Posted by: wrmcnutt | June 23, 2011

What’s It Like to Live Aboard?

A young man (15) visited a forum I participate in and asked two fairly straightforward questions: how much does it cost to live aboard, and what’s it like.

He immediately got a lot of advise about staying in school; sailing and the sea can wait.  While I endorsed this advice as “good,” nobody answered his questions.  And I thought you might be interested in my response.

DISCLAIMER:  I’ve never lived aboard for a significant amount of time.  I’ve only weekended and camped aboard boats.

Originally Posted by smallboatlover View Post
so i’m 15 years only and ive always thought about living on a sailboat and not my goal is that when i’m 18 to move out and onto a sailboat by myself or with girlfriend if have one at the time. so just wonder around how much would it cost to do this? cheaper than living on shore?compared to a ( appartment/ house). whats it like to live on a sailboat? i sail my little sailboat every chance i get but just wondering.

Ok – Small Boat Lover. The Olde Salts here are great at giving unsolicited advice, even if most of it is pretty good. I’ll go in a different direction and give you the answers you asked for, rather than the ones I think you need.

First – how much does it cost? Well, that depends on how much you want to spend. If you are willing to camp on a 19′ West Wight Potter, the cost can be very low. For example, the minimum slip fee off of Pier 37 in San Francisco is under $400. For housing in San Francisco at the waterfront is unheard of. With that you get showers, electricity, and toilet facilities, but you’re walking to a shower, and your boat has no on board head, just a hand-emptied porta-john. The galley is a one burner propane stove and a cooler chest. (So add approx $3.00/day for ice if you want cold drinks.) It’s definitely living on the cheap and primitive. Such a boat cost me $11,000 used. (You can find one for less, but it was THE boat, and I wanted it) If you get a larger boat, you can get one with more systems, but then the maintenance costs go up month to month and season to season.

For a used live aboard, I estimate you will need between $20,000 – $35,000 to get a boat in decent working condition and get it transported to where you need it. Annual maintenance, assuming you are day-sailing in comfortable weather and not cruising come hell or high water, will probably run $2000 – $5000 a year, depending on how hard you work to keep up with the failing systems. (Water hates boats.) Depending on where you are, your slip fees can run anywhere from $75 – $1200 a month.

So cost wise, to sum up, once you’ve paid for the boat, it costs about what it costs to live in an efficiency apartment, if you stick with a small, simple boat.

Now – what’s it like? Well, I’ve never lived aboard. I’ve just done a little cruising on vacations. For one thing, it’s crowded. There’s never enough room for everything. Your desktop computer needs to turn into a laptop. Your book collection needs to turn into a kindle. Your workshop needs to turn into a tool box. And there’s never, ever, anywhere you can park your car for free, let alone your trailer.

It’s hot, except when it’s cold. Boats are made of fiberglass.  That’s a fiber-reinforced plastic.  They heat up in the sun, and bleed off heat when it’s cold. Unless the boat’s got on-board AC/heating, it’s a constant job managing the temperature. It’s damp. Even if the hull doesn’t sweat or leak, it’s going to be humid.

Oooh! Play guitar? Find yourself a cheap crappy one. Do NOT take a nice wooden musical instrument on a boat long term. The humidity and temperature changes are very bad for them.

Don’t get me wrong – I love being on my boat so much that I will drive 40 minutes to the marina and just sit in the cockpit, drink a little rum, and dream of tropical islands, even when I don’t have time to sail. I sleep well aboard – the motion of the boat at dock or anchor rocks me to sleep. Girls seem to like to sail – that’s for sure. But below deck, they like their comfort, so if you’re living on a small boat, try to select for companions with a spirit of adventure.  Food cooked aboard your own boat tastes better than food cooked ashore.  Dunno why.

So – if this is something you REALLY want to do, you’ve got a lot of research ahead of you, and a lot of hard work to earn the money to pay for it.

I’ve tried to answer your questions, given my experience. Let me know if you want my advice.

Captain Bill
Charleston Lady“It ain’t all buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of sailing is? Love. You take a boat in to sea that you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her afloat when she oughtta founder… tells ya she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens… makes her a home.” Captain Malcom Reynolds, Paraphrased

[iframe width=”1″ height=”1″ src=”″%5D


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: