I’ve been inspired to write this post due to a couple of people I’ve met recently. I shall withhold their details to protect the guilty, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by meeting other people that not only don’t think I’m a nut case for living on such a small boat, but actually want to do the same themselves!
I suppose this article is directly the fault of a guy who came to view Kudu today. He’s about a decade older than me, but in exactly the same position I was when I first considered living on a boat: Confused and unsure.
As a result, and to perhaps help the 2 or 3 other people in Britain that are considering life aboard a small boat, I’ve decided to write this article, which will hopefully dash some erroneous preconceptions and put you on the right track.
There are many articles, and indeed entire websites and books dedicated to selling up and sailing away. Sell up and sail by bill Cooper is one such recommended book, but there are hardly any (none that I could find) dedicated to living on a small boat with an equally small budget.
All of these living on a boat guides are aimed at people with, well, money. Either at a stage in life where savings are well established, or in a position to sell a house and use the equity to buy a large floating home with all the creature comforts one could desire. Sure, there are always going to be sacrifices since living on a boat is never going to be as easy as living in a house, but what about the people, like me, that have a burning desire to live this fantastic life without such a fortune.
This article, I hope, will help you realise that it is possible.
My own entry to this world, this life which I would not wish to swap for any landlubbers domicile, is documented in the first post I made on this website back in June 2008. It describes how my liveaboard life came to be, and can be found here. It’s amusing to read that post now, because I had absolutely no idea how my life was going to be changed by that action.
What sort of boat?
This article is going to be focussed on sailing boats, since that is my experience, but it could equally apply to a small motor cruiser.
Now, I’m willing to bet that you’ve already got quite a solid idea of the essentials for a liveaboard. You obviously need a toilet, and a shower is pretty important too, and an oven, and… no. These are things that you think are essential, they are the product of trying to imagine a life on land squished in to a little boat. They are things that should be left to the realm of well funded sailors, and things which you can get on with perfectly well without. Heck, I dare suggest comfortably without. Of course, adding a toilet will increase your comfort, as would an oven, but honestly, you really don’t need a shower.
One of my must haves when looking for a boat was a sea toilet. I couldn’t imagine not having a loo, it just seemed preposterous. My boat, Kudu, had a sea toilet. In the 2 years I lived on her I used it once. She no longer has a sea toilet; the small boat liveaboard values storage space more than anything, you see.
Ok, let’s be realistic here. You could, in theory, live on a leisure 17, but there are limits to the capabilities of one’s ability to seek comfort, at least in my case, so I’d argue that my Corribee, a 21ft boat with 4 foot 6 inches of headroom, is about as small as you should dare consider. As you move up in size you get a whole host of luxuries. For example, only two feet away from Kudu, is a Leisure 23SL. On that boat you get standing headroom, space for a proper oven, and a separate fore cabin which has (or can easily be made to) an infill, thus creating a sort of double bed. Having a separate “bedroom” will make a huge difference to life onboard. To have a distinction between cooking and living space, and sleeping area (at least while you’re not at sea) offers untold comfort, but it all depends on your budget. You can pick up a Corribee for a thousand quid (if you’re willing to put some work in), but a leisure 23SL is going to cost you at least £5,000.
Another important factor for the small boat liveaboard is your reason for being. Why are you living aboard? If you just want cheap digs, and don’t intend to move anywhere, then I suspect you’ll hate this life, and if that doesn’t put you off, I’d urge you to look at a motor cruiser since they have much more space than sailing boats.
One rule of thumb is thus; presuming the length is a constant, the more room it has onboard, the worse it will perform at sea. Big accommodation means sluggish handling and a tendency to dislike lots of wind. A good way of looking at it is this, the length of the boat is like the size of it’s engine, and it’s interior (thus exterior) size, is like the size of a car. A Mini with a 2l engine will perform much better than a bus with a 2l engine.
On that basis, you need to decide what you (realistically) intend to do with your boat. If you plan on some extensive cruising (highly recommended!) then I would opt for a smaller boat with better sea keeping abilities. If, on the other hand, you only expect to be popping out of the marina for a short weekender from time to time, then by all means take advantage of the bigger boats. I should stress that this is all relative to the length of the boat.
Financing your boat
The most annoying part of your liveaboard dream is paying for it. If you’re anything like me, you’ve formed this dream, this desire, during a crap period in your life, and that probably means you’re skint too. Sucks to be you, eh? Not to worry, there’s a boat for all budgets.
If you’re willing to “slum it” for a while as you work on the boat, then you could adopt this life with a thousand pounds, perhaps a little less, but more realistically if you can muster 5 grand, then you’ll easily be able to buy and equip a small boat to live on.
It is tempting for me to advise you to seek a loan, and plaster this section with affiliate links to earn me some (much needed) commission, but I won’t, can’t, do that since it’s bad advice. I strongly advise you to steer clear of borrowing to buy a boat because the ongoing costs of it will lead to misery. A loan is a ball and chain, a tie, a device directly in conflict with the freedom you’re trying to attain.
That said, I must be candid, I bought Kudu with a credit card. I made a cash withdrawal of a thousand pounds, and met the rest of the asking price with another thousand from my monthly salary (I had absolutely no savings). I did, however, have a fairly well paid job and the ability to pay back that loan within a month. If you can’t clear your debt within a similar timescale, then in my opinion, it’s just not worth it.
Of course, each persons financial situation is different, but I implore you to think carefully before borrowing to buy your boat. An overly enthusiastic purchase could turn your dream in to a nightmare.
Where to keep your boat
There’s only one real choice here for the small boat liveaboard, and that’s a marina. you simply cannot survive for any prolonged period without the umbilical chord we call shore power. I have heard of, and know of folks that do live afloat without this addiction to coal and nuclear power, but I’m not writing this article for masochists, I’m writing it to show you that you can lead a comfortable life on a small boat, and to do so requires participation in the national grid.
Also, the vast majority of marinas (almost all of them) have the other essential ingredients required for a pleasant life; showers, and laundry facilities.
Of course, the larger your boat, the more self sufficient you can make it, but ultimately us humans are land dwelling animals and you will always need to go ashore at some point, no matter how big your boat is. This is true for nuclear submarines, so it is true for you.
One caveat about the idyllic haven of the common or garden marina, is that many of them don’t allow liveaboards. This is understandable, because amongst other reasons, they don’t want a pontoon full of skint folk in floating wrecks hanging their washing out in the rigging, and generally spreading their lives beyond the confines of their cabin. If however, you do actually intend to leave at some point (why else did you buy a boat?) and you’re well kept and tidy, then most of them will tolerate it. Basically, empathise with their business, and don’t ‘take the mick’ and you’ll be fine. It should be noted, however, than their are a few marinas that are absolutely intolerant to liveaboards, so do your research before committing yourself.
It’s a fact of modern life that most of us need access to the internet, and if we don’t need it (it’s my livelihood) then we’d rather not do without it if possible. Thankfully, this modern life brings a whole host of options for connectivity onboard.
Many marinas offer some sort of wifi service (you will have to pay for it) but the best option, especially for the cruising sailor, is mobile broadband. That link will take you to an article I wrote about it, which explains your options.
I intend to develop this article further, so please feel free to offer some feedback. As I think of more things, and you suggest them (or ask questions) I will build upon it. Also, please let me know if you found this useful, since it’s a big waste of time otherwise :p