Guide to living on a boat

Oct 04, 2020 · 13 mins read
Guide to living on a boat

If you are thinking of buying a boat to live on, in this article we help you organize your purchase and guide you so that your decisions will lead you to a good port.

Even if you have previous knowledge about sailing, you should make sure you have chosen the best type of boat for you.

Once acquired, if you already know where you are going to moor it, the next step is to get used to life on board, as this is an important change in many ways.

Living on a boat

Going from living in a big house, a small studio, or simply a friend’s couch to living on a boat is a radical life change, especially because of organizational and space issues. Let’s suppose that you have already studied the budget issue and that you know how much a new or second hand boat can cost you.However, if you are not a shipowner and have not done so yet, we recommend that you spend some vacations and weekends living on board a boat with similar characteristics to the one you are planning to buy.

In the case that you are going to live with someone, it is advisable that you make this first attempt with the person or persons with whom you want to live. Spending long periods of time in the few square meters of a boat is not for everyone or for all families or couples. So your dream has to be shared, even by your dog.

Any moderately free-spirited person’s eyes shine at the idea of living on board, since it was once a luxury for bohemian people, although if we go back even further in time, it was something closer to punishment or extreme poverty. However, nowadays there are places where life on board is a symbol, as in the canals of Amsterdam. Although the origin of this modality was due to the lack of housing in the post-war period. But the dream can turn into a nightmare, because to live on a boat you have to learn to be a little minimalist. If you’re one of those people unable to give up the spaciousness of a closet or a bathtub, you’d better look for a big boat (and this may not be in your budget) or better stay within brick walls.

Choosing the type of boat

It is very likely that your decision to live on board comes with a passion for the sea and that you already have previous knowledge of sailing. If so, the transition will be faster and much more satisfactory. But if you are looking for a radical change of life, you have many things to learn and the best thing is to start from the beginning: to know the different types of boats that exist in the nautical market.

First of all, you must decide if you prefer a sailing boat or a motor boat. Each one has its pros and cons. For example, a motorboat offers much larger areas, but nevertheless, maintaining it is much more expensive than a sailboat. Therefore, if your idea is to go out sailing apart from living on board and you don’t want to spend a considerable amount of money every time you do it, the ideal would be to opt for a sailboat. Regarding the existing types of boats, there are the classic wooden boats ideal for those who like do-it-yourself, fishing boats for fishing lovers, sport boats to enjoy water sports, etc.

But if you really prioritize the experience on board rather than the type of navigation you are going to give later, a very good option is a family cruise, as it is the closest thing to a house. In addition, like any type of boat, you can find cruise ships that combine several possibilities, such as, for example, a fishing boat that at the same time is a cruise.

If you have had other boats before, you will probably only have to decide for more length, habitability and stability. In any case, remember that the type of boat you choose and the budget are related. If you are a beginner in the nautical world and you want to sail apart from living in the boat, another point you have to take into account is the type of nautical qualification that the boat you have chosen needs. So, remember that to go out with it, you must start a course to get it first.

The El Greenline 40 is an example of a boat with a spacious living space. Although, if your point of living on a boat is to save money, this may not be the kind of ship for you.

Deciding whether or not to sail

In addition to deciding whether to opt for a motor boat or a sailing boat, there is also the possibility that the boat will not sail and will only be used as a home boat. But beware, it is not worth any boat. If a boat doesn’t sail because its engines don’t work anymore, if it has been unused for a long time or if it is a sailing boat with its rigging deteriorated, it can also have serious structural problems even if it is stopped in port. A very old and neglected boat is not the same as a house where a coat of paint changes everything.

Electrical and service installations suffer much more from the inclemency of the marine environment, therefore our investment can be very unprofitable. On the other hand, our longed-for freedom would not be complete without being able to move from port to port. But the truth is that there are boats (I have even seen some published in tourist rental portals) in which the space in the engine room had been used to remove those two moles of rust that the propellers and the smelly fuel tank had become to create a new space.

In the case of choosing a boat that can sail, one will have to decide between the possibility of living in a mooring in the same port or actually leaving land and living by sailing. The difference in budget and lifestyle varies widely. The option of living while sailing is very interesting at a budget level, although it requires more nautical knowledge. Those who choose this option will be able to anchor in bays and coves, but they will have to be very attentive to the meteorology because their comfort and mainly their security will depend on it.

On the other hand, it is also possible to reduce the fuel budget by means of a good supply of batteries, recharged by solar panels, wind generators or hydro generators. An auxiliary boat will also be necessary to allow access to land for essential supplies. I have known sailors who practically only entered the port to load fuel and water, make some repairs or due to very bad weather conditions. This life that seems to be absolutely free also requires planning in terms of boat maintenance, but the main attention must be directed, without a doubt, to the weather.

Search for the best mooring

The decision of where to have the boat is also very important and will depend on many factors, mainly in relation to one’s working life. Those who have a profession that allows them to work without going to an office will have a great advantage in this respect: without a fixed office, they will not need a fixed mooring either and will have the freedom to move from port to port or simply choose the most economical one. Obviously, you would have to find out the quality of Internet connection that the port has to do it by wifi (it is not usually very good and on weekends, worse) and in some ports there is not good 4G coverage either. Generally, when we rent a mooring, expenses such as electricity, water and in some cases Internet connection are included.

For many people it is a dream to be able to change port, city, sea or ocean… it is clear that knowledge and time are needed for the transfers. The truth is that the choice of the base port will depend on the budget we allocate to it, because although we would like to have the mooring in Monaco, we have to be aware that for the Formula 1 days it gets a little expensive and I think the others too. In general, it is better to rent a mooring than to buy it in property because the concessions of the ports have a duration of 30 years. After this period, the mooring returns to the State and all previously signed contracts are cancelled. Mooring owners usually have priority in buying back the mooring, but there have been cases where owners have lost their rights. As a guide, you can consult the section of moorings for rent of CosasDeBarcos, which offers several options of prices according to the length and port.

Getting used to life on board

Once we are clear about the type of boat that best suits our day-to-day life and where we are going to moor, the next thing is to get used to life on board. This is probably the most complicated part considering that it is a major change in many ways. It seems like a very simple idea, but the reality may not be very comfortable. It will be very interesting to get rid of material objects that take up space or that we don’t use much, especially clothes and furniture.


To wash the clothes that we will take with us, some ports have laundry service, which facilitates the management of dirty clothes, but in most cases this option is not available. There are collection and delivery services that are a little more expensive, but it is probably the most viable solution.


As we well know, it is not physically or economically healthy to eat daily in a restaurant. The great disadvantage of small spaces is the consumption of fresh products because the capacity of the refrigerators on boats is not comparable to that of a house, so we must consider making purchases on time, be proactive and make the most of the capacity of the refrigerator we have on board to avoid waste and having to throw away food that is out of date or in poor condition.

Personal hygiene

If we are going to be in a mooring for a long season, it is best to use the services of the port or club to avoid having to move the boat just to unload grey or black water. It is just a matter of habit and organization, especially since the services are not usually near the boat and getting to the shower and realizing that we do not carry shampoo can be very annoying. Another option is to use the gym on a daily basis and at the same time take advantage of it to improve our physical condition.

On board in winter

Honestly, if you can choose a hemisphere, don’t hesitate, forget about winter and run from north to south in search of an average temperature. If this is not possible, there are some aspects to take into account to achieve a livable temperature. First of all, we must know the great enemy that humidity can be. Something that perhaps we didn’t take into account in our life on land, but that can become a problem on board. The most effective solution is a dehumidifier, which will really save us a lot of problems, not only because of the humidity itself, but also because of the feeling and the speed with which the boat reaches a pleasant temperature because dry air is easier to heat. On the other hand, we will need an electric heater (for a 10 or 12 meter long boat, a 2kw heater is enough). Obviously, we refer to the heating being moored in port and being able to connect the boat to the 220 volts electrical network, so it is essential to have the electrical installation in good condition, a properly sized cable and a periodic review in depth.

While we are sailing, the most recommendable thing is a diesel heater. They have a very low consumption of fuel, as well as of electricity of 12 volts and a great capacity to heat the atmosphere and even to dry the water clothes if we sail with bad weather. Nowadays, any direct combustion heater is obsolete both for its efficiency and for safety.

The thermal insulation on board is also very important. On a modern boat there should be no inconvenience, even if they are designed to sail only in summer. On older ships, however, it should be an aspect to which you pay close attention, because they often have older installations. Until we know our boat very well, during the first winter it would be convenient to carry out periodic revisions in the places of difficult access because it is where the humidity could increase and fungi could form or produce a bad smell.

Maintenance and repairs

The ideal is to be a little handy and solve most of the problems without having to resort to external professionals, except for major problems or those for which we do not have the right tools. Undoubtedly, little by little we will learn the most common mechanical, electrical or service installation repairs and we can always consult with a neighbor or thank the Internet for spreading the knowledge. On the boat we must always have the fundamental tools at hand and have a good supply of spare parts that can get us out of a hurry.

If there is no major inconvenience, once a year, or every two years, we have to consider taking the boat out of the water to paint the bottom, change sacrificial anodes and make a general revision of the live work, probe and slide sensors, hatches of the bottom taps, propeller, shaft, rudder, etc. It is essential to take into account, apart from the price, that in many boatyards it is not allowed to live on board if the boat is out of water, so we have to look for one where we can be temporary guests of a friend or family member, so as not to increase the costs.


It is recommended that you put your house up for sale, as well as looking for an unattached profession to search for your dream boat and leave land. And don’t think it’s just a plan for young singles and bohemians. It is an ideal project to share with a couple and also with children. There is a very extensive literature of families who sailed for years educating their children on board, perhaps you can start by reading a book on this subject during your next vacation, or read some of our interviews with families who live on board: The Yellow Boat, family who lives sailing.