Like many raised in the dry plains of West Texas, I’ve always been fascinated with water, from rivers and lakes to the mother of all, the ocean. My attraction to the sea was nurtured by the TV shows and novels of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s that featured characters with homes on the water.
There was Sonny Crockett of “Miami Vice,” the ultra-cool police detective who lived on an Endeavor 42 sailboat, and Quincy M.E., the Los Angeles medical examiner in a series of the same name who lived on a sailboat in Marina Del Rey, Calif. John McDonald wrote 20 novels about private eye Travis McGee, who won his houseboat “Busted Flush” in a poker game. Across the pond, Scotland yard detective John Maven lived on a covered barge in the Thames in Donald MacKenzie’s Raven book series.
As these examples illustrate, we often associate living on the water with wealth, adventure, and freedom. But is it something you could realistically do full-time? Let’s take a closer look at what living on the water entails.
Popular Places for Water Residence
Paul Miles, a narrowboat (i.e., canal boat) owner, claims in the Financial Times that more than 10,000 people live on boats in London and more than a quarter of England’s 33,000 inland boats are permanent residences. There are similar resident boating communities around the world, including an ocean community in Hong Kong where foreign airline pilots live until their contracts are finished.
While there are no reliable statistics regarding the number of people in the United States who live on boats year-round, also known as “liveaboards,” the blog BetterBoat notes, “there are all sorts of great places to live [in the U.S.] aboard a boat” thanks to 95,471 of miles of coastlines (including Hawaii and Alaska), plenty of rivers, and oh-so-many lakes. Those who prefer saltwater to freshwater might consider the following locations.
- San Diego, CA. The climate is hard to beat — never too hot or too cold — and laws and regulations are favorable to boat living. While it’s illegal to drop anchor offshore for extended periods, there are plenty of clean, orderly, and safe marinas. Expect to pay a premium for a slip large enough to accommodate a boat fit for full-time living. After all, San Diego is among the most beautiful areas in the country.
- Corpus Christi, TX. Those who prefer to live on the Gulf Coast will enjoy this coastal city and its naval roots. Local laws favor boat residence, and the cost of marina slips is less expensive than in popular areas on either coast.
- The Chesapeake Bay Area. There are multiple marinas in cities around Maryland and Virginia that are generally protected from harsh weather. Expect to pay $5,000 to $8,000 annually for a marina and other costs here.
- Tampa Bay, FL. While insurance, fees, and a slip close to downtown are expensive, this area is one of the most popular ports in Florida for boat residents. The waterfronts of Tampa and St. Petersburg offer plentiful dining, shopping, and recreational activities when you’re off the boat.
- Sausalito, CA. Author Shel Silverstein and actor Robin Williams once lived in houseboats in this area across the bay from San Francisco. There are eight marinas in the city with more than 1,899 berths. The average tenure of a boat resident here is over 10 years, according to a city survey.
- Seattle, WA. This city provided the backdrop for the houseboat in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle.” Floating homes here cost up to $1 million and more but offer easy access to shops, businesses, and public transportation.
- Portland, OR. There are nearly 1,500 boat homes in the Portland metropolitan area as well as up and down the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Several marinas are within walking distance of downtown of Oregon’s largest city, which offers cultural amenities akin to those of a major metropolis in a more laid-back atmosphere.
Those who prefer fresh water can choose berths on many of the lakes and rivers around the country, including the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Types of Floating Residences
You can live on the water in a variety of different structures, each with its own advantages and inconveniences.
1. Yachts (a.k.a. Motorsailers)
The term “yacht” generally refers to boats that are a minimum of 80 feet in length, are powered by sails or engines, and are capable of open-sea travel. They also bring to mind images of opulence, thanks to extreme examples like Tiger Woods’ “superyacht” Privacy, where the pro golfer stayed during the 2018 U.S. Open. This $20 million luxury yacht features a master stateroom, an eight-person Jacuzzi, a three-person elevator, and a home theater.
Due to their extended capabilities, yachts of any size are generally more expensive to purchase and operate than other boat living quarters. Since most marinas are not equipped to handle extra-long vessels of 100 feet or more, or drafts greater than 8 feet, larger boats must be anchored offshore in moorage bays and serviced by dinghies and smaller powerboats.
2. Converted Barges, Tugboats & Trawlers
Many on-the-water residents acquire older barges, flat-bottom tugboats, and trawlers, sometimes removing the engines for extra space before turning them into homes. While barges are not intended for regular sea travel, they can be towed when necessary to new marinas and slips. Tugboats and trawlers are found in ports as well as on coastal seas. Southern Boating details some of the choices available in modern tugboats and trawlers designed for long-range cruising or onboard living.
Houseboats are specially constructed residential vessels that are self-propelled and thus capable of moving on their own. They’re often confused with floating homes, which are permanently moored in a marina or water community.
A houseboat is not designed to be permanently moored and has quick connections to disconnect from marina-supplied electricity, water, and sewer lines. Houseboats, especially favored on lakes and rivers for vacations of limited duration, are generally less expensive but less spacious than floating homes.
4. Floating Homes
While other water residences begin as boats, a floating home is constructed on a floating foundation of buoyant material and permanently moored (except in emergencies). Often multi-storied, floating homes can be as large as a medium-sized home (about 3,000 square feet) and cost up to $700 per square foot. Some even have underwater basements with portholes for viewing aquatic flora and fauna.
Advantages of Water Residence
Jacques Cousteau claimed that “the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Joseph Conrad wrote, “The sea has never been friendly to man.” When it comes to living on the water, opinions are similarly divided; the same feature that attracts one person may repel another.
Some, like narrowboat owner Miles, love the experience, claiming that those who live on the water are members of a unique tribe of romantic nomads. Others can’t imagine daily living in the cramped quarters of most boats, constantly dealing with leaks and mold and the inconvenience of cold showers and limited privacy.
Those who love living on the water cite the following benefits.
The romance of the sea and the lure of escaping civic and cultural expectations have attracted the human imagination for millennia. From Homer’s “Odyssey” to the tales of Mike Fink, adventurers and rebels have looked to the sea for generations as a place where anything is possible.
“Capt. John,” a year-round liveaboard, writes in his blog that living on a boat is “all about freedom… Spending your precious time with only those things, people, and places that energize and excite your life… From [b]ums to [b]illionaires we all are, but what we share in common is absolute freedom, fierce independence, love for the water, and great respect for Mother Nature and each other.”
Boat living also gives you the freedom to live in many different settings. Bob Calves purchased a used Great Lakes tugboat in 1992, remodeled it for everyday life, and has spent more than 20 years cruising up and down the East Coast. As PassageMaker reports, he spends most of his summers in Maine, the cold winter months in Georgia and the Carolinas, and the rest of his time at Kilmarnock, Virginia.
To many, modern life is focused on going faster, building bigger, and buying more in a frantic search to find meaning. Too often, we toil not for the joy of the work, but for the things that work enables us to buy. Despite advice to “stop and smell the roses,” many of us are unable to break the grips of the powerful marketing cabals that whisper in our ears, “Consume. Consume.”
Living on a boat the size of an efficiency apartment limits the appeal of owning things for the sake of owning them. Even the most ardent shopper recognizes the necessary transition to a simpler life when living in a limited amount of space. On his blog Living-Aboard, Mike Miller writes that, as a water resident, “you will get rid of all of your furniture and most of your books, knick knacks, and art” as well as “learn to cook dozens of varieties of one-pot meals” and “keep your wardrobe to a minimum.”
Life is more laid-back on the water than it is in a land-based existence. Casualness is the order of the day for those who don’t have jobs on land, and clothing is simple, especially in the warm climes of the ocean. Capt. John claims to have two pairs of shoes, a dozen T-shirts, two pairs of shorts, two pairs of jeans, a couple of sweaters, a windbreaker, a light jacket, and a drawer of underwear.
Most people living on houseboats or floating homes are part of a water community, many managed by the equivalent of a homeowners’ association (or HOA). Wild parties are no more frequent than you might find in a typical suburban upper-class neighborhood. Kim Brown, who lives with her family on a marina in Charleston, S.C., says on Sailing Britican that “if someone has an issue, everybody helps out. Everyone is always looking out for everyone else.”
Many liveaboards love being a part of a community of people who are passionate about their way of life, including Susan Smillie, a single woman who has lived on a houseboat on the Thames River in London for more than a decade. Among the many things Smillie tells The Guardian she enjoys about life on the water, she includes “the community of people, the wealth of knowledge and skills swapped in one place — engineers, lawyers, doctors, photographers, people inspired by and invested in their environment.”
5. Closeness to Nature
Smillie rhapsodizes about her life on the river: “It’s waking to the sounds of moorhens and ducks, or gigantic carp banging on the hull as they jostle; it’s watching cormorants swoop for fish, or glimpsing a shy heron, still as a statue in the shadows.” Those anchored on the West Coast may be visited by noisy seals, occasional otters, porpoises, and a variety of noisy seabirds. Fishermen can rise in the morning and catch their breakfasts before the sun clears the horizon. There is a closeness to nature that you simply can’t find in a traditional home.
Proximity to nature also has its downsides, but most liveaboards don’t mind them. Those who berth their boats in regions prone to the occasional thunderstorm claim to love the sound of raindrops pattering on the deck. Others love the feel of the boat gently creaking from the waves while they drink a hot toddy to ward off a chill. Rainy weather is an opportunity to collect rainwater and bolster their fresh water supplies (although the use of filters and water purification tablets to ensure cleanliness and purity is recommended). And everyone knows that fishing is always better in the rain.
Sisters Diane Hall and Julie Higgs live in side-by-side houseboats with attached floating decks on the coast of Hayden Island in the Columbia River. As she told Portland Monthly, Hall initially worried about the cold winters, only to find that “every season delivers its gifts: the songs of red- and yellow-winged blackbirds stopping by as they head north in the spring; summer’s early-morning kayak glides before work; the otters and beavers preparing for winter; the low-hanging sunlight glinting on the water during the shortest days.”
6. Physical & Mental Health
Science confirms that humans evolved to be physically active. For instance, according to research by psychology professor Gene Alexander and anthropology professor David Raichlen, lack of exercise is genetically related to Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, our modern sedentary lifestyle means that most Americans rarely have to do physical work. As a consequence, we spend billions of dollars each year on gym memberships, fitness classes, and exercise gurus.
A boat residence naturally requires physical exertion due to the need for constant cleaning and maintenance. Liveaboards typically walk more than land-based homeowners due to the distances from their berths to garbage cans and shopping supplies. Most people with homes on the water don’t own cars, choosing instead to walk, bicycle, or rely on public transportation to move around the cities where they moor. Life on a boat requires stretching and bending to reach objects necessarily stored in less-accessible spaces, helping them maintain flexibility. And most liveaboards regularly swim, often snorkeling for their main dinner course.
Most on-the-water homeowners enjoy the tinkering and physical activity required by living on the water, especially since it occurs in the great outdoors. Where else are you likely to draw a pod of young seals or a colony of water birds to applaud your efforts?
The cost of living in many of America’s great cities has become prohibitive. A one-bedroom apartment in Seattle, San Francisco, or New York City costs a minimum of $1,750, $3,000, and $4,000, respectively. As a result, many residents elect to live in boating communities, often near the heart of the city with ready access to public transportation. Liveaboards enjoy “waterfront property” for a fraction of the cost homeowners on land are paying. Brown says of her family’s sailboat, “Our neighbors on land are paying millions for the same view we have.”
Older retirees seeking to live within a fixed income, as well as young college graduates burdened by school debt, are turning to water residences to save money. The Wall Street Journal reports that many people negatively affected by the 2011 recession moved onto their boats to save money, including David Rhoads. After his divorce, the 45-year-old vice president of a paper shredding firm moved to a 39-foot yacht. He currently pays $1,500 for monthly loan payments on the boat and berthing fees, less than half his previous $4,000 mortgage payment.
Sam Train, a naval officer, lives on a 40-foot Catalina cruiser with his wife and their new baby. He tells Business Insider that they spend about $2,200 per month for the mortgage on the boat, marina costs including utilities, and monthly maintenance expenses. In San Diego, where they live, they could spend more than $2,350 a month for an apartment.
In many ways, living in a community of boat homes is more secure than living in a land-based neighborhood. Strangers around the docks are noticed immediately, and most marinas and boat communities limit access to docks and slips. Many liveaboards don’t even worry about securing their cabins, something most traditional homeowners haven’t done since the 1950s. According to Brown, “Crime rates are far lower in marinas than on housing [es]states. People rarely get burgled, murdered or violated in a marina!”
That said, cruising in some parts of the world can be dangerous due to known pirate activity or drug runners. Unless you possess an extraordinary need for adventure and an unwarranted degree of self-confidence, avoid venturing into waters that are known to be hazardous.
Many boat residents discover that entertaining on their boats is popular with clients and increases business. The calming ambiance of being on the water facilitates relationships and encourages trust; as “Legends of the Fall” author Jim Harrison put it, “You can’t be unhappy in the middle of a big, beautiful river.”
Remember, however, that too much alcohol can easily turn a pleasant evening into a tragedy. When entertaining guests on the water, set limits on your and your guests’ consumption to ensure a pleasurable outcome for everyone.
Disadvantages of Water Residence
While the benefits are many, there are also drawbacks to life on the water that are worth considering.
1. Social Stigma
To some, “freedom” is synonymous with “dropping out” or walking away from family and friends to pursue selfish goals. Homeowners who live on land complain that liveaboards are freeloaders since they use the same municipal services as other residents but pay less than their fair share of the costs to support them.
The conflict extends to the right of homeowners to protect their ocean views. In 2016, the Broward Palm Beach New Times reported on an escalating struggle between a homeowner and “gypsy” boat owners who anchored on the narrow stretch of the ocean behind his house. As a consequence, the Florida legislature prohibited anchoring in specific areas, forcing cruisers to use expensive marinas or crowded public anchorages.
Some worry that cruising from place to place discourages relationships, turning people into no more than “ships that pass in the night,” as Longfellow phrased it. While Smillie loves living on the water, she does concede, “I wonder if it’s potentially limiting. There are perceptions of a bohemian lifestyle; I suspect people imagine a cramped, hardy existence that doesn’t resemble mine – that I’m stooped in the damp and dark, having cold sponge baths in the salty brine. Or that I’m constantly moving, of no fixed abode, like a watery hobo. What would I do if I met someone who hated the water? Or got seasick? That probably wouldn’t work.” Loved ones may question your sanity or categorize you in the same class as ski and surf bums.
2. Lack of Space
Even a large boat is no comparison to a small house’s storage and closet space. People over six feet tall must quickly learn to duck when moving about. While some water communities have land-based storage lockers for residents, these lockers are rarely large enough to store much and are always in high demand.
Liveaboards must forget about luxuries like spacious refrigerators since appliances must be sized to fit into a small space. Ship toilets, for instance, are smaller and more complicated than house toilets. Capt. John notes that he considers the space requirements of any purchase before its costs; if there is no space, he says, “then I simply can’t buy it.”
3. Lack of Privacy
Lack of privacy can be a problem when homes are berthed 10 feet apart and open windows are the norm. Residents are privy to their neighbors’ family arguments, loud music, and the occasional exposures of intimate activities. Having a sense of humor is essential when living in a marina or floating home community. Bigger boats are typically moored at greater distances from neighbors, but it usually costs considerably more for this isolation.
4. Wild Animals & Bugs
Be prepared for unexpected encounters with wildlife, especially pesky water birds adept at stealing any food left unprotected and leaving unwanted deposits on exposed surfaces. Seals and otters have been known to scramble onto floating decks. Rodents (e.g., rats and mice) will move on board unless deterred, attracting larger creatures (e.g., feral cats, raccoons, and stray dogs) who prey on them.
Bugs such as roaches, flies, spiders, and ants can quickly infest a floating home or boat unless it’s regularly cleaned, disinfected, and treated. This cleaning includes under the floorboards and in the nooks and crannies throughout the ship. Trash management is essential.
Mosquitoes can be an irritant when you berth close to shore in some regions of the country, requiring screens over ports and hatches and mosquito netting over beds and decks. It’s practical to keep a spray container of DEET on board.
5. Bad Weather
Harsh weather affects residents on the water more than those living on land. Moderate tides and winds can rock boats and floating homes, sending loose objects crashing to the ground and blowing away items left unattended on decks. Watching the weather is crucial whether you’re cruising, at anchor, or moored in a marina, and “battening the hatches” is key since a storm can sink boats or drive them aground.
Winter can be especially trying, with frozen water lines, insufficient fuel to run heaters, and the danger of walking along icy docks and slips to shop for groceries. Some who live on their boats year-round in cold weather shrink-wrap their vessels to protect them and keep in heat. A better solution, if possible, is to cruise to warmer climes during the winter.
Lightening and hurricanes are dangerous to anyone on the water. For those who berth close to shore, experts recommend leaving your boat for land until the danger is over. Every boat and floating home should have a well-designed lightning protection system, the equivalent of a floating “Faraday’s cage.”
If faced with a coming hurricane, you may not have time to move your vessel out of harm’s way. SAIL magazine offers valuable advice to save yourself and your boat in a tropical storm. Whatever steps you take to protect your property, the first should always be ensuring your safety.
For those who can spend $1 million or more for a residence, a Miami New Times reports that startup company Arkup offers a 4,350-square-foot floating home with four bedrooms that includes a 272 horsepower engine, solar panels, and retractable hydraulic legs (or “arks”) that lift the structure 40 feet above the water. These arks are designed to withstand Category 4 hurricane winds.
Required maintenance deters most people who consider living on the water. Constant moisture and leaks promote mold, mildew, and rust. Almost everything on the water seems to rust unless you’re extra vigilant. Corroded hose clamps on attached lines can leak, possibly sinking your boat and necessitating the ever-present bilge pump. Rusty electrical terminals can spark, setting the boat on fire.
Maintenance and repair costs are unpredictable but inevitable due to the complexities of the various systems on a boat, as well as the harsh conditions of sun exposure and salt water. In addition to repairs when something breaks, boat owners need to do regular maintenance. Kim Kaslick, who lives on a 40-foot trawler based in Florida, says that this maintenance can include:
- Hauling the boat out every three years to have the bottom painted (roughly $3,000)
- Routine engine and generator work (e.g., changing oil, oil filters, belts, and transmission fluid)
- Varnishing wood railings and other top-side wood once a year to protect it
- Hiring a diver once a month to clean the barnacles off your boat if you live in salt water ($50 to $80 per month)
- Repairing canvas and isinglass (the clear vinyl windows on a boat)
- Flushing AC lines with muriatic acid
- Recommissioning water tanks
- Cleaning saltwater strainers in the boat’s AC system
- Replacing impellers (the small rubber vanes on a water pump that suck water from the lake or ocean to cool the engine)
Kaslick notes that most boat owners learn to do the majority of this maintenance themselves to avoid the extra expense of hiring help. The ability to perform necessary repairs is also essential since breakdown while cruising is always a possibility.
Mowing the lawn will no longer be necessary when you’re a liveaboard, but you will need to make frequent treks over the docks between your boat slip and land-situated garbage bins and grocery stores. If you own a car, the walk to the parking lot is usually lengthy.
Owning a dinghy — a small boat that can be used to move people and small loads of freight — is necessary for cruisers, houseboats, and floating homes since moving the larger boat is cumbersome, expensive, and impractical for small trips around a marina or to the shore. Dinghies must be tied up when not in use as small waves can move a loose, light boat to distant places and require an extensive search to recover.
8. Guest Liability
For most liveaboards, dangers on the water are similar to those faced by a homeowner with a swimming pool. Many water residents require children and pets to wear life jackets on deck and be tethered while the boat is moving. It’s a good practice to forbid swimming any time the engine is running to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and propeller mishaps. As with any home, you will need to purchase insurance to protect yourself.
Having a fully stocked medical kit on board is a given, as is knowing basic first aid and CPR. People drown every day, so liberally place guide rope, grab rails, and handrails throughout the exterior of your floating home to avoid accidental slips and falls. Keep flotation devices and life hooks in plain sight and easily accessible.
Considerations Before Moving Onto the Water
If you’re considering becoming a full-time water resident, ask yourself the following questions to determine if it’s the best fit for you.
1. How Will You Use a Floating Residence?
Long-term leases for boat owners and floating homes are not practical due to the need for continuous maintenance; failure to provide appropriate care can quickly turn into costly overhauls and repairs. As a consequence, your best option is to purchase the boat or floating home you intend to occupy.
Before acquiring a place to live, prospective liveaboards must decide how they expect to use their craft. Those who plan to cruise (i.e., move regularly from one place to another) need a craft that can run under internal power, such as a yacht or trawler. Those who intend to remain permanently in a single location can select from houseboats, barges, and floating homes.
While there are wide variations in cost, a self-powered craft such as a yacht, trawler, or tugboat typically costs more than a houseboat or a floating home with the same amount of living space.
2. How Much Space Do You Need?
Most liveaboards are single persons, couples, or small families. While extra space is valuable, it comes at an additional cost and can affect how well your vessel handles.
Experts recommend that any craft intended for cruising on open water should be manageable by a single person since there is no guarantee that two parties will always be available. According to BoatSafe, your ability to “single-handle” a boat depends on the “design and layout of the vessel and [your] physical fitness, strength, experience, nautical cunning, and determination.”
Sailboats are generally more difficult to handle than powerboats, while raising anchor or docking is exponentially more difficult the more substantial the boat. Mark Nicholas, a liveaboard in Southern California, claims that a minimum length of 33 feet is necessary for basic needs, while Capt. John recommends a maximum length of 50 feet for a single person to handle safely.
Floating homes are generally not limited to berth sizes since the extra space is vertical (i.e., more levels), rather than horizontal. In such cases, one’s pocketbook is often the deciding factor.
3. What Is Your Budget?
Boats and floating homes are available new or used. Real estate website Zillow lists floating homes on inland lakes, rivers, and both coasts for anywhere from under $100,000 to over $1 million. A new boat is generally more expensive per linear foot than a used craft, but it allows for customization and comes with a manufacturer’s warranty.
The condition of a used boat depends upon prior wear and tear and the previous owner’s diligence regarding maintenance. Used boats, like other personal property, sell for less than new boats but may be perfectly serviceable. Always have a used boat or floating home checked out by a professional surveyor to determine its condition and value before purchasing. This survey should include an underwater inspection of the hull and flotation devices.
When purchasing a used craft, recognize that there will likely be additional costs to make the structure livable and comfortable. Yacht broker Jack Kelly recommends that a new purchaser spend no more than 60% of their purchase budget on a used boat, reserving the remainder for necessary repairs, any customized outfitting needed, and unexpected costs. Those who purchase barges or floating homes should also consider the expense of towing the structure to its permanent mooring slip.
Powered vehicles are considered personal property and are subject to sales tax. Loans for boats (including houseboats) are similar to vehicle loans with short and medium terms. Floating homes are considered real property and, as such, are financed with mortgages and subject to property taxes.
When looking for financing for either type of vessel, seek a lender who is familiar with the asset you’re purchasing. Expect to make a 20% to 30% down payment and pay 2% to 3% higher than the interest rate for land-based mortgages of the same length. FHA and VA financing is not available for floating homes since they don’t have the permanent foundation required by law.
4. Can You Afford the Ongoing Costs?
The costs of living on board a floating structure depend on the lifestyle you choose, the amenities you require, and your ability and desire to perform regular maintenance. In 2015, Houseboat Magazine highlighted four couples and a single man living on houseboats around the country whose living expenses ranged from $25,000 to $100,000 annually.
When preparing to move from land to a water residence, keep in mind the following monthly expenses:
- Insurance. Whether you live on a boat or a floating home, your lender is likely to require insurance protection for potential loss and liability claims. There are many options for boat insurance from a variety of companies, but the Red Shield Insurance Company is the primary source of floating home insurance in the United States. According to OregonLive, floating home insurance is “slightly higher than for homes on land.”
- Anchorage and Mooring Fees. Expect to pay anchorage and mooring fees if you cruise to popular places. Mooring fees often include water taxi service, free holding tank pump-outs, dinghy storage, and access to bathrooms and laundry facilities. They usually cost about half the cost of a slip in a marina.
- Slip Fees. Marinas charge slip fees on a daily, weekly, monthly, or long-term basis. Slip fees vary according to the size of the berth, the services offered, and the location. For example, slip rental fees on the Columbia River in Oregon ranged from $255 to $1,250 monthly, according to a recent review. Liveaboards may be charged an extra fee since they typically use more of the facilities than those who use their boats occasionally. Some marinas include utilities in their fees; for others, you need to make arrangements for these services. Some marinas allow boat owners to buy their slips instead of renting them.
- HOA Fees. Most floating homes are berthed together around a dock in an organized community, often run by a homeowners’ association (HOA) that charges residents fees to cover common expenses like utilities and general moorage upkeep. Privately owned docks charge residents moorage fees similar to a private marina. Slips may be owned or leased. Expect to pay between $200 and $600 monthly for HOA fees or $550 to $750 for monthly moorage fees.
- Utilities. Floating homes are tied to the dock with adjustable mooring arms and permanently connected to utility services, much like a land home. These services include cable and Internet, electricity, gas, water, and sewage. Lines are usually located under the docks that line the slip and have separate meters. Boats rely on internal power for utilities, with toilet systems similar to those found in a recreational vehicle. When moored to a dock, temporary lines and quick connections provide electricity, fresh water, and the ability to pump sewage from the boat’s holding tanks.
- Maintenance. Ongoing maintenance, including a yearly inspection of the underside of the boat, can cost $1,000 to $5,000 annually depending on the condition of the boat and the owner’s ability and willingness to do the work.
Look Before Leaping
Before jumping into the deep end of full-time water residence, consider renting or leasing a boat home for a trial period.
Boatsetter is the equivalent of Airbnb for boats. The largest peer-to-peer boat rental company in the world, it offers more than 5,000 cruisers, yachts, houseboats, and sailboats in 2,300 locations around the United States for full- or half-day rentals.
Internationally, Click&Boat advertises having around 8,000 sailboats, powerboats, and barges in 100 ports around the Mediterranean Sea. You can charter boats with or without captains or crews for cruises on European rivers and the open sea. The company has also started a yacht charter service for Croatia, one of the most popular boating regions in the world.
You can also get a glimpse of the realities of living on the water by checking out the accounts of other liveaboards online. The website Tula’s Endless Summer has more than 100 YouTube movies depicting the daily lives of two young adults living, working, and traveling on a boat. Another set of recent college graduates, who have lived on a sailboat based in Juneau, Alaska year-round since 2015, offer a video portrayal of their lives on YouTube at Venture Lives.
People who spend their lives on the water will be the first to advise that the experience is not for everyone. While technology has eliminated some of the negatives of confined spaces, living on the water continues to require a minimalist outlook. Some people can’t physically adjust to the occasional rocking of waves, and many dislike the lack of privacy that comes with life on a boat and in a marina. That said, if you have the right mindset and personality, there can be nothing more liberating and exciting than living on the water full-time.
Does living on the water appeal to you? Have you considered a floating home as a way to save money?