Finding the Right Boat for Living Aboard

A cabin cruiser tied up at a wharf
Appearances can mean little when it comes time to go boat shopping

Buying a boat is stressful and difficult the first time around even if you are not planning to become a liveaboard. When you factor in the requirements for your personal space and comfort, 24/7, year-round, it can seem an impossible task to find the right boat to buy to live on board.

The good news is that there are a lot of boats out there and that you don’t need to be in a rush to pick one of them up. There will always be another—you can wait as long as you like to find something that is the right fit for you.

Preparation is Key to Successful Boat Buying

While you are browsing, research and experience will be your friends. If you can charter a variety of boats to get a feel for how comfortable and livable each of them are—particularly of different classes—you can get a good sense of what the ultimate boat for you will look like.

Cultivate friends in the local boating community, if you have a local boating community; you’ll get some invitations sooner or later to spend some time on their boats, and, with the proper application of alcohol, you can get their unvarnished perspectives on what they love and hate about those boats. Those things may be things you could love and hate, too—think about them from your own perspective and incorporate the consideration into your boat-shopping routine.

It’s one thing to spend a few days or an evening on board, though, and quite another to live there. You’ll have to have an eye for the little things that will matter to you over the long term. Headroom is a good example. Almost any space is tolerable for short periods, but cracking your skull on light fixtures day in and day out will try any liveaboard’s patience. Storage space, cooking facilities, places to sit… these are all significant considerations for liveaboards.

Narrowing the Field By Thinking About Your Life on the Water

One of the first choices you will be confronted with is choosing sail versus power boats. Powerboats are often roomier, with a more boxy build that allows cabins to resemble conventional rooms. Sailboats tend to put more living space below the waterline and have fewer and smaller portholes and less light. Other than personal preference and the possibility that you may actually take the boat away from the dock now and then, powerboats tend to be the better choice for living aboard.

Each type has many different designs available, however, and you can find exceptions on both sides.

Size is the next important consideration and you might believe that bigger is always better, particularly considering that even the biggest boat is going to have less living space than the apartment or house you are moving out of. But bigger equals more expensive in the boating world and not just in terms of the initial cost. Moorage fees, taxes, maintenance costs… almost all are impacted directly or indirectly by the length of vessel you own.

The construction of the boat is another prime concern for liveaboards.

  • Wood hulls tend to be cheap, nautical-looking, and warmer and drier than their fiberglass or metal counterparts. But they also have many ongoing maintenance considerations and can be expensive to keep up.
  • Fiberglass is strong and lightweight and low-maintenance. It is susceptible to condensation and mildew, however.
  • Metal hulls are the strongest for the weight, but also can have special maintenance issues and attract condensation.

Where To Look For Boats

Finding boats for sale is rarely a challenge. Most larger vessels represented through brokerages will be listed on Yachtworld. Local listing sites like Craigslist, or regional websites like Three Sheets Northwest, are other venues to check.

The best deals, however, can be found simply by keeping an ear to the ground around marinas and marine service centers. Many boat owners are on the cusp of listing their boats from season to season. Marina managers, other boaters on the dock, and service technicians may know about great boats that haven’t actually been listed anywhere yet, but whose owners would be open to an offer. Marina bulletin boards and auctions can also pay dividends.

Wherever and however you find the ideal liveaboard boat, though, don’t neglect to have a complete survey performed on it by a professional surveyor before you close the deal. Every vessel has hidden secrets; some of them can be more expensive to fix than the selling price of the boat. It might still be worth your consideration, but make sure that consideration is fully informed!

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