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Living on a Sailboat: Is it Right for You?

Living on a sailboat full time is a major lifestyle change, but one which can bring untold happiness and adventure. Imagine waking each day to the sounds of the water gently lapping against the hull, of stepping onto the deck and breathing in the fresh sea (or lake) air, and of exploring whenever and wherever your heart takes you. It’s a back-to-basics lifestyle, where the trappings of modern life can get left behind as you embark on a way of living that is simple yet hugely rewarding.


Yet living on a sailboat isn’t for everyone, and it won’t always be smooth sailing (in all senses of the phrase!). If you’ve done your research and are prepared for the ups, downs, trials and challenges that your new lifestyle will undoubtedly bring, then that’s your first major hurdle overcome. Here we take a closer look at the nuts, bolts, pros and cons of living on a sailboat


port golden hour full of sailing boats


Advantages of Living on a Sailboat


A Relaxed Lifestyle

Life on a sailboat is so much more relaxing than living on dry land for many reasons. Materialism is a thing of the past as there simply isn’t enough space to store anything but the essentials, and the sounds and sights of nature are constant and all around. You can expect a casual, laid-back lifestyle free of many of the trappings of modern life. 


A Healthier Way of Life and Connection to Nature

When you live on a boat, exercise and fresh air aren’t commodities that need to be carved out of your daily life in the form of gyms and runs in the park. You’ll have no choice but to keep active as you run and maintain your boat, and with nature all around you’ll be kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming and snorkeling too. Your sense of connection to nature will heighten as you learn to read the weather, the seasons and the wildlife around you. 


Lower Cost of Living

With the prices of rent skyrocketing in most cities across the Unites States, Canada, Europe and beyond, more and more people are taking to the water for a more affordable way of living. A residential mooring, including power, water, internet access, laundry, showers and storage can cost considerably less than the rent and utilities on even a small apartment. Of course you need to factor in maintenance costs and the associated costs of boat ownership (which we’ll look at in more detail below) but you can expect a much lower cost of living on a sailboat. 


A Close Sense of Community

Living in a marina or boating community is like living in a village where everyone shares your life choices and passions. Boating communities are strong and tight-knit, which offers not just the chance for camaraderie and new friendships, but for safety too. Strangers won’t go unnoticed wandering around a marina!


The Opportunity to Travel Cheaply

Travel is an expensive pastime, but if you live on a boat you can travel anywhere, anytime you choose. Whether it’s day trips up the coast, weekend adventures further afield, or a more transient lifestyle sailing around the world, the choice is yours. 


sunset living on a sailboat


Disadvantages of Living on a Sailboat

Lack of Space

Personal space and physical storage space are both lacking when it comes to living on a boat. While there are good boat storage ideas, ultimately you’ll have to be ruthless when it comes to personal possessions. Everything from clothes to cooking items to personal trinkets need to be scaled back to the bare minimum. And while it can be a hugely bonding experience, when it comes to who you share your limited space with, it’s important to make sure they share your dream of living on a sailboat. Tensions can rise quickly when one person isn’t enjoying the experience. 



Boats need constant maintenance, and so you might find you’ve always got something on your to-do list. But create a schedule, learn to do a lot of it yourself to save on costs and it won’t seem so overwhelming. 


Bureaucratic difficulties

For reasons known only to them, some people perceive life on a sailboat as bohemian or of dropping out of society. While most boaters couldn’t care less what other people think of them, it’s worth noting that there can judgment or prejudice when using a marina address as your fixed abode when applying for jobs for example. If you don’t have a fixed address then bureaucracy such as getting a cellphone contract can be tricky. 


Bad weather

While warm summers are blissful, and even the pitter patter of rain on your boat is melodic and calming, a massive thunderstorm or freezing temperatures can be less fun. Living on a boat means you have to be prepared for any weather, and take steps such as keeping things stored away safely at all times. Living on a boat in winter adds its own challenges, from keeping the interior warm to ensuring you winterize the engine


There can be long waiting lists for residential moorings

As the popularity of living on a boat grows every year, the waiting lists for some marinas can be several years long. Residential moorings are different to recreational moorings, so you can’t just move onto your boat if you don’t register as doing so. You can expect longer waiting lists in big cities than in more remote areas. 


Can you Live on a Sailboat Full Time? 

The answer is a resounding yes! And there are thousands of people doing so in the United States and around the world. Laws and regulations are different in different countries, and even in the US different states have their own laws as to where you can live on a boat. You have several options for where you can live on a sailboat which include:


Living on a Sailboat in a Marina

Unless you are planning to sail around the world or live a transient boating life, most people opt to live in marinas on residential moorings. These will come with some restrictions, such as how long you can stay, how much you need to pay, and they will also require you to have insurance. But in return you get safety and security, shelter and a sense of community, as well as amenities such as storage, fresh water, electricity, WiFi internet and laundry facilities. 


Living on a Sailboat in the Ocean

This is a trickier option, as there will be places where you can drop anchor for certain periods of time, and plenty where you can’t. You can live in international waters (24 miles off the coast) for as long as you choose, as well as in contiguous zones, which are defined as are 12 to 24 nautical miles away from a country’s coastline. However this is a difficult way of life as you’ll need access to food supplies, fresh water, laundry and so forth. Living on your sailboat coastally is possible but more difficult, as you must avoid shipping lanes, city harbors and private harbors. This type of lifestyle is better suited to those who prefer to cruise up and down a stretch of coast rather than staying in one place. 


Living on a Sailboat on a Lake

It less common to live on a sailboat in a lake, but not unheard of by any means. With most lake shores privately owned, you’re only option would be a residential marina. More information: The Most Popular Types of Lake Boats


sailing yacht with a dog


The Cost of Living on a Sailboat

Living on a boat is an attractively affordable option compared to land-based rents and house prices. However, it’s important to know what the costs involved are likely to be before making your choice. Check out our article on the Costs of Owning a Boat for a thorough breakdown, but in general you will need account for: 


  • Residential Mooring Fees: This type of mooring allows you to live on your boat in marina full time. It will most likely cost more than a recreational mooring as you get additional facilities. 
  • Utilities: You’ll need to pay for the electricity and water that you use (as well as sewage pumping out) but the bills are going to be considerably less than they would be living in a house or apartment. Boats are small spaces so they use less electricity to heat or cool, and there are far fewer electrical appliances to run too. While you may need to charge your battery, many sailors opt for solar panels allowing them to be fully off-grid and to cut the energy costs altogether. When it comes to water, you can be sure you’ll get very good at conserving water when you have to keep filling up the water tank on a regular basis. WiFi is often included as part of your residential mooring fee. 
  • Marine Mortgage Repayments: If you don’t own your boat outright you most likely have a marine mortgage on it which means you will have regular monthly payments to your lender. These will of course vary depending on the type of boat you have, how much it cost to buy and how much deposit you put down. More information: Best ways to finance a boat today
  • Liveaboard Insurance:  Residential marinas will require you to have this specific insurance policy when registering and living there full time. Likewise, you need to inform your insurance company if you start living on your boat as the policy you have might cover you. There will be different rates for whether you’re sailing locally or internationally as well as other factors such as the size and type of boat and your location. 
  • Maintenance Costs: Boats require on-going maintenance - much more than a house - so you need to account for the costs of spares, replacement parts and labor if it isn’t a job you can do by yourself or the boat needs lifting out of the water. The general rule is to allow 10% of the value of your boat each year for upkeep. 
  • Taxes: In the United States boat property taxes are assessed differently depending on where you live. As an example, in California annual tax is 1.1% of the boat’s current value. 


Can I Make Money while Living on a Sailboat?

A boat is more than just a home, it’s the chance for adventure that others will pay money to enjoy too. Many boat owners make a living or supplement their income by offering charter vacations on their sailboats. Chartering your sailboat is the most common option, but there are lots of other great ideas too;

  • Offer sightseeing cruises: You can offer private sailboat tours along the coast for anything from a couple of hours to a full day. Visitors to your local area are more likely to sign up than locals, although romantic sunset cruises or even small weddings might be appealing to local residents. You could include trips to sea caves or beautiful beaches, offer a beach BBQ, or simply cruise along soaking up the coastal scenery. 
  • Teach sailing lessons: You could offer sailing lessons from your sailboat. If you’re a trained instructor you could offer accredited courses, otherwise you could offer lessons on a more informal basis, allowing people to gain sea time and experience.
  • Wildlife-watching expeditions: If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere frequented by impressive wildlife you could offer wildlife-watching expeditions. It might be whales or dolphins, seals and sea lions, migrating whalesharks or sea birds.
  • Start a blog or Instagram account: There is money to be made in social media, and if you can offer valuable information or entertainment that gets read or watched by a lot of people it can be quite lucrative. You can earn money from advertising on your blog site, or if you become an influencer you may get offered useful products for free in exchange for reviewing them.
  • Advertise your boat to film crew: Production crews are always looking for sets for small films or advertisements, and your boat could be just what they’re after. Register with local media, advertising or film companies and let them know your boat is available. 



Written By: Samantha Wilson

Samantha Wilson has spent her entire life on and around boats, from tiny sailing dinghies all the way up to superyachts. She writes for many boating and yachting publications, top charter agencies, and some of the largest travel businesses in the industry, combining her knowledge and passion of boating, travel and writing to create topical, useful and engaging content.

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