The Liveaboard Boat Buyer's Checklist

Checklist for buying a boat be careful when you buy your liveaboard boat
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The Definitive Guide To Buying A Liveaboard Boat

With housing and rental prices reaching above those of decades past while wages struggle to keep up with inflation, it is no wonder many people are beginning to look into alternative options that might allow them to lead a better quality of life.

If you find yourself reading this article and have never owned a boat, be mindful that while owning and living aboard or cruising aboard a boat in a full time capacity has many benefits, obstacles and unforeseen expenses can evaporate the romantic notion of sailing the seas in a life of leisure.

By no means are we trying to dissuade you or lessen your excitement level at the prospect of moving out of your expensive apartment or home. But many questions must first be answered about your motivation and the realities of planning, purchasing, and moving aboard before pulling the trigger on a complete lifestyle change.

Questions For The Novice Liveaboard

For the purposes of this article, we will assume that this will be your first vessel, that you have been aboard boats but may lack experience captaining a vessel, that you currently reside in the USA, and that you are largely unfamiliar with sailing and vessel terminology.

We also assume that you will be searching for a sailing vessel to call your new home. Below are a series of considerations aimed at facilitating your timeline, your search, and the steps required to make the liveaboard dream a reality in a relatively short period of time.

  1. Where do you live now?
  2. Are you planning to stay in your current city or are you open to relocation?
  3. How will this move affect your employment?
  4. How will this affect relationships with colleagues, friends and family?

If you live on a coastline in a location where weather is not a consideration, such as Florida or California, you are off to a good start. Although living near a Great Lake or near the Chesapeake Bay may seem suitable, consider that when Winter arrives you will have little or no option but to either winterize your vessel or relocate it to somewhere without inclement conditions.

With that said, it is wise to begin your search in one of the many locations in the Gulf of Mexico, East Coast south of Virginia, or West Coast from San Francisco southward.

Which Vessel Type Is Best For Me?

The next consideration is the purpose and utility of the vessel. How do you plan to use the boat? Let us assume that you simply want to live aboard a boat at port, either in a marina or floating in the mooring field outside of the marina docks.

Of course you may want to sail to other destinations or begin to cruise on a regular basis, but first you must determine your goals for comfort, operating economy, the overall length of the vessel, and the floor plan.

Assuming you are moving onto a vessel with your significant other, the recommended size of a monohull sailboat should at minimum be 28 feet with a few sleeping options for guests who may be intrigued by your new lifestyle and want to celebrate your newly found freedom.

  • How much boat can you afford?
  • Do you have enough savings to cover basic repairs and slip fees?
  • If you were to find the perfect boat and decided it was more cost effective to live in the mooring field, do you have cash to purchase a dinghy to get you to shore?

Try not to be over-ambitious!

When Buying A Boat Do Not Be Over Ambitious

How Much Money Do I Need To Buy Liveaboard?

For the sake of this article, let’s assume you have $10,000. If this seems high, consider that most sailboats with the minimum qualifications of comfort and size will likely cost between $5,000 to $15,000.

Those on the lower end of this range will probably be less seaworthy, but if your goal is simply to live on a boat, deals can be found for a few thousand dollars. Consider too that if you are not accustomed to fixing and repairing things now on land, you may find yourself in a challenging position once you move onto your boat.

Tools are sometimes expensive and marine parts and components can quickly diminish one’s bank reserves. Take care while searching to ask questions about the potential maintenance issues you will face within the next few years.

Also consider that you will still need to get around on land. A bicycle or the public bus system may be adequate, but most liveaboards have at least one motorized vehicle, such as a motorcycle, scooter, or car to get them from the marina to shops and work.

  1. What is your budget?
  2. Does it make sense to sell everything but the bare essentials instead of paying for monthly storage?

Boat Buying Checklist [Video]

How Much Does It Cost To own A Boat?

Costs of owning a boat generally into three categories:

  1. Capital cost, which represents the cost of buying the boat
  2. Annual expenses, such as moorage and shore power, insurance, and registration fees
  3. Variable costs, including cooking fuel, gas for dinghy/boat, general maintenance, improvements, and charts

Once you add these up and include a reserve for contingencies, you should have a final number. If you do not have that money, be cautious before making the leap into what can become a long-term liability that may be challenging to reverse.

How Do I Find A Suitable Boat To Live On?

Now that we have determined that buying and living aboard a boat is not as simple as one may think at the outset, let’s move on to the fun part -- The Hunt. Hunting for a suitable boat requires some patience and often concessions must be made, especially if your budget is similar to the one outlined above.

On the various websites which list boats for sale, attempt to narrow your search by setting parameters where applicable. You will want to set a minimum and maximum asking price, a minimum and maximum LOA (length overall), recommended to be between 28 and 40 feet. Keep in mind that most marinas either charge by the foot or by the size of the slip required to moor your vessel.

Marinas generally offer 30’ slips, 40’ slips, and upward from there for the larger commercial and luxury yachts. Monthly fees can range from a few hundred dollars up and over $1,000/month depending on location, popularity, scarcity, cover, quality of the facilities and amenities, and size of slip.

Location, Location, Location

If you have determined that you want to live in a particular State or on a particular Coast, try to specify that State or area within the search framework. Another tactic is to omit location and see what you can find.

Remember, boats are vehicles and can be moved as long as they are seaworthy. But also keep in mind that every 50 miles or so is a full day’s sail or motor.

For example, if you find a boat in Tampa but would really prefer to be in Key West, plan on several weeks of planning, accompanying charts, possibly hiring a professional captain or boat delivery person or service, and spending several days at sea. In other words, it takes time and money to relocate a boat, so be certain that this vessel is the one you must have! Otherwise, be picky with your location and concede that many of the things on your wish list may need to be scratched.

Buying A Sailboat Is Exciting But Be Sure To Use This Checklist

Boating Terminology For The Novice

Now we should focus on a few bits of terminology so that you are able to have a reasonable idea of how to discuss the boat with each seller. Chances are, they will begin speaking in terms that will leave you scratching your head if you have little or no experience in the world of sailboats.

Using our 28’ sailboat as a model, assume there are several key components of interest to discuss.

First determine if the boat is seaworthy

  • Ask about the condition of the engine and how many miles are on it
  • Ask if it has been serviced and when it was last run
  • Next ask when it was last “put on the hard”, meaning pulled out of the water. This is a good indicator of the integrity of the hull
  • Buying a boat that has not been maintained can literally and monetarily sink you quicker than the Titanic

Other considerations

If both hull and engine check out, move on to the other aspects of the boat.

  • The galley (kitchen) should have a working stove
  • Ask about which type and what fuel is required
  • The head (bathroom) should be functional and may or may not contain a shower
  • Holding tanks are for waste and freshwater, ask about their capacity and how the owner is currently managing pumpout.

Assess The On-board Marine Equipment

Then move on to more subtle aspects, such as electronics.

  • What is the battery configuration?
  • Ask the age of the batteries and which appliances and electronics they power

Find Out About Maintenance

  • Now ask about the lines and running rigging (ropes to haul sails) along with the condition of the sails
  • Once you have developed a rapport, ask about the problems and urgent fixes that need to be done
  • If you plan simply to use the boat as a floating apartment, ask the seller whether the current marina allows liveaboards. Some do, some don’t, some charge a fee, so be clear with the seller about your intentions so that you are not stuck being a “sneakaboard”, someone who has to wait until darkness of night to slither into the marina and onto your boat

Make Friends With The Boat Seller

Try to develop a lasting relationship with the seller if possible, most sellers are just like most buyers. They are honest folks who have put a lot of love into their boat and want someone like you to enjoy her as much as they have over the years.

Most importantly, don’t fall in love with the boat right away. As tempting as it is to move quickly, once you peel away a few layers there will inevitably be problems and committing to an imperfect vessel requires a steady mind. Fair winds and good luck, you are one step closer to becoming a liveaboard!

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