Making the Leap to Liveaboards: Hopes and Fears

In about a month, we’re making the leap to become liveaboards at Shilshole. We haven’t decided for how long, but will re-evaluate at one year – it’ll come down to how well we survive the difficult winter months when it’s rainy, cold and dark every day.

There are some big reasons making it worth trying the liveaboard lifestyle, and an equal number of fears / worries we have about it. It’s not right for everyone, but everyone we talk to who has made the jump to being liveaboards loves it and recommends it.

To me “liveaboard” means living on a boat while being tethered to one home port most of the time – either because you have to work a job on land, or perhaps you’re retired but just don’t want to go anywhere. Although last summer we lived on the boat for 3 months, that was cruising – which is living aboard while traveling, an entirely different matter.

Moving aboard involves lots of full carloads – to both the boat and storage

The storage locker already getting pretty full – we need to start stacking higher

The benefits to liveaboard life are clear:

  • Waterfront real estate. Living in a marina, your home is in a beautiful waterfront location with views of the snow-capped Olympic mountains and wildlife (sea birds, seals) passing by your back porch (cockpit).
  • Money. Not many people discuss this, but I think the biggest advantage of living aboard is how much money you can save. With Seattle’s surging real estate market, a nice 1-bedroom apartment in the city can run about $1500-2000. Liveaboard moorage for a 38-foot boat runs about $680. That’s a savings of up to $15,000 per year, which can be put towards cruising, vacations, or paying off debt.
  • Living life in a more Minimalist way – less consumerism, less stuff, less distraction.
  • Efficiency. We’ll no longer need to commute between an apartment and the boat to do project work or go sailing. This saves time and may make certain types of projects easier. We’ll no more have a “boat pile” at home and a “home pile” at the boat.
  • Carbon Impact. Living on a boat is a very earth friendly way to live. On the boat, we use a fraction of the electricity we use at home, a tiny fraction of the amount of water, and produce less consumerist discards (trash/recycling) due to the forcing function of having to live in a minimalist way.

There are also a few fears we have about living aboard:

  • Will it make us end up sailing less? When your boat is your home, it’s more work to get it shipshape for sailing. Not only that, since it’s our only home, we can’t easily go sailing separately – if I want to go out sailing while Natalie is at work, a happy hour, or just doesn’t feel like sailing that day, she won’t have anywhere to return to after the event.
  • Storage – will having massively less space to store stuff be a considerable burden?
  • Will the wet, rainy weather we get for weeks on end (before the summer starts) be tiresome? Will heating be a problem?
  • Commute – my commute gets slightly better (biking between Ballard + Fremont rather than Capitol Hill + Fremont) but Natalie’s gets worse. Getting to downtown from Ballard isn’t easy. She can drive in 20-25 minutes on an early schedule, but then has to pay $30/day for parking. Public transit involves a 1 mile walk followed by 2 buses, totaling about a 1 hour commute. Biking is an option but also takes close to an hour. Any Ballard-Downtown commuters know of better options?
  • When we go cruising now, being on the boat in anchorages is truly special. Will that experience lose its magic when being on the boat is a more routine, everyday occurrence?

As with any change in life, there are some scary aspects, and some exciting aspects.

We’re currently working on massively downsizing – selling possessions on Craigslist and giving carloads full to Goodwill – much like we did last spring before renting our place for 3 months. But this time we’re also selling our condo, which means getting rid of all our furniture too. We have a small storage locker we’re using for keepsakes, winter clothes, ski gear, etc.

When you can’t agree on whether something that hasn’t been used in a long time is worth keeping, put a note on it marking a discard date – if you still haven’t used it in X amount of time, then clearly it wasn’t really needed

It’s strangely liberating to get rid of so much stuff. You don’t realize how much you have until you do it. Further, you don’t realize how much of a disposable purchasing society we live in. People buy so much stuff they don’t really need that it means possessions are not treasured, and Goodwill gets piles of barely used stuff every single day. Some things are impossible to sell on Craigslist because they’re not valued.

Despite a lot of work, we’re still getting out sailing about twice a month!

14 thoughts on “Making the Leap to Liveaboards: Hopes and Fears

  1. Robert Boyer


    The liveaboard lifestyle is definitely worth it—I highly recommend it after doing it for over 10 years in Annapolis and now retired and cruising. You will lose a little bit of specialness that the boat now provides but you gain a different type of specialness living on the water. Good luck!



  2. tlaloc75

    There are always reachnow cars near shilshole. She could try using those to commute. Its a few dollars each day but the parking is free!

  3. Saffy The Pook

    My family lived aboard for a year while we did some structural work on our house. Here’s are a few tips:
    – Once the rains start: put up the dodger, bimini, and especially side panels if you have them. The cockpit will be your mudroom and if you can keep it dry enough, your closet for coats, boots, and other bulky stuff you don’t want down below.

    – If you haven’t already, invest in a good hydronic or forced air furnace heating system and keep the boat warm, both to keep people comfortable and to reduce condensation due to breathing, cooking, etc.

    – Make sure your AC electrical system, including the shore power connection and cable, is up to snuff. Put in a SmartPlug and make sure all your AC outlets are in good shape. Replace any that get warm in use.

    – You’ll be putting your propane system to the test so make sure it’s dialed in as well. Have you tested the sniffer? Is your solenoid reliable? Is the locker drain clear? Living aboard it’s likely you’ll want to leave the tank valve open all the time for convenience to use the switch religiously and shut things off immediately after cooking. Also, keep a spare full tank around so you can swap quickly when you inevitably run out in the middle of cooking dinner.

    – Water. Don’t use one of those automatic tank filling systems that you keep connected to an open spigot. It’ll pressurize your water tanks and fill lines and if one lets go, the boat will fill with domestic water as quickly as if you’ll lost a seacock.

    – Waste. Best to use a mobile pumpout service. Get on their weekly schedule right away as they favor liveaboards and won’t necessarily be available to you on-demand. To “lighten the load” we had a policy of always stopping at the bathroom on our way to the dock.

    – Zinc up. The Shilshole liveaboard docks are relatively “hot” and most people replace their zincs every 6 months.

    – No matter how you get your internet, WiFi on the boat itself can be a huge pain. With so many hotspots running in close proximity and fighting for the same three 2.4 GHz channels, there’s a huge signal to noise problem. If you haven’t already, make sure your wifi access point and devices work on the 5 GHz band so you have 40 channels to work with, not three. If everyone in the marina did this, the problem would be solved.

    – Cooking. Learn to love one or two dish meals in the winter. In the summer, barbeque a lot, you’ll miss the variety later.

    – Weekend. One big advantage of living aboard is that the boat is always provisioned. Take advantage of it with weekend trips to Port Townsend, Gig Harbor, and everywhere in-between.

    Hope this helps.

    1. Patrick

      Thanks for all the great tips!
      I didn’t know about the zinc issue at Shilshole. I’ll have to keep an eye on it.
      We’re fortunate to have a full enclosure. It’s totally worth the money a prior owner spent on it.

      1. Patrick

        Man, good thing you told me about the hot docks issue. I noticed yesterday my prop zinc is gone – disappeared! Just the bolts remaining. It was only one year old, usually it lasts at least 2 years. I need to check the prop shaft zincs (2) now but can’t find my GoPro, so might have to jump in the cold water tonight.
        I last checked in December but it looked 90% good then. Trying to figure out how it wasted away so quick. I don’t think my neighbors are likely to have stray current leakage going on, but would be nice to have a way to check.

  4. Saffy The Pook

    Oh yeah, invest in a dehumidifier and run it 24/7. I like the Eva Dry EDV4000. You’ll be shocked at how much water it pulls out of the boat.

  5. Matt

    Key to surviving winter is a decent dehumidifier! You may be able to get my with a space heater or two if it’s a mild winter but a decent dehumidifier is essential. I have this guy
    and it’s amazing. Small and quiet, yet pulls an amazing amount of water out the air every day.

    And I found the key to actually still getting out was to keep everything stowed away at all times – kind of being like in a rolly anchorage. My target is 20mins from deciding to go to leaving the marina.

    Also – congratulations!

    1. Patrick

      Yup! We’re planning to get the EvaDry 4000 since that’s what everyone recommends. Not sure on electric heater yet. We have a diesel heater for when it’s really cold, and the West Marine / Caframo space heater (but that doesn’t put out very much heat). Maybe a propane heater like the Mr Buddy that Yahtzee uses.

  6. Never for Ever

    “When we go cruising now, being on the boat in anchorages is truly special. Will that experience lose its magic when being on the boat is a more routine, everyday occurrence?”

    Nope. It makes it better. At least in our (limited) experience. The contrast is just that much more stark and when you turn that engine off t.he silence of being away from the city is just that much more golden.


  7. David Veale

    I lived aboard for 3 years in Bellingham, prepping our worn out Pacific Seacraft 37 for long term cruising. What I’d anticipated as a period to be endured before cruising full time turned out to be one of the most enjoyable times of my life. I highly recommend B’ham if you can swing it job wise; well maintained showers out on the docks, friendly staff, web-locker storage available at the marina (big enough to set up a small shop in, which was a huge plus for working on the boat!) at reasonable prices, loads of marine stores and an *excellent* hardware store within biking distance. Then there’s also the SJ Island anchorages that are easily reachable within a day’s sail. We never ran a dehumidifier, but kept the diesel heater (bulkhead mounted Sigmar 170) going 24×7, which kept the boat nice and dry.

    I eventually made the mistake of getting caught out in rough weather (25kts forecast, 60kts actual) one October, which combined with a previous day’s grounding and fuel tank deposits plugging the engine intake to make for a less than enjoyable weekend, at which point my normally stalwart wife cracked and refused to sail again. Just mention of the “s” word would make her face go pale.

    After living for 3 more years ashore, in denial (and getting the boat into tip-top shape), I gave up. Made a move to plan B where we sold the boat and started homesteading/farming in Michigan. Draft horses, dairy cows, hogs, sheep… the whole works, without fossil fuel for the most part. It’s definitely kept me interested and occupied for the last decade, but I’m starting to long for a boat again, come hell or high water 8^). What was once novelty and resilience in the face of peak oil and economic upheaval is now just a lot of extra work. Might be back out your way one of these days soon if my scheming works. Really miss backcountry skiing and climbing in the Cascades.

    Anyway — really enjoying your blog. Yup, all boats are project boats, though perhaps some more than others. Really enjoyed reading about your Vancouver island adventures as well. Muscle over motors puts a great name on the same philosophy I’ve long held!

    1. Patrick

      Thanks for the great story!
      Bellingham Bay and any of the straits near it can be pretty awful in 25 knots, so I can’t imagine what it’d be like in 60.
      Plan B sounds cool too. Though I really like variety, and sailing is great for those kinds of people because it’s always delivering new challenges.


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