10 tips for taking the liveaboard plunge

Are you intrigued by the idea of living on a boat? In an area as beautiful as the Puget Sound, who could blame you? Waking up on the water every morning is like a dream come true. Tiny living at a marina is perfect for us and hundreds of others throughout the Pacific Northwest, but it’s not for everyone.

Here are ten things to consider before taking the plunge.

1.Test-drive tiny living before you commit.

Tiny living is challenging, and it’s something you can’t really know your feelings about until you’ve done it. Fortunately, there are multiple Airbnb listings for boats where you can stay and get a real-life feel for what living on a boat is like. Make sure you bring groceries and cook your own meals, and, if at all possible, schedule your stay for some time during the week so you will have to get up and ready for work on the boat. This isn’t a vacation. It’s a test drive for your new life, and you need to learn whether you can transfer your day-to-day activities from a house to a boat.

2.Take an honest look at the “things” you need every day.

There is a limited amount of storage space on a boat. It is not conducive to collections of any sort. Also, closet space is sparse, which makes wardrobe options limited. We have four plates, four cups, two bowls and four sets of silverware on our boat. We have one pot, one pan and a set of three mixing bowls. Our espresso machine, stand mixer, flat screen television and desktop computers were traded out for a Chemex pour over, a wooden spoon and a laptop. Items that can do double duty are your best friends.

3.Pay cash for your boat.

There are so many good reasons for paying cash for your boat. One of the big draws of living aboard is that your monthly bills can be significantly less than living on land. When you have a boat payment, that amount increases and can potentially bring your total monthly expenses up to almost what you’d pay for a home on land. Getting insurance for your boat is simpler if you pay cash rather than financing it, as is the purchasing process itself. Not everyone is in a position to do this, of course, but if you are, I highly recommend it.

4.Practice being adaptable.

Living on a boat is great practice in adaptability. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s adventurous. But it’s never predictable. And it’s never easy. From waking up at three in the morning to tighten your lines in a storm to altering your favorite cookie recipe to accommodate your tiny propane oven to using every last plastic container you own to catch leaks…and then crawling into every crack and compartment to find out where they started, boat life is one adaptation after another. And as soon as you think you have it all figured out, all the leaks fixed, all the adjustments made…you find more. Rinse and repeat.

5.Take a serious look at your relationship (if you’re in one).

Not all relationships are transferable to a tiny space. Some people need plenty of space and alone time to maintain a healthy relationship. There’s nothing wrong with this, but living on a boat, where space is a commodity might not be the best idea for a relationship that needs room to flourish.

6.Choose your marina carefully.

In Puget Sound, marina space is limited. And liveaboard status is an endangered species. That being said, being particular about where you moor your boat may seem like an impossibility. But before you commit to one place (because once you get liveaboard status, you’re not going to give it up easily), make sure you are somewhere that makes you happy. Do you need to be within walking distance of shops and restaurants? Is parking as close as possible to your dock at the top of your priorities list? Do you want to live somewhere where there are a lot of other liveaboards? These are all things to consider when making your decision. And maybe a marina isn’t your cup of tea at all. There are some people who live “on the hook,” away from the dock. This is a viable option to weigh in your decision as well.

7.Prioritize your “must haves” when boat shopping

Boats come in all shapes and sizes, and for every person there is a perfect boat. But reality states that perfection is unreachable, so have a list of things you’d like to have in your perfect boat and then prioritize them. For us, priority #1 was headspace enough for my husband to stand up. He’s 6’4″. I wanted a refrigerator, not an ice box. And we knew we’d be working aboard, so space for both of us to have our laptops was imperative. Your priorities will be unique to your needs. Know what you need, what you want and what you can live without, and boat shopping will be so much easier.

8.Talk to people already living on their boats.

Liveaboards are generally quite friendly folks. And most of them will be more than willing to answer any questions you have about the liveaboard lifestyle. If you’re real friendly, they might even invite you aboard for a tour (and a beer), and you may just walk away with a new friend. Boat people tend to take care of each other, so be prepared to become part of a community when you move aboard.

9.Wait to tell your family and friends.

When you tell your family and friends that you’re moving onto a boat, they’re going to tell you you’re crazy. Unless, of course, you have awesomely adventurous family like mine. But even so, there are always going to be naysayers. There will always be someone who wants to give you every practical reason why you shouldn’t do it. Some of them are jealous, some of them are seriously concerned, some just can’t wrap their heads around why you would want to do such a thing. My advice to you is to wait to tell them until you’re one hundred percent sure of your decision. You’ve made the commitment and there’s no turning back. You’ve weighed all the options, all the consequences and you know for certain you’re moving forward. Once you’re sure in your own mind, you’ll have answers for the naysayers and you won’t easily be convinced to reconsider.

10.Go for a sail.

This one seems obvious, but get out on the water. Go for a sail. Or a motor. Charter a boat or ask a friend to take you out. Half of the fun of living on a boat is spending time on the water. If you don’t love it, maybe another form of tiny living would be better suited for your lifestyle. There are certainly plenty of options out there.

If you live aboard, what tips would you give to those considering taking the plunge? And if you’re considering living aboard, do you have any questions for those of us who already do?

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2 Responses to 10 tips for taking the liveaboard plunge

  1. Dana December 7, 2017 at 5:35 pm #

    Look at the boat you want to buy in the winter when it is pouring rain rather than the nice dry summer (in the PNW anyway). Do lots of overnights, either with friends or on a chartered boat – get the feel of having to carry groceries down the long dock, showering and doing laundry at the marina, running out of propane in the middle of a meal and how far you have to go to get it filled. Seriously consider where you will put clothes and shoes if you work in an office.

    • Stephanie Sutherlin December 12, 2017 at 8:22 am #

      All very good suggestions! Especially where you’re going to put your clothes and shoes. I am fortunate not to have a job where I have to wear a suit or similar attire every day because I’m not sure where I’d keep something like that where it wouldn’t get a little wrinkled!

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