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Living Aboard: Why, Yes, ALL Kinds of People Live on Boats!

Updated on October 10, 2014
Floor plan of a catamaran
Floor plan of a catamaran

Do any sane, non-desperate people actually choose to live on a boat?

Yes, because everywhere you go in this world, people are people. In my marina, our liveaboards include a school teacher, a social worker, two web designers, a software engineer, a consultant to the Pentagon, a mother with two teenagers, a graduate school student, a security watchman, a plumber, a retail worker, a fiberglass repairman, and several retirees.

People are People, period.

When you say "boat", do you mean "yacht"?

Nope, not at all. The funny thing is, the people who can afford the million-dollar yachts usually also have a pretty luxurious house or two to live in and spend only their vacation or play time on their yachts.

Many liveaboard boats are set up quite comfortably, and many are built a bit nicer than the average house (e.g., floors are covered with holly-inlaid teak and not just covered with construction-grade carpet.) Quite a few, though, maybe most, are far from plush, which makes quite a bit of sense on the water. Some liveaboard boats are quite small and very basic, pretty much a fiberglass, floating campsite. In general, though, what many liveaboards find is that the longer they live on a boat, the more they redefine their housing needs as only housing wants. For many, even the wants change: some do plan on moving into a house again someday, but by far the majority can't imagine wanting to live in a cavernous McMansion ever again.

The kind of boats people choose depends almost entirely on the degree of travel they plan to do. Some (floating houses) are meant not to travel at all; some (ocean-going sailboats, mainly) are meant to circle the globe (and you'd be surprised at how many do!) In between are barges, houseboats, trawlers (like motorhomes that float), power cruisers (shaped sort of like the S.S. Minnow) and various kinds of sailboats. In Europe there are also quite a few canal boats, long and thin, sometimes only about 8 ft. wide!

Wall Street Journal Report

The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place.

— Arthur Ransome

Why a boat?

The reasons are many, but here are the most common:

  • To cruise. Some people love being on the water and traveling, and it's as simple as that.
  • To live frugally. For some it's a lifestyle; for others it's a way to save for the next big chapter in their lives; for the rest, it is a necessity. Size and condition aside, you can buy a respectable liveaboard boat (not new!) for the price of a used car.
  • To make a life change. Some call it a mid-life crisis, but others call it a mid-life awakening. After years or decades of being bored and living a life of quiet desperation, they wake up one day and tell themselves, "It's now or never; either I live my life as an adventure or I pretty much give up and just go through the motions until I die." So, they make a big change in how they live. Maybe the boat itself is the dream (especially for cruisers), and maybe it is just the means to a better end. Don't dismiss this thought, because some voyages are on oceans and go to new lands, and some voyages - quieter but equally bold and daring - are of the heart and go to new lives.
  • To deal with a life change. The common one here is divorce - I know of someone at another marina who refers to his community as "The Divorced Dads Dock." More than one guy (and at least a few women) have gone down to the family boat with just an overnight bag to "let the storm blow over" only to discover he really should have packed much more clothes.

Liveaboards' AA (Accumulated Acumen)

Gotchya thinkin' ?

Wondering if maybe moving on board a boat is the right thing for you to do? I suggest, if you possibly can, research before you commit. It is just not for everybody, even some of the people who dream of it for years. There are plenty of sources of info: books, blogs, forums, and boat friends (make 'em if you don't already have 'em.)

Here are a few to get you started:

  • - "of the liveaboards, by the liveaboards, for the liveaboards," this site has as a growing collection of videos specifically about living aboard (like the one above), an extensive book list, blogs, and more.
  • Sailnet - forums, friendly advice, lots of information (more sailors than powerboaters)
  • Cruisers Forum - forums, friendly advice, lots of information ("Cruisers and Sailors" - more powerboaters than Sailnet)
  • LiveAboard Boats (Facebook group) - You are not alone . . .
  • Living Aboard (Facebook group) - You are not alone . . .

Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need: a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

— Jerome K. Jerome

Who's reading this?

Has the idea of living on a boat for the fun of it ever crossed your mind at all, even once?

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