10 Tips for Liveaboards

By October 31, 2023Captain's Tips

Living aboard has a certain alure and it’s wonderful if you’re out cruising exotic anchorages in retirement while watching tropical sunsets. If you’re living aboard in a marina and still working, it may not hold the same magic unless you learn to make your boat your home because camping is fun for a week but then it just becomes inconvenient and uncomfortable. 

One major consideration is where to find a slip that will allow liveaboard status. Not all marinas accommodate liveaboards and those that do, charge a premium. Here are a few things to keep in mind to create a sustainable residence aboard for you, your family and your pets.

Dollar bills laid out on a table with a “dollar boat” on top of coins | Credit Sahs on Shutterstock

1. Make a budget

Living aboard may or may not save you money. You’ll still have a slip payment, insurance, property taxes, and utilities costs. Reduce stress by making a budget and sticking to it.

2. Create comfort

Comfort creates long-term resilience. Your boat needs to be warm in the winter, cool in the summer, dry year-round, mildew-free, clean, and easy to get around. Learn about the new set of cleaners you’ll need on a boat (that may be different from household products) and minimize mold and dampness with chemical or electrical solutions. 

3. Stay connected

Connectivity is no longer a luxury but rather a necessity for entertainment and working aboard. Marina WiFi is often sketchy so investigate booster antennas and 5G hot spot devices. Whether that means a dish for TV, or high-speed internet for your laptop, it’ll feel like camping if you’re cut off from work, friends, and family.

4. Build skills and buy tools

Your honey-do list will double on a boat because boats break regularly. You’ll need to be handy to fix a toilet, replace batteries, or repair the plumbing just so you can function in your daily life. You’ll also need a new set of tools and a place to keep them because few boats have garages. Your marina neighbors may be able to help so make friends and ask questions.

5. Stow smartly

There’s never enough room aboard to stow appliances, winter clothes, and those tools you’ll need. Expand your options with off-boat storage for sports gear like skis and golf clubs and heavy winter clothing. Learn to love grocery stores and farmers’ markets because you’ll be food shopping more frequently due to smaller fridges and cupboards. Also, de-clutter old magazines, knick-knacks, and the junk drawer.

Man working on laptop on a sailboat | Credit iVazoUSky on Shutterstock

6. Create a workspace

If you work remotely, create an amenable space. You should be free from distractions like kids and have all your equipment set up in semi-permanent work mode. If this isn’t possible, consider setting up a desk in your off-boat storage unit and make sure it has good connectivity for those bandwidth-hungry Zoom calls.

7. Stay safe and secure

Security at a marina may be higher than in a residential neighborhood but think of the boat itself. Install plenty of CO2 and smoke alarms and a propane sniffer, check fire extinguishers periodically for expiration dates, and keep an eye on the basics like bilge and battery levels. Look for marinas with gated parking, good lighting, and safe docks for kids and the elderly. Install locks on hatches and lazarettes and ask your slip neighbors to keep an eye out, especially when you’re away.

Border Collie dog on the deck of a yacht | Credit Kobeza on Shutterstock

8. Plan for pets

Your pets need exercise, private space, potty access, and a safe way to board the boat. Be careful of small spaces where they can get trapped and wires they can chew. Be patient with them – moving aboard is just as big of an adjustment for them as it is for you.

9. Get off the boat

If your boat is your home, you may want to recreate ashore more often and maybe think about some land-based vacations. Grab your skis, go to a museum, or take a hike. The fastest way of getting tired of your boat is to never leave it.

10. Go boating

Don’t let the boat become a closet. Presumably, you live aboard because you like boating so keep your boat in working order and be ready to head out with little more than an hour’s preparation. In other words, if you’re using the engine room as a pantry and the chart plotter is covered with damp laundry, you may have forgotten the whole point of boating. 

Great expectations

Living on a boat is like residing in a tiny house. Resentment over unmet expectations looms large in small spaces. Moving aboard is a matter of expectation management, careful planning, and good communication. Once you have that dialed in, make yourself a cocktail and watch the sunset from the cockpit because there are few back yards that afford that kind of a view.

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Author Zuzana Prochazka

Zuzana is a freelance writer and photographer with regular contributions to over a dozen sailing and power boating publications. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana is the founder of a flotilla charter company called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations around the world. Zuzana serves as an international presenter on charter destinations, safety issues and technical topics. She’s also the Chair of the NMMA Innovation Awards, a member of the American Society of Authors and Journalists, and the Executive Director of the Board of Boating Writers International.

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