitchen window.

think there are any cheaper living accommodation’s any closer to Toronto that where I am. Right now, I am sitting at my kitchen table on the boat looking out the window with a full view of downtown Toronto. If I were to hop in my car, I could be at the corner of Yonge and Dundas (right in the heart of downtown Toronto) in about 20 mins. There are a number of business people who are my neighbours here (a couple of lawyers, a teacher, a banker, etc) that work either downtown or in some other part of the city. They are earning city incomes while living cheaply in one of the most expensive cities in Canada. Somehow, I would say that they’ve got it figured out in a way that most never do; high income with low expenses. Now, if you did not need or want to live close to a major city center, you’re living on a boat expenses can be even less. Say you are living on Canada Pension Plan or your retirement income – I’m willing to bet you could have your housing expenses down to less than $200 a month.

So I say again, there is no way anyone is living on land for $600 a month within 20 mins of downtown Toronto. Further, we are a 5 minute walk from the GO train which will take us to Union Station in 1/2 an hour for $8 bucks. So – Yes, living on a boat is cheap living.

Other Options for even Cheaper Living on a Boat

Anchoring. Depending on where you are in world you may also find a place to anchor out or ‘live on the hook’ as it is called. This would mean that you have have to be self-sufficient – able to generate your own electricity and haul your own water and waste but there are many who live on the hook for $0 per month – yep, it can cost you nothing to live on the anchor! Where we are, this would not work for winter living as we need the electricity and the safety of the harbor to be able to combat the ice that forms on the lake, but this would be feasible in many southern or more temperate locals. A dinghy is essential for this living situation as a method of getting ashore for work, supplies, etc. A couple of years ago, we anchored out in a little bay just off the Leslie Spit in the Toronto Harbor Islands area and met a gentleman who was living there during the week. He worked at one of the hospitals downtown and took his dingy to and from work each day. I think he was American and went home to the US each weekend, but during the week – his housing costs were …$0. Smart man.

The view of downtown Toronto from the entrance to the Aquatic Sailing Park

The view of downtown Toronto from the entrance to the Aquatic Sailing Park

Mooring. Again, depending on your particular water situation there may be mooring balls or a mooring field available for very low cost. A mooring ball is a method of anchoring without using an anchor. Usually someone has sunk a heavy cement block down to the bottom and attached a chain to it and a big ball or float of some sort. All you do is grab the chain and attach your boat and you are ‘home.’ The owner of the mooring ball (or mooring field, if there are a bunch of them in one area) usually charges some small fee to use that particular mooring. There is a mooring field just off of downtown Toronto called the Aquatic Sailing Park. It is absolutely lovely there – so private, yet so close to downtown Toronto. After an initiation fee of $650.00, their fees work out to $73.00 a month (summer only, unfortunately) and there is a work requirement of 16 hours in the Park itself. Hows that for living on a boat – cheap?!? Again, you would have to be self-sufficient as there are no hookups, electricity or anything like that. Plus a dinghy is a must have to get to shore.

Private Dock. This option may be available in your area but will likely require some searching around. Many rivers and lakes are growing private docks like seaweeds. Many of those docks are either virtually unused or only used a couple of times a year or on weekends when the owners are there. With a little creative negotiating maybe with cash in hand or on a trial basis you should be able to rent a dock or slip for a small fee for a month or two. I would suggest even trying for free in exchange for say a bit of yard work if it is a someones cottage or maybe even just to keep and eye on the place. Creativity and personal negotiation skills will be your biggest assets here.

House vs. Boat

Now let me say this before you say it, because I know you are thinking it … yes, the boat is much smaller than a house. I know it, believe me I know it! However, my backyard is bigger than yours I likely have a better view, and if I don’t like my neighbours, I just move. Can you say that? There are trade offs – some people may not be willing to live in a smaller place to be able to live more cheaply and to have more freedom. For us, the trade off is more than worth it. I’ve commented on Living on a Boat vs A House before.

Other Living Costs

  • No Hydro bill.
  • No Water bill.
  • No gas bill (although you will have to fill the propane tank a couple of times a season.)
  • No land tax.
  • No cable bill.
  • No phone bill – no land line, so you will likely need a cell phone.
  • If you live on a sailboat, your fuel bill will be very low. As it is, our boat is a house first – and a boat second, so we don’t use much fuel either. Of course, that means we don’t go far.

Food. Depending on what your boat is equipped with, you may or may not spend a lot of money on food. When we were living on our sailboat (Alberg 30) we did not really have a proper kitchen. We had an Origo non-pressurized 2 burner alcohol cooktop and a nice sized toaster oven. Our fridge was very small – and only a fridge – no freezer. What ended up happening is we started to bring more and more purchased and prepared food onto the boat – just because the cooking and food storage was such a hassle. That is NOT the way to save money and live cheaply! We were spending a fortune on food. When we moved aboard the River Queen, we got a very nice 3 burner propane stove with oven and a full size fridge with a top mount freezer. Perfect for just normal every day, live on land type cooking. Unfortunately, we were so used to just bringing home take out that we did not use our new kitchen to its full potential and were still spending a pile of money on food. Since reading Your Money Or Your Life though – we’ve cut our food bill down to a quarter of what it was. We are cooking a lot more simple food – purchasing more in bulk and generally being aware of what we are spending on food. So the trick with food is – use what facilities you have and keep it simple. If you have limited cooking facilities and limited refrigeration – then you don’t have to buy expensive food because you have no way of cooking it or keeping it. Simple foods are better for you anyway. If people are interested, I will do a follow up to this and give greater detail about how much we spend on food and how we cook. Let me know if you want to see this.

Yachty Magazines

One final comment that I would like to make about living on a boat cheaply is this: you don’t need, nor will you ever use all the crap you see for sale in all those glossy naughty yachty magazines. I’m not even sure what is all being touted in those rag mags these days as I don’t read them anymore, but back when we were looking to purchase a boat we got sucked in by all the ‘must haves’ that populate those mags. If it is shiny and electronic, you likely don’t need it. A simple $50.00 hand held GPS works just as well as the $3000.00 binical mounted model. Your boat will likely come with a VHF radio – it will work just fine, you don’t need that new hand held model which is waterproof down to 2000′ (why?) and will call the cows home from pasture at the same time. You don’t need all those extras and unless you are the guy buying the gold plated yacht, you can’t afford it anyway – and from what I’ve seen, he likely can’t afford it either. I talked about this issue way back when I first started living on a boat:

I’ll admit that I had read one too many of The Magazines and Books and that I was beginning to think that I would need a complete refit before sailing. (I no longer believe this.) So, we went to boat shows and priced out and bought those things that we just felt we could not do without. Things like a handheld VHF, self-inflating life jackets, etc., you know, just the bare essentials. Now I wish that I had spent that money on more important thing; things that would have made us more comfortable. A bimini cover and dodger for instance. But you just have to have a VHF in your hand when sailing, right? And you must have a self-inflating life jacket on at all times, right? Well, here’s the truth. I’ve used the handheld VHF maybe half a dozen times in two years and have only put on the jackets when in rough weather which we normally don’t sail in anyways. The VHF already on the boat would have worked just fine and the Canadian Tire life vest for 40 bucks would have worked just as well and could have provided a butt pad when not in use. Oh well, live and learn. What The Magazines and The Books say you need and what you really need are two very different things!

Other things you can do to save money on a boat:

  • Build your own wind generator out of scraps. My neighbour did this – works great!
  • Do your laundry in a hand washer – and hang everything out to dry – we do this.
  • Haul out your own waste in jugs and dump down the nearest toilet to save on pump outs. See this post on how I managed the holding tank on the Alberg.

And finally – just stay home. You live on the water – you don’t need a cottage or a boat or all the hassle of going north or south or whatever direction cottage country is. Just brew a cup of coffee and sit out on deck, enjoy the view, suck in the clean air and enjoy the gentle rocking of your home.

Next up in our Living on a Boat series will be: Living on a Boat – Family and all. Until then, would love to have any questions or comments you might have on this topic.

"Living on a Boat – Cheap Living" by was published on August 22nd, 2008 and is listed in Alberg 30, Boat Life, Books, Marina, Simple Life.

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Comments on "Living on a Boat – Cheap Living": 57 Comments

  1. Bill wrote,

    I currently live in the Atlanta, Georgia area, and I’m not very far from Lake Lanier and Lake Altoona. I am just now beginning my research on the topic of year round boat living in the area, but don’t seem to be making much headway. ANY advice or direction would be greatly appreciated. Spending 1,000 a month for rent is absurd, Especially for a mountain biking nature buff who would like to spend his money and time pursuing the great outdoors while leaving as small a foot print as possible. Thanx y’all!

  2. Julian wrote,

    I’ve been told that you cannot legally live-aboard in Toronto according to municipal by-laws unless you were grandfathered in. Have you heard of this? I am just beginning to explore the idea and I am considering setting myself up with a houseboat. I have lived aboard my sailboat in Georgian Bay for the summer so I have a good idea what I am getting into.

    Julian

  3. strathy wrote,

    I had not heard that about Toronto. I think there was a by-law in Oakville that was something like that which is why there were no live aboards at Bronte, etc. Maybe it’s new for TO? Can anybody confirm this?

  4. Rosemary Charlton wrote,

    There are plenty of live-aboards in Port Credit and Toronto. I personally have seen many winter boats at Port Credit harbour, Port Credit Yacht Club and At Bluffers Marina in Scarborough. iam sure there are more. I live in Oakville and you cannot live in the winter on your boat there, but Port Credit is a not far. We are looking into winter boat living fo next year.

  5. Matt wrote,

    I live in Toronto, and although I’m not looking to live on a boat (at least not yet), I am finally learning to sail and would like to buy a small used sailboat in the next year or so (maybe around 20-25′). Though my biggest concern right now is slip fees. It seems that slip fees in the area could cost me almost as much as my boat every season ($80-100/ft/month). That’s prohibitive for me, especially since it’ll mostly be for recreation at this point.

    Does anyone here know if there are areas in the GTA where I can simply anchor in a relatively protected area for a lot cheaper? And what would your advice be for this type of mooring. Obviously I’d need a small dinghy to get to and from shore, but are there any other aspects I may need to know about?

    Thanks for any help you may have.

    Sincerely,

    – Matt

  6. Dirk wrote,

    I bought a ’78 Down Easter 32 that I am refurbishing to be my home at some point very soon. I know that I can live and be OK on my measly pension by living aboard and be able to work part when and where I feel like it, as opposed to working full time at a job I absolutely hate to make enough money to live ‘land locked’ with all the trappings that entails. I just hate it. Unfortunately, due to elderly parents who need more and more assistance, I am forced to suck it up and stay in upstate NY, only being able to use my boat for weekends (since my girlfriend has the damn house I a helping to afford). But…..is it possible to live aboard along the Erie Canal at any point does anyone know? We have to haul our boats from the marina on the southern end of Seneca Lake by the end of October, so living there over the winter is not an option. Thoughts? Feel free to email me. Thanks!!!!!

  7. mike wrote,

    Hello, I live in England. There are places even in this overcrowded island to anchor, up quiet rivers, There is not that many big enough and devoid of men with badges and rules in the whole u.k but I have found one and it is fantastic. From Easter to Haloween is perfectly feasable to live aboard, I’ve done it. , The thing that thwarts me though is the 16 hours of darkness in winter. I have to admit I crawl back to the brick house and watch The Big Bang Theory until the Equinox. All the best.

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