Living on a boat, done right, can be the very essence of living the simple life. We make do with less of everything from food (fridge too small) to clothing (no closet space) to knick-knacks and frick-frack which we simply don’t have space to display/store. We also consume much less than the average four person family, simply because we don’t have an unlimited supply. For instance water; I have to haul all our water to the boat in jugs during the winter. Because of that, I keep a very close eye on every drop that comes out of our taps and can really turn into the soup-nazi if I think for a second that my water is being wasted. (NO WATER FOR YOU!!!) Our electricity is limited to 30amps during the summer and 60amps in the winter. With that limited supply, we run our boat – heating, hot water, lights, TV’s, computers, radio, etc. When we try to draw more than what we have purchased, we pop a breaker. At that point I know that if I really want to heat up that slice of pizza in the microwave, I’m going to have to turn something else off.
Last week, I was surfing around looking for other live aboard blogs and came across one that I had not seen before called Sailing, Simplicity and the Pursuit of Happiness. Teresa is the owner of the blog and what is outstanding about her is that she is one of the few single females that participate in our way of life. There are lots of single guys living on boats, lots of couples and many families like ours but a single woman living on a boat is a rarity. She is a teacher, so her blog is very well written and a real joy to read. Be sure to visit her blog and say hello.
Teresa’s various blog posts on Voluntary Simplicity sent me down the road of thinking about how we live our lives in an increasingly complex and connected world. As I described above, we are already living the simple life compared to most young families, but I still wonder and wish for simpler times. Is it possible that we could make do with less? Why is everything so complicated and convoluted? Do I really need …. (insert widget, commitment or stuff here)?
A couple of weeks ago the power went out in the middle of a dark and stormy night. (It really was a dark and stormy night!) I discovered one of the limitations of relying on shore power for our heat – when the power is out, there is no heat. The next morning I sat down and made a list of what I would need to do to become more independent and less at the mercy of the local power company. I came up with several options to make and store my own electricity, create my own heat and generally go ‘off grid.’ However, as I looked at that list, I very quickly saw two things.
1. Everything was going to cost money – and not just a little … a lot!
2. Each idea involved designing, installing and working with another ‘system’ on the boat.
Systems are, by nature, complex – that is why they are called systems. So, does adding new systems really make my life more simple or am I adding a level of complexity that in turn adds to the total load on my life? Does it make sense to become more independent by becoming more complex? I’m not sure the trade off is worth it. As it stands now, it is far easier for me to make my yearly donation to the power company and simply endure the occasional power failure than it is to set up alternative energy sources. So we remain plugged in.
Now lets get down to the basic question: What is Simplicity?
The simple life for me is a paradox. The less you have, the more you can do. Does that make sense? Let me ask this: if you didn’t have to take care of all the crap that you’ve accumulated in your life, would you have more time to do what you really want to do? Another way to state the paradox is: fewer possessions equal greater potential for a richer life. I don’t know who first said this, but it has been said many times before, “If you don’t control how much stuff you have, your stuff will control you.” Stuff, be it gadgets, or so called necessities will suck up your time and suck the life out of you. The converse of this is: it is the simple things in life that are often the most fulfilling. A simple meal with your family, a good book on a rainy day, a walk in the park, time with friends, playing with your kids; these are the things that are peaceful and fulfilling. These are the things that bring joy, or as the French say, “joie de vivre ” (joy of life.) If you are committed to your stuff, be they time commitments, toys, gadgets or other miscellaneous stuff, you lose the time to spend on the simple things that do bring you joy. It is your priorities that will control your actions, make your priority the simple things and leave the ‘stuff’ behind. So, for me, simplicity is concentrating on less. Less of everything, leaving time for the simple things that bring joy.
On the boat here we’ve tried many strategies to control the ‘stuff.’ Of course, as already mentioned, we are limited by our space constraints, but we still try to stop the boat from overflowing. One of our favorite policies is ‘one in, one out.’ That means whenever we want to bring something new on board, something else has to go. Now, I will be perfectly honest here, I am the worst culprit breaking this rule, but it is something that helps slow the flow.
A great book that I just finished about simplicity is called The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta. It is an easy read full of practical ideas and instruction on how to slow down and reduce the stuff and commitments in your life. He also shows that once you drop the non-essential stuff, you can get so much more done. See, there’s the paradox again, less stuff – get more done. My favorite question that he asks is, “What’s the alternative to information and task overload? Must we follow the example of Thoreau, and build a cabin in the woods, shutting ourselves off from society and modern technology? ” As much as I enjoy the thought of a Thoreauean life, I do enjoy being plugged into the web, running water, electricity and the horseless carriage. So he proposes a middle ground, one that reduces but does not eliminate everything. I really enjoyed the book and got a lot out of it. Highly recommended.
Well, that’s it – my litlle ‘self-help’ post. It works for me. Don’t forget to visit Sailing, Simplicity and the Pursuit of Happiness.
We have been having some amazingly cold weather here for about a week. -20 deg C (-4 F) on and off for about 5 days. With the wind chill it has been as cold at -40 C (-40 F.) On days like that, even the geese have had the good sense to stay in bed. The back end of the boat is now frozen in solid with ice about 20 cm (8″) thick back there. The front of the boat is still clear from running the bubbler. Not sure how much help the bubbler is right now, but I might be able to melt out the back end of the boat with it and have the boat floating again. I really don’t like seeing my outdrives frozen in as I am afraid of what damage might be done. Howver, there is little I can do with this right now – so I will not worry about it … (now, if I could only convince my mind to stop worrying … lol.)
And tonight we are getting more. This is the current Weather Warning posted for the Toronto Area:
City of Toronto
12:42 PM EST Saturday 17 January 2009
Snowfall warning for City of Toronto issued
15 centimetres of snowfall beginning this afternoon.
An approaching low pressure system will result in widespread snow for much of southern Ontario today, tonight and Sunday. Snow has already begun in southwestern Ontario and will spread eastward throughout the afternoon and evening. Current indications are that the greater Toronto area and regions surrounding it will receive the highest snowfall amounts, expected to be near 15 centimetres. The snow is expected to begin in these regions by late this afternoon and continue through the night before tapering off Sunday morning. The snowfall may be heavy at times and combined locally with blowing snow, resulting in occasionally very poor visibilities.
Here are a couple of photo’s – the sleeping geese and a snow storm blowing in off the lake on a -25 C morning from last week.
A couple of days ago we were contacted by someone from California who wanted to interview us for a report she was doing on Mobile Living. Because of some rather unscrupulous reporters we normally don’t do interviews, but because of the topic and … well, I really don’t know why, we decided to oblige. So, stay tuned for what comes of that.
The article is also going to feature another family who is mobile who is living in their R.V. You can check them out at Cage Free Family. Reading through their site got me thinking about the mobile life. After going through their story I started to surf other R.V and camper van sites. Some are families – mostly in R.V.’s and some are singles – both male and female, mostly in vans. After reading a bunch of sites on various mobile lives, I realized that there was a pattern in the writing. The first 10 or 15 posts tend to excitedly describe ‘life on the road!’ All the wild times, beautiful sites and close calls that are the draw to this life style. They post almost everyday, describing every little detail ala Kerouac – not realizing their mindless, mundane, monotony is kind of … boring. Then the posts become more sporadic… and less detailed. The trumped up edge seems to be gone and exquisite meals of canned beans on pasta while looking out on an ocean view becomes Ramen noodles (sometimes drained, sometimes not) in a Publix parking lot. Many of them, especially the younger ones have begun to tire of ‘the life.’ I would say by about 6 months in, they seem to hit the wall; a continental divide. Many, if not most, don’t make it all the way over that final hump. They slide back home to their parents or old jobs or just their old local stomping grounds … local hero’s for breaking out, but wounded and broken for not really breaking free. They revel in the recall of their freedom on the road, regaling friends and strangers with stories of their bravery and exploits, preferring to forget the reasons why they quit. A mobile life is not like a fixed life. It requires a different mindset, it operates with a different set of rules, it is … a different game. Some figure it out, some don’t. It’s hard to describe.
Those that do make it over the hump change too. No longer occupied by what they are doing, seeing or feeling they become travelogues – story tellers – seeing, interpreting and reporting on life and humanity. You no longer read about how good life is on the road; they don’t have to say it, you can just feel it in their stories. Posts are somewhat regular but separated by time and by distance. Descriptions are of life patterns – the everyday, with a twist. The swirling emotions of leaving the stability of a fixed address are gone, replaced by the wonders of a way of living that develops with time and experience. They are more or less immune to the shock that the mobile life causes others to feel. Instead they wonder back, in the same way, at those who seem to want to uproot, but don’t.
As I look back over this blog, I see the same trend. Except I never really let go; still with a terrestrial job, a slip we call home and a local mailing address. Yep, we are living the mobile life in a kind of fixed way – a blend of both worlds, but not really part of either. Are we in limbo, a proverbial no-fly-zone, or are we part of a 3rd category? Not sure. All I know is that we ARE truly free from the fixed life in our minds, that is, we think free, just not in our circumstances.
Those that don’t break free; that don’t follow their dreams and what excites them tend to become the sheeple of the world … and there are a lot of them. Somehow proud of having a good job and a nice house, without realizing that the majority of the people around them have good jobs and nice houses too. They’ve drunk the cool-aide. They succomed to the lie that this is what life is supposed to be like: school, college, work, house, family, kids, kids off to college, retire, get sick, die … maybe throw a couple of holidays to Europe or a Cancun cruise in there, but that is the normal North American life. Reminds me of that song:
And did they get you to trade
Your heros for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.
(P.F. – Wish You Were Here.)
So, if that’s what you want, (what you really, really want) … then go for it. Follow the herd. But, if/when you realize that happiness is less about your state and more about what you are doing, then … Break free from the fear. Break the pattern. Do something!
This is part four in my Living on a Boat series. It was originally going to be titled Who should NOT Live on a Boat, but recent events made me change the title and topic slightly.
So this is Part 4 in out Living on a Boat Series:
Last week the stark reminder that we are surrounded by danger was forcefully driven home with a brutally sad event. One of our fellow live aboards fell in and drowned.I did not know Morris very well as he was new to our community. I met him a couple of weeks ago when he invited me aboard his new boat to show me around. He was excited and slightly apprehensive as this was going to be his first winter aboard his boat. A tall, rugged, but nice looking man, Morris told me about his new boat/home, showing me his new electric fireplace and his galley setup. We chatted about winters in Canada and he related some of his fears about not being able to stay warm enough and worries about the ice. I reassured him that all would be well and that we loved winters on the boat, telling him that, in fact, we like winters better than summers on the boat. We said our goodbyes assuring each other that we would keep in contact and check in on each other during the upcoming months. That was the last time I saw him.This is the story as it was told to me. By 9:30 Morris and his party friends were seen tottering up and down the dock on wobbly legs. At midnight, when another boater on their dock came back from a late night pizza, the party was going strong. Around 1:30am, the party thought it would be fun to fire up the boat engines and gun them. Somewhere around 3:30, Morris went out for a pee and never came back.The dirty little secret among boaters is that there is an unacceptably high rate of alcoholism in our line of adventure. Does boating attract alcoholics or do boaters become alcoholics; I don’t know. (What came first the chicken or the egg?) In the past I’ve ranted about the nocturnal comings and goings of our various drinking neighbours. All this stems from alcohol. There seems to be two types of people who enjoy alcohol on boats – those with the occasional glass of wine while sitting out on the back deck in the evening, and those who drink can after can of beer, chased by rum until they are stupid drunk. Why are there so many stupid drunks on boats?Statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard show that alcohol was the lead contributing factor in 20% of all boating related deaths. The total number of boating related fatalities in 2006 in the US was 710. That means that if you removed the alcohol from the hands of boaters, you would have had 142 fewer deaths. That is 142 fewer families grieving the loss of loved ones; fathers, mother, brothers, sister. You get the picture.Of course, writing a post like this reminds me of my own brush with liquid death a couple of winters ago. I was stupid, but not stupid drunk, or I would likely not be here today. Read about it in Thoughts on Swimming, Mortality, etc.So what can we learn from another needless and tragic death? This is what I came up with:
Any that I missed?
- If you are an alcoholic, don’t even think about living on a boat. You are surrounded by danger.
- Don’t pee off your boat or dock, especially if you’ve been drinking.
- Install ladders around your boat to get back onto the dock if you do go in.
- Remember, remember REMEMBER – you are surrounded by danger. Always be prepared for the worst and keep your head about you.
In the rarefied world of the ultra-ULTRA Rich, not having all ones toys within arms length (or at least within a couple of nautical miles) would simply not do. But how does one bring the Bentley or the Rolls or the Range Rover, or maybe even all three along on a little jaunt to Tahiti? Why, one would put them in the Shadow Yacht of course … what a silly question.
So that give us a little hint … a shadow yacht must be something like a garage – a big, floating garage. What’s next, a basement?
I’ve been listening to the audio version of Robert Frank’s book, Richistan, (a great read by the way) which tells the story of the New Rich in America and their ode to opulence which is basically a richmans version of the old school yard taunt, “Mine’s bigger than yours, na na, nana, na.” They seem to live their lives with the goal of “he who dies with the most toys, wins.” And they have introduced us to a whole new category of boat – the Shadow Yacht. Part boat, part garage but all extravagance, these boats carry the toys; the chopper, the cutter, the Rolls, assorted motorcycles, Jet Ski’s and whatever else the uber-Rich need to show that they are indeed … rich – as if the 500′ ocean liner would not give it away. Kind of a supply ship – with just the non-essential stuff.
To fill the demand for this new necessity, boat builders are accommodating their clients wishes and repurposing tugs, or building new Shadows Boats. Ranging from 150′ to almost 300′ these boats are the ultimate add-on feature. Where you and I might get a dinghy to support our boating experience – they get another yacht … just a big dinghy, so to speak. One company who’s sole purpose is to supply Shadow Yachts says, “Our goal is to provide our clients with the ultimate yachting experience, without limitations.” And that pretty much says it all.
I’ve received a couple of cool comments lately and don’t want them to get lost in the posts. I love hearing from everyone out there, especially when you’ve been inspired or encouraged to take the plunge. Feel free to comment or contact me with whatever comments or questions you might have.
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!
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 every time 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,
Here is part 3 of 4 in our series Living on a Boat.
A number of people have commented to me that living on a boat is something that you can only do if you are single. If you have a family, it just does not make sense. Huh? We are a family of four living on a boat. Done deal! Say what you will, living aboard a boat with a family is not only doable, but I hope to convince you that it is actually preferable in many ways to conventional suburb living.
As I wrote on the weliveonaboat.com About page, we are a family – Ma, Pa, The Boy and now The Girl. The Boy is 3 1/2 years old and has lived aboard a boat since he was nine months old. The Girl has only ever lived on the boat – she is 9 months old. I clearly remember the day she was born. My wife was laying down in the aft cabin, heavy and uncomfortably pregnant, counting off the minutes between contractions to determine when it was time to head down to the hospital. That, my friends, is a boat wife!!
Many people imagine that living on a boat is all about boat parties, keggers and floating frivolous fun. Nothing could be further from the truth for most of us. Our community is just that – a community. There are some people who party on a regular basis, but most of us are just living our lives here. Our boat is our home. Our boat is a house first and a boat second. Now, that does not mean that we don’t have friends over for an evening on the boat – we do. This very afternoon we had two visitors, both came over in dingies and stopped in for a chat on their way to wherever to see whatever – just like a regular neighbourhood. In essence, my life is the same as yours just slightly more confined (we like to say cozy.) We are happy, relatively well adjusted people and as a family, we are close. My kids know where mommy and daddy are virtually all of the time – they are able to watch their parents working together and showing affection together; hopefully demonstrating to them how adults and spouses should interact with each other. The Boy is able to “play” with his sister any time he wants as they are both under the watchful eye of mom pretty much no matter where they are on the boat. After all, anywhere on the boat is still only a couple of quick strides away – so they can’t go far. In short, we are a close-knit family.
We have received a couple of veiled comments about how our life is effecting our kids. There seems to be a perception out there that kids somehow need all the trappings of a middle-income life to be happy.
They need their own room.
They need to have what all other kids have so they don’t get singled out … like a house.
They need to have their … own TV … cell phone?!?
Are you kidding me? I had a semi normal life growing up, but not only did I not have my own TV, but we did not have a TV in the house! And a cell phone – what’s that? I’m normal … I think.
The simple response to all this is: kids are adaptable – they adjust.
Kids don’t know what being happy is. They get their feedback from us as parents and adults. If they see that we are happy and enjoying life, so will they. If on the other hand they see that we are not satisfied and are generally unhappy with our lot in life, they too will develop that demeanor and attitude of discontent. Kids, generally speaking are molded by the adults around them. They model and mirror us. Want to know what you look like to others? Watch your kids.
Comparing growing up on a boat to the sterile modern suburb life is not even a fair fight. On a boat you have excitement, nature, a wealth of experiences and the joy of being, not just close-knit, but just plain close to your family. The suburb life has little of this. Now before you jump all over me, I acknowledge that there certainly can be, and are, exceptions to this generality. I am basing this on my own observations. The people in the suburbs are my customers. Every day, I get into my service truck and drive off the ‘burbs to service their appliances. Eventually, the houses all become the same, you can’t tell one street from another and things are so … clean. No, that is not the right word – boring. Cookie-cutter … everything is the same. Does that make sense? Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but is “cookie-cutter” a requirement for a happy kid and happy family? No way! I am not concerned one bit about my kids growing up on a boat. I’m glad that I am able to provide something different; a stimulus that hopefully drives them to a life of continual exploration and an experience that makes them interesting and interested adults.
Ok, enough of the kids-philosophy lecture – each to their own.
Living on a boat is definitely possible with a family. It might be harder for you if your family is already accustomed and acclimatised to living in a larger space but it is still definitely doable. There is one thing you can do to mitigate the body-shock of moving into such confined quarters; that is to get away from the mind-numbing activities of “watching TV” and “playing on the computer.” This is a mistake that we made. We used the TV and computer as our entertainment and became addicted to the mush that these inputs made on our brains Watching TV and playing on the computer are not activities, as in doing something, but are really something used to pass time till we can get our next mind-mushing hit. Sucking on the cocaine teat of the TV is a fruitless and unproductive activity that, as far as I can tell, has no redeeming value and does little more than make you want more. Instead – do stuff! Build something, go fishing, learn about the weather with your barometer, watch the clouds and know what they mean, learn the mating rituals of the Lesser Greebe, collect insects, do some scrapbooking or if all else fails – read a book! Fill your life with activity and break the crack/dope addiction. Change can take time and there is always a learning curve with everything new, but believe me, a life of ‘doing’ is far more exciting and fulfilling than a life of ‘watching.’ Your family will thank you for it (maybe not now, but later.)
One final point about living on a boat with your family, and I’ve mentioned it before, is that there are trade offs. The main one (for me) being privacy – it is hard to get away. Sometimes, you just need time apart to think or breathe or just be. That is hard to do with 4 people inside of 300 square feet. Privacy for us is nothing but a distant memory … way back in time when we were living in a house .. with doors … and locks … and rooms! So I guess I’ve traded my privacy and space for an economical, stimulating and exciting life. For me it is worth it…
This is part 2 of 4 on the topic of Living on a Boat.
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
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.
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.
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’tthink 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.
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.
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.
Aww – ain’t that cute? All those pretty little birdies all lined up nice like that. Birds are beautiful – nature is just wonderful! Awwww.
Of course, you don’t have to clean up the line of crap left behind by Tweetie and friends. Not so cute!