Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Top Ten: questions we get asked about living aboard

People are generally fairly curious about our lifestyle. Especially those who don't know much about boats or those who are considering living aboard. Here are the top ten things we get asked from those people.

1. How do you stay warm in the winter?
As I've been asked this question so many times, my answer has become more and more bitter/sarcastic. "We turn up the heat." I suppose it is slightly more difficult than that, but that has become the easiest and most accurate answer. And I find it funny. Basically, our main source of heat is a Dickinson propane heater, the Newport P-12000. When we aren't shrink wrapped we have a fiberglass propane tank that hangs on the stern rail. When we are shrink wrapped we have a few extra steel tanks that we just set on the helm seat in the cockpit. A tank lasts about a week running it whenever we are home. When we aren't home, or when it is very cold and we need extra heat we just use space heaters. With our shore power we can have one 1500 watt space heater, or usually we run two smaller ones totaling 1500 for better heat distribution. The shrink wrap itself provides great heat in the daytime and we generally only run about 700 watts of heat during the day, if that.

2. Do other people live there?
Yes. In fact, lots of people. We have somewhere near 75-100 year round liveaboards. Liveaboards are slippery creatures and are sometimes hard to keep track of. Our homes move and many liveaboards winter and summer in different places, so it is hard to count for sure. But Constitution Marina is very liveaboard friendly and has a great community to live in. Now, next summer we are going to move to Weymouth at Thayer's Landing Marina. That marina is so small that we'll be the only ones living aboard, but we'll be close to the islands which our current crowd attempt to overrun every weekend. I have no doubt we'll be able to keep close communication with our liveaboard brethren. Also, we'll be back at Constitution Marina in the winter.

3. Do you take your boat out?
Of course we do! To me, it would seem silly to live on a boat and not use it, though there certainly is a small faction of people who live exactly that way. I suppose the marina life in itself is fun and possibly worth it, but the people I've seen who don't move their boats are generally kinda odd ducks anyhow and don't particularly play well with others. Ah well. Anyhow, we try to get out every other weekend or so. Usually just to the Boston Harbor Islands, but sometimes further up or down the coast a bit. It seems that I work on the boat one weekend and we use it the next. I think it is a fair ratio and I know it is better than some people (aka wood boat owners) who generally just work on them....

4. What made you do this and whose idea was it?
Technically it was my (Justin's) idea, but as soon as I mentioned it, it became just as much Jenny's idea as my own. She was 100% excited about it right from the beginning, and sometimes may have even surpassed myself in her ambition to move aboard. For me, the idea started with a family vacation we took when I was about 14 years old. My mom, dad, sister, grandmother, and I all went from our homes in Michigan down to Lake Cumberland, Kentucky to rent a 60' houseboat for the week. The water was 87 degrees. We woke early each morning to fish and swim. It was awesome. I always said I wanted to live on a houseboat after that, but I never thought I'd have the opportunity. Flash forward many years-- Jenny and I were looking at apartment prices in Boston (eek!) and I realized that for the absurd prices they get, we could probably pay monthly on a houseboat loan instead. I mentioned this to Jenny (somewhat tentatively, expecting a rebuke) and she was thrilled. That was our first encounter with I haven't stopped visiting that website since. It didn't take long to realize that people lived on real boats too, not just houseboats. That eventually led us to our first boat, the Carver 33, which was about as houseboaty as a planing hull can get. Soon after moving aboard we realized how much we enjoyed the lifestyle and that we wanted to make it more permanent as well as be able to travel further, so a sailboat was in order. Hence, Madrigal.

5. How much does that cost?
Apartment prices in Boston are so high that it is probably one of the few places where living on a boat can actually be comparable to renting an apt in prices. Our boat loan weighs in at around $300 per month, and our dock fee is around $600 per month. Utilities are free in the summer, but in the winter we pay a liveaboard fee of $90 per month and everyone in the marina is stuck paying commercial electricity rates (EXPENSIVE!). Electric bills range from $50-$300 in the winter months, depending on how much we have to use electric heaters. Add on $15 a week or so for each bottle of propane used up and re-filled. Totaled out and averaged, we probably pay $11-1200 per month, not counting repairs. Repairs are a big expense- or can be. Our boat was in rather shoddy condition when we moved aboard, so we have spent a fair chunk of change making it livable and comfortable. It sails and operates nicely, but isn't perfect. New sails etc. are very expensive and we haven't gotten around to that yet. We also have bare minimal electronics aboard (a vhf radio and an old gps). Those will be big expenses when we get to them as well. Luckily, the boat is almost paid off, so that will be a big help for us in the coming months. We are both very excited about that prospect. Just for reference to Boston apt prices, our "cheap" one room studio in East Boston (as in, across the bay, kinda ghetto, near nothing of interest, complete with bed bugs, no counter space, walk up, with a poor view and shoddy appliances) was $800 a month. Anything actually in the heart of the city soars over $1200 easy, and that is still with no real bedroom, just a studio. So if we are under $1200 per month, with a one bedroom waterfront home (Madrigal) then I think have, far and above, the best deal in town. Of course, our expenses are helped when people click on the ads on this site.... hint ... hint...

6. What do (or did) you do with all your "stuff"?
Well, bags and bags and bags of stuff went to Salvation Army. And man did that feel good. Not so much the donating to a cause kinda feeling, but the getting rid of junk kinda feeling. I had my own house, albeit a small one, and Jenny had been in an apartment and then moved in with me. All said, we had a LOT of stuff. Getting rid of all the excess crap that you haven't used or touched in years is an extremely liberating feeling. "Why did I have all that junk?" is the question I ask myself. And I dunno really. Now we have just a couple plastic bins with some books and sentimental stuff residing in a warehouse at a friend's workshop. Everything else, resides in the boat with us.

7. What if you want kids?
Have em aboard. Duh. Lots of people do so and they're kids are all just fine :) There is a family who lives aboard, mostly in our marina, who moved aboard with a 2 year old. Now, a couple years later, I have to imagine that that kid has more people looking out for him and who care about him than any kid living on dirt would generally ever have. And besides, what a cool adventure to grow up with!

8. Where do you shower, and... and... you know... umm... poo?
There is a full functioning head (bathroom) right in the boat. The shower is not separate, but the floor in the head has a depression in it and the faucet on the sink extends up to become the showerhead. We have a holding tank built right into the boat which gets pumped out by a waste removal boat once a week or so. We will likely install a composting airhead (we already have one just not on the boat) before next summer since the pumpouts won't be as easy to procure over at Thayer's Landing.
9. Did you have to get some sort of license for that?
Amazingly, not in Massachusetts (Taxachusetts). Not to own, not to operate. If you are going to charge people to take them out (charter) then yes, you needs some form of captain's license. The only real bummer is the excise tax and mooring permit. They are just pains in the rear, but don't cost an incredible amount. The excise tax is basically a luxury tax on any vehicle with a motor. Apparently they don't care that we live there and it isn't so much a luxury as a home to us.

10. How do you breathe under the shrink wrap?
No, seriously. We were asked this once. Yes, we can breathe just fine.


  1. sweet post.

    why wouldnt you have kids on a boat? is being raised by daycare and tv such a great life?

  2. What do you do for money?

  3. What are the pros and cons of the composting toilet? I knew of a couple of guys who put one on a Kelly-Peterson 44' and decided it didn't work for them.