I’ve dreamed of living in an RV as well as living on a boat for many years. Luckily, I’ve had the chance to spend time in both and I’ve been out on the water almost as much as I’ve been out in the woods.
Writing for this website has also given me the chance to do extensive research on RVing, boating, and living in small spaces in general.
In this post, I’ll talk about RVing vs. boating. I’ll talk about some of the things to consider before deciding on one or the other.
The Advantages of RVing vs Boating
Let’s start with the RVs and why RVers tend to praise their way of life over boating.
1) You Don’t Need a Special License (Usually)
Most motorhomes and towable campers do not require any special licensing requirements. If you have a drivers license, you can legally drive a motorhome or tow a small to a medium-sized camper.
This isn’t true for every state, however, so you may want to take a look at our page on RVs & Licensing Requirements to see what your state requires.
All but seven states have a mandatory boater education law.
While the boater education law does not always call for a special license, it does require you to take a test and complete a course. The state of Alabama, as well as some other states, actually make you get a special license as well.
For example, the state of New Jersey requires you to get a license to operate motorboats and jet skis on non-tidal water. To get this license, you have to complete a course, take a test, and pay an $18.00 licensing fee.
2) An RV May Be Safer to Live In
When you live in an RV, you don’t have to worry about whether or not it is going to sink while your sleeping. You also don’t have to worry about a large wave knocking your RV over while you’re camped somewhere.
When you live in a boat, you do have to worry about situations like these.
Another factor is that you never have to worry about falling off of your RV and drowning. Personally, I’ve never been out to see in a boat without other people, but if I did, I’d probably be nervous about going overboard and not being able to get back to my boat.
On the other hand, some might say that boats are safer to live in because you don’t have to worry as much about traffic accidents.
Also, I’ve never heard of a person being attacked by a bear while sleeping in their boat at sea.
3) You Don’t Have to Learn As Much
Learning how to RV is much simpler than learning how to operate and live in a boat. This is especially true if you’ve chosen a motorhome to live in.
Smaller motorhomes drive like large vans and even a towable camper isn’t that difficult to get used to.
Here’s everything you need to know in order to be a great RV driver.
Also, if you’re out on the road and you forget how to do something it is much easier to pull over and ask someone than it is to ask for help while out to sea on a boat.
Even navigating with an RV is much easier than navigating in a boat. If you’ve ever driven anywhere before, you’ll know how to follow the turn-by-turn directions that your GPS gives you.
However, you may have some trouble navigating through different waterways the first time you set out.
Remember, when you’re far out to sea, there aren’t any street signs.
4) Less Risk in Buying a Used RV
Buying a used camper is less risky than buying a used boat. The reason for this is that a used camper doesn’t have many moving parts.
You can read here about how well an RV keeps its value over time. Even though it’s not impressive, I bet it’s better to sell a used RV than a boat.
In fact, the only parts you truly need to worry about are the axels, brakes, and tires. Most of the other components will not pose a safety risk.
With a boat, you run the risk of having your motor die while you’re out at sea. I vividly remember my parents taking me out on their used boat for the first time when I was a kid.
We went out into a channel in the back bay and when we were on our way back, the motor died.
The trip ended with a passerby towing us back to our dock. Before we went out on the boat again, my parents bought a new motor.
5) Less Expensive to Buy
RVs generally cost less to buy than boats do.
You can easily buy a small travel trailer that you can live in for less than $15,000.00. A new houseboat will easily cost you five times that much.
In fact, even a small houseboat from the 1980s might end up costing you over $25,000.00 to purchase.
6) Less Dependant on the Weather
While it isn’t fun to go RVing in the rain, you probably won’t end up getting lost at sea if you do. The weather can quickly make boating more dangerous than RVing and experienced boaters know this.
For this reason, most boaters always carry a weather radio with them and they check the forecast before they head out onto the water.
Even if you’re docked, the weather can make boating more dangerous than RVing.
For example, if you’re docked someplace for the winter, you’ll have to walk across an icy dock to get on and off your boat.
Slip on a dock and you could end up falling into the icy water.
This could send your body into shock and you might lose your life before anyone has a chance to rescue you.
You won’t find too many issues like this while climbing in and out of your RV, (unless you park next to a dock of course).
7) Easier to Telecommute
When you’re in an RV, it is easy to drive to a place that has good cell phone reception and a solid wifi connection. Boaters don’t always have this luxury.
If you’re a telecommuting boater, you may have to search hard to find docks that offer wireless internet connections. Or you will need internet over satellite (which is expensive and typically pretty bad…)
Even if you find yourself RVing in remote areas, you can often enhance your Internet capabilities through satellites and range extenders.
While some of these tools do work on boats, they are much more reliable and easy to use in an RV. In fact, many new RVs now come with built-in range extenders so you may not even have to buy any additional equipment to get great wifi.
8) RV Life is Closer to Life in a Brick and Mortar Home
When an RV is parked somewhere with full hookups, it’s basically like living in a small version of your apartment or house. The appliances are often very similar and the plumbing works the same way.
If you wake up and decide you want to go for a quick walk, you won’t have any problem doing so.
When you live on a boat, you may be out at sea or in the middle of a lake or river when you wake up. While this can be a great experience, it can also be a little inconvenient.
If you want to take a walk or buy some milk, you’ll have to travel back to land before you can do so.
9) Shorter and More Forgiving Learning Curve
The items in an RV all have names that you’re probably already familiar with. A bedroom is called a bedroom, the left side is known as the left side, and the driver’s seat is the driver’s seat.
In a boat, a bedroom is called a berth, the left side of the boat is called the port side, and the driver’s area is called the helm.
Even driving a boat is much different than driving an RV.
You don’t have any brakes to fall back on and the water will push you where it wants when you’re not actively moving forward.
Parking is easier in an RV as well. With an RV, you just need to make sure the spot is large enough for you to park in. With a boat, you have to make sure you get your boat to the dock before the tide goes out. My cousin once made the mistake of failing to get back through the waterway before the tide went out and he ended up stuck in the bay until the tide came back in.
While RVing, you will have to learn a few new skills before venturing out but making mistakes is a little easier. For example, if you forget
10) You Won’t Get Sea Sick
Park an RV and it stops moving.
If it keeps moving, you’re doing something wrong. Anchor a boat and it will continue to move and sway with the water. Some people find this soothing and find it easy to fall asleep on a boat, others get seasick.
Luckily, I’m one of those people that finds it soothing, but I’ve been on many fishing trips with people that spent the trip throwing up over the side.
It did not look fun.
The Advantages of Boating vs RVing
Let’s now switch to boating and list the reasons why some people swear to boat instead of RVs.
11) More Places to Explore
71% of the planet Earth is made up of water.
If you live in a boat you’ll have access to much more of the world than someone with an RV has.
Boats can travel overseas by themselves whereas an RV will actually need to be transported to places overseas on a boat.
For people living on an island like Hawaii, a boat will give them much greater freedom than an RV ever could. The same holds true for any other island nation or any person trying to visit different islands on a regular basis.
12) More Solitude
Camping out on BLM land in a small RV or overland vehicle can be a solitary experience. However, it is much easier to run into someone while out on BLM land than it is to come across someone while out in the deep blue sea. If you’re looking to be alone with the water and the stars, taking a boat into the ocean is surely one of the best places to do it.
13) You Get to Fish and Crab All the Time
An RVer has to get out of their RV to go fishing or crabbing. Fishing becomes its own sort of side trip that one takes while they are out RVing.
When you’re on a boat, you can fish all day long without ever leaving your home.
If you want fresh fish, all you have to do is catch it and cook it. You can’t get much fresher than straight off the line.
14) Fewer Bugs (Most of the Time)
Docks and back bays can be havens for insects like flies and mosquitos.
However, camping in a wooded area also has these insects. On top of these insects, you have to deal with ticks, roaches, spiders, and a whole host of other bugs that can easily crawl into your RV with you.
Set up camp out in the desert and you’ll also have scorpions to deal with.
15) More Opportunities to Swim
Many houseboats have swimming decks that you can use to jump right into the water from. In fact, some houseboats even have waterslides built right onto them.
Whether your in a bay, a river, or a lake, you’ll find that the opportunities to go swimming are endless.
Other water recreational opportunities are also easier to come by when boating. For instance, launching a kayak is simply a matter of walking from your bedroom to the back of the boat.
Want to go waterskiing or kneeboarding? Just throw your skis on and jump in the water.
16) No Need for a Base Camp
When you live on a boat you really don’t have to set up a basecamp as you might do in an RV. For example, many people use their motorhomes to drive someplace they’d like to visit and then they get out of it and use their tow car to explore the area.
In this case, the RV is used only as a place to sleep.
With a boat, oftentimes traveling is the entire focus of the trip.
People head out onto their boat to enjoy the act of sailing or just relaxing on their sun deck while out at sea.
17) More Space
An RV must adhere to road restrictions. This means that it can’t exceed a width of 8.5′ wide. A very large RV or motorhome may reach lengths over 40′ but in most cases, a typical RV will be between 25′ and 35′.
Houseboats, on the other hand, are usually much larger than this.
Even a small houseboat is usually over 30′ long and 14′ wide. This provides much more space to live in and more opportunities to have a layout that feels more like home.
Not only this, but many houseboats have multiple floors built into them.
A medium-sized houseboat can easily have up to 4 floors so liveaboards usually have ample opportunities to get away from each other.
For people with deep pockets, the size of a houseboat can become enormous. I’ve seen houseboats that have their own swimming pools built into them.
You’d really be hard pressed to design a liveable and driveable RV with a large swimming pool built into it.
18) No Gray Water Tanks
RVs usually use two different tanks to get rid of their waste. The black water tank stores their sewage while the gray water tank stores water from the sinks. Here’s exactly how the grey and black water tanks work.
Boats only have black water tanks. The water from the sinks goes into the ocean.
This means that boaters don’t have to spend as much time and energy draining their gray water tanks.
Because black water tanks usually fill up more slowly, a boat owner doesn’t have to make as many trips to get their tanks pumped out.
19) Less Traffic
Do you hate this view as much as I do?
Then you know what I mean…
Have you ever sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours on end? Sitting in traffic isn’t any fun in a car and it is even worse in a truck that is pulling a large camper behind it.
Driving through heavy traffic becomes more difficult in a big vehicle and it can quickly burn expensive gas.
In a boat, you really don’t have these issues. Near land, you’ll be traveling slowly but you’ll usually be able to move at a steady pace.
Out in the ocean or in a deep waterway, you might find that you never encounter another boat at all.
20) Autopilot Works!
While you’re away from other boaters, you can turn on your autopilot system.
This system basically drives the boat for you and your only task is to watch out for other boaters. When you do notice another boater, you can quickly and easily take the controls back from your boat to steer it safely away.
I believe that one day you won’t have to drive your RV but until this day comes, boaters will have the edge when it comes to driving.
RVing and boating are two different things and they can both be a lot of fun.
If you’re new to both of them, why not try one for a while and then switched to the next one. Many boaters have started out in RVs and vice versa so don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to one over the other.
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Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.