Thinking about living on a boat to save money? Think twice.

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If you live in an area where house prices and rent are out of control, you’ve probably thought about cheaper, more alternative housing options. Housing accounts for the majority of most family expenses, so if you’re trying to save some money, housing should be the first thing you look at.

Living aboard a boat anchored in open waters may seem perfectly free, and in some areas it is. But it many areas, this is not a real possibility. Before you look too much into the subject of living on your own boat, below are some things you need to know. Much of this article will use the San Francisco Bay area in California as an example scenario.

The cost of docking in a marina

If you have a daily commute to work, the first option you want to consider is living at a marina. You can rent a portion of the dock, known as a slip, for a set amount of money per month for you to dock your ship. When I say a ‘set amount of money’, I mean it. Many marinas charge several hundreds of dollars a month just to rent out a slip for your boat. Most often, marinas charge by the foot. It will cost you more to dock a 40′ ship as opposed to a 38′ ship, which is sensible. But before you even consider living on a boat to save money, it’s wise to contact your local marinas and find out how much it costs to rent a slip.

The cost of living in your boat in a marina

Many marinas do not allow people to live on boats which are docked at the marina. People who live aboard their boat are called liveaboards. Some marinas allow liveaboards, but for an additional fee. That’s right. Not only do you have to pay a big fee every month for your slip, but you also have to pay more than that just for living on your boat. If you live in an expensive area like California, you can expect your slip and liveaboard fees to approach 900 a month. This is NOT cheap living, but it is cheaper than renting an apartment in these areas.

The likelihood of getting a spot reserved in a marina

The marinas which allow liveaboards often are limited by law exactly how much they are allowed to lease to liveaboards. Many marinas can only lease 10% of their docks to liveaboards. Be prepared to wait for months, and even years.

The cost of mooring

Some people don’t want to pay huge fees to live in a marina, and that’s certainly understandable. In some areas, there may be mooring fields which are a cheaper alternative. Simply put, someone can sink a heavy block of cement and float a buoy, and let people hook themselves to the buoy for a small fee. In many areas, such as the San Francisco bay, mooring fields are illegal. Why are they illegal in the Bar area? There is no good reason. The BCDC, in its infinite wisdom, is against anyone living in the San Francisco Bay. They limit how many people live in marinas, they prohibit anyone living in a mooring field, and practically anywhere else on a boat. There are no reasonable or logical reasons for these particular laws and regulations. Apparently, there used to be a problem with people abandoning their boats, so they just decided to prohibit living on the water.

The cost of anchoring

Going out into a lake, bay, ocean, or river and dropping anchor is totally free. Unfortunately, in some areas, this practice is illegal. You may receive tickets or citations for living in open water. Again, an example of this is where the BCDC outlawed anchoring anywhere in the San Francisco Bay area. So before you look too much into living on the water for free, it’s best to make sure it’s legal where you live. Otherwise, you may eventually find yourself homeless, especially if some stuck up commission like the BCDC finds out about you.

The cost of fuel

If you’ve never owned a big boat before, you may not have a proper grasp as to how much fuel these boats use. They use a *lot* of fuel to move. So if you’re planning on cruising around regularly, it may be worthwhile to look at sailboats. Some of the larger yachts can cost you a thousand dollars to fill up the tank! Moving a boat through water is much more difficult than rolling a car on pavement, which is why boat engines are much larger, more powerful, and more hungry.

The cost of maintenance

Have you ever been on a boat made two or three hundred years ago? Living in water can be very rough on boats, and proper maintenance is much more costly than maintaining an ordinary home. The last thing you want to do is let your boat become decrepit, because you’ll lose all the equity built up in your boat. So it’s important to spend extra money to maintain your boat.


If you’ve gotten this far, that’s good. If you can find a place to legally anchor, and can put up with fuel and maintenance, that living on a boat may be an economical choice. Unfortunately, in some areas, commissions like the BCDC severely punish people economically for trying to live on a boat. In many cases, these punishments are severe enough so that living on a boat no longer makes an economical choice. So before spending hours online reading about how to live on a boat, make sure that it makes economical sense in your specific area.

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Posted under Avoiding Fees, Saving Gas, Saving Money

This post was written by admin on November 1, 2008

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