Life on a Boat Isn’t All Plain Sailing
Living on a boat may sound charming or like a grand adventure, but make no mistake – this lifestyle doesn't come cheap.
Living on a boat may sound like an adventure, but have no illusions — it doesn’t come cheap. Electricity, dockage, and the never-ending maintenance all cost a pretty penny. I should know. I’ve been living it for a few years.
There’s constant maintenance when you live on a boat. For example, painting the bottom of the boat to discourage barnacles and having it cleaned regularly because barnacles still find a way to cover anything submerged. Then there’s having the boat waxed, and various other tasks. All are charged for by the foot, so the bigger the boat, the bigger the bill.
In April, I chose a month-to-month lease at my marina, hoping to eventually head south during the cold months. But that was not to be.
I recently switched back to an annual lease for my slip. Instead of paying $711.75 per month at the $18.25 per foot month-to-month rate, I now pay $1,325 per quarter ($441.67 per month). On the downside, I am locked into the lease for a year.
One of the big benefits of being at this particular marina is that electricity is included in my rate. At my old marina, I was paying $500 per month, plus electricity, which can become very costly when running air conditioning or heat. I had some painful $200 monthly electricity bills in the winter at my old marina.
Boats are not well insulated. Even though the space is small, the heat or air conditioning have to run constantly. Once, when it was a sweltering 90 degrees inside the boat and I couldn’t sleep, I started waxing nostalgic for the wintertime, when my sheets would literally freeze to the hull!
It may seem like an inexpensive lifestyle on the surface. my own small floating apartment for less than $500 a month in rent. But nothing comes cheap with a boat.
When the boat needs repairs (which is always), I can’t just run out to Home Depot for parts. The marine environment is harsh, and everything seems to corrode or attract mold. Marine equipment is always significantly more costly than the regular household version — even if the only difference is that the manufacturer stuck the word “marine” on the label.
Repairs that would cost $5 for a house will somehow cost $20 for your boat. Repairmen regularly charge $95 per hour. So if you can’t fix it yourself, you better have a sizable bankroll.
Ninety-nine percent of liveaboards seem to have an engineering background and are adept at repairs. I’m the other one percent — an artsy hippie chick who owns a lot of tools, but only knows how to use a handful of them. Unless I can dramatically enhance my financial situation, I’m going to have to dramatically enhance my handyman skills!
But aside from the complications and expenses of boat life, my bad credit means that I live in a cash and debit card world, period.
While I can use my debit card for online purchases, reservations, and general expenses, my checking account is all I have. So it’s at risk if someone uses my debit card number fraudulently.
This has happened twice in as many months, wiping out the entire balance in my only bank account each time. Not having access to a traditional credit card in today’s world is a huge challenge.
One of my other big challenges this past year has been not having a car. I bought an old beater that turned out to be a money pit, so I had to give it up.
Although I am an attorney by trade, I am not admitted in the state where I now live. So I am limited in what legal work I can find. And there are many more attorneys than there is work to go around.
I am usually on assignment as a temp, never knowing from day to day how long a project will last.
It’s a two-hour commute each way to get to my current job. I walk a mile to catch a commuter bus, and then ride into the city for $5 each way. Being able to drive to the train would add gas and parking expenses of about $10 per day. But it would save me an hour or more in total commute time.
Being on a boat means that I can’t store a year’s supply of anything — space is always at a premium.
I usually borrow a car from a dock-mate every couple of weeks to make large grocery runs. Sometimes I walk to the liquor store with my dog and carry purchases home in a backpack. I sometimes pay the higher prices at the fancy farmer’s market because it’s within walking distance. Getting to the larger, more affordable farmer’s market would take a couple of bus transfers.
Right now, I am bracing myself to deal with the cold.
While boat living is challenging, it also has its charms. My half-a-million dollars in student debt has made simple living a necessity. Stay tuned for my next post where I tell you how I got here.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy