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.
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.
This is a quick book review of Island of the Lost – Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett.
Set in the 1860’s, Island of the Lost tells the incredible story of the schooner Graphton with it’s Captain Thomas Musgrave and crew of four who wreck on Auckland Island approx. 285 miles south of New Zealand.
At the same time during a raging storm a second ship, Invercauld, wrecks at the other end of the island (about 20 miles away from the first wreck); 19 crew members including Captain George Dalgarno survive.
Both groups found themselves stranded on the same isolated and uninhabited island, both having to endure the same poor weather conditions, the same lack of food with many of the same resources. Yet, the tale of the two groups could not be more different.
The crew from the Graphton under the leadership of Captain Musgrave, and with the ingenutity of the crew build a proper shelter both strong and warm enough to survive a south sea winter. They forage and hunt food enough to keep themselves alive and once they came to the realization that nobody was coming to save them, built themselves a new boat on the frame of their old dingy and sailed to safety. In the process, they build a forge, manufacturing their own charcoal and tools and even set up regular schooling in the evenings to teach each other their native languages and for two of the crew, how to read and write. This crew demonstrates the perfect example of group survival and is a testament to the basic human desire to survive and thrive. Twenty months after wrecking – almost 2 years – the complete crew of the Graphton stood together safely on the shores of New Zealand in the port town of Invercargill.
The fate of the crew of the Invercauld was far different. Captain Dalgarno, failing to demonstrate any leadership skills, goes into a listless stupor and allows his men to fall upon one another in fights, divide into two groups and finally descend into cannibalism. The first mate orders the men around only to further his own chances of survival. The gross apathy and selfishness of the mate and captain is shown time and time again from laying down and refusing to move to ordering the cabin boys to fetch water and food until they too, succumbing to cold and hunger, die. Of the crew of 19 that survived the original wreck, only three lived long enough to be rescued almost exactly a year after going aground.
This book is a based on historical records and several survivors’ journals. It appears to be well researched with an excellent “Author’s Note” where author Joan Druett explains the various intricacies of historical research and the special problems associated with this particular historical study.
This is a wonderful story, well told, and deserves to be on the shelf of every sailor or armchair sailor. It is an ideal book for those long cold winter evenings when the boat is up on the hard, the cold wind is whistling through the eves and the memories of warm summer days have faded. Indeed a well founded tale is welcome anytime and this book would be a welcome diversion any season.
See Amazon here for more reviews and to order a copy.