One of the greatest joys in life is taking your fate into your own hands and set sail toward your desired horizon.
With tiny house living on the rise, many people are looking for smaller, more nature-connected alternatives to being locked into a 30-year mortgage with their homes.
But what goes into living on a boat?
How can you be prepared for it?
What are some things to consider that, well, maybe you haven’t thought of yet?
This article helps to shed light on the harsh realities that many people overlook or don’t think about when they decide to live on a boat, as well as give helpful tips on how to prepare for them.
1. The Legality of Living In a Marina
Once you’ve been at sea for a long time, you may want to make port at one of the hundreds or thousands of marinas on the many coasts of the world. While you may be ready to pay to stay at the nearest marina, one thing most people don’t think about is whether or not it is legal to dock and live off your boat.
In fact, there are a lot of marinas in the United States that don’t allow or support those who live on their boats for long times, and even if they do, the rental prices for your boat can skyrocket.
It is very important to do as much research as you can about whether or not you can live or stay for long periods of time at your marina of choice. You don’t want to run into any fees or even the wrong side of the law.
Many ways that people avoid this issue is by anchoring their boat off-shore. After all, what’s the point of putting time and effort into living on your vessel if you can’t camp off-shore? Not only is it free, but it can be incredibly peaceful. You’ll definitely be blown away by just how good being away from the port can feel.
Tip: If you do anchor off-shore, be very careful about the tide and wind, and make sure you’re well-away from rocks, shores or running aground.
2. Getting Used to Living In Small Spaces
Living on a boat means a lot less space.
You might be used to living in a small home or even a tiny apartment. Maybe you’re thinking “wow, I wish I had a little more room,” but living on a boat is not the way to accomplish that goal.
In fact, many people are surprised just how little they’ll be able to fit on a boat.
Most affordable boats you can live on are not going to be super spacious. Storage on a live-in boat is going to be enough only for one or two people, depending on how well you can condense your items.
In fact, unless you’ve bought a giant yacht or perhaps a party catamaran, you’ll be pressed for space.
Most of those who live on their boats are used to having less material stuff, such as clothes, books, technology or sentimental trinkets. This means that only the absolute essentials can come with you when you make this transition from a landowner to a boat owner.
Besides the obvious necessity (i.e. food) most storage space is going to be filled with safety gear, lights, tools, and backup materials to help keep you afloat and running for long voyages. With only so much space for clothes, entertainment (books, games, technology) and souvenirs, anyone looking to live on their boat is going to want to remember to pack light.
Tip: After you’ve gotten all the absolute necessities, make a list of only things you’ve used, utilized or worn in the past month. That will help you make good use of your space.
3. Not All Places are Beautiful (Or Clean)
When you imagine living on your first boat, you probably see grand horizons, beautiful blue waters and long, sunny days. What you probably don’t account for is the harsh reality of sharing the seven seas with seven billion human beings.
One of the most popular feats of humanity is the giant ball of trash floating somewhere out in the pacific ocean. While you’re not likely to come across that on your travels, the reality of litter and the tides is very prominent when you’re out on your ship at sea.
Especially in marinas all over the coasts, trash, litter, netting and other human products are known to wash up on the evening and morning tide. Then they tend to stay there for long periods of time and float just outside your bedroom window.
While the trash in marinas and on coastlines may mar your original dream of living near picturesque, screen-saver-like places, there’s another thing most people don’t consider: the smell.
Litter and trash smell terrible, especially when they’ve been pickled in salt water for weeks or months.
Don’t get discouraged though! Nothing inspires environmental activism more than the reality of coastal living. Now that the coasts are your home, you’ll be more likely to get involved or want to help those communities in their efforts to clean!
Tip: Any fishing net and bucket on your vessel will come in handy to help clear any immediate litter and then safely dispose of it at the nearest receptacle.
4. You Need to Like Your Crewmates
It might seem more peaceful to sail off into the sunset on your live-in-boat all alone for months at a time, but more often than not those who live on boats either have one or more crewmates.
Living with roommates on land is one thing; you can walk away from each other, go to the store, the library or even out to dinner to blow off some steam. Basically, getting distance is easy when you can walk or drive a good distance away.
On a boat, that’s not the case.
There’s nothing more frustrating than when a roommate or family member eats your food, borrows/breaks your things or even says something that you don’t agree with. Then, when you’re good and mad, you walk away to get some space. On a boat, it’s very difficult to get that necessary distance that you need.
This may seem pretty obvious, but with limited storage space also comes limited living space. You’ll want to make sure that, not only do you all like one another and get along but that you and they are all conscientious of each other’s personal space.
If you’re traveling with a romantic partner, you may even run into a double-trouble situation. It’s one thing to get mad at a friend, parent or sibling, but to get mad at your romantic partner is a whole other ballgame. Especially if you’re the only ones on-board your ship.
Not only can this damage the sailing or living experience that you thought you were going to have, but it could also damage your personal relationship as well.
Therefore, it is important to consider who you decide to take with you on this life-changing adventure. Try doing this with people you’ve lived with in the past; ones that you know you are able to live well with beforehand!
Make sure to set very clear ground rules and claim areas that are for your own personal space. You may even want to make sure everyone knows what their duties are on the ship so that chores or jobs don’t get passed around or forgotten.
Tension can run high in small spaces, but out on the open water, it can be even harder to come back together as a family. Don’t forget to communicate often and calmly, as well as consider the other people around you.
You’ll be glad you did!
Tip: Chore wheels and schedules are great for communal sailing and living spaces. Consider putting together charts or bulletin boards that illustrate jobs, when they need doing and who is doing them!
5. Boats Need Constant Care
Another seemingly obvious point that gets overlooked: boats need upkeep to stay afloat.
I know you’re thinking “duh, why would I want to live on a boat if I didn’t know how to run one?”. Well, that’s a good question, but do you know how to fix every part of a boat? What about the extremely important parts?
When a person decides to live on a boat full-time, they usually do it to try and save money. Without apartment rent, car payments and gas, home payments or maintenance and property tax, living on a boat might seem like the perfect solution to living wild and free!
Instead, your home is constantly buffeted by waves, using energy or fuel and has hundreds of cords, wires, lines, nozzles, buttons and mechanical operating systems that need a lot of attention. And sometimes, that attention can cost money.
Upkeep and maintenance should be on your constant to-do list, making sure things are up and running and fixing the things that aren’t.
One major thing goes wrong on the open ocean? It could be life or death!
You want to make sure that you know what you’re doing and are fully prepared for most, if not all, scenarios that could go wrong. Not only that, but you want to make sure each member of your crew is prepared, too.
Even the most experienced Captain in the world can’t handle a whole ship on their own in a crisis, and you don’t want to be shouting orders in a storm trying to get your significant other, sibling, friend or child to help you do something complicated.
Every ship and crew should have a basic understanding of how to fix a problem onboard, as well as be organized and productive in a crisis. While everyone handles rough waters differently than others, the main thing each person should know is their role.
Without being prepared and organized, you could easily turn a mild situation into a bad one very fast.
Tip: Safety drills and operating manuals should be a regular thing onboard. Don’t forget to help each other learn and be patient with new people. We all started somewhere!
6. Wild Animals??
It may shock most new boat owners to realize just how pesky wild animals can be.
You may imagine relaxing offshore on your amazing new liveaboard boat. You hook a piece of bait on your fishing wire and cast it over the side. Then you sit back and relax until mother nature delivers you a huge, oceanic catch worthy of Facebook.
Then, out of nowhere, you’re surprised when thirty seagulls decide to join you on your vessel. From the mainland, a host of mosquitos follows them across the water. Then your relaxing morning has become an opera of screeching gulls and biting bugs.
Waterbirds, gulls, and fowl are very common in all coastal areas. They’re used to boaters and the food that they carry on board, so they’ll be watching out for you.
In addition, you may find yourself encountering other pests like rodents, bugs, spiders, and roaches. Many animals love to stow away on a boat to take advantage of your delicious food stores below decks, as well as the other animals that venture down there.
Ever left fresh fruit out too long? Fruit Flies and gnats will soon be everywhere; a spider’s dream. Crumbs on the floor? Hello, mice and roaches.
Even if this may be one of those weird, out-there things to worry about, many boaters find that wild animals and pests can become a serious (and annoying) problem. Don’t let yourself be caught off guard by pests!
Gross? Perhaps. But totally preventable!
Things you’ll want to stock up on:
- Bug spray
- Sealable food storage containers
- Ultrasonic mice repellants (they emit a loud frequency only mice can hear and it deters them from entering the home or boat)
- Bugproof lockers and boxes
- Plenty of cleaning supplies
Keep your boat clean and don’t forget to set sail prepared!
Tip: Sugar ants don’t like cloves. Put them in your containers or perhaps wipe a little clove oil over surfaces that you don’t want ants to get into. Cloves are pretty potent, though, so be careful how you use them.
Here’s a great article we’ve written about animals that may attack boats. It’s a good read if you consider going out on the open ocean!
7. Guest Liability
Like earlier, we talked about areas where it may be illegal to dock your boat for long periods of time. There is a lot more red tape than you may expect when it comes to living on a boat, mainly: insurance.
What if you’re having a party just offshore, or perhaps a quick trip up the coast with a few friends? It’s a great time, everyone is enjoying the food, drinks, and music when someone slips on a wet surface and gets hurt.
Who is liable? You.
Speaking to your insurance carrier is a must whenever you decide to bring non-family members along for the ride. Whoever owns that boat is insuring it, and that means you need to protect your guests, their children, and their significant others; really, anyone who is on board who isn’t you.
In this same vein of thinking, having an emergency medical kit or first-aid kit on board is a given. Getting someone medical attention immediately is very important, especially if you’ve sailed far away from shore. Something that can be prevented from getting worse should be prevented.
Many people get sensitive about this topic and say things like, “my friends/neighbors/cousins would never sue me, even if it was a bad situation,” but what about a friend of a friend? Or even, if something very serious were to occur, your friend’s medical bills are incredibly high?
It is always better to be prepared for every eventuality than to have something very serious happen without insurance on your boat.
In fact, it is legally required in most states and countries that EVERY boat has to have liability insurance on it before it can even sail.
Be prepared, listen to your insurance carrier, and don’t forget to make everyone wear a life jacket!
Tip: Most boat owners require life jackets and no-swimming-rules whenever the boat is in motion. Consider creating rules for your own boat, and make sure they are always followed!
Ready To Set Sail?
And there you go!
You can now feel prepared for even the smallest details after reading our list of things many people don’t consider when they decide to live on a boat. Even though it is an amazing, brave and exciting thing to decide to live on a boat, there are many little things that slip through the cracks before you’re truly prepared to make the switch.
Try speaking to people who’ve lived on a boat, or read blogs like ours at Godownsize.com to get ideas on how best to live on your own boat! You’d be surprised the stories that people have, and just how hard it can sometimes be to make the switch.
Just keep in mind what inspired you to make this choice in the first place, and keep yourself motivated to follow your dreams.
You’ll be glad you did!
Shelby Sullivan is a freelance journalist who specializes in boating and recreational watercraft. She captains her family pontoon boat in her spare time with her fiancee and dog on the freshwater lakes of the United States. Shelby prefers swimming to suntanning, and you can most likely find her reading in the shade of the pontoon awning.