It makes for excellent dinner party conversation when you announce that you live on a boat. You will see people’s eye light up as they imagine the adventures you experience, and the guts it takes to leave ordinary society for a different way of living. While some will imagine you like Bill Gates on his superyacht, others will be envisaging Captain Jack Sparrow on his salty old pirate ship or even Rosie and Jim on their narrowboat. The reality is somewhere in between.
Choosing to live on a boat isn’t for everyone. Just the fact that you’re considering it, however, means that you might be one of those folk who finds the quirks of a life spent bobbing on the sea, river or lake charming. There is much to consider, from the type of boat you buy, to where you will moor it, plus several lifestyle considerations to take into account.
Whilst sailing the world, or choosing a transient lifestyle is one option, living on a boat doesn’t have to involve moving every few weeks. Permanent residence moorings are widely available, even though the increasing popularity means waiting lists in some cities are as long as an anchor chain. In London, for example, more than 10,000 people live on boats, and 25% of England’s 33,000 inland boats are permanent residences. All over the world, from Hong Kong to San Diego, communities of residential boats are gaining popularity as people escape the urban squash. Yet they will be the first to admit that the lifestyle isn’t for everyone. So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of living on a boat year round.
The Pros of Living on a Boat
A Relaxed Lifestyle: In an era when modern life is getting faster-paced, more demanding and more stressful, slowing down and savouring life can be hard. Unless you’re on a boat. The sense of freedom and embracing of nature are just the beginning. It’s impossible to be materialistic, as there simply isn’t room to store anything surplus to absolute requirement. Cooking becomes simplified, clothing whittled down to necessities and trinkets a thing of the past. Life on the water is casual, laid-back and independent.
A Healthier, More Active Way of Life: As our lives become ever more sedentary, and gym memberships vital in keeping us moving, our health can ultimately suffer. Exercise is the backbone of wellness, and on a boat, you’ll have no choice but to be active. Cleaning and maintenance, the daily upkeep of a boat, is an exercise in itself. Add to that longer walks to the nearest town, or even to where your car is parked, as well as the pure joys of walking in nature, swimming, snorkeling and kayaking, and you’ll find your fitness levels improve in no time.
A Lower Cost of Living: We often associate living on a boat with wealth and prestige. But the reality is that living on a boat is often more affordable that land-based accommodation. In the world’s big cities, with housing prices skyrocketing, more and more people are taking to the water as a more affordable option. In Vancouver, for example, a residential mooring (including electricity, parking, internet, laundry, and showers) costs around $550 a month. Compare that to a minimum of $1100 a month for a small apartment and the savings can be huge. Even adding in the monthly cost of marine mortgage repayment (see our guide to Financing Your Next Boat) and you easily save money.
A Deep Sense of Community and Safety: Boat life attracts a certain type of person, and together boating communities are strong and tight-knit. A problem shared is a problem halved is the motto of a water community, and you will not only learn from your neighbors but become close to them. The demographics might be wide – retirees, students, professionals, young families – but the overall ethos and approach to life remains the same. It is this closeness which makes living in a boating community often safer than living on land. Indeed, crime rates are considerably lower in marinas than on housing estates. Strangers are noticed immediately, boats can be left unlocked, and in many marinas CCTV is widespread.
A Connection to Nature: If the sound of the swans gently knocking on the side of your Dutch barge in the polite request of some titbits doesn’t make you smile in the morning, then you might want to rethink life on a boat. Living on the water gets you closer to nature, the music of birds and splashing, the swaying of the boat in the wind, the patter of rain in a thunderstorm. You will share your neighborhood with noisy seals, otters, and seabirds, fish for your dinner, and feel the seasons roll around and the world change.
The Cons of Living on a Boat
A Lack of Space: When we talk about a lack of space on a boat, we mean both personal and cupboard. Even a fair sized boat is never going to have as much space as a house, and so storage will always be an issue. While some residential communities offer storage lockers, you’ll still find that there is no excess room, and being tidy is the key. You’ll have to get used to small fridges, hanging locker wardrobes, and no personal washing machine.
One thing is for certain, make sure you really like the person you choose to live on a boat with because personal space is at a premium. While it can be a hugely bonding experience, you will be asking your loved one to kindly move so you can pass every time you walk from the kitchen to the bedroom of your sailboat. There are more spacious residential boats to consider, however, and houseboats, trawlers, and barges offer much more beam and space for their length.
Bad Weather, Bugs and Wildlife: Nature is certainly a bigger part of your life on a boat, and sometimes unwanted visitors can be tough to handle. Insects – everything from spiders to mosquitoes, cockroaches, and ants – need to be dealt with swiftly. Likewise, rats and mice like the sanctuary of boats, bringing with them stray cats, dogs, foxes, and raccoons. Seals and otters might sneak on board looking for an easy dinner, and seabirds certainly will. It’s imperative to be tidy, clean and not leave food out.
While listening to the pitter patter of rain on the boat can be wonderfully soothing, a thumping great thunderstorm might be less so. Severe rocking means everything needs to be locked safely away, and mooring lines made secure at all times. Cold winters too can be difficult, and you need to ensure you have enough fuel to run heaters.
Other People’s Perceptions: Whether from prejudice, envy or some other misguided pre-conceptions, some people see an alternative way of life as bohemian, or of dropping out of society. At that dinner party, you might very well be seen as a salty old seadog with no fixed address. If you live in a residential boating community, you’ll be able to use the marina address, which may be judged when applying for jobs for example. Otherwise, bureaucracy – mobile phone contracts or voting for example - can be tricky if you don’t have a fixed address. The good news is, most boaters don’t choose this type of living based on what others think, so if you fall into that category you’ll give this consideration a big shrug of the shoulders!
Maintenance: There is no getting away from the fact that boats require on-going maintenance. Rust, mildew, and mould accumulate quickly so it’s imperative to have a maintenance schedule and keep on top of it. Learning to do a lot of the work yourself will save on the cost, but you’ll need enough funds in case something does go wrong.
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