Living on a Boat: The Life of a Liveaboard

Liveaboards live on boats.

And they live on liveaboards!



No, it’s very simple, isn’t it. But unfortunately, the charter industry has also started using the term to describe something you book when organizing a diving or boating trip—where you (and maybe 10-30 other people) literally stay on someone else’s liveaboard boat (either while they are still there, when they may act as your hosts, or not: and you just hire out their set-up-for-living-on boat, do everything yourself, and bring it back later).



I prefer the old-school meanings. As usual.

For me, a liveaboard should definitely have someone living on it. Living that dream life, tasting the sea air daily, the waves chomping on the starboard side, a brightly-colored shoal of fish off the port side, children giggling.

Though I won’t judge you if you’re hiring out your extra cabin to fund your marvelous and envy-inducing lifestyle, of course.

But being a liveaboard is LIVING ON A BOAT. Let’s talk more about what that actually means.


I’m just kidding. However—and no one will dispute it!—this gig requires some skills.

Sailing skills, if you want to live on a sailboat.

And maintenance skills, to keep your systems in impeccable and safe order; as well as communications devices.

As we discussed in our How Much It Costs to Live on Your Sailboat in the Caribbean post (very soon to be updated), these things take practice. So anyone who would like to live on a boat should definitely get some experience before they launch off into the unknown waters of liveaboardzville. It’s mega awesome and inspiring connecting with others and learning the ropes, as it were. Sailors are fantastic, friendly people.

The perfect way to try out a whole load of different boats and get a real liveaboard-heaven-on-the-sea type of experience is to crew. Here’s a post all about that.

But if you’re already there, you might be considering what type of sailboat to invest in.


I wish I could tell you exactly which type of boat to buy, but the vessel you opt in/on entirely depends on your needs and habits.

Check out this girl, who lives on her tiny, tiny boat, Daphne. She has next to nothing, and yet you can see how happy and free she feels every day. That’s what I’m talking about. Also, these people look happy, don’t you think?

So don’t necessarily think biiiig, too fast. And getting a great deal on a second-hand boat and working to improve it is certainly nothing to be sniffed at. Admirable.

This book is an essential read before you begin.


Some liveaboards couldn’t be harder to miss.

You’re passing by them, and their washing is blowing in the wind, their garden even seems to have vegetables growing in it, and their boat is almost square, like a house.


But there are lots of different types of liveaboard boats of all shapes and sizes.

Power Liveaboards

These fellas give you the most living space per foot of boat length, which is what makes them popular.

They have a lot of space above the waterline, too—so plenty of storage space and headroom there.

The main disadvantage? The windage caused by the tall deck house and hull means handling is compromised considerably.

The second disadvantage is the slow speed of these displacement boats (which includes sailboats): like a maximum theoretical hull speed of 7.3 knots for a displacement hull with a waterline length of 30 feet.

You get better fuel economy, though. Unless you have a planning power boat! You can compensate somewhat in that respect by buying a multihull power boat. You’ll also be able to get into shallower water with less problems.


A trawler is a power boat with a displacement hull designed for long economical voyages under power.

It might have a steadying sail that helps it withstand rolling motion while underway, and “flopper stoppers”—devices that extend over the sides of the boat down into the water to provide resistance.

Most trawlers have massive amounts of room inside because of their vertical sides and large deckhouses.

They’re hard to maneuver in windy conditions, but make for wonderfully comfortable marina liveaboards.

Houseboats With No Engine

These are the square boats I mentioned! Well, sometimes.

They are often barge-style boats designed to be towed, and may hang out in the same spot for years or decades.

The quintessential permanent fixture liveaboard!

This book has some fantastic images of houseboats.

Houseboats With An Engine

These boats usually have a flat bottom and a large house occupying most of the deck.

They are designed for calm waters, for the most part, like rivers and lakes. They aren’t usually seaworthy enough to take out in the open ocean or on one of the Great Lakes of the US.


Your motorsailer is designed to perform better under power than the average sailboat of the same length.

But they are also slower than the average sailboat of the same length! Haha.

They’re good for people who love sailboats, but also love power boats. And they typically have a large deckhouse and hull shape, so they are naturally more spacious than a sailboat.

Sailboats – Monohulls and Multihulls

We’re arrived at my personal favorite variety of liveaboard. The 100% pure sailboat.

There are two types.

Monohulls have a single hull and usually have a fairly deep keel or centerboard that limits the places you can liveaboard, because you need deeper waters and may have a high sail overhead which cannot pass under bridges.

There is limited space inside, too, due to the pointy ends of the monohull and curved hull sides.

For this reason, you might want to think about getting a larger monohull than you might a different type of boat, to ensure plenty of space. That will naturally depend on the climate you will be in however. Caribbean-touring liveaboards spend more time outside than Canada-touring liveaboards, for example.

Multihulls can include catamarans and trimarans.

And they are so cool.

The advantage of this type of sailboat is their shallow draft, speed underway and ample liveaboard space. There’s almost twice the amount of space available when compared with a monohull.

The only real disadvantage? If your cat is wide, you may have to pay for two slips or a larger slip to accommodate the large size of your, erm, vessel.


When it comes to where to dock, you have three options:

  • Anchoring: this is definitely the most economical option, but it also means you have to be super self-sufficient—generating and/or storing your own electricity, water, internet; you’ll need a dingy to come to shore for food and other supplies.
  • Mooring: this is another cost-efficient choice, where you anchor to a heavy sunken cement block along a river or other spot, and you pay an initial deposit setup fee and small monthly tariff.
  • Marina living: which is kinda like parking an RV up at park. The benefits include electrical hookups, supply stores, toilets and showers, and other services. Most marinas let a certain number of boats stay for 3-6 months.


There are some mighty obvious reasons to become a liveaboard. They include:

  • Being able to travel every single day of your life
  • The incomparable sense of freedom you get from being able to decide where you’ll go (and it’s not to the office, yey)
  • The adventures involved: meeting new people from the other side of the world (or at least not your home town!), the hikes, the new food, and the crazy sea conditions. They all make for great stories.
  • The wildlife you see along the way
  • The breathtaking sunrises and sunsets (you’ll see what I mean if you don’t already)
  • The thrill of learning something new with every new challenge
  • The sustainable, green, environmentally-consciousness of it all
  • The cost of living, which is greatly reduced: no more rent, cars, credit cards and unnecessary stuff.

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Images courtesy of Claire Backhouse, sludgegulper and Ian D. Keating on Flickr; and wikipedia/wikimedia.

Living On A Sailboat in the Caribbean in 2017: The Cost

Catamarans: History, Handling and Buying Them




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