One of the most common questions that I get is:
– How can I make enough money to live on a boat? Sometimes the question varies … such as:
– how can I earn money while sailing?
– Or, how can I make enough money to sail around the world? Questions like that.
As you can see, I've not posted to my blog here for some time. To be honest, I kind of ran out of things to talk about. Life on a boat is just normal to us – the everyday stuff is just not that exciting, and it just got hard to write about the mundane stuff. However, I thought that I would write one more post about how someone with little money and some time could easily build an income to the point where you could sail around the world … or just live life at the dock.
For the past year I've been writing. A LOT! So has my wife. I had always been searching for a way to make money online so that we could be free from the 9-5 job, free to take time to raise our kids and maybe even free enough to sail around the world if we chose to. Having a land based business really ties us to the dock, in fact, I sort of resent having to leave my boat to go to work each day. I searched out several methods of making money online including product sales, ebooks, etc. I finally settled on writing as the simplest and quickest way to make money online.
My wife already had a very successful scrapbooking blog (www.scrapscene.com) where we sold some simple advertising and a few ebooks. This worked out well for her as she was able to pursue one of her passions (scrapbooking) and make money doing it. The problem was, posting everyday … keeping up with what is new … and generally coming up with new and enticing information is a labour intensive project. She likes it, but some days it just feels like a regular job to her. However, our experience with ScrapScene did show us that money could be made writing, and with the experience we gained from her blog we searched for other methods of writing that could generate money while not being so daily labour intensive. We finally found an online school that promised to teach us how to write and what to write to make money online: The Keyword Academy.
We joined the school for a nominal fee and quickly went through the teaching videos. What we found there was a systematic, step-by-step methodology outlining how to pick a topic, set up a blog and promote that blog to make money. We were hooked! Since then we've been writing … and writing … and writing! And it is beginning to pay off! Last month we earned $980.57 from our writing. This income is from writing that we did 6 or 8 months ago and is totally residual income. We really don't have to write another word and would still earn close to that each month for the foreseeable future.
The Academy is composed of a couple of guys from the US (Court and Mark) who have been teaching people how to make money online several years. They have thousands of successful students, a great learning website and a vibrant forum community where literally hundreds of students share ideas, groupthink solutions to problems and generally encourage and support each other. They have a video library that teaches you the basics of their method. They also have several live video teaching sessions each month where they address specific topics, answer questions and generally address current issues. They also supply all the online tools you will need to develop your online business. In short, The Keyword Academy is an online school that teaches you how to make money online.
Yep – this sounds like a sales pitch … it is. For those of you who are dreaming of living on a boat, or sailing around the world, or even just breaking free from your 9-5 job, this is the best advice I can give you. I know it works because it has been working for us for months now. Give it a whirl … the first month is free, so you don't even have to put out any money to give it a test run.
If you do sign up, be sure to say hello to me. My user name is Strathy.
We often receive emails from people with specific questions about living on a boat with a baby. So we thought it about time we do a post to answer some of those questions and give you a bit more details about how to live on a boat with a baby.
Living on a boat with a baby really isn’t all that difficult. It’s really just a matter of what you’re used to. Accommodating the baby’s needs and finding workable solutions to ensure their health and safety is the priority. I think that often we make things more difficult by overthinking the situation. Looking after babies shouldn’t be overly complex. Our experiences taught us that it is doable and just as rewarding caring for a baby onboard as it is on land.
Here is a bit of a background. Our son (aka The Boy), now 4 years old, was only 9 months old when we moved aboard our Alberg 30′ sailboat. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect at the beginning. Sure we read lots of books and articles about families cruising with young children, but nothing really compares to actually experiencing it yourself. We found a lot of our answers through simply trying it out.
17 months ago, when we brought our daughter (The Girl) home to live on our 40′ cruiser, she was just 2 days old. We were much more comfortable with the idea then and I don’t think we really had any nervousness about how it would work out.
Below is some information that will hopefully answer questions for a lot of you out there who are contemplating doing the same thing. I will try to give scenarios to discuss our situation in the smaller 30′ sailboat vs. the larger 40′ cruiser. Our new boat improves our situation in some areas of child care… as you will discover.
Experiencing pregnancy on the 30′ sailboat had it’s challenges – I’m sure that goes without saying. When I was pregnant with The Boy, we were still living in a house in the city. We would take the boat out for a sail now and then. Eventually ‘T’ would have to go on these little trips by himself. You see morning sickness and sea sickness seem pretty closely connected. Suffice it to say we had to have a pail handy and those sea bands really didn’t help me. As time went on, the issue was not morning sickness, but just the general tossing and turning of the boat in the waves while sailing. It was just uncomfortable to be a passenger.
Later when we discovered we were expecting The Girl (well we didn’t know it was a girl at the time, LOL!), we were living on the 30′ sailboat. At first it really wasn’t any different than living in a “dirt dweller’s” home. The boat was stable enough while at the dock so it didn’t have any effect on the morning sickness. As time wore on, however, it did become more difficult climbing in and out of the boat, down the companionway and of course up into the v-berth. Eventually I slept on the settee to avoid having to climb up into the v-berth.
During the last month of my pregnancy, we moved onto the boat we are on now – the 40′ River Queen cruiser. The only issue I noticed on this boat was that once we put the frame and plastic up for the winter, it was difficult for me to squeeze that belly down the side of the boat to the doorway to get inside!
Labour on this boat was probably no different than in any other home. We timed the contractions and then left for the hospital at the appropriate time, leaving my mother to care for The Boy. 2 days later, we brought The Girl home to live on a boat!
When we were living on the sailboat, since The Boy was still very young (9 months old), we had him sleep in the v-berth with us. ‘T’ made up a lee cloth of sorts that clipped on 4 corners and attached at the v-berth opening. This way we didn’t need to worry about him falling out. It served a dual purpose as well. A play pen. It was a great place to put him for playing if we needed some hands free time or didn’t want him to get into something we were working on – like receipts for doing our taxes, LOL!
As The Boy got older, he kicked us in his sleep a lot, plus he was growing! So, it became time to make him his own bed. ‘T’ fashioned a high lee cloth to attach to one of the settees. He attached it along the underside of the settee, screwed into a piece of wood. When taken out, it clipped on to 3 sides to create a safe little haven for him to sleep in. For practicality reasons, we used this bed for him at night time. During his daytime naps, he still used the v-berth.
Later, we moved to a larger boat when we discovered we were expecting The Girl. At first The Boy, not quite 3 at the time, slept on a fold out couch in the bedroom which pulled out into a single bed. We would stick a pillow beside him so he wouldn’t roll out and soon discovered that this was no longer necessary. When The Girl came, she slept in a floor bassinette for several months. This worked well until she could climb out of it. Then it was time for something new.
‘T’ bought a set of bunk beds from Ikea. Due to space limitations on our boat, he had to not only shorten the length, but the width as well. He built them in to the space we had set aside after removing the pull out couch. The Boy sleeps on the top bunk and The Girl sleeps on the bottom bunk. We have netting that clips all the way around on two sides. (The other two sides are against a wall.) This is where she sleeps for naps and at nighttime as well. We are fortunate that The Boy sleeps through anything as she was not a great sleeper from the beginning.
When we were on the 30′ sailboat, it wasn’t always convenient to set up the table for meals. Our table top was stored above the v-berth. It had a pipe that screwed in to support the table top, underneath one of the settees. When set up it didn’t afford a lot of room for moving around, so we mostly didn’t bother with it. Instead, ‘T’ and I would usually eat from a plate on our laps or along the counter space.
For The Boy, we used a portable booster seat/feeding chair with tray. We would set it up on the settee and he would be strapped in and fed his meals in that. When not in use, we would store it under the v-berth.
On the 40′ cruiser, we actually have a kitchen table where we eat at. For The Boy, he now sits on a small wooden toy box from Ikea that doubles as his chair at the table. The Girl sits on her brother’s old feeding chair with tray. It is attached to a chair and pulled up to the table. We just leave it attached when not in use.
As mentioned above, The Boy would sometimes play up in the v-berth when we lived on the 30′ sailboat. As well, when we had the frame and plastic cover on the boat during the winter months, the outside area of the boat made for a great play area. Especially the cockpit area. We set up a nice carpet on the floor in the cockpit and put his toys out there. He had a great time in that cockpit. It was also large enough that he could ride his little 4 wheeled ‘bus.’ He would also roam around on other areas of the boat. Up at the bow was where we kept his tricycle. There was a small space there for him to play with that.
During the summer season, when there was no frame on, play areas on the boat were much more limited. He would be more or less confined to either the inside of the boat or the cockpit. We let him play in the cockpit, supervised in the summer. We didn’t have a canopy to cover the cockpit from sunshine so we’d set up a blanket instead and also a little wading pool. Lots of fun. Of course, we often would go out biking and walks to nearby playgrounds and parks as well.
Inside the boat, we stored his toys in a plastic bin with lid under the v-berth as well as one of the drawers under a settee was reserved for his toys. His books and clothing were stored along with our clothing on shelves in the v-berth. Toys are something that we still battle with. Every once in awhile we have to go through and fill a bag for donation!
There is a lot more play space on our current boat. The kids can play anywhere inside the boat. As discussed in the section on Feeding above, toys are stored in a toy box which doubles as The Boy’s ‘chair’ at the kitchen table. As well, there are stuffed animals hanging pocket contraption in the back bedroom. More toys are also stored outside in a plastic bin with lid.
During the winter, the kids have a huge play area out on the back deck. There is a door from the bedroom leading out onto it. We’ve lined the floor with those colourful puzzle playmats. Most of their toys are out there and they go out there at will to play. The Boy also climbs the ladder to the top deck so he can play by himself sometimes – having a younger sister who pulls hair isn’t always fun to play with! In the summer this area is not available for playing on unless they are supervised and have life jackets on. (Note: see our article on safety aboard with children to learn about the ‘turtle’ watch that we use as well.)
Bathing a baby on the smaller sailboat was a little more challenging than our current situation. It was something we just got used to however, so it really wasn’t much of an issue. We had a simple white plastic baby bathtub. Since there was no shower aboard, in the winter we hauled warm water to bathe him in it. We simply laid out towels and set it up on the settee and gave him his bath there. Other times either one of us would carry the baby bathtub with us to the marina showers and set it up in the shower stall. Sometimes it seemed easier to do this. I would have my shower while the baby was in the bathtub right beside me.
In the summertime, we would either do the same as above or even put the baby bathtub in the cockpit and bathe him in there. We didn’t have warm water though, so we’d boil some hot water on the stove to add to his bath water or haul it from the marina.
On the larger boat, we still use the baby bathtub. We have the luxury of having a shower stall now! The baby bathtub actually fits on the floor of the shower stall. During the winter, we would either haul warm water for their baths, or bring them up to the marina showers as we used to do. In the summer, we have hot water right from the pressurized taps (another luxury!), so they bathe on board in the tub set in the shower stall.
Learning to Walk
The Boy was a late walker. He didn’t really start walking fully until about 13-14 months. There wasn’t really a lot of room for walking on the sailboat so we’d take him out and get him practice on the main docks. He was crawling early on and since we were in the boat, he climbed a lot too – up onto the settee, then up onto the ice box, up the ladder, etc.
The Girl started learning to walk around 10 months. We were on the larger boat plus she had the advantage of having an elder brother to emulate!
We have thought about it and don’t think that living on the smaller boat had a lot to do with limiting when The Boy began to walk. He really wasn’t stuck at home a lot – we were always out and about so there was plenty of opportunity to do it when he was ready.
When we were on the 30′ sailboat, we had a little portable potty that we used for The Boy. We would store it underneath the v-berth and pull it out whenever it was needed. We also had a little child-sized toilet seat that would fit on top of the regular toilet. We found that this wasn’t convenient however, as the toilet was raised up so high that his feet couldn’t reach the floor, even with a stool. So we stuck with the potty instead.
He was only partially trained when we were on the smaller boat. It wasn’t until he was a little older and on the larger boat that he learned to be fully trained. We tried the potty as well as the child-sized toilet seat. We ended up having more success with the toilet seat at that stage in the game. With The Girl, we haven’t begun to toilet train her yet. I imagine we will try both methods with her as well to see which one she works best with.
Toilet training on the boat really isn’t much different from in a “dirt dweller’s” house. It’s just a matter of the childs’ preferences and readiness as to which method works best.
Sailing / Cruising
When sailing out on the 30′ sailboat with The Boy, we used to put him in the baby car seat. We attached it to the cockpit and fastened him in. This way we could be hands free for handling the boat and he was safe and out of the way. As he got older, we allowed him to be out of the seat, but with a tether on his life jacket so he couldn’t stray out of the cockpit.
We have friends here who had their daughter attached to the cockpit in a similar fashion. C&V had a jogging stroller with no wheels bolted down to their cockpit. Their daughter would be strapped in there to keep her safe. While at dock, J&E sometimes had their baby daughter in a baby swing attached to the boom. What a great view!
Up & Down the Dock
When we are at our winter slip, we are very close to the main dock. It is just a short few steps to climb the ramp and be up on the mainland. The Boy wears his life jacket all the time he is out there. When he was younger he would also hold our hand. The Girl does this now, but when she was just a baby, we would simply carry her back and forth. Sometimes in our arms and sometimes in her carseat.
I think that covers the major topics of raising a baby on a boat. If anyone has anything else they’d like us to discuss, please let us know in the comments. I will finish with a list of things that I think are necessities for living on a boat with a baby. (The obvious are not mentioned.) You will notice that there really isn’t much here. Plus some are things that you would need if you lived in a dirt-dweller’s house.
Baby on Board Necessities
- baby bath tub – Pick the simplest, plainest, and cheapest one there is because if you’re like us and store it out on deck the sun will make cracks in it and you’ll end up replacing it anyway!
- portable feeding chair – When the child is old enough to be fed real food, having one of these is indispensable. Ours is collapsible and thus stores very small for when it isn’t in use.
- life jacket and tether – for cruising and at dock
- safety netting – Install this all around your boat. It’s a project we did on the sailboat and plan to do it on this new boat as well.
- ‘turtle’ watch – Alarm goes off when it gets wet. Have your child wear it when outdoors.
- baby gates.
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.
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…
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!
We recently added another tool to the toolbox of keeping The Boy safely on the boat. He is now at the age (3 1/2) where he is curious, impulsive and wants to try and do everything. That means that, in a flash he can be out of the cabin and onto the deck of the boat. If he can fly out of here so fast, then we have to consider the possibility that he could just as quickly end up in the water. It worries me sometimes with A here and taking care of Baby Girl, that The Boy could get into trouble.
So we bought him a turtle watch.
Actually, it is “Safety Turtle personal immersion alarm” that he wears on his wrist or ankle that will send a signal to a Base unit if it gets wet. i.e. falls in the lake. The base unit stays plugged in and is kept centrally in the boat along with one of the smoke detectors and the Carbon Monoxide detector. If the “turtle” gets wet, the base alarm sounds an ear-piercing siren that is loud enough to be heard anywhere around the boat.
So … it had it’s first ‘test’ the other day. The Boy was out on deck and all of a sudden the alarm went off. A. bolted out the door to see what was going on and found The Boy … licking his new turtle watch. Huh?! Yep, licking it. Nope, don’t know why. Anyway, now we know it works and only his wrist had to get wet to check it out.
Keeping kids safe on a boat is a topic that I’ve put a lot of thought into over the past couple of years. (Other post here.) I always seem to come back to the concept of Vigor’s Invisible Black Box. Check out the post Safety at Sea from a couple of years ago for a description of VIBB. Every time you envision what could go wrong and then plan for it, you are adding another piece of equipment to your VIBB. Safety, not just at sea, but generally in life is a combination of awareness and small corrections. Awareness of what could go wrong – awareness of something that is going wrong and then the small corrections to prevent or stop that situation. Of course, I’m not saying that disaster will not strike, but with planning and awareness you can prevent the series of small events that lead to catastrophe.
John Vigor wrote an article for Good Old Boat about the Black Box theory – check it out, it’s an interesting read.
Finally – every boater who ever leaves the dock should have John’s book, Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat: A Guide to Essential Features, Handling, and Gear. Even if you have no intention of going off-shore, the concepts and planning will help keep you safe anytime you are out on the water.