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[QT's Boats]

Reality Check for potential liveaboards:



Living on a boat, particularly in areas with relatively mild temperatures, has many advantages. For the nature lover, it affords a closeness to nature and a sense of tranquility unequaled by traditional house- or apartment-living (of course, I AM a little biased!); It is comparatively inexpensive (once you get past the initial purchase price of the boat); You have the freedom of living on your mode of vacation transportation; And, if you decide you don't like your neighbors, simply start up your engines and move to a new slip...

As cool as it sounds though, there are a LOT of things to consider before making such a drastic lifestyle change....

Questions to ask yourself:

Do you enjoy camping?

Living on a boat, in many ways, feels a lot like camping. Even with heaters/air-conditioning on board, seasonal changes tend to be much more apparent on a boat than they are in traditional land-based housing. Plus, there's generally a significant distance between your car and your boat so exposure to the elements (when bringing in groceries, hauling out laundry, etc) is to be expected...

Another similarity to camping is the tendency toward use of disposable dishes/glasses/cutlery. Sinks on boats tend to be pretty small, so dishwashing becomes an even less desirable activity.

Are you prone to Motion Sickness?

Even in the most protected harbors, boats have a tendency to move about... Even getting up from the port side to change the music on the CD player on the starboard side will cause the the boat to rock slightly (although, the larger the boat, the less obvious the movement). For some people, the slight movement can be worse than enduring the more dramatic rocking during heavy winds...

I have never been prone to Motion Sickness in the classic "head over the side" sense (okay, only ONCE, but that was a long time ago!). However, for the first two weeks, I had a chronic case of vertigo. Have you ever been on a boat cruise for several hours, then once your feet hit land, you get that woozy sense that the world is spinning? Imagine having that for two weeks... Could you handle it? Now, the only time that the rocking bothers me is when the winds exceed 15 kts, and then only if I am staring at the computer screen... Personally, I find that the slight movement has improved my sleep to the point where I don't believe I will ever move back to land!

How do you feel about dampness?

Sounds like a silly question, doesn't it? But some things really took me by surprise... For example, on a boat, I have found there is no such thing as "dust." That might seem like a good thing until you realize that the dust merely binds with the moisture in the air and becomes a grungy grimy substance which must be scrubbed off of your precious knick knacks...

Do you have clothing that needs to be hung in order to dry? You won't for long - unless you don't mind waiting for days (there are ways around this, running the heater for example)...

How much do you enjoy scrubbing mildew out of your shower? Plan on doing this at least three times as frequently as you would on land (unless you avail yourself of the bathroom facilities on shore)...

Do you like your crackers and potato chips crispy? If so, invest in lots of chip clips and ziplock bags, and seal your stuff up immediately after opening it!

And, at the slightest hint of rain, seal EVERYTHING up, all doors, windows and hatches. Once your carpet gets wet (especially in the beginning of the rainy season), you will need to run several heaters for several days unless you have a fondness for mildew!

What other creature comforts do you take for granted?

Here's a list of some more surprises: Do you like long showers? 10-gallon hot water tanks will give you about 10 minutes worth of water, although most marinas have facilities on shore...

Do you like to surf the net while your breakfast toast is cooking? I used to, until I crashed my hard drive due to a power surge... Amperage will undoubtedly vary from marina to marina, but I can only draw 20 amps from shore or else blow the fuse. This means I have had to learn (the hard way) what appliances can and (more importantly) cannot be run simultaneously. The toaster seems to be the worst culprit thus far and really can't be run with anything else (other than 1 or 2 A/C lights). The cooktop and heater are a bad combination, as are the microwave and cooktop (although if the cooktop is set on simmer, I CAN run the microwave... unless I had taken a shower beforehand since the water-heater will be on...).

Laundry and garbage runs are generally planned around the tide. Low tide=steep climb up the ramp to shore. High tide=flat ramp.

How much do you like your "stuff?" I am female, therefore, I have more than my share of "objets d'art" (also known as knick knacks, others might call it "crap"). Shelf-space is limited, and precarious at best. If it's expensive and breakable, it's probably better off at mom's house, or bubble-wrapped in a box in storage. Heavier objects like TVs, VCRs and stereos are generally safe if placed on a sturdy table and the boat doesn't leave the harbor. If, however, you plan on taking the boat out regularly, you might want to consider having the electronics permanently affixed in some fashion, or plan on a one-hour packing and unpacking ordeal for every trip out...

On the subject of "stuff" - One of the best parts about living on a boat is that I have finally curbed the urge to go out and buy more "crap" since I always have to think in terms of "Where am I gonna PUT that?!" Another advantage, for those just starting out -You don't need to buy furniture for a boat since most of the benches and tables are built in... For former landlubbers, such as myself, you will need to decide whether to pay to store your things, or get rid of it all... (I have opted for a 10x15 Storage locker - more on that on the next page...)

Do you have a high-maintenance and/or extensive wardrobe? I have two closets (or in proper nautical terms: "hanging lockers"), they are 12" wide x 3-1/2' tall. There are makeshift shelves built into the berth to increase my storage space but hanging space is at a premium. My shoes live under the kitchen ("galley") floor and not too terribly accessible. Many mornings I can be heard cursing over my inability to find the mate to one of my shoes... Need I say more?

Now the REALLY important questions:

Do Marinas in your area allow liveaboards, and what is the community like?

In many communities, liveaboards are highly discouraged. This is due primarily to irresponsibility and poor sanitation on the part of the liveaboard community. Some marinas prohibit and stricly enforce the "No Liveaboard" rule, others ostensibly state "no liveaboards" but don't actively enforce it. But some, like mine, welcome liveaboards to the extent that they even offer cable TV hookups (however, they do limit the total number of liveaboards allowed).

Your best bet is to call around and speak to the local Harbormasters to learn the policies. Most harbors accepting liveaboards have waiting lists, and have additional "liveaboard fees" associated with tenancy. After that, visit the marinas, and talk to the residents to get a feel for the "neighborhood." I feel very lucky indeed. Most of the people at my marina are in their 30's-40's, responsible, respectful of privacy, yet willing to watch out for each other (i.e. we keep an eye on each other's boats and question any strangers on the docks)...

Are you relatively "handy?" Are you self-sufficient and resourceful?

If you don't know the difference between a Phillips Screwdriver and a Socket Wrench, you may be in trouble. Boats, like homes, require constant upkeep - just more of it...

If you are the sort of person who believes that most problems can be solved by throwing money at them, you are right. Here are a few things to consider though: In my experience, take your best estimate of what it would cost to fix a similar problem on land, and multiply it by three. That is the low-end estimate of how much it will cost on a boat. Additionally, I have found that it is very difficult to find a reliable handyman/mechanical type to work on boats. Therefore, resourcefulness has become second nature to me (even down to flushing my electric toilet with jumper cables until I could replace the wall switch). And I have discovered that "Duct Tape is our friend" (especially late at night, in the middle of a rainstorm, when the hatch springs a leak directly over the bed)...

One interesting discovery I made recently, while window-shopping for a new propane range: Trailer/RV Suppliers can be a very good resource for some marine stuff. 2-burner with oven combos were going for \\$800 minimum at the chandleries. The same, basic thing could be found for approximately \\$350 at my local RV Supplier... Also, surf the net for discount marine supplies. You can save a lot of money by shopping mail order. Of course, when you've got a real emergency on your hands, it's comforting to know that West Marine is just down the street...!

There are a number of good books out there covering general boat maintenance; "The Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual" by Nigel Calder has become my bible...

IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING MECHANICAL UPKEEP:

Marine engines are significantly different from automobile engines. If you have a wonderful car mechanic, make sure he understands marine modifications before letting him near your boat's engine - even if it is a modified car engine. Mistakes can be fatal! One of the big differences between cars and boats is that cars tend to be "open" in the bottom and things like gasoline and sparks pose less of a hazard. The bilge, on the other hand, provides an ideal space for gasoline and fumes to accumulate... Add something like an automobile alternator which generates sparks... Well... You do the math...

My best advice in this regard would be to pay the extra money for a marine mechanic or - if you're a do-it-yourselfer - take the time to read and learn as much as you can before tackling the job yourself...

Are there any other surprises you should know about?

Well, I keep running into new ones every day! But here are a few more tidbits to consider: Plan on paying a diver to come and scrape barnacles every six months or so. This may not be necessary if you don't plan on taking the boat out regularly (frequent cleanings, however, will greatly improve your boat's performance), but it's a good idea to do since the diver can check your through-hulls (outlets/inlets located underwater - many boats pump seawater in for flushing the head or cooling the engines). He can also check the general condition of the underside of the hull, as well as check and replace the zincs if necessary (zincs are generally attached to the outdrives or shafts to prevent corrosion due to electrolysis).

Boats should be taken to the boat yard and hauled out every so often for cleaning and painting. Frequency will vary with the age and material of the hull. Proper hull maintenance cannot be overemphasized...

Check your bilge pump regularly. It is not unusual for a small amount of water to gather in the bilge. Some boats have automatic "float-type" switches which will engage the bilge pump automatically once the water reaches a certain level. I have a distrust for these switches; having watched the marine salvors, at \\$200/hour working for four hours rescuing a neighboring liveaboard which sank early one morning... I prefer to hit the bilge switch on my helm once a week as part of my Saturday morning ritual. This way, I can gauge the quantity of water that comes out in order to determine if I have a potential problem on my hands...

Now for the fun questions::

Power or Sail:

There seems to be a big controversy among mariners as to which is better... Many Sailors seem to frown on Powerboaters, and vice versa... Generally, I don't give a Rat's Ass what other people think... Boat selection is a personal decision best left to the individual wielding the checkbook. My personal preference would have been to liveaboard a large sailboat, preferably multihulled. However, I knew that if it was large enough for me to liveaboard comfortably, I probably couldn't afford it!

Sailboats have the advantage of being less expensive to operate since, the last time I checked, wind was free... But they tend to be very aero- and hydrodynamic in design, consequently, living space - headroom in particular - seems to be rather limited... Many people dream of one day sailing the world, and living on a sailboat would certainly be a step in the right direction since it offers the opportunity to know how it would feel to be in relatively tight quarters for extended period of time. Plus, the costs savings could be used to make the necessary improvements/modifications to the boat to support long-range cruising.

Foot-for-foot, you will find MUCH more living space on a PowerBoat. Although, generally speaking, power boats are also much more expensive to purchase initially than a similar-sized sailboat. And, I believe that ongoing maintenance is probably much more of a commitment since you are relying 100% on mechanical equipment to keep you moving.

Hull Material:

The hull, for you landlubbers out there, is the belly of the boat - That which keeps you afloat! Most recreational boats are fabricated from either wood or fiberglass (although, some of the larger boats are made of steel or cement).

Wood is pretty, but HIGH HIGH maintenance. They require regular haul-outs and bottom jobs. And, I understand, some insurance companies won't even insure wooden boats...

Glass is less "pretty," but far more reliable. Glass-hulled boats still require regular haul-outs and maintenance, and fiberglass boats manufactured around the mid-70's have been known to have problems with "blistering," however, overall maintenance of a glass-hulled boat is much easier. There are variations on fiberglass-hulled boats - some may be solid glass, some may be glass over wood (or some other material), and thickness (weight vs. sturdiness) can vary widely between boats.

Size:

This, again, is a matter of personal taste and financial resources. My boat, at 32'x11'6" with approximately 6'3" headroom throughout, is about as small a space as *I* would consider living in. Although, I know a few people who live on much smaller boats: I've even known of couples living on *very* small sailboats with BIG dogs (I don't know how they manage!), and I even had a neighbor once who lived aboard a 17' sailboat, although he didn't seem very happy... As in all things, the more money you have, the greater your options...

Cost:

I wouldn't even try to tell you how much to spend on a boat. I can only tell you how I learned what I know:

Apparently there is a marine equivalent of a "blue book" that most yacht brokers and/or bank finance departments have access to. This is a handy reference once you know what you are looking for and think you may have found it.

Local chandleries, as well as marinas, will usually have bulletin boards with postings of boats for sale (this may also be a good opportunity to find out about liveaboards for rent, in case you still have doubts)...

There are usually "Boats for Sale" magazines available, for free, at Harbormasters' offices. I have thumbed through hundreds of them in order to gain a passing familiarity with the various brands and price ranges. There are also Sailing Rags (such as Latitude 38) which have classified advertisements. Yacht Brokers are another resource, although, in my experience, you won't find many bargains there...

Inexpensive boats:

There are cheap boats out there - but they aren't always easy to find - and sometimes the purchase can be risky. Talk to local Harbormasters to find out about lien sales. Sometimes, boats are abandoned and the Marina takes possession of them. The boats can frequently be purchased for the amount of the outstanding rent. However, there is usually a pretty good reason that the boat was abandoned so there may be significant expenses associated with the purchase (the aforementioned sunken liveaboard later became a lien sale - It was an old 32' wooden sedan cruiser which sold for $400. However, I'd be willing to bet that it will take close to $10,000 to restore the boat completely).

Boats confiscated in association with drug smuggling and such, as well as repossessions can sometimes be purchased at auction, although I have no experience with that...

Charitable organizations, such as the Sea Scouts, may also have inexpensive boats for sale. People donate their old boats for tax write-offs, and the Sea Scouts sometimes offer them for sale.

Before buying any boat:

Here is where I get a little hypocritical (since I didn't know all of this beforehand)... Ideally, any high-end used boat will have a current Marine Survey indicating the status of the boat and any potential trouble areas. Most surveys are completed while the boat is out of the water by professional Marine Surveyors (who collect professional rates for their services). Generally speaking, when one is negotiating the purchase of a new boat, the purchaser will make an offer - contingent on a clean survey. The purchaser is responsible for paying for the haul-out and survey - so purchasing a boat *can* be pretty risky. However, the survey results can be an excellent bargaining tool for negotiating the final purchase price of the boat. If a survey has not been completed (and, I should warn you, it may be difficult to obtain insurance if the boat has not been surveyed recently), at the very least, make sure a diver has inspected the condition of the hull, through-hulls, outdrives/shafts and zincs to ensure that you aren't purchasing a potential Titanic. Of course, with auction/lien boats, you may not have the opportunity for such an inspection...

My Latest Discovery!

NewsGroups can be a WONDERFUL resource for information! I just found rec.boats.cruising and it's a gem! Lot's of genuinely nice and helpful folks posting to that newsgroup - Of course, they're boaters, so what did I expect?!!

My Newest (and quite important) Observation to share!

When you finally get your boat, and get settled into your slip... Here's something very important that you *must* do: Scope out your surroundings and try to determine the quickest and easiest way out of the water when/if you should happen to fall in!

Yes, I learned this one the hard way! At around midnight several months ago, I slipped off the deck of Tartan and with a resounding "Ohhhh shiiii***!" and a mightly splash, in I went! Unfortunately, my expletives went unnoticed by sleeping neighbors and I was faced with the rather daunting task of figuring out how to get out of the water and back onto the suddenly VERY HIGH dock! Tartan has a swim platform, but no ladder. Heaven, a boat 5 slips away, had a ladder so I swam toward it - only to discover that the ladder has to be released from waaaay up on deck! I was extremely fortunate to find that the water was (surprisingly) not as cold as I would have expected, and I am a strong swimmer (in spite of the fact that I had somehow managed to crack a rib when I ricocheted off the dock on my way down). I ended up having to swim a past about 8 slips. I figured I could make it to my closest neighbor and pound on his hull - but luckily I found a boat with an accessible ladder on the way. So I hauled my sorry ass out of the water and scurried quickly back to my boat - to hide in shame! Anyways, I'm thinkin' that's a pretty important thing to check out BEFORE you're faced with a similar dilemma!

Please understand that this is, by no means, a complete list of items to consider... Nor do I claim to be an "expert" on the subject of liveaboard life... These are just some of the questions and revelations I have discovered during the past several years... And I thought it might be nice to share them with others considering this lifestyle.

I hope to add to this page, or create additional links to share other helpful hints as I continue to learn things "the hard way!" If you have any thoughts or questions on the subject of liveaboard life, please feel free to Email me at IMQTPI(at)gmail(dot)com - Please mention "QT's Webpage" in the subject line so I don't delete you!

LINKS

QT's Online Boating Buddies

  • Henry Clann's Homepage It takes awhile to load, but has lots of boating links!
  • Coming Someday, maybe: The Saga of John's plunge into darkness! One of QT's Online Boat-Buddies buys a boat to liveaboard!

2586 Visitors 01/27/00 - 03/06/01

10744 Visitors since 03/06/01

Last updated 03/06/01