JM and I have lived on two boats in the past three years, a wooden 35' Dickerson ketch and a 25' Aleutka. We have recently sold the latter and are looking for the Next Boat. I know at least a couple people here have expressed an interest in living aboard, so I figured I'd share a few things I think we've learned.
1. Wooden boats leak. All of them. It's part of being a wooden boat. Furthermore, you will absolutely have to haul them out and have the bottoms painted at least once a year. The paint will &rt;$100/can. Having your boat hauled out will be hundreds of dollars. The yard may also refuse to let you paint your own bottom and insist you pay them an exorbitant amount to do it for you. Wooden boats are also very likely to have rot if they have ever had an entry point for fresh water. Wooden boats can be hard to insure. Many marinas will refuse to let you keep a wooden boat either because they are afraid they will sink in their slip or because you are likely to be uninsured. Boat 1 was a wooden boat. We might buy another one but would much prefer fiberglass (as in boat 2).
2. If you buy a boat with a gas engine, insurance companies and marinas will fear you twice as much as if your boat were only wood.
3. If you buy a pocket cruiser to live on (as in boat 2), know that if you do not have room for a proper head and holding tank, you will be fined or kicked out of some very attractive places to stay (ex~ Bootkey Harbor, probably the best anchorage in the Keys). It does not matter if you have a port-o-potty. If you don't have a holding tank and a deck fitting, you are not welcome.
4. If you buy a pocket cruiser and want to be on good terms with your spouse, you must buy one with a V-berth or double berth.
5. If you plan to live off the hook, know that you and your spouse will fight over the dinghy. Smart cruisers we have known have purchased boats with enough room for an inflatable kayak along with the dinghy.
6. Public transportation is still a joke in many places. If you cruise, you will probably want room for two folding bikes. The place you can tie up your dinghy and the place you can buy food, fiberglass, whatever, never seem to be within walking distance. Also, if you store your folding bike in a lazarette, it will get wet, salty and destroyed.
7. Weigh your need for space for friends, bikes, tools, inflatable kayaks, etc. with the fact that almost every expense will be charged on a per foot basis.
8. On the east and Gulf Coasts there is NO WHERE short of the Florida Keys one would ever want to live on a boat without a heater through the winter. We suffered through below freezing temperatures even in LA, AL, and northern Florida. Buy a boat with a wood stove or plan on paying for a slip with shore power all winter to run that space heater.
9. If you plan to live on the hook while cruising, know that in attractive cruising grounds (ex~ Southern FL), you will be charged up to an arm and a leg just to tie your dinghy up and set foot on land. In Marathon, the charge is $13/day and you can only climb over the fence behind Home Depot so many times before getting caught.
With all that said, I still think a boat is going to be our ideal living arrangement. In the nice months, you can live off the hook for nothing. In the winter, it's probably worth paying for a slip. You can probably fit as much junk in it as an RV, but you have the choice to power it with free energy and park it in free places (just about any water navigable from the sea) a lot of the time. You never have to pay any property taxes.
We're prowling the Pac. NW this summer looking for the Next Boat. We're still fighting out the details, but we intend on going bigger (up to 50' maybe) to allow us to take contributing passengers/friends and to keep tools, bikes, and other things that help us save money and stay sane. Perhaps if we find a boat with an aft cabin, we'll even get some room mates. Fiberglass preferred. Steel or wood grudgingly considered. Diesel engine (veggie boat perhaps?). Woodstove required. Head with holding tank required. Extra points for doghouse, junk rig. Solar/wind electricity generation installed or to be installed. Sailboat, of course.
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