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.
It began a couple of weeks ago with the arrival back of the seagulls. There was still a bit of ice here and there in the harbour which the seagulls used to conference on. Shreeking and calling at all hours of the night carrying on like drunken weekenders on a Canadian long weekend.
Next the brokers broke out of the winter funk and began to launch boats. It started with just one or two but now there are dozens of brand new sail boats lightly bobbing in slips without masts or the character that comes from use.
And now finally: water! It’s kind of funny – we live on water year round but miss it so badly when the supply gets shut off in the fall. Yesterday, we officially welcomed spring by taking a long hot shower on-board, wasting water and generally reveling in the luxury.
The final step in the spring dance will be the removal of the plastic. We’ve already cut some air holes to let out the heat during the day but in the next week or two we will go at it with razor knives and expose the River Queen in all her glory.
Tonight the moon was floating in the sky over Ridgetown – the water is still and the air is warm – harbingers of the days to come.
I’m up in the middle of the night again because the wind in blowing so hard that I am worried that all my hard work in shrink wrapping the boat is going to blow away! Of course, there is nothing I can do to prevent it – being up is not helping a bit. But up I am and am anxiously going out on deck every once in a while to check and make sure everything is still OK. So far the wrap and frame are holding.
I finally got the engines winterized on Friday night. I hired some help for this as I was unsure how to go about doing it myself. Now that I’ve seen it done – for next year, I will be fine to do it myself.
On Saturday, the wind finally died down for a couple of hours in the afternoon and we got the boat shrink wrapped. We got it done just in time as we had our first major snowfall Saturday night – about 10 inches or so. Then most of the day Sunday, we had freezing rain. Hmmm, makes one want to go south for the winter…
The wrapping went quite well and the result is – well, not pretty, but functional. I still have to finish the door and install it and also fix a couple of holes that I melted into it while shrinking. All in all though, I am pleased with how it went up and am very happy to finally have it done! I should get the door and repairs done this week and then bring on the winter!
Now for the Alberg. She comes out today … then I get to build the frame and shrink another boat. Oh the joy.
UPDATE: Done! The Alberg is out of the water and in its stand in the shed no less. That means that I don’t have to shrink wrap it – just throw a tarp over it. How great is that?! I also winterized the Atomic Bomb, the toilet and the water system. Once the Alberg was done – I finished the door for the houseboat and tightened up the plastic so that it cannot flap so much in the wind.
It was very windy today – getting the Alberg to the mast step dock and then to the travel lift was a real adventure. I was singlehanding as A. was somewhat preoccupied with the wee lass. Heavy winds mean heavy on the throttle and staying aware of where the bow is, ’cause if you don’t pay constant attention you are going sideways in a flash and there’s no room to recover if something goes wrong. I banged the pulpit a bit getting into the mast step slip but other than that it went well.
So, that’s it – for now! Both boats are winterized, wrapped (or in the shed) and ready for the next 6 months. Now I can relax a bit … for a day or two anyway.
I’ll post a picture or two tomorrow.
A quick update about the new boat.
We’ve spent 2 full Saturdays up north working on the electrical system of the boat. I hired a marine electrical company to do the work. (I play the part of gopher – as in ‘go fer this and go fer that’.) We also decided that if we had to have a professional working on the boat, that we might as well do everything that we might ever want done. So we have run all new wires to all outlets, removed the old breaker system and installed a new marine breaker panel and added several new outlets in places that we felt they were needed. When everything is done we will have essentially rewired the complete AC system – which is a good thing. No surprises for us in the middle of winter when the boat is drawing full amperage.
There is less work to do on the DC system but that will be completed as well.
We’ve received a new deck box for the propane tanks and will be doing that this coming weekend too.
after spending hours on the road to get to the boat and then hours on the road getting home again each weekend, we’ve decided to eliminate the hours on the road and bring the boat down to Oakville. A marina there, simply asked, what size – how long and do you have insurance – and then gave us the OK to bring it down. So tomorrow the boat will be within 15 min driving distance of us here and will be easily worked on in the evenings and weekend. I hope to launch next week.
So that is exciting news for us – once down here – it’s just a hop, skip and jump away from being able to use it as our new home!
I’ll post some pics from when it comes in tomorrow.
The whole houseboat move thing hit another snag today. Our marina here will not allow me to bring the boat into the yard to finish the work. In fact, I’m not sure if he is even going to let us bring it into the Marina even after the last of the upgrade work is done. It seems that the management here knows better than both the surveyor and our insurance company as to what is a safe boat and what is not. His exact words were “under no circumstances will I allow that boat into my Marina.” Now he did not specify whether that included after all the work is done or not, but he did not say that either. I’m kinda depressed about this whole thing now – and not exactly sure how to deal with it.
I’ve hired a local marine electrical professional to go up to where the boat is tomorrow and together we will hopefully correct any and all defects that he finds. There really is not much, so hopefully we can get it done in a day. He will also advise me on the propane system and supply the parts needed for upgrades. I will install them and then get one of my appliance repair colleagues to pressure test the propane system and sign off on it.
Then, I will get my surveyor back up there to reinspect the boat and provide me with a clean survey.
With that I can get full in-water insurance for the boat and reapply to the marina here.
If, at that point, the management here is still a no-go, then we will move to another marina. We don’t want to, our lives are here and this is where we want to live, but there is literally nothing that I can do if they won’t let me stay here. The funny thing is, there are boats all around me here that are in far worse shape and with many more defects than mine, yet they can get a slip. Strange.
We are currently on holidays – visiting my parents in Manitoba, and so I’ve kind of put everything on hold while we unwind for a week. We’ve been fishing several times – caught 1 big old Crappie in Mary Jane Reservoir and a Winnipeg GoldenEye in the Pembina River. I know – not much in the way of fish – but much of the fun of fishing is the just go’n fishn’ part. We also spent a night at my parents cabin – no electricity or running water – almost like being on the boat!
About the new houseboat – things are going a bit slowly. We’ve had a survey done which showed up a couple of things that we need to get done. The bottom needs to be redone as there is a fair amount of corrosion from improperly applied anti-fouling paint. When you apply a copper based anti-fouling paint to a steel boat, you must put some sort of barrier coat between the two so that you don’t get any electrolysis or electrolytic action happening. This was not done when the anti-fouling was applied by the previous owner. So we have to sandblast the bottom – apply about 10 mils of epoxy to provide a barrier and then the anti-fouling. This is not a real hard job and is really just a logistical pain in the butt – it is supposed to be done tomorrow (Friday). We will see – it has been delayed a couple of times.
We also need to fix some wiring issues – some of the wires were not soldered properly and twisted wire covered in electrical tape is a no-no on a boat. I will hire out this work and get everything cleaned up.
And finally, the propane system is not up to todays standards. It is just basically a tank with a hose going to the stove. What I need to do is install a regulator, new gas line, a gas sniffer in the bilge, an electronic shutoff and the tanks must be installed in a sealed box with an overflow that goes overboard. Whew – sounds like a lot of work, but in reality is again just logistics. I will likely do most of this work myself and then get it inspected and signed off on by one of the gas tech’s from my work.
So, we are still at least a couple of weeks away from getting the boat down to Toronto – but things are looking up. I would say by September, we should have a brand new (old) houseboat to live in.
We have received a fair amount of questioning from friends and family about what our plans are. I knew that at some point a decision about our future would need to be made but I kind of shoved it out of my mind for a couple of weeks. However, every day The Boy needs a bit more space, A is a touch plumper (in the good pregnancy way) and I’m still, well … fleshy. So, it has become rather obvious to me that one of the requirements that we need to fill is: – we need more room.
Initially, in a fit of spittle spraying panic, I strongly suggested that we had to start looking for a furnished apartment. Of course, the panic was a result of my putting the problem out of my mind for two weeks, and then feeling the pressure of it. A. gamely played along, but I suspect that even then she knew what the plan was. The next day, she called me at work and suggested that she had an idea that she wanted to present but NOT have me shoot down without hearing it. (That’s what she has to do when I get all lathered up about something.)
When I got home she sat me down and said that not only did she NOT want to move into an apartment but that she still wanted to stay on the water. How cool is that? She then proceeded to show me a series of houseboats on Yachtworld. At first, I was thinking – “oh no, not a stinkpot” (thats what sailors call powerboaters – while we sailors are called blowhards) but A. presented the logic to me.
- We are not going to sail around the world in the next few years, not at least until the kids are 4 or 5 yrs old.
- Sailing the 10 or so times a season does not justify us living in such a cramped space even if this is a great bluewater boat.
- Even though I love sailing – the sails up, sun shining, the water whispering past the hull – my family needs more room.
So, we are officially on the hunt for a houseboat. This past weekend we went to look at a couple of 40′ foot steel houseboats – River Queens. They are houseboats with a hull as opposed to pontoons – twin engine … but no sails. Oh well … dream postponed, not dream over.