So You’re Thinking of Living Aboard a Boat

Congratulations! You’re researching your next adventure, and I applaud you. Living aboard a boat is incredible, and I’m sure you’re just peeing your pants with excitement. When I was in your stage, I would lose sleep thinking about my boat, wondering what she was like, and what adventures me and her would embark upon together.

Many of my posts deal with living aboard, so naturally people thinking of making the move find this blog by running a Google search. I get emails from time to time asking how I chose my boat and if I have any advice for newly bitten thrill-seekers. Rather than type out the same responses, I thought I’d put my answers in a handy-dandy post. Here it goes.

Sailboat or Powerboat?

Libby is a sailboat, and since I’ve been sailing, I have formed an extreme bias towards sailboats and sailors, and a firm dislike for powerboats and most of their operators. Powerboaters will say that sailors are snotty and elitist, and there’s a reason for that: as sailboats, we have the right of way over a powerboat. Period. We need the wind to steer and get to where we want to go, and that’s not always in a straight line. In fact, often enough, our destination is into the wind, and we can’t go there unless we tack. A powerboat can just turn their rudder, or increase or decrease speed. Sadly, many powerboaters (not all), fail to give the right of way, enjoy passing us and rocking our boats with their unnatural wake, and make a tremendous amount of noise. Are sailors snotty and elitist? Damn right. Sailboats are seen, not heard, and not felt. Our form of boat travel is ancient and blessed with tradition. Powerboats? Not so much. Neener neener.

Ahem. So, powerboat (icky) or sailboat (yay!)?

How Much Do You Know?

Starting to heel...

Assuming you’ve made the right choice and want to live aboard a sailboat, how much do you know about sailboats and sailing? I knew nothing. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. I knew that the big pole coming out of the top of the boat is called the “mast” and the horizontal pole attached to the mast is called the “boom.” I also knew what the rudder was. That’s about it. I didn’t know what a jib was, what the sole was, the difference between a sloop, ketch, or a yawl, and I certainly didn’t know anything about sailing. What the heck was tacking? What the heck was the difference between a fin keel and a full keel? Which is better, a diesel engine or a gasoline engine? There’s a lot to know about boats. Try not to overwhelm yourself with what you don’t know, and focus on learning. Google will become your best friend. To learn how to sail, read a book then GO SAILING. The first time I went sailing, I was totally lost. I had no idea what my instructor was telling me. He used terms like “heading up,” and “falling off,” and “sheet in,” and “sheet out,” and would ask me what point of sail we were in. ???? I felt like an idiot. That’s normal. Pretty soon, though, I learned that learning to sail wasn’t hard at all.

After your first sail (if you’re new to sailing) read the same book a few more times–it’ll make so much more sense. Then go sailing again. Brains love learning new things. Make your brain happy and teach it something fun.

Where to Keep the Boat

Buying a boat is the easy part. First you have to figure out where you’re going to put it. I live in the Puget Sound area, so there are dozens of places for me to keep my boat. But living aboard a boat is different. Marinas have to abide by state laws and allow only a small percentage of their boaters to be liveaboards (usually 5%). Is there room in your marina for a liveaboard? Do you have to sign up for a wait list? If you can’t have a slip, would you want to anchor out? What are your winters like? Traveling to and from shore in a dinghy is fun when the sun is shining, not so much when it’s pouring rain and cold.

All of Your Crap

One of the reasons living on a boat is so appealing is the chance to downsize. I love getting rid of crap. But, like you’ll soon discover, you have much more of it than you think. Sure, the furniture is what takes up a lot of your space right now, but it’s the smaller things that will bog you down once you move aboard. Here are some things you may not be thinking about as you’re fantasizing about moving aboard a boat:

  1. Cooking supplies: pots, pans, ladles, rollers, cutlery, cutting board, cups, glasses, plates, bowls, coffee grinder, french press, coffee brewer (if you dock), toaster (if you dock)
  2. Clothes: jackets, sweaters, sweatshirts, t-shirts, pants, shorts, long-johns, socks, underwear, dress shoes, work shoes
  3.  Groceries: you need to eat. You cannot store for the apocalypse, so say goodbye to buying in bulk. If you will dock your boat, you can have AC power and use a refrigerator. If you anchor out, think again about your cold stuffs.
  4. Bathroom supplies: toothbrush, paste, hair brush, shampoo, conditioner, towels, hand towels, dish towels, lotions, body soap, razors, bathroom cleaning supplies
  5. Your Gear: computers, iPods, radios, eReaders (get one now), books (start losing those), photos, photo albums, DVDs, etc.
  6. Pets: pets have crap too, just like you: toys, food, dishes, and a place to sleep.
  7. TOOLS AND SPARE PARTS!!!! You’re going to live on something that has moving parts. You need tools and spare parts, oil, funnels, wrenches, belts, fans, impellers, and on and on. You’ll need a compartment that can store what you need to keep the boat healthy, too.

Get rid of as much of the above (except number 7) as possible. Be brave. I took loads of crap to Goodwill, sold a lot of furniture and electronics I didn’t use/need, and then when I moved aboard, got rid of even more stuff. Soon I’ll be purging again. A boat, though it has lots of nooks and crannies to store your crap, isn’t a house or apartment. PURGE!

Choosing Your New Boat

Okay, so now the fun part. Boats. Assuming you’re new to boats (as I was) you have to decide what boats to look for, and what to avoid. Like any other item of purchase, some brands are better than others. When I was considering my big move, I talked with Ron, a man so knowledgable about sailboats, a mutual friend dubbed him the “sailboat whisperer.” I took him out for coffee and picked his brain. I’d already spent hours looking through, getting inspired, ready to make the plunge, but I didn’t know what was a good purchase, and what would be a nightmare.

My budget, and perhaps yours, was small. I would have to get a boat made in the 1970s. What I learned in that brain-picking session was:

  • Fiberglass boats are the best and most sturdy.
  • Do not buy a wooden boat.
  • Newer boats aren’t necessarily better than old boats. A newer boat would have newer rigging, but wouldn’t be better built. In fact, the 1970s were great years for boat building.
  • Diesel engines are more reliable and less troublesome than gasoline engines. Yanmar is a great diesel engine. But if you fall in love with a boat equipped with an Atomic 4 (gas engine) don’t let that stop you.
  • Some reliable boat brands include, but are not limited to: Islander, Erickson, Baba, Bristol, Ranger, Newport.
  • Size matters, but width is key. To live aboard comfortably, a 28 footer is the minimum. The wider the beam, the better. Libby, for example, is 30 feet long, and has a ten foot beam. She’s perfect for one person. Two people will probably need more space.
  • A boat with a fin keel is generally faster than a boat with a full keel. But a full keeled boat has more stability, and is better suited for the ocean.
  • Mono-hulled sailboats, not sailing dinghies, are difficult to capsize. When you run your plans to move aboard a sailboat to your cautious friends and family, some will mention that the ocean is dangerous and boats sink. Mono-hulled sailboats are extremely difficult to capsize, because of the physics of their design, and fiberglass is a strong material.
  • Look for a boat with a sturdy design. Try not to be dismayed by cosmetic flaws: those can be fixed. Look at her bones.
  • Find a boat that suits your needs: do you want to cruise the ocean, or stay inland?

Searching for Your Girl

My new boat.

As you’ve certainly read many times before, you’ll need to look at lots of boats. Think of searching for your boat like searching for your spouse: you have to decide what you like and what you don’t, what you can live with, and what you can’t live without. Like your spouse, the boat you eventually fall in love with will have flaws, but you’ll love your boat regardless. Unlike your spouse, most of your boat’s flaws can probably be fixed. What is “lots” of boats? It could be five, twelve, thirty, or a hundred. Who’s to say? When you find “the one,” you’ll know. Being around the new boat will make you happy. You don’t have to know why the boat makes you happy, it just will. You’ll like sitting inside the cabin, in the cockpit. You’ll enjoy discovering things within and without. You’ll take lots of photos of her and show your friends. Your new boat will, in a way, choose you, too. It sounds a little silly, but it’s all true. It’s love.

Buying “The One”

Whether you’re going through a boat broker or an individual, two things need to happen before you sign on the dotted line: a sea trial and a survey. You will make the offer on the boat contingent upon both.

When I found my boat, I took Ron (the sailboat whisperer) to look at her first. This of course clued in the boat broker that I was interested. When Ron gave her the okay, I called the broker and made an offer contingent upon a sea trial and a survey. He went to the owner and the boat owner made a counteroffer. I accepted.

Sea Trial

A sea trial is a test drive. You’ll want to see how your new girl performs out in the water, how she handles, if she’s study, fast, and sails true. How’s her rigging? How are the lines? What’s the steering like? The broker, or the owner of the boat, will come along with you. Since I was new to sailing, and very ignorant, I brought Ron with me. We sailed out into Puget Sound and had a blast. It was the first time I’d heeled in a boat, and I almost wet my pants from nervousness. But both Ron and the broker carried on a conversation as the boat heeled, so I faked calmness. Ron gave the boat two thumbs up, and so we headed into the survey.


If a boat was a car, a survey is like popping the hood. A surveyor will examine the boat from top to bottom and make a list of her flaws. That’s his/her job. A surveyor will charge based upon how many feet the boat is, and whether or not you want him to look at the engine. You cannot get your money back if the surveyor finds that your prospective boat is a money pit, but if it is a money pit, you’ve saved thousands by not buying her.

haul out
My girl being hauled out of the water for the survey.

A survey includes the surveyor examining the inside of the boat’s cabin, the topside, the cockpit, and then, depending upon your location, will have it hauled out to examine the bottom. He’ll look at the head, the water supply, possibly the engine, the rigging, the lines, all of it. He may even ask to sail it. Take my advice, get the survey.

The “Guy from Alaska”

It’s a tough market out there for all industries. A buyer’s market, to be sure. When I was buying my boat, I knew I could get a good deal on her, and I really did. But the reason I got a good deal was because I learned from my father not to be intimidated or suckered by the tactics of a salesman. He would take me with him when buying a car, so I could see how he negotiated. He told me that one day I’d need to buy a car from a dealership and that the sales people would try to sucker me into a higher price.

A tactic you may encounter as you’re in the final stages of negotiating a deal, or even if you’ve shown slight interest in the boat, is the “guy from Alaska.” I know that my boat was sitting in a dock for months, and hadn’t been taken out or maybe even visited. Yet as I was making an offer on her, my broker told me there was a “guy from Alaska” who came down and visited the boat and wanted to buy her. Sure. Riiiiiight. I was pretty sure it was a tactic to get me to raise my offering price or be a bit more urgent about it, yet I remained strong, showed no sign of panic, and said “okay,” then continued on with the process. In my mind, if it didn’t work out with this boat, another would come along. What’s meant to be will be. After buying my boat and moving her to my port, I met Jonathan, who told a similar story about the “guy from Alaska.” It seems that, if you live in the Puget Sound area, and you’re in the process of buying a boat, there’s always some dude from Alaska who wants to buy your boat at the same time as you. Um…yeeeeeaaaaaah. Those poor Alaskans are missing out on so many good boat deals. Beware of boat broker intimidation tactics!

Living Aboard While Anchored Out: Things To Know

  1. Electricity: You’ll soon learn that not all of your stuff will work on a boat. You will need a DC/AC Inverter, to convert your DC power (battery) into AC power to use such things as computers, power tools, a vacuum cleaner, and coffee grinder. Calculate how much wattage (volts x amps=watts) you need and buy an inverter accordingly.
  2. Cooking: Say goodbye to your toaster, coffee brewer, and any appliance that makes heat by design. Such things pack too much power to be inverted. Say hello to tea or a french press, and toast the old fashion way by lighting your stove and putting a piece of bread into a hot pan. It works just as well or better. Microwaves are a thing of the past, but to reheat something, I’ve either just put the food into a pot or pan to reheat, or wrapped the item up in tin foil, then steam it. Works great.
  3. Heat: It’s colder on the water than on land. Big shocker, I know. If your boat does not have a bulkhead heater, you’ll need to install one. If your boat is small enough, simply lighting the stove will take the edge off the chill. Remember to keep your boat ventilated though, as you don’t want to die.
  4. Ladders: You’ll be getting on and off the boat frequently, so you’ll want a ladder. Since weather patterns change, the best place to mount a ladder (if you don’t already have one) is on the transom. The back of the boat isn’t going to move nearly as much as the bow or sides of the boat. When I’d pull up behind the boat during heavy winds, the waves weren’t as high, and I didn’t have to deal with as much wind.
  5. Reading: One of the greatest joys of anchoring out is privacy. People cannot walk by your boat and look inside (they’ll do this if you dock). Anchoring out is quiet and peaceful, giving you lots of time to read and relax, or sit outside and watch the wildlife. As I said before, books will have to go. If you love to read, get aboard the eReader train now. I’ll direct you to this post for more information on that, especially if the idea of reading a device rather than a book disgusts you.

Single Gal?

Liveaboards come from all walks of life, but it seems like the single gals are in the lower percentage. There are lots of couples living aboard, plenty of life-long bachelors, but few single ladies. Why am I making a note of this? If your’e a single woman and thinking of living aboard, be prepared for lots of extra attention, especially if you keep yourself fairly well-groomed and you’re under 40. This is the first time in my life that I’ve actually met all of my neighbors, and not because I introduced myself to them. Be not afraid, ladies. If you’re thinking of living aboard a sailboat, this probably indicates you’re adventurous and can handle yourself, not that you’ll need to. Lots of liveaboards are extremely friendly, helpful, and courteous.

Any Other Questions?

I’d love to answer any other questions you may have, and I’m sure if you leave a question in the comments that I cannot answer, another reader can. Remember, Google is your friend. The answers are out there, and if you need to know something, please feel free to ask away! Another great resource is


  1. Cindy December 7, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Great post! Very informative for those curious of the lifestyle or actively seeking a boat. I would tend to agree with you about the cross section of people among the docks! We have a great, single guy on our dock hoping to meet a single girl who LOVES sailing & this lifestyle!
    How did the boat reno’s go? Would love to see pics!

  2. chris December 12, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Courtney – i’ve been away from the blogs for way too long. Looks like i have some catching up to do on yours. Good post on living aboard – i’m going to use it shortly i hope.. well by this summer i think!


  3. Sandy Aversa September 19, 2012 at 5:49 am

    In your opinion what’s the best way to learn to sail ?

    1. Courtney September 19, 2012 at 9:17 am

      Probably crewing. I wish someone had told me, when I was learning, to go to a popular marina and try to crew for someone else. Many boat owners are looking for people to help them crew to either race, daysail, or transport a boat.

  4. Cate Burzynski June 5, 2014 at 3:40 pm


    I’m sure this is going to be a strange email to be receiving, but I did come across your blog and wanted to reach out to you. I work for Magilla Entertainment, which is a TV production company based in NYC (Best known for TLC’s Long Island Medium). We are currently in development of a new docu-series which looks to document first time expectant parents from eight months pregnant through to their child’s birthday.

    The reason I am reaching out to you is because we are interested in documenting a couple that is currently or planning on living on a boat. I saw in your blog you did a post about living on a boat and a long shot I wanted to see if by chance you knew any other couples who were expecting their first baby and may fit this description. If not, if you would be interested in helping us simply get the word out!

    Below I have attached our casting call for you to check out, and again if you are interested in helping any means are more than appreciated (facebook, blog, word of mouth). Please feel free to email me back or give me a call directly at 212-727-2420 ext 240. Thanks!!


    Cate Burzynski


    Becoming a first time parent is exciting, unforgettable and… just a little bit scary! Your baby’s first year will be filled with triumphs, milestones, and tears as you jump on the roller coaster ride called parenthood. Magilla Entertainment and a major cable network are now casting nationwide for a new documentary series that will tell the story of parenting, told by the parents themselves, as they navigate diapers, 4 AM feedings and everything in between. If you and your significant other are preparing to welcome your first born into the world and want to share you story – from the pregnancy to the first birthday – in a heartfelt and moving way, please contact us at with your names, locations, ages, phone number, recent photos and a few sentences about your story. Please don’t forget to tell us how far along you are in your pregnancy!

    1. mary April 22, 2015 at 1:53 pm

      Not sure if you are still looking for a couple, but my husband and our 3 children are currently getting ready to embark on a new live aboard adventure. We are selling everything and buying a sailboat. We are new to the sailing world and it could be awesome or it could go bad…you never know. We also just found out we are expecting a 4th child but that is no deterrent. We are excited and ready to start a new exciting scary adventure traveling the seas. My email is

  5. Jeffrey August 14, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    You’re my baby. Marry me!

    *gets out cross, garlic, wooden stakes, andi silver stuff just in case you took me serious *

    In the process of going back to a boat. Got sidetracked for a bit… she was real cute. But it’s coming soon.

    Somewhere on the plus side of the plus side of forties this time. Don’t think I can single-hand anything bigger than that.

  6. Pingback: Waiting by the phone | hulltruth