Living on a boat: How to become a liveaboard
17th June 2022 Elena Manighetti
With rent and property prices rising exponentially all over the world, it’s only natural that more and more people are looking for alternative housing solutions. Living on a boat has become a popular trend in the USA, Europe, and Australia.
While making your vessel your home is a very romantic idea, there are many practical elements to it that require careful consideration and planning. First, we’ll answer some common questions on the topic, then we’ll delve into the steps to becoming a liveaboard.
Can you live on a boat for free?
Yes, but only if you keep moving. In order to live on a boat for free, you need to anchor out all the time. This involves spending some nights in an anchorage and then moving on. This isn’t ideal for anyone who works on land and needs to get to the office every weekday.
Alternatively, you can keep your vessel in a marina or mooring field. These options are paid for and often require a permit. It’s not easy to store a boat in the water and live on it. Even if you do manage to secure a permit, electing the slip or mooring ball as your domicile or residence can be challenging. Bear in mind that a yearly berth in a modern marina can be very expensive in some cities, such as San Francisco and Sydney. So investigate this detail thoroughly.
Can you live on a boat year-round?
With the right equipment on board, you can live aboard all year long. Depending on where you’re based, you may need to fit a heater or aircon unit. You’ll have to find ways to get water, generate electricity, buy cooking gas, and do your laundry. If you want to have hot showers on board, you’ll need to install a water heater.
Living on a boat is a bit like living on a camper or caravan, except, you generally have a lot more space.
What is a good size boat to live on?
It depends on who will be living aboard and how much time you spend there. As a rule of thumb, opt for a powerboat over 30ft and a sailboat over 40ft. The more people who live on board, the bigger boat you will need. For example, families tend to opt for motorboats over 40ft and sailboats over 50ft.
What kind of boats can you live on?
There are six types of boats people typically live on:
Of course, you can select a different type of vessel as your home.
How much does it cost to live on a boat?
Living on a boat tends to be cheaper, as you don’t need to pay house bills, if you generate your own power. However, the cost of living varies widely across the world. It’s always cheaper to moor in a small non-touristy town, rather than a big city.
When budgeting for living on a boat, you need to account for:
Regular boat maintenance
Water and electricity at docks
Fuel for the boat and dinghy
Transport on land
Holding tank pump-outs (if applicable).
Add grocery shopping, streaming subscriptions, phone contracts, internet connection, and all the typical expenses you have on land that apply.
Day-to-day, life on a boat can be a lot cheaper than life on land; however the cost of maintenance is significant, especially if you don’t do it yourself. Boats need constant attention as things tend to break at least every other month. So you’ll need to allocate a significant allowance for boat repairs and boat parts.
Why live on a boat?
Living aboard is a dream for many, as it allows you to be in touch with nature daily and fish from your doorstep. If you need a break from your current location, simply turn on the engine or hoist the sails and head out for a boat trip, while taking your home with you.
In most cases, living on a boat is cheaper than living in a house, especially if you can generate your own power. The view is fantastic and you can spend a lot of time outdoors, watch the sunset and sunrise, go for a swim anytime you like, and more.
If you plan to go cruising and travelling to new places, you will meet a lot of like-minded people, who will become good friends. You may not be able to visit family often, though.
What are the downsides of living on a boat?
There are some disadvantages to living on a boat. No matter how comfortable you make your boat, you will never have the comforts you’re used to at home - no long hot showers, easy laundry, king size bed, huge fridge-freezer, or unlimited electricity. Your living space will shrink considerably. You will also need to dedicate a significant portion of your time to looking after the boat to make sure everything is in working order. Moreover, unless you live at the dock, you won’t be able to set foot on land anytime you like.
The biggest hurdle, though, is being at the mercy of the weather. While you can seek refuge inside your vessel in a rain shower, storms, big swells, and high winds make for a very uncomfortable night. If you live at anchor, you’ll need to move often in order to find protection from the wind and swell. You may not be able to get consistent quality sleep.
If you can put up with a little discomfort, living on a boat is a fantastic experience, which has a lot of rewards to offer.
How to become a liveaboard
Let’s look at the steps you need to take to become a liveaboard.
Research the topic
This article is an essential guide to living on a boat, but there is so much more to learn about the lifestyle. Make sure to research the topic in-depth before you commit to the idea. It’s essential to look up local regulations around living on a boat in your area, if you don’t plan to travel full-time. In some countries, anchoring may only be permitted for short amounts of time and living in marinas or on mooring balls may not be legal.
If you want to go cruising full-time, plan on a way to make a living. It’s best if you trial this out before you leave to make sure it’s a viable option. Alternatively, start saving up so you can be financially independent while you travel.
Get a licence
If you haven’t done it already, it’s time to get your boat licence or certificate. While you may be able to live at the dock most of the time, you will have to move the boat to haul her out once a year or so.
Choose the boat
Then it’s time to look for boats, so you can have an idea of how to prepare. Choose something in decent condition that is big enough to accommodate you for the next 5-10 years. For example, if you plan to have kids soon, account for it.
However, don’t buy something that’s too big. The bigger the boat, the more it costs to moor her and maintain her. When choosing the vessel, think about how you will generate power and where you’ll install solar panels and wind turbines. Consider your needs - do you need a separate desk to work from? Is one cabin enough?
Shop around for boat insurance and a berth
As you start to settle on a model or two, shop around for insurance policies and marina berths. It’s crucial you know how much these cost before you buy the vessel.
Buy the boat
Once you have everything figured out, you can make your move and buy the vessel you chose. By this point, you should know exactly which boat insurance policy you’re getting, where you’ll store her once she’s yours, and have a refit plan. Make sure to get a survey done, even if the boat is new. You need to know what works and which modifications are needed before you can move on board.
Next, you’ll need to start downsizing your possessions. Even bigger boats can only store a small amount of personal belongings. Think about what you’ll do with your furniture and if it’s worth putting some of your stuff into storage, just in case. It’s worth having a plan B, should things not work out. Sell or donate things you won’t need anymore and start early - it can take a long time.
Refit the boat
Every boat needs a refit, even a new one. You will need to adapt the vessel to your needs and, or replace some old gear. Don’t be in a rush - take the time to get the boat ready to be lived on. Once you live aboard with all your belongings, it’s more challenging to access boat parts and filling the hull with dust becomes more of a big deal.
Finally, it’s time to move on board! Don’t overfill the vessel and distribute the weight well. Take time to adjust to your new home.
Living on a boat isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly an adventure - whether you go cruising or not. If you’re considering the idea, make sure to investigate the option thoroughly and consider all the elements involved in this lifestyle. It’s a big change, which takes a lot of effort and energy to achieve.
Establish some key dates by which you’d like to have accomplished all the steps we went through above. Having flexible deadlines and a timeline will help you stay focused and make things happen. Most people take a year or two to move aboard a boat. Cruisers tend to save for two to five years before setting off.
Download the Deckee app from the App Store or Google Play now. Check the marine weather forecast, look up points of interest, check out marinas and mooring balls, inspect Aids to Navigation, and more. We constantly add new features to the app, so you can have fun on the water while staying safe.