The Cost of Living on a Boat

Living on the beach is expensive anywhere. From the cold shores in the Pacific North West, to the palm tree populated coast of So-Cal, renting an apartment is guaranteed to stretch your budget unless you’re sharing the space with room mates. And if you’re talking about owning property? Unless you have half a million for a down payment then forget it.

Rent is an unavoidable cost of living, and if you’re renting an apartment or a house you might at times begin to feel like your purpose for existence is to be a bill payer, that you’re just someone else’s paycheck. At the end of the day, even if you feel you can reasonably afford rent, you don’t own jack.

So let’s break down the cost of living on a boat shall we? There are four main costs of live-aboard life:

1. The Boat, duh

It’s typical for Marinas to only allow live-aboard status on vessels thirty five feet or larger, although if a harbor master takes a liking to you they may allow for a thirty foot boat. I’ve even heard of twenty-five footer live-aboards. It’s important to keep that in mind while boat buying, since it’d be a shame to buy the perfect boat to live in, only to learn there isn’t anywhere for you to put it. The general rule is to stick with the smallest boat you can get by with, not the largest you can afford.

To find a used sailboat in decent condition, a budget of ten to fifteen thousand will get your foot in the door. You should have a few thousand more for costs like pullout, surveying and repairs. It’s not uncommon for a used boat to require a few updates to get her up to code with the coast guard.

The good news is that once your boat is paid for, it’s yours! You may keep it for many years, sell it or include it in your will like any other personal property.

2. Slip Fee

The slip fee usually varies by the size of the boat, the larger the vessel the higher the slip fee, since a bigger boat requires a bigger slip. Expect to pay around $200 to $500 a month for your slip. Cheaper slips are usually on rivers or off the coast in smaller towns. The most expensive slips will be on popular beaches or near big cities.

3. Live-aboard Fee

While you may think you are good to go as soon as your boat is in the water with the slip fee paid, if you start living on your vessel without live-aboard status you are considered a “sneak-aboard”. There are people out there that take this route, however consider that this can get you kicked out of your slip without just 24 hours notice, your vessel impounded, and the loss of any deposit.

A live-aboard fee is relatively inexpensive, usually around $200 a month for one person and an added $50 per month for each additional person. This ensures your status to live full time in your slip and can include access to facilities like private bathrooms, showers, parking and lounge areas. Make sure to ask marinas what amenities are offered, I didn’t realized there was a gym room at my marina for a whole month after I started living there!

4. Utilities, Mail and Insurance

Say goodbye to triple digit water/electricity bills, and neighborhood association fees. I lump these all together because they’re only worth mentioning purely for the fact that the costs are so microscopic. My monthly mail box is just $15 through my marina and insurance to cover your boat in case of damage or sinking is barely over a $100 billed annually.

Plus, since I live in such a small space, it takes significantly less to heat and light it. In fact, the most I’ve ever paid for Electricity is $40 for the coldest February in forty years

So how much do I pay to live with my S.O. on a 35′ boat right on the ocean? With utilities? At the most it’s around $385 a month. Living on by the beach in paradise for under $400 a month is all about not being a human paycheck, it’s about paying off debt and saving my money for adventure. It’s about stressing less and enjoying living.

How about you all? How do you live? Would you live on a boat for the cheap rent?

10 Mistakes all Land Lubbers Make at Sea

Earning your sea legs is most definitely a process of trial and error, but the good news is you aren’t alone! Making mistakes is half the fun, but beware of these ten common pitfalls- 

1.  Forgetting to Ask Permission to Come Aboard

If you’ve never been on a boat, you probably didn’t know that before you board ship you should ask the captain for permission to come aboard. Contrary to many misconceptions, sailors actually do have etiquettes.

You should never board a vessel without the presence or permission of the captain! Boats are considered private property, and walking on the finger of its slip or on deck is trespassing. In fact, the docks of most Marinas are only accessible by tenants, their guests, and those who have checked in with the harbor master. 

2. Treating a Vessel Like a Building

You know how it’s totally cool to leave a half full mug of coffee out on the counter at your place? Not such a good idea if your house rocks and is made of wood and fiberglass. Like to procrastinate the dishes till the morning? No big deal in a house or apartment with big windows or fans, but smell sinks into small spaces quickly. Boats are already hard to keep smelling nice, considering the bilge, the head and the engine (especially if it’s diesel!). What about lighting a few candles to set the mood? You’d think fire would be the least of your concern living on the water, but fire is actually extra hazardous on a boat. Primarily the worry lies in sinking, and in boats that run on gas, due to the risk for an explosion if the fire were to reach the gas tank or fuel line.

3. Moving Quickly

The best way to injure yourself aboard a vessel is to move too quickly. Above and below deck are places for the surefooted, and even they will be swearing like a sailor after stubbing a few toes and knocking their head on wood. Being cautious is an important part of staying safe when a wrong step could put you in the ocean or down a flight of steps into the corner of a table.

4. Being Distracted

It’s so annoying to get all the way out the door and into your car only to realize you need to go back inside because you forgot something. It’s even more annoying when your door is three stacking pieces of wood and your driveway is actually a walk all the way down the dock, up the bridge and onto shore. Being distracted is a major part of forgetting the essentials, like turning the water off as you leave or making sure lines are tied off right.

5. …Or Being Unprepared

Showering isn’t a matter of just being cold as you dash across the hall because you forgot your towel. It’s more like shaking the water off like a dog and wiggling back into your skinny jeans to walk your damp ass back home to finish drying off, I guess you could try the napkin dispenser too but then you’ll smell like recycled hand towels. The effect is amplified further when say, you leave shore unprepared without something essential as drinking water or your radio.

6. Also Over-preparing

The main thing about boats is that they can’t hold all the shit you’d normally pack a house with. By over-over-preparing I mean having your set of ten knives, your collection of snow globes or those three different fish poles. All that stuff piles up— eventually your boat will be so full that you wont be able to go anywhere at all for fear of being crushed as you bounce over your first wave.

7. Not Respecting the Water

Sailors are infamous drinkers, and vacationers everywhere enjoy renting out boats and jet skies while staying by the water. It’s important to be aware that most cases of drowning occur from being on the water and intoxicated, from leaving children unattended and from overestimating one’s own swimming ability. In most instances, drowning victims are found without a life jacket on. Wearing a life vest, on fresh water or salt water, whether on a raft or speed boat, increases your chance of survival should you fall or be thrown into the water.

8. Being Oblivious to the Weather

“Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight”. You should never take weather conditions for granted. When you’re out on the water anything can happen. The wind can turn on you in an instant, the fog could roll in or lightening could strike. It’s a good idea to watch the forecast before setting out, and to keep a watchful eye towards the sky.

9. Disregarding Marina Rules

As a tenant of a Marina, you don’t have the same rights as a tenant of an apartment or building. If you cause trouble or drama living alongside other boaters, or if you disregard waste disposal or other coast guard regulated safety standards you are in danger of losing your spot in your slip. The harbormaster has total control of who stays and who goes in the marina. It’s always a good idea to be on her or his good side. Make sure to comply with the rules of your marina and be friendly with your fellow boater neighbors. It pays off in the long run, and provides you with more staying power.

10. Cursing Your Boat

Beware landlubbers! Your vessel can acquire nasty curses if you disregard sailor traditions. The most common way is renaming a ship improperly, never rename your boat without first sailing her backwards and calling out the new name to the sea three times. Certain days are bad for sailing too, like the last day in December or the first day in April. Also Thursdays and Fridays. Just to be careful, you should also eat your bananas on shore, there’s just something about them that makes ships disappear never to be seen again. 

Live-aboard life is all about learning as you go and doing your best not to make the same mistake twice. Remember everyone starts out a novice, and everyone has to earn experience.