Living on a small boat

May 13th, 2010 by admin Leave a reply »

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.

Internet access

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


  1. steve kean says:

    Hi Nathan,
    Searush here, no doubt you will be getting on to it at some point, but I would guess a major part of living afloat is budgeting – just as it is for living anywhere!

    Marinas may be convenient, but they do add significantly to one’s daily costs. Food will be fairly low if one cooks aboard, but goes through the roof if always eating out. Alcohol is another key cost – can be zero, but if going to the club/ pub for company, the costs will escalate. Transport if working ashore will be a problem to I would guess.

    I’m fairly lucky in that I am retired with a reasonable pension, but I live 110 miles from the boat & have many family commitments – so liveaboard is not really an option as SWMBO couldn’t cope with the life. However, having a landbase means I have storage room for lots of other toys!

    All the best, & hope you & Jason (on Whizbelle) get afloat soon – us landlubbers enjoy the vicarious adventures!

  2. Jon Morris says:

    Stick with it Nathan. Most of us ordinary mortals start with a small budget and a huge optimism and it wouldn’t surprise me if you got a very good response to this promising article. I shall certainly follow it’s development with interest. I may even be able to contribute a line or two.

    Keep up the good work mate.

  3. David Steer says:

    Thanks, interesting Article.

  4. Toby says:

    Hi Nathan, I made a post relating to this a while ago:
    it addresses what I see as the main practicalities, although reading it back now shower and laundry are two serious ommisions.

    Feel free to pirate/link/be inspired by.

  5. Bruce says:

    Stick with it Nathan. Most of us ordinary mortals start with a small budget and a huge optimism and it wouldn’t surprise me if you got a very good response to this promising article. I shall certainly follow it’s development with interest. I may even be able to contribute a line or two.

    Keep up the good work mate.

  6. roger says:

    I have found the videos of your exploits very enjoyable and inspirational and many thanks for sharing them with us all. Given all that you have endured along your voyages is a credit to your determination. Good luck.

  7. Bill. says:

    I am always in awe of anyone who actual does what many of us dream of doing. The practicalities ie. marriage children etc are obvious deterents for anyone contemplating this dream. However, what happens when a liveaboard gets to a ripe old age and is a victim of arthritis or some other ailment. How difficult will it be to rejoin society. Good luck I will now keep up with your progress.

  8. Clare says:

    Have you read ‘Voyaging on a Small Income’ by Annie Hill? Its stuffed with great advice for small boat liveaboards especially in these straightened times. While her book depends on living off income from investments which we cannot even attempt with our current poor interest rates, its still an excellent, highly recommended read. Try Amazon.

  9. shawn says:

    Very interesting article, I already made the jump and purchased a boat. Didnt pay much, some guy left it abandoned at the marina and all I had to do was pay the storage fee. I was just at the right place at the right time. Alot of my friends and family think I am a little off, but I dont care, it justs “feels” right to me. I am currently deployed overseas and cant wait to get back to my CAL 25.

  10. Vikki says:

    Hi there. My partner and I are going to be living on 21ft motor boat at the end of next year and reeding this has been a great help. The boat is currently a shell but we plan to start work again on it in the spring and I wondered if you have any storage ideas?
    Thanks, vikki

  11. Eira says:

    Hi There.

    What a great piece, very interesting.

    A friend and I are just about to jump in so to speak, thinking of buying a 26ft Motor Cruiser, and we have found a Marina that takes liveaboards.

    I have a business to run where I also live so he is going to live on the boat to start, me joining him when I can, so with any luck we can make sure it’s for us and eventually live aboard full time in four or five years or maybe even sooner.

    Any advice you can offer would be much appreciated, so I’ll try to follow your posts.

    Best wishes,

  12. Rick says:

    Hi ,
    I have just found myself seperating from my wife and daughter and house, I have no where to go so
    guess what i have just baught a Virgo Voyager also made by newbridge, I do not think it is going to be as easy as you say it is because i do not have shit loads of money coming in each month, if i am lucky i will get a bit of casual labour in the summer then we will see what happens. It was a good read though.
    Regards Rick

  13. Oli says:

    Hi, found you on mrvee website today and saw your videos on youtube after that, now found myself reading your aritcle.

    The thing is, I boght a boat (albin vega) wich is 300 nautical miles away from where I live (Oslo) and intend on sailing it over this easter, my plan is to set sails in august to the carabiens. I have this apertment until mai-jun, so I have been thinking off living on the boat for the last two months to save op more money for the trip, but I work as an electrician and need to shower after work. The shower issue has been the “stop factor” on my live on board plans, but your article kind off killed that “stop factor” – Thanks for that ;)

    If you see the Icelandic flag on a Albin vega on the way south, then you´ll know it´s me …
    best of luck

  14. admin says:

    Good for you!

    Yeah, don’t worry about the shower situation. You do get used to it after a while. I suspect to a house dweller, having to walk few hundred meters along the pontoons to get a shower would be horrible, but it really does seem entirely normal to me now.

  15. drako says:

    hi i have been living on a snapdragon 747 (24′ ) for just over a year now admitted i live in a marina so showers etc no problem but i love living on board so quiet and peaceful and nice neighbours loved yr video and article good luck

  16. joa says:

    only to let you know i find these articles useful, interestings and funny. i am now living abord of a 30 feet sailboat.

  17. Sarah Mumby says:

    Hi, am thinking of moving from where I live shortly as fed up of being tied to a house etc and buying a yacht to live on. Was thinking of the size of around 24-27 ft (depends on budget).
    What would be good if a list of marinas that do either allow or tolerate liveaboards preferably near or in major towns and cities, as some of us do need to work, can be produced.

  18. admin says:

    Whoa! So many comments on the blog that I’ve missed. 30 foot is a good size. My new boat, though currently half finished, is 31ft, and it’s so roomy compared to Kudu. Standing up is amazing!

    Where are you moored?