If you have always lived in a cozy house with all the niceties and comforts included, then living on a boat must sound crazy. While it’s true that you will have to compromise some things as you make your transition from land to sea, this lifestyle change is entirely worth it.
For a long time, boat living has carried the reputation of being reserved for the elite, financially affluent, or the out-of-their-mind free-spirited nomad. This article aims to break those molds to let you know that there are some great cheap boats to live on as a simple, down-to-earth kind of person like me and you.
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Why Live On A Boat?
If you ask ten different boat owners this question, you are liable to hear ten very different responses. The fact is everyone has their own why, and you may or not discover your truth until after you begin to live on a cheap boat.
Some people are born seafarers and cannot function properly if their tune with the ocean is amiss. For example, my mother’s boyfriend, Bill, developed a passion for marine life very early.
After spending his summers volunteering at local boatyards and earning a few bucks working in marinas, he began to accrue an extensive knowledge base about different types of boats.
He emptied his piggy bank to purchase his first small boat, and as the years passed, he traded and bargained his way through a variety of different ships that allowed him to venture out further and further into the deep blue.
After spotting and recording all kinds of beautiful marine wildlife, traveling the open seas, and spending parts of his summers at his favorite spot in the Caribbean, Mr. Bill owns a small boat repair shop near the local marina. He has been living on boats for the past 40 years.
Now whether or not you end up with an attachment to the ocean like my mother’s boyfriend, only time with tell, but let me offer you some pros and cons of living on a cheap boat.
Pros of Living on a Cheap Boat
This list is not an exhaustive list of the pros of living on a cheap boat; however, these main points represent a large percentage of the typical responses you may hear if you ask a boat resident why they made the switch.
Freedom carries a unique meaning to each of us, and I think the human race is chasing this often taken-for-granted virtue with more persistence than ever.
Maybe the financial freedom excites you, but to be honest, it is simpler than that for me. It is the same feeling that I get when I camp out in the woods. Laugh at me if you want, but I find extreme pleasure in waking up and not having to get dressed before I grab my cup of hot coffee and head outside to spend the early minutes of my day in nature.
At any moment, an adventure awaits when you live on a boat. Untie the ropes, set the sail’s loose, and be off with the wind.
I bet for most of you reading this; your neighbors would not be so happy with you if you walked out onto your front porch or into your front yard with a hot mug of coffee (or tea) in hand and nothing else on (or maybe they would).
But the lifestyle change inherent with boat life is much more significant than just the ability to walk out half-dressed. Living on a cheap boat is arguably more eco-friendly than the consumption and waste typically generated by land-dwellers.
Of course, it comes down to the individual to harness and hone in on sustainability efforts and put eco-friendly practices in place, but being on a boat limits one’s exposure to the cheap frills and habits that harm our environment.
3- Living Costs
I hope you understand that this article does not include multi-billionaire moguls like Jeff Bezos and his superyacht. However, that is why we will dive into a list of the best cheap boats to live on after we wrap up the pros and cons of boat life.
That said, living costs on a boat include mooring and general maintenance and upkeep. But as a full-time mariner, you are liberated from the typical rent and mortgage costs that have kept you from doing what you want to do for years.
Cons of Living on a Cheap Boat
1- Lack of Space
Maybe you have always been a minimalist, and if that is the case, then a transition to boat life should not be that surprising because there is much less space on a boat than a typical apartment or house.
And because we are not contemplating yacht life, we are perfectly content with a cheaper vessel. A smaller boat equals less space. So there you have it- if you choose to make the switch to boat life, you may have to leave some stuff behind with your old life.
The fun part is that you learn many creative space-saving tricks custom to your lifestyle and boat.
2- Parking Costs
Depending on your location and where you plan on traveling, your budget needs to accommodate various ranges of mooring costs. For example, marinas near tourist meccas and large cities will be more expensive than if you plan your route ahead of time, seeking out smaller l;less-known backwater options.
Parking costs are inevitable, but often the marina offers water and electric connections, laundry access, and other amenities. Again, this is something you will learn as you go, and with experience, you will find tons of money-saving tips while at sea.
3- Power and Connection
Living on a boat requires batteries to maintain your onboard equipment and personal devices. However, batteries are finite, and so can be your power unless you become more frugal with your usage.
But then again, with clear blue skies above, solar power is an excellent option to keep your batteries charged and ready to meet higher electrical demands.
6 Best Cheap Boats to Live On
#1) Catalina 28 Sailboat
With plenty of various floorplan designs, the Cal 28 is a superb contender for the first and maybe only best cheap boat you will ever live on. Designed when fiberglass first became popular, the older Cal 28 models are robust compared to newer counterparts.
This sailboat is not only affordable but built with the boater in mind. The Cal 28 is perfect for single seafarers or couples and is relatively easy to maintain.
The ’28’ refers to the boat’s length, and though Catalina offers liveaboard sailboats in 25, 28, 30, and even larger configurations, the Cal 28 is undoubtedly an American favorite.
Remember Mr. Bill, my mother’s boyfriend- he has owned his Cal 28 for some twenty-odd years since it was given to him as a gift by a loyal customer for whom Bill had custom-built a boat.
Even if you are not in the right place at the right time to procure a free boat as Mr. Bill did, you should expect to pay between $5,000 and $20,00 for a vessel in sea-worthy condition.
#2) House Boat
It’s all in the name- part house, part boat. What is even more interesting is that manufacturers utilize both home and boatbuilding materials to design an option that you can live on for any amount of time.
Houseboats are typically either cruising or stationary builds. The cheapest alternative is a non-cruising houseboat which gives you reasonably limited mobility options designed for small transitions and semi-permanent docking.
If you desire to travel in your water-bound apartment, so to speak, then you should look into a cruising houseboat that houses a larger engine capable of handling more turbulent waters.
As you look through this list of Top Houseboat Manufacturers and Suppliers in the USA, you will find that most of these companies will offer standard models but are more than happy to custom build a houseboat to fit your particular needs.
But remember, customization requires green stamps, so in the spirit of this article, I recommend that you find a cheap houseboat for sale (between $5,000 and $30,000) and, with time, make minor changes here and there to make it all about you.
If the art of sailing is not for you and you instead prefer just to turn the key and go, then a used motor cruiser may be an excellent option for you. However, a used cruiser can run you anywhere between $1,500 and $18,000- it all depends on what you want and what you are willing to settle for.
I highly recommend that you hire an experienced mechanic to look over the motor before you proceed with the purchase of one of these used vessels. Provided that the engine is in good condition, then you will find that most cruisers accommodate liveaboard seafarers.
Cruisers have loads of interior space and happen to be a favorite amongst families that have left society’s chaos behind to raise their kids on the water.
Traditionally known as the working man’s boat, trawlers are excellent liveaboard boats that won’t necessarily break the bank. Having been designed for long hours at sea, these boats are built to exceptional standards of sturdiness and robustness.
Not as lightweight or fashionable as more modern fiberglass and yacht-class vessels, the trawler is a great boat to consider nonetheless. Since you are looking for cheap boats to live on, you should consider expanding your search to include more antique builts from the 1940s forward.
Age is nothing but a number, and we all know ‘wine becomes fine over time,’ so do not be discouraged by how old your boat is. What matters is that it is or can be made sea-worthy and that you are happy to live aboard its wooden beams.
Again you should be able to walk away from a deal, title-in-hand, for no more than $20,000. However, if you are ready for an authentic experience, opt for a project trawler for closer to $3,000-$4,000 and invest your remaining cash to make it sea-worthy.
If you enjoy VLOGS, then you can follow SailingDawnHunters and maybe even get some inspiration from this boat-loving couples’ restoration experience and boating adventures.
#5) Canal Boats
Typically, canal boats are considered a western European liveaboard option for those nomads that travel the picturesque canals that we most often see photographed in places such as England and the Netherlands.
You might not know that America also has many canals and waterways where a canal boat or narrowboat would be an excellent liveaboard option.
US manufacturers are not easy to come by- the truth is you will either get stuck paying astronomical import fees from Europe or will have to pay a hefty price for a custom build stateside.
But, there is always the possibility that you could get your hands on one of these gems. A good friend of mine lived on the British canals for over thirty years before moving to Italy with his family recently.
And I even remember several experiences as a youth in England, maneuvering these extra-long liveaboard boats through the canal system with my father at my side.
Barges, or “a roomy usually flat-bottomed boat used chiefly for the transport of goods on inland waterways,” can serve as a great platform to begin a liveaboard project.
These steel-hulled vessels are typically not seen in regular mooring locations because of their primary intended use. This fact may affect parking availability and price significantly.
If you are lucky to seal a deal on a used commercial barge, the options are limitless. Though you may find one lying around at an abandoned shipyard, your wallet may need to allow approximately $15,000 for the initial purchase price of the vessel.
There are several boat types and styles to select from as you search for your liveaboard vessel. However, I recommend that you always have the boat you are interested in inspected by a knowledgeable and experienced mechanic that can tell you precisely what you are getting yourself into.
For the project-minded, this is highly enticing as a new adventure, but for the less DIY-savvy, it could very well turn your dream into a nightmare- so don’t let it.
Remember, you want to live on a boat and find the best cheap boat to live on, so be ready to compromise.
Please share your questions and concerns about setting sail aboard your new freedom boat in the comments below.
Joseph Fabiano is a writer, nature enthusiast, and stay-at-home father of two wild and free boys. He enjoys starting his day with a good run, hot mug of coffee, and a jump in the Ionian Sea, no matter the weather. Currently based in the Apuglia region of southern Italy, he enjoys discovering the world with his best traveling buddies (his little monkey’s and beautiful wife) at every given opportunity. Every trip, long or far, should be made an adventure according to Joseph as he believes inspiration and creation is right in front of you.