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Things To Know Before Deciding To Live On A Boat

 

LIVEABOARD EXPENSES


An excellent discussion of liveaboard expenses can be found in "The Essentials of Living Aboard a Boat" a book written by Mark Nicholas that is available either in regular or digital format.   Mark has developed spread sheets that look at the liveaboard expenses for different scenarios and boats.

There is an extreme variation in some expenses based on where you choose to live aboard.  For example, slip fees in south Florida marinas or the Keys can be 10 times higher than fees in some parts of coastal North Carolina.

Another factor in slip fees is Economics 101.  When marinas have lots of empty slips, they cut better deals.  When they have a waiting list they don't mind raising their slip fees. 

In my experience, marina slip fees have been the single largest expense of my liveaboard life.

Anchorage Fees

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and it's getting harder over the years to get a free anchorage too. 

Many local governments hate liveaboards and prohibit them from waters within their jurisdiction.  Even though the "law of the sea" supposedly prevails, I have had my hull knocked upon by local police all over Florida because I chose to spend the night on the hook during a cruise through their fair city rather than staying in a marina.

There are cruising guides that will lead you to free anchorages, but these quiet spots are getting few and far between.  If you can find one that is located where you like it to be and has some nearby shoreside amenities, you will have entered into the most economical way of living aboard.

Mooring Fees

A lot of local governments have come up with a compromise solution to their perceived problem with anchored liveaboards.  That is the mooring field.

Such a zone has dozens or hundreds of permanent moorings where a mooring buoy is secured to a heavy weight resting on the bottom.  Many of the mooring systems are designed to withstand storm force winds and seas.

A lot of these mooring fields are first class with water taxi service, free holding tank pump outs, dinghy storage areas and access to restroom and laundry facilities ashore.  You can even have pizza delivered to your boat in many of these floating neighborhoods.

Mooring fields usually charge about half of what a nearby marina charges for a slip.  It is a good way to cut liveaboard expenses compared to a marina. 

Slip Fees

Marinas charge for boat slips on a daily, weekly, monthly or long term basis.  Most of them add on a monthly charge for liveaboards, the rationale being that liveaboards use more of the marina facilities and use them more often than the person who just passively stores his boat and uses it now and then.

Some marinas include all utilities in the slip fee;  others do not and you have to make separate arrangements for electricity, phone or cable television. 

Some marinas have gone condominium, meaning that the management prepared legal documents so that each slip owner owns his own space and a common interest in other marina facilities.  It's hard to tell this kind of marina from any other;  many of the slip owners put their slips into a rental program managed by the marina staff.    

Underwater Expenses

In the case of boats, what you can't see can hurt you.  You will either have to plunk in the water yourself every month or so or hire a diver to do so.  Some of the things that wait to be done below the waterline include these:

Hull Cleaning

Barnacles love to live on your hull.  They float around in the water surrounding your boat and wait until your hull gets a little green scum on it then they attach themselves to your hull.  They intend to live out their boring lives on the bottom of your boat.   They don't give a damn about your liveaboard expenses.  You need to scrub off that scum on a regular basis and scrape off the barnacles that showed up since you last did it.  You will be amazed at how fast the little boogers can come back.

Zinc Replacement

While you or your diver are down below cleaning the hull, you will want to have your zinc inspected.  There is usally at least one zinc collar attached to your propeller shaft.  The purpose of this zinc is to sacrifice itself to protect your stainless propeller shaft.  The water around your boat, especially salt water, is like a giant battery with galvanic currents and your underwater metal parts are like one of the battery terminals.  You want the galvanic current to eat up your zinc and not your shaft. 

General Maintenance

We've all heard the expression a thousand times:  A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.  The marine environment is harsh and in southern climates that harshness is made even worse by the relentless sun.  Some of the things you will have to consider are listed here:

Cleaning

Some anchorages, moorings and marinas are cleaner than others.  In all cases, however, you will fall into a regular pattern of scrubbing down the topsides of your boat and doing a thorough cleaning below in your living quarters.  If you live aboard in a marina that has a boatyard or allows do it yourselfers to work on their boats, you will have to clean more often than if you live in a pristine resort marina.

Waxing

Hulls and topsides tend to get oxidized and dull looking, and one solution is to wax the surfaces on a regular basis, maybe once or twice a year.

Brightwork

Nothing is more beautiful on a boat than gleaming varnished cap rails, trim, coamings and any wood surface that can be converted from its natural state into a mirror like finish that is a work of art.  The work that goes into this effect is grueling, however, and if it bothers you too much it's smart to go with the natural look.  Teak weathers to a dull grey appearance that you will never see in the boat shows but that translates to more leisure time for the boat owner.

Canvas

A liveaboard boat should have a fair amount of canvas to make life aboard more comfortable.  A bimini top or awning will shelter the cockpit.  Larger canvas awnings can cover much of the boat deck and keep things inside cooler on the hottest summer days.  This canvas gets torn and mildewed and needs to be maintained properly.  Most liveaboards will have a special sewing kit aboard to handle repairs.

Winches

If you have a sailboat or motorsailer, you will have winches.  Winches give you muscle power for raising sails and trimming sheets.  They need to be taken apart periodically and greased.  It is important not to drop any parts into the water while you are doing this task.

Rigging

Sailboats have standing rigging and running rigging.  Both types need to be inspected regularly and maintained or repaired if necessary.

Standing rigging supports the masts on a boat and have turnbuckles that allow the tension to be adjusted.  These turnbuckles can corrode or crack and may need to be replaced.  The standing rigging also is attached at the base to chain plates, usually made of stainless steel, that can also corrode.

Running rigging are the ropes that raise and control the sails.  They also get worn and need to be replaced from time to time.

Engine Maintenance

It would be wonderful to have an engine that never needs attention, but that's not realistic.  Some liveaboards have liberated themselves from engines entirely and have simplified their lives.  This especially works for liveaboards who rarely if ever leave the marina or mooring.  For the rest of us, however, a few basics need to be mentioned.

Change Oil

All engines require oil to keep them lubricated and running properly.  Frequency of oil changes varies from engine to engine, but every 100 hours or so of run time is a good average.  You can do this yourself or have it done, and you have to find a legal place to get rid of the old oil.

Change Filters

There are oil filters, fuel filters and air filters.  For water cooled engines, there are also raw water filters.  They should be replaced or cleaned on a regular basis.

Change Zincs

Many marine engines use raw water (the water that the boat floats in) for their cooling system.  A zinc is installed in the engine to serve the same sacrificial purpose as the zinc on your propeller shaft.  It corrodes so your engine does not.  You need to know where the zincs are and keep an eye on them and replace them when they are ready.

Utilities

Marinas have a wide variety of options regarding utilities.  You will not have to spend any money on utilities on the hook or on a mooring, but you will have to get your energy needs in other ways.  Some of the things that a marina will provide and charge for one way or the other include:

Electric

Most marinas have power pedestals at each slip that provide both 30 amp and 50 amp electrical power.  Many marinas require a special adapter for you to plug into their power pedestal called a pig tail.  It's simply a short power cord with plugs at both ends.  You plug one end into the pedestal and plug your shore power cord into the other.   You can keep your own pig tail aboard, but you will discover it doesn't work at all marinas.

Cable TV/Phone

Some modern marinas also have cable television and telephone hookups on their power pedestals.  You can enjoy the leisure of full television and internet service just like your home ashore.  Some marinas also allow you to attach a direct tv satellite dish on pilings or the dock adjacent to your slip.  Some lucky boaters have their own satellite television aboard and need no additional help.

Water

That same pedestal will usually have a water faucet you can use.  You will learn from the sad experiences of other boaters not to hook this water up directly to your boat's plumbing system.  More than one boat has been sunk when the high pressure from a municipal system blows out a boat's plumbing.

It's best and safer to top off your onboard tanks and use the water from them.  Another bonus of doing this is that the water in your tanks will taste better because you are constantly replenishing it.

Sewer

When you flush your liveaboard toilet, you have a valve system that allows two outcomes.  First, you can flush the toilet directly overboard.  Second, you can divert the toilet flow with a valve to an onboard holding tank.  In a marina and most anchorages and mooring fields,  the second choice is the only choice.  Most marinas have pump out service.  You hook up a hose to your holding tank and the junk is pumped out and hauled away to a legal disposal point.

Some marinas charge extra for this service;  some allow you to do it yourself.  Many popular boating areas also have pump out barges that will come to your anchored boat and pump out your holding tanks for a fee.

Garbage

We humans generate a lot of garbage.  It has to be disposed of ashore.  Some mooring fields have garbage pickup service.  A well managed marina will have abundant trash cans all over the marina and will pick up garbage on a regular basis.  Somebody has to pay for it, and it will be you either by having it included in your slip fee or  mooring fee or making other arrangements with somebody ashore.

Don't use any shoreside dumpsters or garbage cans without the owner's permission.  Things like that give liveaboard boaters a bad reputation.



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