The Liveaboard Lifestyle

First published in several Maryland newspapers, 5/5/89       

The liveaboard lifestyle(s)

by Tom Dove
Most of us who cruise in boats fantasize about what it would be like to live aboard full time. It seems to be the cure for all our modern urban sicknesses. 

My wife and I get that feeling when we return from a cruise and want to turn around and go right back out. It comes again on bleak winter mornings as we commute to work in semi-darkness and wish we could chuck it all and set off for a tropical island in our own little vessel.

As a substitute for actually doing it (at least for a few more years), we talk with as many liveaboard people as we can. That both keeps the dream alive and prevents fantasy from overriding reality.

Few realize how many people are living afloat. There are no statistics available, but the fact that you can go to nearly any marina and find two or three couples or families residing there full time indicates that thousands of dreamers have put their actions where their minds are.

They are in all occupations and age groups. They live on everything from 20-foot sailboats to 65-foot motor yachts. They have incomes ranging from subsistence to hundreds of thousands  per year. In short, the floating community is a microcosm of the population ashore with median income and family size about the same as you would encounter in any county in Maryland.

It is certainly NOT a collection of waterborne hippies and dropouts. As we sailed up the coast to Newport for the 1983 America’s Cup trials, we met a young couple with an 11-year-old son who followed the seasons along the East Coast from the Bahamas to Rhode Island as they lived aboard their 34-foot cutter. He was a cabinetmaker, she a former teacher who worked as a waitress because there was more money in it.

In Atlantic City we visited with a liveaboard couple in their twenties who stayed in that area year-round as they lived aboard and rebuilt their 35-foot Pearson in preparation for a world cruise. Both were professionals who commuted to jobs nearby.

We are friends with a successful banker and his teacher-wife who inhabit a beautiful 65-foot Cheoy Lee trawler in Baltimore’s  Inner Harbor.

About eight years ago in Annapolis we saw a Ranger 33 like ours with “Salt Lake City” painted on the stern as homeport. That was enough to make us curious and led to meeting a couple in their early forties who had lived aboard for more than two years as they cruised from California to Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa and other Pacific ports. After returning to California, they shipped the boat overland to Chicago where it was launched into Lake Michigan. Then, they brought it through the Erie canal to the east coast and the Chesapeake. Both were teachers who picked up other jobs as they  traveled.

Every few years we see a lovely family of three who commute across the Atlantic buying, delivering and selling boats. They once house-sat for us while we visited the wife’s family in Ireland. The husband is a former sales representative who tired of -three-piece suits and the corporate carousel.

An engineer friend formerly lived with his wife and small child aboard a Whitby 42 in downtown Washington.

Well-known sailing writer Norris Hoyt and his wife live aboard two boats – a 27-foot barge cruiser in Europe for summers and a 32-foot sailboat on the East coast for the rest of the year.

This month’s Chesapeake Bay magazine has a story about a retired couple who live aboard a 42-foot cruiser in Virginia during the warm months and fly off to spend winters in places like Spain and New Zealand.

Surveys by national boating magazines indicate that the average duration of living aboard is about three years. After that, many people decide that they have had their adventure and are ready to settle on land again.

Even if you never do it, having the potential to live aboard your own boat is a good reason to own one. A cruising boat owner knows that the only thing preventing him or her from casting off and leaving the shorebound life behind is willpower.

The unifying theme among liveaboards is that they only regret not doing it sooner. Moving aboard takes a huge leap of faith and a great amount of planning, but it is a reasonable and viable lifestyle.

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