- Three years ago, I gave up my San Francisco apartment and moved onto my boyfriend’s boat after I lost my job.
- Living on a boat was challenging at first, but has had many rewarding moments.
- That said, there are several things I wish I had known before deciding to live on a boat.
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In 2016, my world turned upside-down.
Out of the blue, I lost my well-paying job as a radio news reporter in San Francisco. The entire newsroom decimated in one day of layoffs. I was renting a room in a gorgeous apartment on the water in Sausalito, which cost me about $1,500 per month, rent I could no longer afford. There was no way I’d go into debt or burn through my savings paying for a room, so I did what any prudent debt-avoider would do: I gave my 30-days notice.
I made plans to move onto my boyfriend’s sailboat, a 46-year old ketch in the middle of a massive restoration. He’d already been working day after day on the boat for months by then, with no end in sight. I told myself it would be like camping in an old wooden cabin with zero amenities. I’d always loved adventure, the outdoors, and living outside the norm.
So, I did a massive purge, donated stuff to Goodwill, trucked bins up to my mom’s garage in Oregon and kept only what I needed.
Just one month after my layoff, I was living on a boat for the first time in my life. And it wasn’t the glamorous vision you might have in mind with sunset-tinged happy hours and dolphins playing in the surf. It was a struggle, especially at first.
But living on a boat has also come with incredible realizations and an amazing closeness to nature, and it’s now a lifestyle I won’t give up.
If you’re also considering living on a boat, here are the things I wish I’d known beforehand.
There’s no such thing as a ‘finished boat’
Before I started my new life on a sailboat, I had no idea how much work boats actually require.
It seems like something is always broken or needing to be fixed. For the past two years, we hoped to sail down to Mexico for winter, but the boat wasn’t ready. This year, we’ll give it another shot (fingers crossed). My boyfriend Tom has worked countless hours, days and weeks getting the sailboat ready for ocean cruising for the past three and a half years. Still, more work needs to be done.
Now I understand these two boater adages: "The two best days of a boaters life is the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it," and "sailboat cruising is fixing things in exotic places."
Before you buy a boat, make sure you have the mechanical know-how to fix things, or else you’ll be spending tons of money paying someone when things go wrong.
Living on a boat is like living in a tent, but with walls
When I first moved onto the sailboat, it had almost no amenities. No running water. No heater. No stove. No toilet. No internet. No fridge. No shower. The list goes on and on and on.
I cooked dinners using a Jetboil backpacking stove balancing a skillet. We used the marina bathroom, our gym, and an emergency bucket to go potty. We bundled up under blankets and sleeping bags during the cold winter months.
But over time, project after project, the boat has slowly acquired the amenities that make it home. Never before had I felt thankful for a toilet, or a stove, or an oven. Never before had I given any thoughts to a heater. Living on an unfinished boat might come with hardships, but it also comes with a deep sense of gratitude for things most people take for granted.
Marinas aren’t always nice places to hang out
Through living on a boat, I’ve learned some marinas are nicer than others. Some resemble a poverty-stricken trailer park, others a high-end RV park. I’ve seen non-working boats covered with tarps, bikes, work-out equipment and trash.
I think it’s common for people to associate sailboats with high-end marinas and yacht clubs, but this isn’t always the case. Pick your marina with care, and be sure to walk the docks and meet the neighbors before signing up.
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