FAQs on Living Aboard

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) we receive about prospective liveaboards. Living Aboard is nothing like most can imagine and we are proud to share with you our thoughts. Here are some FAQs on living aboard.

Is life aboard as romantic as I expect it to be?

Can anyone live aboard?

What is the first thing I should do if I want to live aboard?

Is it cheaper to live on a boat or on land?

How big a boat do I need to live aboard?

Will I still have Internet access, Cable/Sat. and all other electronics?

What about kids and pets?

How much storage do I need?

Can I live aboard in cold weather conditions?

What if I have other questions?

Is life aboard as romantic as I expect it to be?

Yes. And no. The good can be really good – and peaceful and romantic. The sunsets and surroundings can be like a slice of heaven. The gentle rocking (in a well-protected marina) can be magnificent. I love the rain on the water and on the sunny days sitting on my comfy beach chair on the dock drinking a beer, wine or drinks with my neighbors. I can change marinas whenever I want. And my friends love to come over.

However, life aboard can also mean mold and mildew, confined conditions, and constant repairs. If a neighbor is loud or disrespectful, you’ll know. Boats passing by can cause the gentle movement to become dangerous and a storm or heavy winds can damage or destroy your home. Boat maintenance cannot be understated and can take up lots of time. And you can’t escape the mess of the repairs. The life is glamorous and romantic and at times hard. To me, the hard is one of the things that makes it great. To others it is not. Top of page

Can anyone live aboard?

Yes, if you are of the right mind and as long as everyone else who lives with you really wants to live this lifestyle as well. A boat can be a very viable alternative to any land based residence although the differences can be dramatic. As written above, life aboard is not all glamour. They move. They’re close to neighbors. And they offer less space than land based residences. Everyone aboard should want to be there or life in these close quarters can become very difficult very quickly. Top of page

What is the first thing I should do if I want to live aboard?

It might seem a bit backward, but once you have a general idea what kind of boat you’d like to call home, it is usually better to research your marina options. In some markets, there are no available slips for liveaboards and in others space is not an issue. There are too many people that end up with boats and no place to put them. Some people will even pay for a slip when it becomes available while they continue to locate and buy their boat.

The second thing you should do, after you know where you can put your boat along with any possible limitations (such as boat size) is choose your boat and clearly develop an understanding of the costs. There is a video on this site that can offer some advice when it comes to choosing a boat, and the costs are discussed below.Top of page

Is it cheaper to live on a boat or on land?

Like everything else, it depends. The book has a cost table that is quite revealing (the corresponding spreadsheet is available off of the multimedia page), mostly because it reveals how, depending on your choices, economical and how expensive the lifestyle can be. There are hidden costs everywhere (the book explains many of them). One important question is how many amenities do you want or need, and how much work can you do yourself. Still, no matter how much work you do yourself, some things will be at the whim of those marinas/yards that will haul and launch your boat. I’ve included a free cost spreadsheet on the site, but there is a much greater/in depth explanation in the text.

Typical costs include your monthly boat payment, slip fees, extra/liveaboard fees, insurance and general expenses of life (cable, internet, telephone, etc.). Then there is routine and special boat maintenance and operating costs. Top of page

How big a boat do I need to live aboard?

Some people suggest that a liveaboard have a boat that is at least 33 feet in length (10 meters). And yet, one of the biggest complaints from liveaboards in large vessels is that the maintenance of their large boats is too much and that their boats are too big, and that a smaller boat would have been more desireable. My marina has two liveaboards that live happily in their tiny 26 foot sail boats (I can’t stand up straight in them). Many liveaboards with multiple heads and staterooms will actually shut down or even dismantle their second heads and unused staterooms to cut down on maintenance or use the space for storage. In general… make your own decisions, but most experts suggest that you consider the smallest boat that you’d be happy and comfortable in, particularly if money is an issue. Top of page

Can I still have my Internet access, Cable/Sat. TV, DVD, Stereo and computer?

Sure. Wired amentities such as cable and landline telephone depend on your marina. If cable companies provide service to the docks, you can receive a plethora of cable/HDTV channels, high speed internet and possibly even telephone. However, everything can also be wireless these days, and many marinas even offer wireless high speed internet (some even offer this for free). Cell phones are a popular replacement to the landline phone. Also, a cell phone with a data plan can act as a modem providing you with mobile wireless internet service. TV can be received via antenna or satallite dish, mounted on the dock or deck (dock mounting requires the marina’s consent).

With AC power, everything that requires power can be brought aboard. A few cautionary notes however. A boat is limited space. Smaller/fewer pieces of gear are better. Try not to bring aboard gear that can’t be stowed properly and safely. Boats move and things fall over. Consider all-in-one solutions, such as loading CDs and DVDs to hard drives and portable multimedia and MP3 players to move CDs and DVDs and other things that take up lots of space overboard. Use CD/DVD storage books and get rid of or store the cases. Consider car stereos over rack stereos and boom boxes for space and durability. I have a flat computer screen (and a laptop) that doubles as a TV, but some liveaboards are using car DVD players very effectively (even for tv with a separate tv tuner). In my boat, everything (including TV/audio/computer) runs on 12 volts off of compact pieces of equipment.

Finally, when we talk about storing electronic gear, remember the lessons of condensation and moisture. If the area you store your gear can drop below the dew point, that location will get moist and can easily destroy your toys. It’s not the surface of the equipment that you need to worry about, but what is happening on the inside. Heat those areas or store elsewhere. Top of page

What about kids and pets?

What about them? And why do people ask about kids and pets in the same question?

Your circumstances will vary and no FAQ will ever do your particular circumstance justice. With that said, you are most likely concerned about safety. Obviously, as the captain, your job is to provide a safe and secure environment for everyone aboard, no matter their age or species (or their blood-alcohol content). If you cannot, you do not deserve to be in charge (and you might deserve to be in jail). But if you can, and many can, you can become another of those incredibly close families that I meet in location after location (families aboard are remarkably close).

Boats, however, are not inherently dangerous, but they are far from inherently safe. Many liveaboards require lifejackets on children and pets whenever they are on deck, tethered when cruising, with safety lines, netting, jacklines, and other safety gear when under way. Also, as an example of the kind of safety problem to become aware of, be very careful of your child’s swimming, particularly near the boat exhaust (especially under swim platforms) (many children have died from the carbon monoxide from running boats).

In fact, if you able to handle the safety issues, and most are, your biggest challenge with children aboard will actually relate to learning opportunities, fun activities and entertainment. Many families become ritualistic and role-driven. Sanity requires space to get away and be yourself, and the children will need this as much as you. Also, if you are asking about home school, there is a bit of a discussion in the book. But much more important is the discussion you can have with those people who work through this every day. I would direct you to the liveaboard’s home school forum, located at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Sailing_Kids/

When it comes to pets, there are lots of little tricks that liveaboards use for dealing with problems most people have never thought of. Such as, how do you deal with kitty litter, particularly when under way (some use astroturf, tied to a rope and dragged behind the boat when soiled). The book offers some thoughts on different types of issues. I will say that Max, my cat, was an amazing liveaboard companion. Top of page

How much storage do I need?

That depends on your lifestyle. I practiced law while living aboard, and had to have dry closets for my suits (they were all wrinkled on one side from the slope of the hull). The truth is that too much storage, while very helpful for a liveaboard, can be bad – causing a loss in performance, or inducing you to bring too much stuff aboard. If you plan on leaving your slip, everything should stow very easy and under no circumstances should a piece of emergency gear or seacock be blocked, or something causing a hose or line to be put under pressure, pulled or twisted. Some liveaboards bring so much aboard that the boat is no longer a boat but has become a giant closet. One of the great things about life aboard is that you can’t really buy or get anything new unless you can make room by getting rid of something else. The space limitations can make it simple and better.

And don’t forget that there is an unlimited amount of storage on land at fairly reasonable rates. One more thing to bear in mind is that water and moisture destroys everything. If you have photo albums, records, documents, etc. that you want preserved, then they don’t belong on board. My photo albums are on smugmug.com (marknicholas.smugmug.com) and valuables in a safety deposit box so if my boat goes down (or up in flames), nothing is lost.

Lastly, the nice thing about storage facilities is that you don’t have to get rid of all of your possessions until you decide you are ready. Top of page

Can I live aboard in cold weather conditions?

Yes, but cold requires great preparation and additional considerations. The most important thing is for the cold weather liveaboard to be safe and protected, and I found life aboard when it was snowing to be beautiful and cozy. I have a diesel fireplace which was very warm and beautiful to look at, and would put a plastic covering on the boat to keep the decks dry and help insulate the boat. I’d also place a flexible insulating covering over the interior surfaces of the boat against the hull.

In conditions where the air drops below freezing, and especially if the water can freeze, proper care is essential and can be the difference between life and death. It is critical that ice is kept away from the hull and there are ways to do this (in Boston, this was not a problem with the high tidal range). Also the engine and water lines must be winterized or otherwise heated. A smoke/CO2 detector is critical and care should be taken to ensure that heating devices do not deplete the oxygen or are not vented properly. Heaters should be carefully configured to ensure that they don’t tip and that all systems have automatic shutoffs. Finally, the docks can become very slippery and dangerous.

This sounds like a lot, but it is not. It would take me a weekend to winterize my boat and my friend would help shrinkwrap my boat. Then, with all of my systems already installed, I was good to go for a warm and cozy winter. Top of page

What if I have other questions?

First, don’t hesitate to email me. I enjoy helping current and future liveaboards and would be happy to offer any thoughts that I have. Second, participate in those email forums that are included on the Links page. They really are great. Finally, spend some time down at your local marina and get to know the residents. If they are like the residents of my marina, they’ll talk you until you are blue in the face. Top of page

Stay safe and fair winds,