Living Aboard A Boat: What You Need To Know

Living aboard a boat as a liveaboard
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There are many ways to enjoy the open water and many places to do so. Our world is, after all, comprised of over 70% water. The feeling of being away from land, if only a short distance, moving through the water on a vessel at various speeds, can be exhilarating and somewhat addictive.

Within the world of boating, there are several types of boats for every purpose which can make a day on the water a memorable experience. But for the brave few, the prospect of calling the water their permanent home is exciting and alluring.

For those people, known as ‘liveaboards’, there are much more challenging questions to be answered.

First, Which Type of Boat Should I Live On?

  1. There are houseboats, which generally dock in a marina and don’t often move
  2. There are trawlers, which are sort of a mix between a houseboat and a power boat. Trawlers are often used for fishing, but many have been designed with the liveaboard in mind. They are more roomy than a sailboat and have more mobility than a houseboat
  3. Then there are sailboats. Some have one “hull”, the below deck area (monohulls). Others have two hulls (catamarans). And still others have three hulls (trimarans).

Each offer different advantages and disadvantages.

The vast majority of liveaboards choose to live on monohull sailboats and trawlers.

Those who choose trawlers enjoy many of the comforts of home; spacious living quarters, full kitchens (galleys) and full size sleeping quarters. A used trawler in good condition generally costs over $10,000 USD, but can cost as much as six figures and range in length from 25 feet to more than 50 feet.

A used liveaboard-ready monohull sailboat in good condition, on the other hand, can cost as little as a few thousand dollars and range in length from 24 to 40 feet on average, making them a popular choice.

With a sailboat, however, the living space is generally much smaller below deck. What you save in purchase price comes with sometimes cramped quarters and sailboats react to the movement of the water around them more actively than trawlers...a fact that becomes very noticeable when living “on the hook”.

A Marina Is A Great Place To Begin Your Liveaboard Life

Ways To Liveaboard

There are two main ways to live aboard, both are very different and present their own unique challenges. If you are a true novice then the first way is probably the best to begin with.

Living In A Marina

The first is in a marina. Marinas provide slips (boat parking spots) of various lengths and charge by the foot. Often they also charge a flat fee for living aboard in the marina, and many marinas do not allow liveaboards at all. Be sure to research the marina before assuming you are welcome to live aboard your vessel.

Marinas usually offer amenities such as showers, toilets, sometimes a restaurant and swimming pool can be found on the property. They also offer electricity to power boat appliances and other electronics such as air conditioners and refrigerators. And wireless internet has been the norm for many years. It is usually free, but in some cases marinas charge for this convenience.

There is plenty of upside for the new liveaboard to get her bearings of life on a boat, but a few downsides do exist. One is proximity. Generally, in a marina the boats are docked very close together, making privacy sometimes challenging. Another is pumpout.

Many marinas require boats to exit their slip and motor over to a pumpout station to dump waste. Sometimes required on a weekly basis, this can become a tedious and arduous task.

But all in all, living in a marina on a boat can be a very pleasant experience. It’s very easy to make friends (or enemies) in a marina, whereas living on the hook is more of a practice in isolation.

Living on A Mooring

Living “on the hook” or “on anchor” is the most challenging means of enjoying life on the water, but the advantages of freedom and privacy can be very rewarding.

In certain places, municipalities set up mooring fields so that boats can easily anchor. A mooring is a fixed anchor, sometimes as simple as an engine block tied to a large buoy. Mooring fields can be small or large, offering moorings for as few as a dozen or so boats, or offering hundreds of moorings.

Many transient boaters use moorings when traveling or delivering boats for their convenience. They are easier to navigate since boats are further apart, and there are no seawalls and less traffic to negotiate.

Living this way does have its challenges, most obvious being exposure to tides and weather. The hull of a boat is designed to absorb the movement of the water by displacing it on either side.

So while on a mooring, a sailboat will rock back and forth with the water current. This can be very soothing for sleep when weather is clement. But when inclement weather arrives, the movement of the boat can be uncomfortable, even causing dizziness and nausea as if sailing in heavy weather.

The best mooring fields are those which offer protection from the currents behind either a natural or man-made feature, which breaks up the current and lessens its impact by the time it reaches the boat. A mooring is a great way to enjoy life on the water.

Generally the municipality or marina charges a monthly fee and restricts length of vessel to under 50 feet. But the challenges of living on a mooring are much greater than those in a cozy and safe marina setting.

The biggest challenge is lack of electricity.

Out away from the docks, there are no outlets to plug into and no pumpout station at which to dispose of waste. The anxiety for a new liveaboard out on a mooring or on anchor can be overwhelming for some, but others have found ways to work around such challenges.

The mooring owner, by law, must provide pumpout services. Usually they will manage services that allow for a pumpout boat to visit each vessel in the mooring field to pump out waste each week. This is generally included in the monthly fees charged.

As for electricity, many boaters use solar panels and/or marine wind generators to power their devices and electronics. A few solar panels can safely and easily power phone chargers, laptop computers, small refrigerators, and a variety of other gadgets and appliances.

Solar Panels

Solar panels have improved both in terms of efficiency of converting the sun’s power and in dimension. These days, a flat and flexible system of solar panels can be installed without affecting the overall aesthetic of the boat’s appearance and function while under way.

Wind Power

Wind power can also supplement D/C power to charge devices. Both wind and solar capture and relay voltage to a marine deep-cycle battery. This battery must be maintained with proper care and must be regularly tested.

But when done correctly, a liveaboard can enjoy most if not all of the same onboard amenities as one who docks in a slip at a marina. While the challenges of setting up a solar or wind power system have their challenges, a handful of companies specialize in these areas and have created easy-to-assemble systems for most types of vessels.

Living In A Marina Is The Best Way To Start Liveaboard Life

The Final Frontier

The final frontier in living aboard is to live “on the hook” or “on anchor”. This lifestyle adds on additional layer of challenge. That is, no fixed anchor or mooring. This way of life is not recommended for the first-time liveaboard unless she has extensive experience with anchors and windlasses.

To successfully live on the hook, one must find a suitable plot of nautical real estate where the appropriate combination of water depth, protection, and legality exists. Below the waterline, all boats have what is known as “draw”. Draw is the term used to describe the distance the vessels extends below the water line.


For trawlers and multihulls (catamarans and trimarans), this depth is usually less than a few feet. But for sailboats, unless the keel (balancing fin under the boat) is retractable, the draw can be as much as seven or eight feet.

Keeping this depth in mind when selecting a location is of utmost importance, as the vessel will need to access an area near shore which is subject to tide movement.

Choosing An Anchor

Selecting an anchor location that is too shallow can spell disaster, as the tide may withdraw and the keel may hit bottom, rendering the vessel immobile and potentially damaging the keel or causing the boat to keel to one side. But finding that ideal location can provide a unique and tranquil experience like no other.

Once the ambitious liveaboard has found the appropriate spot, the anchor and windlass take center stage. There are a variety of anchor sizes and styles which are utilized based on the factors relating to vessel size and weight, anchoring environment, and sea bottom composition.

Selecting the correct anchor or anchors is paramount to ensure safety of the vessel and those aboard. Most liveaboards use at least two anchors, set at ten and two in clock position, allowing the anchors to balance the currents and keep the vessel steady.

The process of anchoring requires skill and patience, but done properly the vessel can stay at anchor for months at a time with little adjustment needed. Anchoring can be done by simply throwing an anchor (attached by chain to the boat of course) over the side of the boat. Or it can be done using an anchor windlass.

The Windlass

A windlass is a device which raises and lowers the anchor(s). It is located on the bow of the boat and can be manually or electronically operated. There are a variety of anchor windlasses, and they can be very helpful once it is time to weigh (lift) anchor from a stubborn hold on the sea floor. To shop for anchor windlasses, click here or here.

Summary: Hard Work But Fun

In summary, living aboard a houseboat, trawler, or sailboat is a very fun, challenging, and unique experience and can change one’s life forever. Be sure to research all of the aspects involved before jumping in, as it can save you time and frustration in the long run.

Ask a liveaboard about their experiences before committing. And make sure you have enough budget so that you have at least two or three times the purchase price of your vessel available for unforeseen circumstances and repairs. Fair winds and happy sailing!

Best Memories Of Living Aboard A Boat by Captain K [Video]

Living Aboard A Boat