Marina,  Questions,  River Queen,  Shrink Wrap,  Simple Life

Living on a Boat – Questions

This is part 2 of 4 on the topic of Living on a Boat.

Part 1: Living on a Boat – Cheap Living
Part 3: Living on a Boat – Family and All
Part 4: Living on Boat and Alcohol

In this post I will try to answer some of the questions that I get about living on a boat. If you have other questions that are not addressed here, feel free to send me an email and I will try to answer them for you. This will also be the beginning of my FAQ. Occasionally I will add to the FAQ as I accumulate more questions and answers.

How do you deal with the winter?

The same way you do, except I shovel the dock instead of the walk. In the fall we wrap our boat in plastic so that it looks and acts like a greenhouse. During the day the temps can get up to over 90 F under the plastic, even in the middle of winter. We use a bubbler which is basically a big underwater fan to keep ice from

Living on a Boat - Wrapped for Winter
Living on a Boat - Wrapped for Winter

forming on the lake in a little patch around our boat. There are some steel boats though, who don’t bubble and don’t seem to have any problems. We choose to bubble as we like the open water around the boat so that it still rocks and moves around a bit – just like every good home should. We heat the inside with electric heaters, but could use propane or even wood as some of our neighbours do. All in all, winters are very warm and snug aboard our boat and we actually look forward to it.

Do you have running water – hot water – a shower – a tub, etc.

Running water, hot water, showers, tubs, etc. are not essentials. We did not have any of them on the first boat we lived aboard – the Alberg 30. We managed just fine. The marina has showers available for us live aboards and so every morning (rain, shine, snow or sleet – just like the mailman) we would troop off to the marina bathrooms for a shower. It was a bit of a drag but you get used to it. Now, on our River Queen, we have running water, hot water and a full sized shower. Ahhh pure luxury! We don’t have a tub, but there are some boats that do. Our neighbours (Atlantic Grace) a couple of docks down from us do have a tub on their 40′ sailboat. Now, they are living the high life! See, even living on a boat has a bit of the ‘keep up with the Jones’ syndrome. Seriously though, you can get used to not having these things – I know that might be inconceivable to some people, but it is the truth. We did.

Where do you go to the bathroom?

We have two different seasons for the bathroom use – during the summer anything goes. We just have to go do a pumpout of the holding tank now and then. During the winter we try to limit #2 to the marina bathrooms. We can still get pumpouts in the winter but they cost a lot more and so we usually try to reserve as much of the holding tank as we can for those true emergencies – the midnight runs, so to speak.

Don’t you miss…?

We used to miss a lot of things, but to tell you the truth, I can’t, for the life of me, remember what they were now. I have everything I could want or need on this boat. We’ve adjusted to our space and lifestyle and those things we missed … we just don’t miss any more. It is a simpler life for us – less junk and clutter is a good thing.

What about the boat always rocking and moving?

That took some getting used to. Living on a boat that is always moving makes land feel kind of weird. When we first moved aboard, we would get onto land and have ‘spells’ where we would feel like the room or the ground was still rocking – it is a peculiar sensation. However, after a couple of months even that went away. I don’t even notice the boat moving now – in fact, if it stopped moving, I would probably feel that more.

Don’t you worry about sinking?

When we first moved aboard, every little sound made me imagine water was rushing into the boat and Davie Jones Locker was calling me … I haven’t thought that in a couple of years now. You get used to all the nosies and sounds and I know now what is a normal sound even if it is not a sound we hear very often. Plus I know my boat pretty well, it is not about to sink.

What do your families think?

I decided to poll our immediate families to answer this question. Here are there responses:

My Father: “My father always said that you could get used to anything. He said, for example, “you could get used to hanging if you hang long enough.” That describes how we feel about you living on a boat : we are hanging in there getting used to the idea.
I always tell my patients that I have a married son living in Toronto. Two kids. Living on a boat in a marina. When they realize what I just said, they say “oooh….coool! Then I launch into a description of the merits of shrink wrap plastic, describe how a bubbler works, tell how to break up the ice around the boat without falling in more than once, and tell how to go to the bathroom on a boat. They always ask about the children. I have told them about safety features, such as a water sensitive “turtle watch” which can also be used to test the kids salivation skill, and about life jackets. They always sound happily relieved when I tell them that the kids don’t have to wear them to bed at night. I have described the joy the kids get out of converting dried old bread crusts into goose guano on the dock.
Yep, your living on a boat has provided a great deal of conversational fodder on what would otherwise be a dull afternoon.”

My Mothers 1st response was: “You sure you want to hear?”

But then she said this, “No problem with you living on the houseboat. It’s like a very small apartment. The sail boat was pretty small and always the worry that you were going to “sail the 7 seas”. I was also concerned about the safety of the grandchildren on the boat, especially when I saw the picture of [The Boy] learning how to walk on the dock, but you take precautions with life jackets and now “the watch”. Where you want to live is between A. and you and you both seem to be very happy where you are. When your great grandparents on your father’s side came to Canada they lived in a sod house on the prairies. I wonder what their parents thought? You saw the house in Ireland where your grandfather lived as a child, only it was only a small house with one room upstairs then and 12 children lived there. Also your great, great grandparents house at Armaghbrague where another 12 children were raised. How did they do it? I would love to see you in a comfortable house with room for the children to play outside without worrying about them and not necessarily a view of Toronto, but that’s up to you.”

My Sister: “I too, have enjoyed my visits to ‘the boats’. My fave experience was when we moved you onto the sailboat and we picked up anchor and puttered out of the marina into the lake and just sat and watched the sun set. My most recent visit was in winter which meant for me hiking up to the showers in the marina and although it was fun like a ‘camping weekend’ I am glad that I don’t have to do it on a regular basis. As well I was ‘woozy’ for a few days after I returned home – as I guess I was not used to the gentle swaying of the boat from the waves and wind. All in all this Auntie would just rather have you living CLOSER – boat or no boat !! :)”

Mother-in-Law: “I see shocked faces when I mention that my daughter and her husband live on a boat. They seem relieved when I quickly mention that it is really like a small apartment.
I do love all the new modern conveniences you are bringing on the boat. The hand run washing machine is very exciting especially due to the fact that the daddy and 3 year old son do the washing now. When are you going to get a butter churner and make your own butter?”

Brother-in-Law #1: “well i think it’s great! there is no disadvantage to this visiting relative as long as i have flexibility in my requirements for sleeping arrangements and no expectations of privacy.”

If I wanted to move on a boat, where should I start?

This question is actually a huge topic that I cannot fully and completely address here. However, here are three important areas of concern for you to consider before you actually make the move:

  • Do you have a body of water nearby that has space and facilities for living aboard a boat? If not, why not? Is your weather not conducive to living on a boat i.e. do you live in Tuktoyaktuk? Is there some sort of by-law in place that disallows live aboards? i.e. Oakville, Ontario. Basically, if others are doing it in your area, then there is no reason why you can’t. Ask around, especially at the marinas. If they point you to someone who is living on a boat – bring a small gift, i.e. a bottle of wine or a hunk of cheese and crackers and tell them you would like to chat about living aboard. Most will accommodate you especially with the added incentive of your little heart (or stomach) warming gift. Simply walking up to a live aboard and firing questions, will get you little useful information.
  • Do you own a boat? If not, are you ready to own a boat? Is money the issue – if so, how will you solve this problem? Is there a “creative” solution to the money issue? A land living friend of ours just told us that he was moving aboard a 38′ powerboat a couple of docks down from us. Our first comment was, “Wow, contrats on buying a new boat!” He replied, “Oh, I didn’t buy it, I’m just boat sitting for a year. The owner does not have time to take care of the boat right now. All I have to pay is the dock fees.” That is what I mean by creative.
  • Are you single – fine. If not, is your family/other half ready for this type of change?

These three areas of concern: the Where, the How, and the Others are right at the top of the list of practical considerations if your are looking to explore the adventure of moving aboard a boat.

How do I convince my Significant Other to move aboard with me?

First of all, I don’t think you should convince you Sig O that this is what you should do. If they don’t want to do it, and you force the issue, they won’t be your S.O. for long. Find some other dream to live with them or figure out some way of changing their mind, but if they are not commited to the living on a boat lifestyle, then you are headed for trouble. In my case, my wife initially moved aboard as an adventure – now, she wants to live on a boat as much as I do. In fact when she was pregnant with The Girl, she was the one who convinced me that moving into a larger boat was the way to go rather than moving back onto dirt. She’s a special one – and I’m keeping her all to myself!

Living on a boat is as much about being happy with your choice as it is about saving money or living an adventure. The topic of who you share your adventure with is one that I’ve tried to address before. Check out the post called So You Want to Live on A Boat for more information including the following.:

“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.)”

Work out your issues before you move aboard because you will be working out your problems sooner rather than later if you do move aboard.

Don’t you worry about keeping your kids safe?

Yes – big time! This is one that I’ve spent a lot of thought time on. The Boy is not a swimmer … yet. It is something that I’ve been working on with him, but have not yet reached the point where he is comfortable in the water. It is a process. It is hard for him to learn how to swim if he is not happy just being in the water, so we work on that first. But, even if he were a great swimmer and loved the water, I would still work through the problem and set up the various systems to keep him safe on the boat. Life jackets are a must anytime he goes out the door. His “Turtle Watch” is used whenever he is playing on deck. On the Alberg, we used netting and jacklines with a tether to his life jacket. With The Girl, it is currently door baby gates (the kind used to keep kids from falling down stairs.) Soon she will be walking and then it will be life jackets and tethers for her as well. Having a set of rules, staying fully aware of where the kids are and what the possibilities for trouble are is the biggest defense in keeping kids safe on a boat.

Will you ever go back to living on land?

Yes – probably, however, moving back onto dirt is not in the immediate future for us. I suppose at some point we will, but for now – this is our life.


  • david

    Having lived in boats,,,apartments in ny, london,peasant houses in turkey,country and townhouses in spain and portugal,nothing beats living on a boat,i forgot how good it was now im struggling to get back on the water,theres a lot more pluses than negatives,i think the best is when you are pissed off you can up and leave,dont need sell ,worry about sub primes,good market ,bad market,this is closer to freedom than being a ,,homeowner,,,i made this mistake ,,yet again ,,and im kicking myself,and as for people that think a boat is not an enviroment for kids they talking a load of cobblers,they love it,,,and get an independance other kids will never have ,,,

  • strathy

    Thanks David! Tune in next week when I will explore the whole family on a boat thing – especially the effect on kids.

  • Chez

    Our broker is negotiating a contact purchase with the seller for our first boat purchase, a 55′ Kingscraft houseboat. What advise does anyone have regarding this process and do we need an attorney?


  • PC

    Thanks for the wonderful post. One question: how does kid go to school? Is there a school around your marina? If your wife were working how would the daycare system work?

  • strathy

    Good question … my kids are not school age yet – The Boy is 3 1/2 and The Girl is 9 months. We are considering several options, but are looking at homeschooling at least for the first couple of years. We do take advantage of community programs for The Boy – sort of daycare type classes, but are not worrying about the actual school until we have to. As far as daycare – my wife is a ‘homemaker’ – that was a part of the reason why we moved on board to begin with – so that we would be able to raise our own kids without having to resort to daycares. So that is not an issue with us. If we did use either daycares or the schools, it would not be a problem – there are several of both within walking distance of the marina.

  • Vivian

    Hahaha! We on board Atlantic Grace tend to think of our ‘tub’ as more like a very small shower stall with sides that go up about a foot. Your shower stall is bigger (keeping up with the Jones’). As for not bubbling, since completing our paint job this summer, we are pondering what we need to do before winter to keep it pretty. Since we heat with a diesel furnace, we don’t need extra hydro so a bubbler is out of the question. We are thinking of wrapping the hull in styrofoam. What do you think? LOL
    Viv and Cos

  • robin bank

    Hi, I’ve been reading your blog for a while and it has some excellent info and I always manage to spend an hour reading it everytime i drop by here. It also inspired me to go through with living aboard.
    I am about to become a resident at the Port Credit Harbor Marina. I am bringing my new (first) boat there this weekend. Could you give me some info on how you get internet service. I am a web designer so this is a priority. I have heard that there is wifi service available but have not been able to track the company down.

    Thanks for the good read,

  • Corinne Peterson

    I have recently moved to the DC area and I am thinking of buying a sailboat and living aboard. I have to investigate types of sailboats for the Chesapeak and the possibility of sailing south in five years. Any opinions, comments would be welcome. Any info on the Annapolis area would be great. I love reading your blog.


  • strathy


    The Chesapeak is home to the Alberg 30 Association and has the largest fleet of Albergs in the world. Of course, I am partial to the A30 as that was my 1st sail boat. It is definitely a bluewater boat and can be had for less than 30K.

    Check out the following: – Yves Gelinas sailed his Alberg 30 around the world and made a great film about it. I still watch it on cold snowy nights.

    Thanks for the comment and good luck with getting a boat. Feel free to ask any specific questions you might have.

  • Jim

    I recently moved onto a 43 vista, fast trawler, it has been a big learning experience in a short amount of time, I have wanted to live aboard since I was a kid and now being 41 finally made the move, amoung the lessons learned were down sizing, keeping warm, and keeping the boat from rocking. This year we have experienced one of the coldest winters in recent years. I too decided to write about our experience and would be happy to hear from

  • nick

    We live on a boat in spain and at the moment it is the hardest time of our lives .You seem to forget to mention the mooring fees that we all have to pay and the taxes but then who gives a damn !!!!!!!!!! start to live in the real world and perhaps you can then relate the stories of hardship etc that happens to REAL SAILORS kind regards nick xxxxxx

  • Alan

    Would you tell me more about the costs etc of living abourd in spain my partner and I are looking for any info we can get before embarking on this adventure the boat will be about 14meters, are there places to stay can the moorings be found cheaper, is there work anyhting you can tells us would help

  • Chris

    Love your article,I am a new livaboard starting this year,,,,, I have been wanting to do this for many years, the time has come, for a new adventure, Your articles are awsome !! Im always ope to any advise!

  • MV Deepsea

    I and my 16 year old son live in China and I have a 2-3 year plan to save and get a live-aboard. As going online seems the only way to get a handle of whats out there on the market and literally flying out somewhere within the Pan Asia to look at the actually boats out there. But, I don’t have enough to take the big-leap yet, so I suppose there’s time to get my head around what my money will buy.

    Q: Does anyone within this blog live in Asia (I’m originally American). Is there a specific region or syndicate for low cost/ quality live-aboards’?

    Does anyone out there live an a converted trawler? Is it impossible to mast a trawler for sail? What kind of work goes into that?

    Actually, I have so many questions, I don’t know where to start. I guess I’ll just have to frequent the blog enough to hear what people have to say.


  • Robert

    Is it cheaper to live on the boat or a house in the suburbs?  I knew a fellow 20 years ago who lived on a boat.  I lost touch with him.  Property taxes on a house is high where I live  (New Jersey)  $8,000 a year and that's for a small house.  The average taxes is 10- 12 K a year. Upkeep,  insurance , etc….. What is the dock fees,  parking fees,  etc….

  • Rosina

    Wow this is awesome.  I wish I had the guts to do something like this but I'm afraid of seas. Bravest thing I've done is sell everything  I owned  in my own country to make a new life in Indonesia. Love it thanks for sharing your story.
    Cheers Rosina

  • Kelly

    i cant wait to move onto a boat!  im looking at a 32' sail boat. and i have questions about mooring because it looks super expensive.   I would like to stay in vancouver and am willing to kayak to and from the shore.  does that have a special kind of mooring name? or system?

  • Tee

    Great website! Also we can't forget about all the ways we can still have some comforts. I was planning to buy some land and do some economical living but a boat sounds awesome as well. I was planning to build a house out of shipping containers and one of the things I wanted to do was put in composting toilets. These would be great for boat living as well with no issues about waste.  I run a small balcony aquaponics system (growing veggies and edible fish in the same system) and this could be done on a boat as well. The possibilities of living well on a boat are endless (well almost). 🙂  A co-worker of mine lives on a sale boat and I would ask her questions all the time.  🙂

  • David Childers

    I really enjoy reading this, I have a 34 foot Cruiser Yacht boat 2 454 engines very low hours. Very nice boat, do you think it would be O.K. to live on or should I look for something more along the lines of a houseboat? The boat I have is paid for, but will have to be moved to the coast, it is land-locked and no live-a-board on the lake. My wife is also not sure she can live there, so small and confined. Thanks for all the great info. David

  • john

    I’m looking to buy a houseboat with mooring in the west end of Toronto or in Mississauga. Can anyone offer some suggestions?

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