How can I stay comfortable and safe while living aboard a boat?
Any sailor worth their salt has probably imagined it at one point or another. What would it be like if I were to permanently live on my boat? There are obviously a lot of very cool pros to such a life, but people have a bit harder time quantifying the cons. Take it from me, that it isn't all it's cracked up to be. I managed it for around 5 years, but I'm back on dry land now so take from that what you will.
Life ashore has been kind to me, but you can probably imagine that there is far less adventure to be had. I have no problem with that. I've got children to think about for now, but I like to think that a couple more decades in the future my wife and I might be able to take to the open ocean again. She doesn't seem too keen on that idea, owing to the fact that she can't swim... But there's plenty of time to learn.
So without further adieu, let us explore the double-edged sword that is living on your boat.
Install CO2 and smoke alarms and a propane sniffer, check the fire extinguishers periodically, and keep an eye on the basics like bilge and battery levels.
Food and Water
Definitely not an ideal situation. Fresh water? Extremely precious resource when out at sea for extended periods. Do you enjoy taking a nice long shower at the end of a hard day? Well, you don't anymore. Hot meals can be a welcome treat, but gas is a finite resource just like water is. If you run out of gas for cooking there will probably be a lot of nights that you might be eating cold beans from a can. Catching fish is a decent option if you have some gas, but the problem with that is that you need to actually catch the fish.
One of the most shocking differences between sailing life and life ashore is the amount of space that you have to work with. Your house might be cluttered, but there is absolutely no room for clutter on a boat. Stow things in their proper place, and marvel at the efficiency of modern boating. Organization is truly going to make or break your sailing life.
Surely sleeping is easy enough, right? Well... Sorta. You do get rocked to sleep by the ocean which can be a great experience but space still comes into play. One or more people breathing in such a tiny area causes huge amounts of condensation. Fight back against mold with a four-pack of hanging boat dehumidifier bags. All of this is assuming you're getting any sleep at all, because somebody needs to stand watch at night and there's a good chance it will be you.
I hope you like board games! It's either that or sitting down with a nice big bottle of booze and a good fishing rod. It's extremely important to have a co-pilot that can engage your mind and while away some of the insanely long hours that aren't spent averting near disaster or reveling in the magic of the adventure. There are plenty of ups and downs, but if you're having a good time there are guaranteed to be far more positive experiences than negative ones.
One of the best parts about living on a boat is that it seems to be a great equalizer. You can commune with people that you wouldn't dream of hanging out with if you had just met at the grocery store or something. You will hear great stories, and meet interesting people. Of course, there are always a few duds. Invite them back to the boat and have them bore you to death while they drink a year's supply of booze? Not ideal, but the upside is that once they've left you probably won't ever need to interact with them again!
There are a fair amount of way to communicate with others while sailing. A blast of a nautical air horn is an old classic, but these days VHF radios tend to be the preferred way of communicating while living aboard a boat. Satellite connections can be used to try and phone someone or use the internet, but the connection is spotty at worst and extremely slow at best. I won't hesitate to tell you that a severe lack of connection to the world at large is one of the reasons that I abandoned ship as it were. This might be a major pro to some people, but I've got far too many people waiting for me ashore and I simply can't do without knowing that they're all safe and sound.
The thing I probably miss the most about time on the water is the ability to experience nature. We've had squids launch themselves onto our vessel, dolphins escort us, whales breaching close enough to make you just about drop a deuce in your pants. Oh, and who could forget the time that a manta ray decided to put the moves on and try to have sex with our dinghy? While we were still in it! Nature is wild, that probably goes without saying, but you don't know how wild until you're out there experiencing it every day.
Sustaining yourself and your loved ones with your own private sources of power and water isn't something to be understated. Owning a boat will make you extremely self-sufficient. If disaster does strike, you can simply cast off and leave without a second thought. The one and only exception to that might be a tsunami, but even in that case you'll be far better off than the landlubbers.
There are significant downsides to self-sufficiency that might not be considered however. You will likely be on your own to either fail or succeed. Sailing the open ocean requires rigorous preparation as you take your life and the lives of your crew or passengers into your own hands. Ensure that you've got spare food, water, parts, medicine and you might find yourself feeling extremely capable.
Most marinas require an application for you to move aboard permanently. In some areas, liveaboards aren’t permitted or there are long waiting lists. Liveaboard slip fees are usually higher and your insurance rates may increase if your boat becomes your primary residence.