Living on the Water Costs More Than You’d Think
For anyone who loves the water, or being outside, living aboard a boat full-time is rarely far from mind. When Mike Salomon bought a 30-foot, 1931 wooden sailboat, his primary goal was to “save money,” he said. He was drawn to the nearly 70-year boat because it was wooden, and because it was romantic.
“It was really, really romantic,” he said. “Everyone else on the docks had fiberglass boats and they all loved mine. It was like the dream boat everyone else wanted.” It may have been a dream boat at first, but as the cliché goes, it quickly turned into a nightmare. Salomon initially paid $5,000 for the boat, but by the time he sold it five years later he’d poured more than $25,000 into engine repair, upkeep and maintenance.
“No matter what anyone tells you,” he said, “You have no idea how much you’re going to have to pour into your boat. It will be more expensive than you ever imagined.”
Salomon, a high-altitude mountain climber at the time, spent weeks and months in Nepal and climbing mountains around the world. Because he was away so often he didn’t want the hassles of maintaining a house. A sailboat seemed like the perfect choice, especially given the low marina fees of the 90s. He owned a small IT company and when he wasn’t coding or working on computers he was traveling and climbing or relaxing aboard his boat with his girlfriend. It was the dream life – for a while.
“I found out sailing bored me, although I loved living on the boat,” he said. He eventually moved off of the boat and rented a room.
Salomon, now retired from high altitude climbing, but still navigating the hills of California with his wife and two-year-old daughter, loved his live-aboard experience, but wouldn’t repeat it.
“It was romantic,” he said, “But it was also very, very expensive.”
Charles L. Dougherty and his wife, life-long avid sailors, had a similar experience – finding that living aboard can cost more than you’d expect.
With their children grown, Dougherty and his wife stored or gave away all their belongings and bought a 35-foot cutter, named “The Play Actor.” They sailed and lived aboard their boat for more than 15 years, primarily exploring the Eastern Caribbean until 2015 when they sold the boat and moved ashore to spend more time with their grandchildren. Calling upon his sailing experiences Dougherty has written 13 mystery books, and novels, all sailing based. He still loves his time aboard but has advice for those considering the plunge themselves.
Dougherty too had a background in IT. But he also had an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, an MBA, and a law degree. His corporate career spanned over 25 years and included companies in the telecommunications and data communications field, starting as an engineer and finishing as a corporate vice president. The couple planned their expenses down to the dollar and still found that the unexpected can hit your budget harder than you thought.
His advice to newbies or even experienced sailors considering a live-aboard move is: “Plan, plan, plan and then expect the unexpected. Learn to adapt and do without.”
Advice from Live-Aboards
Don’t expect to really save money. Enjoy the experience, the romance of sailboat living, and the people you meet, or the fun you have, but don’t expect to move aboard a boat to save money. Living aboard is about the experience, not your bank account. Careful planning, healthy savings, and a positive attitude can make the unexpected costs a little easier to handle.
Be realistic. That $1,000, or even $5,000 or $10,000 boat may seem like a great deal but do your homework. Hire a certified surveyor to look the boat over first to tell you what’s good, and what’s not about it. You may save money on the purchase, but repairs and upkeep can be double or triple the purchase price.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In some states (Maine for instance), the law says the seller who knows the boat was damaged or sunk is under no duty to volunteer the information – but if you ask, he or she must answer honestly. So, ask. Be very specific. As Nolo.com says, “Ask the owner very plainly whether the boat ever flooded or sank, or ever was involved in a collision, fall or fire. You may learn something that gives you pause, and if the seller answers in the negative and you later learn that there was such an incident, you may have a case for fraud or misrepresentation.”
Find a marina before you buy a boat. You’re going to need a shorter boat. Part of the problem with many boat owners is they buy the boat before they have a place to park it. The difference of only a foot or two in the boat’s length can mean a savings of hundreds of dollars a year as both insurance companies, marinas, and boatyards charge for work, slips and insurance by the foot. A 28-foot boat may cost you $400 a month in slip fees, but a 30 or 31-foot boat may cost you $600 a month or more. By finding a marina and checking the rates, slip fees, live-aboard and other regulations before you buy your boat you could reap significant savings by just buying a shorter boat.
Research. Most liveaboard veterans advise newbies to “do their research,” and read everything they can on the live-aboard life, and save everything they can before moving aboard one. “Like the old saying goes,” Salomon said, “The best two days of a boat owner’s life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it.”
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