Pros and Cons of Living on a Boat
Living on a boat is not for everyone. It’s an alternative lifestyle that’s easily romanticized, but not so easy to realize. Like anything else, it has pros and cons.
Anybody considering living on a boat will likely think about cost-effectiveness first, given how expensive life on land has become. Yet, boat living requires a giant scoop of dedication to go with the bowl of cherries most imagine the experience to be.
So what’s the best part of living on a boat? What’s the worst part of living on a boat? Both are very valid questions. Here are some pros and cons of living on a boat.
What to Ask Yourself First
Before we get to the pros and cons, there are things you should ask yourself before you commit to the decision. Are you prepared to make the transition? Living on a boat is a decision that shouldn’t be rushed. Are you doing it just to save money? If so, you may be in for a rude awakening (more on that later).
How’s the climate you plan to live in? Bad weather conditions are a major factor to consider, especially in hurricane-prone areas. Are you a good problem-solver? You better be, especially when it comes to maintenance and repairs.
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is: can you really afford it? We’re not just talking the costs of owning, maintaining and repairing a boat, but also other expenses like frequent grocery shopping due to limited space. And the cost of giving up the comforts of living in a house (traditional plumbing, storage space, etc.).
Make sure you can afford the psychological costs of living on a boat as well. Just food for thought before you make such a major life-changing choice. Now onto the good stuff: the Pros.
Living on a Boat: Pros
Living on a boat is generally more affordable than a traditional home. You can even live rent-free if you don’t have a permanent place to moor your boat.
If done right, it’s a much more affordable alternative. However, there are expenses that could make it just as, if not more costly than renting or owning on land. These expenses may include boat payments, insurance, slip or marina fees, and fuel and waste management, among others. Maintenance expenses in particular can offset the otherwise affordable cost of living on a boat.
With that said, were in the Pros section of this article, and living on a boat is more often than not much cheaper. Housing prices continue skyrocketing as of this writing (2022), and you’ll save a ton of money living on the water if you stick to a budget.
Living on a boat means less expenses in utilities alone. Heating and cooling expenses will be a fraction of the cost, and without traditional plumbing, you’re likely to save on water and sewage bills too. Even renting a slip in a marina typically costs less than the average price of renting a home, while renting a mooring ball or dropping anchor somewhere costs little to nothing.
The other major attraction to living on a boat besides affordability is the lifestyle. For starters, it’s great for your social life, both within the community and outside of it.
Boat living creates interesting conversations, and it’s a great ice-breaker for meeting new people. You’re also likely to make friends in the community who will relate to your lifestyle. Boat owners tend to have a strong sense of community, and your neighbors will likely become your new friends.
The lifestyle comes with a sense of freedom unlike any other. It also appeals to the senses when it comes to the amazing views you get to enjoy regularly, particularly sunsets on the water. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll also get to interact daily with interesting wildlife such as dolphins and manatees at sea, or otters and alligators on a lake, for example.
There’s also the lifestyle benefit of staying active, as the daily upkeep of a boat alone will give you plenty of exercise. Plus, living on the water provides a playground for swimming, fishing and watersports. Even getting on and off the boat frequently is a workout.
Safety and Security
As we just mentioned, a strong sense of community is typical amongst boat owners, which can provide neighborhood safety and security. These tight-knit communities typically look out for each other and can act as a security network.
Boats are prime targets for burglars, who are more likely to be noticed by your neighbors at a marina than prowling around a house in a typical neighborhood. Heightened vigilance is involved, and marinas usually have security guards for added protection. And even though your boat can still get burglarized if you’re anchored or moored to a buoy in the water, it’s highly unlikely.
Living on a Boat: Cons
Lack of Space
You’ll have to get used to a limited amount of space on a boat for, well, everything. (And when we say “boat”, we’re not including 100-foot luxury yachts, just to be clear.)
Lack of space means everything from storage to personal space, which could get uncomfortable if you’re living with someone. Even a decent-sized boat will never measure up to a house space-wise. No garage, no full-sized kitchen, no backyard … you get the point. You may get some extra space from living at a marina, but on a typical boat the space will be tight. A small kitchen means a tiny fridge, minimal pantry space and more grocery shopping. Also, be ready to minimalize clothing without the luxury of a washer and dryer. Basically if you’re going to live on a boat, downsizing is the name of the game.
When sharing a boat with a significant other, be prepared to get in each other’s way often. If you want to preserve your relationship, keep in mind that personal space is practically non-existent on a boat. You’ll likely fight over things like bathroom use, so make sure your “boat-mate” is willing to make the same sacrifices.
If you plan on having a dog on your boat, the pooch itself will also be an obstacle. Make sure the dog acclimates to living on the water, has easy access to the boat and dock, and enough room to do what dogs do.
The biggest con of living on a boat is the maintenance costs, which as mentioned earlier may offset the biggest pro: affordability. You’ll learn almost immediately that boats require a ton of maintenance.
Lots of time, money and work goes into the daily upkeep of a boat. Doing the maintenance work yourself calls for plumbing, electrical and mechanical skills. Marine parts and labor are more expensive than those of a typical household too, so be ready for that. Living on a boat isn’t for the weak, so if you can’t handle plenty of responsibilities, don’t even bother.
Mold, Mildew and Rust
Get used to mold and mildew as a frequent nuisance on your boat. Summer temperatures in particular create a breeding ground for mold, but it’s a year-round problem that comes with living on the water. You’ll need to keep your boat dry and ventilated to prevent mold and rust. Regular cleaning, as well as an arsenal of mold and mildew cleaners and rust removers will be required. Dehumidifiers provide additional protection, as well as circulating air by opening the hatches.
We mentioned interactions with wildlife as a part of the pros, but it can also be a con. For starters, living on a boat attracts birds, which means cleaning poop … lots of it! Bird sh#t will come from the ones that hang out on your boat, as well as those flying above it.
Being on the water also means bugs, so be ready to deal with mosquitoes, roaches and spiders, as well the rodents and reptiles who eat them. If you leave food out in the open, a plethora of critters will be looking for an easy meal, so keep your boat clean.
Another thing to consider is noisy wildlife. Squawking birds, splashing marine mammals, flopping fish, chirping crickets, growling gators, noisy tree frogs … you get the point. Living amongst nature comes with a soundtrack of animal sounds, so keep that in mind as a potential con if you value total peace and quiet.
Water and Waste Management
Even though you’re surrounded by water, you’ll still have to conserve it, especially your drinking water if you anchor or moor off a buoy. And if you live in a marina, they often charge for water usage, which could affect the affordability of living on a boat.
Water and waste management are a constant issue, as you’ll have to constantly refill your water tanks without the benefit of traditional plumbing. You’ll need to pump out the septic tanks or pay somebody to do it for you. Keep in mind that it’s harmful to the environment to pump sewage into the water, so find a marina with pumping stations. They’ll likely charge for the service, but it’s worth paying for to make sure you’re not illegally dumping waste.
Other Things to Consider
Never buy a boat until you know exactly where you’re going to keep it. Finding a place to moor your new home can be a challenge. Some marinas have long waiting lists, and may require licensing to secure a slip.
Depending on where you live, anchoring may or may not be an option, so find out what the local regulations are to anchoring a boat if you’re going that route. Think about accessibility too. Do you have easy access to a dock for getting off the boat, or are you going to need a dinghy to get back-and-forth? Are you planning on taking residence in a storm-prone area. If so, do you have the proper equipment and insurance to secure your boat? Are there adequate breakwaters to protect your boat from high winds and waves?
Keep power and connectivity needs in mind too when picking a spot. Make sure you choose a place that has 24/7 access to shore power and Wi-Fi when you need it.
One last thing to think about is getting a boat you could realistically live on. Any boat with a cabin would probably suffice, but is it safe and big enough to live in? Does it have the basics like a cabin and galley and comfortable sleeping room?
There’s much more to consider before moving into a boat that we haven't touched on. But ultimately, the pros will outweigh the cons if you’re looking for a life-changing experience you’ll never forget!