To Live on a Boat or Not…?

livaboard boater

Follow my journey as I consider if becoming a liveaboard and living on a 26 foot sailboat year round is the the right move

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I made the mistake of telling my co-workers that I was thinking of moving onto a boat.

Since my colleagues are in the insurance industry, they asked questions related to two themes:

  • Are you crazy?
  • How could you live in such a small space?

The first question is still up for debate. But I did have to think about why I wanted to do this and I realized it comes down to emotional as well as practical reasons.

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Emotional Reasons for Living on a Boat:

  • I love being on my boat and on the water. Even at the dock, I love the views and the proximity to nature.
  • The simplicity of the lifestyle appeals to me.
  • I have never slept better than while on my boat at anchor or at the dock.

Practical Reasons for Living on a Boat:

  • If my math is right, I’ll pay less for a slip at the dock – even with the extended commute – than I will for my rent with utilities.
  • I would have more time to do the work on the boat that I only have time to do on weekends now.

livaboard sailboatThe answer to the second question requires some explanation… I have a house in Virginia’s Northern Neck where my wife runs a B&B (I really just mow the lawn). During the week I work and live in Richmond, VA.

I realized over the winter that most of my apartment in the city was empty. I only sleep and eat at the apartment Monday night through Friday morning and I keep all my work clothes in my office. This winter realization got me thinking about giving up the apartment in the city for a boat in a marina on the James River.

Granted, my sailboat is a Frances 26, which by most measures is small for a liveaboard: 26 feet LOA with an 8 foot beam. But that’s more space than I actually use in my apartment and easily holds my meager collection of belongings in Richmond.

My Considerations for Living on a Boat

I read multiple books and articles on living aboard and generally got my list of considerations down to three things:

  • Marine toilet
  • Stove
  • Air conditioning and heating

When I bought the boat, the marine toilet had been plumbed for direct discharge and I ripped it out and replaced it with a porta-a-potty. For a long term live aboard, I didn’t relish the idea of having to sleep next to that for months on end. I still had the marine toilet and hadn’t glassed over the thru-hull, so reinstalling it seemed like a good idea, but this time with a holding tank.

My boat stove was a JETBOIL on a gimbal, which is great under sail or at anchor, but leaves something to be desired for long-term living. Since I was going to be in a slip, available electricity wasn’t an issue, so I experimented with an Instant Pot. So far my experience is that I cut up a bunch of ingredients, throw them in the pot, seal it, press a button and 40 minutes later I have food … brilliant!

winter boat livingAir conditioning (A/C) and heating were also of concern, though the latter more so than the former. My sailing friends from Florida were able to recommend a variety of small portable A/C units, but I found mixed reviews on most heating options.

I decided to try an electric radiator-style heater and an electric blanket. To my surprise, during the recent winter “bomb cyclone”, I found the small heater kept the cabin really warm during several weekends spent onboard in the slip.

Once I knew I had the boat ready, I spent several days looking at marinas within a 45 minute drive of Richmond, VA. This is when my co-workers realized I was serious and they started shifting their comments from “Are you crazy?” to “You’re going to die!”

My inevitable response to this was to quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I also pointed out that even if I hated it, it was always possible to find another apartment in Richmond. But I think I’ll be fine and will ultimately fail to die …


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Tom Briggs

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Tom Briggs is a competent mariner with experience on traditional and modern sailing vessels. He holds a Master’s license for power and auxiliary sail vessels of less than 50 tons on inland waters, plus his OUPV for near coastal waters. He has experience with traditional vessels including as relief and volunteer crew on the skipjack Claud W. Somers of the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum and the schooner Pioneer of the South Street Seaport Museum. He also has traditional rigging and maintenance experience on the Somers and the schooner’s Pioneer, Lettie G. Howard and Quinnipiac. Having acquired most of his sea-time on Florida’s Gulf Coast, he now makes his home in Reedville on Virginia’s Northern Neck. His boat is Tula, a Frances 26, one of the small sailboats that John Vigor has written can take you anywhere. Additionally, he is a reservist and Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
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