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Living on board: frequently asked questions

by Rob Bowman, United Yacht 15 Jul 12:16 PDT
Liveaboard boat © United Yacht

"Can someone call me about living at a marina on a boat? I want to liveaboard and need to get an understanding of the costs."

This is a very common inquiry received at United Yacht Sales, but also one that has been more frequently asked over the last year as the popularity of living on a boat has become mainstream.

As real estate prices continue to rise and the process of purchasing a home becomes more difficult with the lack of inventory, the popularity of living on board is increasing dramatically. And why not? Living on board a boat offers freedom to explore the coast on a whim or anchor in a secluded cove for an unforgettable night. The allure of life at sea, combined with the exorbitant prices of home ownership, is helping to fuel a boat-buying boom that was already under way. Consider this:

  • According to the typical home listing price hit a new high this year, up 15% compared to 2020.
  • Available homes for sale declined 51% in Spring 2021 compared to the previous year according to the Home Buying Institute.
  • The NMMA Marine Statistical report showed boat sales at a 13 year high in 2020 and levels have not dropped in 2021

"We're getting at least one call a week in regards to people wanting to live aboard their boat at our marina," says Jordan Clark, Manager at the Chesapeake Harbour Marina in Maryland. "Without a doubt there is more interest for liveaboards than we got several years ago."

The liveaboard-lifestyle might seem like bliss when dreaming of sunsets at anchor and traveling to new marinas, but living on a boat comes with its own set of unique challenges and sacrifices. There are hundreds of videos on Youtube dedicated to living at sea, but creator 'Sailing Ruby Rose' offers a firsthand perspective of the highs and lows on living on board. "It's not always diving into crystal clear water, it's not always exploring an island paradise," says Terysa, one half of the Ruby Rose Yacht team.

With over 200 professional yacht brokers worldwide, United Yacht Sales can assist you with navigating through all of the liveboard boats for sale listed on the brokerage market. Please call our main office at 1-772-463-3131 and we can connect you with a liveaboard specialist that can help you determine what the right boat is for you. Below are some frequently asked questions about living onboard your boat that we hope you find helpful.

Is it cheaper to live on a boat?

Whether or not it is less expensive to live on a boat instead of a house really depends on your standards and expected quality of life on board. The median house price in 2021 was $380,000 and while many boats can be purchased for far less, you are also going to likely sacrifice quality, space, or purchased an older vessel. The cost to own a yacht can be substantial when you begin adding in annual maintenance, marina fees, fuel costs, and unforeseen expenses. Marina fees at Chesapeake Harbour Marina, for example, are $3 per foot, per day for the daily rate.

What is the best liveaboard boat?

United Yacht Sales broker Steve Gallagher has spent thousands of hours traveling and living on board multiple boats with his family and has opinions based on his experiences. The vessel in the above picture is a catamaran Steve owned and sailed over 10,000 nautical miles over a 2 year period.

"The first thing one must do when determining what kind of liveaboard they want to shop for is to identify the mission," he says. "Some liveaboards never leave the dock and others cross oceans and cruise the world. Every boat is a compromise so you have to factor in every aspect of the type of boating you plan to do and then start narrowing down the list of possibilities. Once you have determined the cruising area, look at factors like draft, max height, range needed, etc... those factors alone will rule out many boats not suited to your goals."

He continued, "Choosing the right boat depends on the situation. A house boat is great for living aboard at the dock or for use fresh water lakes but not an option for real cruising. Personally, I decided on a Sailing Catamaran for extended ocean cruising. A cruising sailing catamaran like a Leopard Yacht or Lagoon 45 are capable of crossing oceans and taking you anywhere on the globe."

"The design of a catamaran has many unique features that make it such a versatile a desirable liveaboard world cruiser. The twin hulls and large beam give you an enormous amount of living area on an incredibly stable platform both under way and at anchor. They also have a shallow draft and allow for cruising many areas not possible in a motoryacht or deep draft monohull sailboat. In addition, catamarans have plenty of deck space on the hardtop to carry a large amount of solar panels and more solar means more power. Another advantage of catamarans is safety. Catamarans unlike Mono hulls, are virtually unsinkable and they also have two engines and two rudders for redundancy. Cats are great for open ocean cruising but not for something like cruising the Great Loop on the inland waterways. Power catamarans have also become more popular in recent years in all price ranges including Horizon on the luxury side, and Aquila Boats being a bit more economical."

Is it easy to find a marina to live in?

Finding a nice marina to let you live on board can be a challenge. For this article, we called 10 different marinas up and down the east coast and only 2 of them accepted liveaboard residents. Larger marinas that cater to bigger motor yachts, for example, were less likely to offer liveaboard opportunities even though boat owners had the option of purchasing an annual slip.

Obviously the main things to consider when choosing a marina are the amenities such as electrical, laundry facilities, fuel availability, and access to deeper water. The best advice when trying to find a marina to liveaboard your boat is to spend the time on Google Maps, going up and down the coast you're considering, and call each one for options. Many of the marina managers we talked to were happy to give recommendations.

What's the best advice for anyone looking to live on their boat?

"Determine the Mission," Steve continued. "Figure out how much time will be spent under way versus time at the dock or at anchor. Talk to someone that has done it and get some real world advice and feedback. Go on several different types of boats and get a feel for each one. If possible, charter a similar boat to what you are considering buying and see how you like living on it before you buy. Just do it... Buy what seems to suit you best and make the most of it. It will be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do."

What is the best brand of liveaboard boat?

"If you're considering living on board and want to be comfortable, I suggest a trawler-style boat like a Fleming or Marlow Yacht," said Captain Jeff Palmer, longtime captain, professional broker, and new owner of United Yacht Sales. "There are a lot of inexpensive liveaboards out there, but they aren't comfortable."

"I've also got a 64-foot Grand Alaskan that is an excellent liveaboard option," he continued. "I would venture to say a boat that has most of the shore-based amenities, galley space, nice master berth, spacious salon, and aft deck, as well as a simple, straightforward engine room setup for the owner to his own maintenance, would be what I would look for in a boat to live on."

"As you know most liveaboard sailboat owners are cost conscious and do most of the work themselves," Jeff continued. Being uncomplicated, uncomputerized engines, water makers, and monitoring systems are a big plus for liveaboard owners. The whole point is a simple, free lifestyle and waiting on contractors to do work or not being able to fix something while in a remote area, is not an enjoyable experience. Most liveaboards are not sitting in St Barth's or Martha's Vinyard unless they have a ton of disposable income, then all of these are non-issues. Money cures everything or most everything in boating!"

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