Living on a Boat

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Living on a sailboat with a toddler

Jan 2008

My husband is a sailing fanatic and is trying to convince me to buy a large sailboat and live aboard with our toddler and eventually go cruising around the world. I know that it is possible and have heard wonderful stories about families who have done this before but I am really new to the world of sailing and have the usual fears and concerns a newcomer might have. I saw some of the older postings in the archive and reviewed the pros/cons of living aboard with kids but I would really like to talk to the MOTHERS who have lived/are living aboard with a child out here in the bay area. I need to get some real mama-to-mama advice and get a good sense of how people live aboard daily with their family. How do you keep clutter down? How do you organize your kitchen? Are you comfy? Do you feel your kids are safe? Are they getting enough social interaction with other kids? Are you getting enough social time away from the boat and with non-boating friends? Is it really that cold aboard in the winters--do you ever get warm enough? If you're out there (or know of any), I would love to hear from you. Thanks! Future sailing mama?

My husband and I moved on to our 50-foot ketch in Berkeley when I was 9 months pregnant, and have loved living aboard for the past 2+ years. Our space is carved into many rooms (incl. three bedrooms and two bathrooms). All our furniture and storage is built-in. To keep things tidy, we run a tight ship: If my son wants to play with his train set he has to put away his other toys first. With so little floor, I can clean our home quickly. My husband is 6'2'', but we don't mind being together in close quarters, brushing elbows or pausing while someone leaves the hallway before the other enters it. We joined the local yacht club to gain additional space, where we can host larger groups of friends and where our son can run around. To keep him from falling in the water, we are always very vigilant when he's on deck, and if we think we'll be there for more than 5 minutes we put a life vest on him. We have a net that runs all along our railing, which he has been taught not to climb. We have also been very strict about not allowing him to climb the staircase out of the boat unless we are with him. When we are walking on the docks we always hold his hand.

The most challenging aspects of being a liveaboard for us have been maintaining the boat (all the maintenance issues of a car and a house combined together) and the long walk from the parking lot down the dock to our slip. The former is helped by having a husband who is pragmatic and very mechanically inclined. The latter is remediated by the marina's dock carts (my son initially enjoyed riding inside with the groceries and now likes to stand at the back). It is often cold and damp at the marina in winter. We stay warm by turning on space heaters when we're home (doesn't take long to heat and dry a small space), lighting an oil lamp, and using our oven to bake food. We miss not having a laundry machine, but have worked the laundromat (and, when necessary, wash-n-fold) into our routine. We enjoy hot showers on board, and my son takes a bath every night in a big plastic tub in the shower stall. We use all biodegradable washing products, and have our sewage tank pumped out every 2 weeks.

There's nothing like being surrounded by water - we started sleeping so much better as soon as we moved aboard. We enjoy the lapping of the water on the sides, the dancing circles of light that come through our portholes when the moon or sun are shining on the water, relaxing with friends on deck and watching other boats sail by. My son's preschool recently held a field trip to the boat, and the kids had a blast spinning the winches, ringing the bell, steering the wheel, and examining the engine room. We have found the marina to be a great community, with most of the folks friendly, adventurous, and clever. We love spending time and sailing with our boating friends but because we've been living in the Bay for ten years, we have many other friends and coworkers we see socially as well. They seem to enjoy coming to our boat, but we enjoy going to their places as well to give our son a taste of living on land.

So, we love living aboard with a toddler, and would recommend this lifestyle to any parents who think they would be happy with less stuff, less space, and less convenience in exchange for more beauty, adventure, and learning opportunities for themselves and their kids. happy boating mama

We could save a lot by selling the house and moving on to a boat

March 2007

My husband and I are considering a big move....onto a boat.

My husband has wanted to do this for awhile now, and I have been very much against it. We moved into a house here in the Bay area about 2 years ago. It was our 1st home and we paid a lot for it..obviously b/c it's in the Bay area. It's really not in the best area, but it's what we could do at the time. Here we are 2 years later and we find ourselves unable to save any money, because it is constantly going towards the house and school loans, and car payments. We send our kids to a private school, but that's because we would never send them to the public schools where we live. That's not even an option.

My husband insists that a boat would be much less expensive and I wuld not have to work. He wants me (and I would love to) go back to school and get my PhD. Living in this house, it is not possible. I have to work full-time so we can meet all our bills.

For part me, the boat is starting to sound good. I can go back to school, I can spend more time with my kids instead of being so focused on work. We recently had our house appraised, and our equity would pay off all of our student loans that we have right now and our cars. So that would leave us with a small boat loan (we already have a boat that we are looking at buying) and slip fees. My husband can do all the boat repairs by himself so we would not need to pay anyone for that.

However, there is the part of me that is scared of what it will be like. The boat is even has laundry on it! But it's still not a house and it's so unconventional. But then again, so are we in more ways than not. We are not worried about the kids living on it. They are VERY excited at the prospect. Maybe I am worried at what people will think of us living on a boat?? I am not sure.

All I know is that we cannot live the way we are right now. We just work to pay bills and can't afford to go on trips or anything. We are too young to be caught in a vicious cycle like that.

The plan... 5 years on the boat to save money. Then we will buy a house with a large down payment...most likely not in CA. The reason we don't just move from CA right now is because of my husband's job, he is self employed, and has a large client base. He does REALLY well. Plus, we really like it in this area! Anywhere else we would probably be upper in the Bay area we are struggling. We did the math on house v. boat. The house (school loans, car payments, utilities, etc) costs us close to $10k a month. The boat would cost us about $1800 (boat payment, slip fees, utilities, etc) See what we can save??

Has anyone lived on a boat before. Any advice? What should I do?

Read the book ''Your Money Or Your Life''. You will feel really good about this decision. I think it is smart. It is a short-term hardship for a long term reward (financial stability and prosperity) go for it!

I've never lived on a boat, and I have had houseboat fantasies myself, but there are a couple of things I would consider given what I do know from friends who have lived on boats.

1) Drowning concerns. Are your kids old enough and good enough swimmers so that they could get themselves out of the water if they fell overboard or off the dock? If they are small, I would guess the answer would be no, in which case, I wouldn't risk it.

2) It tends to be colder and damper on a boat...does anyone in your family have health issues (asthma, arthritis, etc.) that would be aggravated by dampness?

3) Salt air tends to really get into things, causing wooden cabinets and drawers to swell and stick, and a salty film to form on stuff.

4) Is there a way you could try out the housing situation without committing yourself to buying right away? A summer rental, perhaps? Teri

While I don't have any personal experience about living on a boat, my advice from reading your reasons why is GO FOR IT! Who cares what anyone else might think. From your post, I can't imagine why you wouldn't and it made me want to become your boat neighbor. ships ahoy

Considering moving onto a boat to save money

December 2006

My husband and i have been considerig moving onto a boat. We have an alomost 6 year old daughter and a dog and my husband brought this up to me awhile ago. I REFUSED to even discuss it. I am self employed and work from my home, and like my job. I make good money, but if we move onto a boat,I cannot do what I do now.

We bought our house 2 years ago in not the greatest area because it was what we could afford,and we both feel like we are slaves to it. It is expensive, our mortgage is ridiculous, we are always working on it (its a fixer-upper). We have lost any time to do the things we love. We both work too much to pay for the house to do anything fun.

Our daughter goes to a private school and she would continue going there so I am not worried about her having to make a transition. She is actually VERY excited about the prospect of living on a boat.

The boat is MUCH less expensive than where we are now,we have done all of the finances on that. The maintenance on the boat wold be next to nothing. If we sold our house. The equity we have in it would pay off both of our student loans and we would still have money left over,and i may actually go back to school and get my PHd.

So, it all sound great. No huge loans debts like we have now,much more time together, living on a great big sailboat and being able to take off on the weekend to sail in the bay. I am just very worried because I think that it's such a HUGE transition from living in a house, when in reality it's not. There is a dishwasher on the boat which i dont even have one in my house! 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms and a washer and dryer. So, all the comforts of home.

What is my problems with this?? I have no idea!! I am much more ''pro-boat'' than I was a few months ago, but I need someone to help push me to being 100% sure about living on a boat. Has anyone ever done this before? Any suggestions?? I would appreciate it! confused

My brother lived on a 35 foot sailboat for years with 2 young kids until one day his wife said enough! (They were both boat enthusiasts, and she really tried to make it work, but as the kids got older it was just ridiculous.)

Here's s what I saw. They froze in the winter, on weekends fellow boaters would start out early and return late. They had a tiny kitchen, tiny refrigerator that didn't keep stuff cold in the summer, no laundry; it wasn't fun when it rained, and I assure you, you will not be rocked to sleep when the winds pick up. No room for friends or for the kids to play especially when it rained. Some nights they would sleep where they worked or would crash at friend's houses.

They were always working on the boat, sanding, painting, polishing, scrubbing, etc, and then thereare the smells, bilge, diesel, the bay. And least we forget about the bathroom arragements? You are not going to want to pump the tank all the time, so everytime you need to go you have to run from the boat to the on shore head and showers. (Can't use the poop deck while docked.)

You will have fun times, and kids will have respect the water. There's a lot of comradary with boat owners. If you do decise to make the change, I would condiser buying another house for a weekend escapes (from the boat) and to use a sound investment.

Boats and cars generally decrease in value, ulike houese which increase.

Think hard before you commit. It's not always sunnay days and calm water Anon

Although your mortgage may be a ball and chain, clearly your home is your castle. You derive a positive workplace out of it and an income. Moving to a boat would entail you giving it up so it probably wouldn't be the best move. The problem here is partially financial; clearly, the financial burden of your mortgage has taken a toll on your marriage. Perhaps your husband thought that by moving to a boat he would be relieving pressure in the relationship without realizing he would be taking away your career. In any event, I would see a good marriage therapist with him before making any move. There is a lot more to your situation than just moving to a boat Anon

We have owned a boat for about 12 years and have lived on it periodically. The pros : living at the marina is wonderful and there is a great sense of community. The gentle rocking of the boat when you fall asleep is just the best. You live a very minimalist lifestyle because of the limited space which is very freeing. The cons : Boats are very humid and wet. Sometimes you feel sticky. Also, it's doubtful you have a bathtub - can you live with that ? It nearly drove me insane. When you mentioned 'no maintenance' I had to laugh. Boats are enormously expensive to upkeep. If you think you spend a lot of time with your fixer upper, you will spend at least as much time maintaining the boat. Supplies are outrageously expensive - take a walk around West Marine and you'll see what I mean. It would probably be a good idea to sit down with someone who owns a sailboat like yours and ask them how much time and maintenance they put into the boat. It will give you a reality check. If you don't know anyone, take a walk around one of the open marinas like Sausalito and ask someone working on their boat. People are generally approachable (and love to talk about their boats!) and will understand why you need the information. Consider that you will have to pay for storage of the things that won't fit on the boat. Also, find out what the marina policy is regarding 'sneak aboards'. Some marinas look the other way while others are diligent about all residents having authorization.

Living on a boat can be wonderful but, like everything, has its downsides. Good luck deciding. anon

Living on a boat with a baby?

Jan 2005

Dear Parents,
I have been renting for a decade and am really feeling that this is not the best way to be spending my money esp. now that I have a wonderful little 6.5 month old. So, it has come to my attention that making payments on a boat ie instead of rent would possibly be a better choice. What do you think community? Any experience, thoughts or do you know anyone who has done this? I figure a boat does not appreciate like a house but I could at least get the money back. Much joy and thanks for your input!
Boat Momma?

I have a friend who did this with her 6 year old. Very small quarters with no sound insulation, but yes, she paid it off in about 18 months and then only had to pay the slip fee - far cheaper than an apartment, but with tradeoffs. Good news is at least half the boats sit there empty, but when people come to use their boats, they are loud and the sound resonates. Might not be good for a napping baby.

Her kid LOVED living on the boat - it was an adventure, and very ''cool''. Problem is, there is no control of the slip costs. She was paying $200/month slip fee in Martinez, and suddenly, the slip rents went to $350/month. That's a little scary, especially if you're on a budget. She ended up moving into an apartment close to her daughter's school [her daughter was NOT excited about this, but came around after a few months], and now rents out her boat to a friend for just the slip cost, until she can figure out what to do with it.

BTW... she has an inexpensive boat, and had to do all Number Twos, showers, and laundry up the dock. anon

LOTS of kids die of drowning. This would be like having a swimming pool moat around your house. Just for your peace of mind, I'd say wait to get the houseboat until your child is a good swimmer- maybe 6-7 y.o. to be safe.I know a family that lost a toddler to drowning. He got up early one day before anyone else, made his way out of the house and somehow unlatched the fence to the pool area. Tragic. JM

We have a '57 boat and spend our weekends there.

The pros : 1. The dock community is wonderful (we are much closer to our boat neighbors than we are to our Berkeley neighbors by a long shot); 2. Living by the water is peaceful and the gentle rocking of the boat lulls everyone into a good mood. ! 3. Babies love boats and, once you safeguard against the obvious safety risks, it's a great place to raise a child. 4. Because you have such little space, your lifestyle will become (more) free of the all the stuff people in houses tend to aquire.

The cons : 1. Having a boat is expensive ! The dock fees will be much less than rent but the amount you will spend on basic maintenance of a boat is horrendous. Most boat magazines estimate maintenance at 20% of the cost of the boat each year - and that is what we've experienced in the 10 years we've owned a boat. 2. There will be unexpected expenses which will add to the tally of costs. 3. When you need to get maintenance, people who work on boats are notoriously unreliable and the boat yard prices are outrageous. You can do some of the work yourself but you have to love to tinker and, with a small child, you! probably won't have the time. We loved to work on the boat until we got our two kids (ages 4 and 8 months) and now we have to rely on other people (and pay more $$) 4. You will not re- coop the cost of the boat after you consider what you've put into it. Boats (to my knowlegde) do not go up in price - you will be lucky to get the same price you paid. 5. Beware of boat dealers ! There are dishonest dealers out there who would love to take advantage of someone unknowledgeable about boats (we know from experience).

Also, most harbors have live aboard dock licenses and then there are the sneak-aboards. In our harbor, it's a don't ask, don't tell policy but some harbors might be more strict and you might find getting the live aboard license rather difficult. All in all, boats are wonderful but you are better off financially with buying a condo or house if you can afford it. - anon

I lived on a boat for three years as a way to save money to buy my house. It was at the Berkeley Marina, where they have about 1000 berths and a small percentage are ''legal liveaboards'' (um, I was not one of them, which made me a member of a large community of ''sneak-aboards''--but I contributed to the community and I was responsible about my sewage, etc.). While I didn't really want to live on a boat, my unconventional dad lived on one and when I asked him to help me buy a house, he said no, but I'll help you buy a boat! Not having many options, I went for it and it was kind of a lark. Now, I did not have my kid there and I'm not sure I'd want to do that, given that you often have power outages, you have to make many tippy trips on and off the boat, you have to carry everything from your car down the dock and back (groceries, baby, etc.), it's cold and noisy when it storms, etc., etc. But it's also kind of fun and I was so much more conscious of the weather, seasons, etc., and every day I felt like I was really getting out of the city when I drove home to the marina. The community living on boats is-- let's say--interesting, tending towards people who may not quite fit in to a more conventional community on land. I found many of them very friendly and helpful. Finances-wise it worked well for me: I bought a 37-foot wooden-hulled twin-engine cabin cruiser, which was boxy and big enough to stand up inside (unlike many sailboats), with a double V-berth in the bow. It cost $10,000 which I paid off in three years, quite doable in combination with the $300/month berth fees and less than Bay Area rents. I worked on it and made it nicer (wooden boats are constant work and you have to use smelly paints, etc., not so good for you or a baby--plus if you have diesel engines, the smell permeates everything), then sold it for $16,000--quite a lucky sell, as boats generally don't appreciate, as you noted. This became the down payment on my house. I don't miss the boat at all and when my daughter was a toddler and we visited my dad, who still lived on his 75-foot sailboat, I was hyper- vigilant about her location, as it would only take a second for a fast-moving exploring toddler to vanish from sight and fall over the edge (he eventually moved back on land, thank goodness!). And by the way, selling his old wooden boat was a hu! ge and expensive hassle when we inherited it after his passing. Finally, I lived on a boat in Paris until I was four (told you my family was unconventional!). My sister fell in to the swift-moving Seine when she was about 5, but thankfully somebody saved her. I never fell in and we have photos with all three of us kids wearing ''Mae West'' life jackets. I can assure you that one of the happiest days in my mom's life was the day we moved off of that boat (it was my dad's thing ;). Makes for great stories and memories, though! And really finally, living on a boat makes you appreciate the space in a house--no matter how small!--for the rest of your life.
Former boater

Owning a sailboat with 2 kids

April 2006

Does anyone have experience with owning a sailboat (38ft)with 2 children (6 & 3). We are thinking about it and wondering if we would use it or it's just a fantasy. We've heard good things about the Richmond Yatch Club's sailing programs for kids. We are a definate water family;motor boating, swimming, surfing, kayaking,wakeboarding etc. I should mention the boat is being given to us and while we wouldn't buy a sailboat...seems a shame not to seriously consider this. Thanks for any thoughts.

How lucky you are! But remember owning a boat can be a double ege sword. If you will make the time for it and can afford the expense then it can be a great gift to your family, esppecially your kids. Yes Richmond YC has a great juniors program and many great sailors have come out of it. WARNING: A boat is a hole into which one pours money. There is and will be many costs and work to maintain such a craft. ALmost wish I was in your shoes, but then I'm an ex-sailor dreamer. You might look into having partners. Good luck
wannabe sailor

I grew up in a sailing family in Southern California. We had 3 boats over the years, increasing in size as our family grew. By the time there were 7 of us kids, we were racing and cruising in a 40-footer which my parents kept until they were almost 80. We spent most weekends and all our vacation time on the boat -- sailing to Catalina, Mexico, Channel Islands. We raced on Wednesday nights during the summer, and many weekends throughout the year. All our social lives revolved around sailing -- the yacht club was our hangout after races and events, during highschool we'd invite dozens of friends to join us for evening sailing parties, we went on family cruises to Catalina, and so on. It was not a bad way to grow up! Our family of 9 spent a *lot* of time together, and we are all quite close today. 2 of my brothers became sailmakers, 1 lives on a boat, all 3 are avid sailers and competitive racers. (The girls in the family did not carry on with the family passion.) So we used our boat constantly, but it *is* a big commitment of time and resources to maintain a boat and at least in our family, it pretty much precluded any significant involvement in other activities. lori