Blue Turtle Cruising

Living aboard a boat vs. living on land, how is it different?

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living aboard a boatWhen Randy and I first decided to live aboard a boat, we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Well, actually my parents were living aboard at the time, so we did have “some” idea: we thought it was going to be all vacations and sunsets but we really didn’t think about the day-to-day aspects of living aboard. Thankfully, we adapted very well and thoroughly enjoy this lifestyle but I will tell you that it is quite different than living on land in a home. How does it differ? Read on below…

We live in tight quarters

It goes without saying that space is an issue and when you have a spouse, child, and dog living in tight quarters with you, things can get a little claustrophobic. Our main cabin is very spacious by most boating standards for boats our size, but in the summer when the doors are sealed and AC running, it can get a little cramped. Sometimes if I need a little space, I can simply retire to our aft cabin and watch a movie down there while the boys stay in the main salon. In the winter, it isn’t as much of a problem since we usually have all the hatches and doors open and we spend more time outside. The result I think is that we’ve learned to get along with each other in even the most trying situations and we’ve all become a little closer with one another as well.

Good ole’ boat plumbing

repairing a marine toilet
Randy unclogging the v-berth head just an hour before our wedding

As you can imagine, plumbing on a boat is very different than on land. We have a 200-gallon water tank with a 10-gallon hot water heater. At the marina, we can fill our water tank as often as we like, but with a 10-gallon hot water heater, we still need to take Navy showers if all 3 of us want to shower with hot water. Water pressure isn’t so bad since our pump works pretty good but we are always conscious of water use at land or sea. We never leave the sink running while brushing our teeth like we used to on land.

We have a 40-gallon holding tank for our waste which gets pumped out by the marina on a weekly basis. We have one electric head in our aft cabin and one manual pump head in the v-berth. Our toilets are hooked up to use salt water for pumping. We’ve heard fresh water is better since there is less of an odor and because of that odor, we’ve rigged our electric toilet to not use any water to flush. We use fresh water out of our shower head to flush waste instead. Marine toilets are very finicky—it seems to be a common complaint around most live aboards and cruisers and someone is always crying about having to unclog a toilet. Perfectly flushing toilets on a boat is like sighting the Lockness Monster…probably will never happen.

We have a “laundry day”

When I lived in a house with a washer and dryer there was never a “laundry day”. I washed and dried clothes whenever I wanted throughout the week so it never really fell on one day. Now that I live on a boat without a washer and dryer, I actually a have 1 day a week (usually a Friday) that I do the laundry. We are lucky to have nice laundry facilities at Snook Bight and once a week, I pile our laundry into a cart and head down the dock. If you are cruising or live in a mooring field, it’s a little harder because you must first get your laundry to shore by dinghy. One good thing I find about using a laundry facility is that if all 4 washers are open, I can knock out 4 loads in an hour and a half, something you can’t do at home.

Cooking on a boat can be challenging

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with cooking (just ask Randy). It’s something I enjoy when I have the time, i.e. on weekends or on vacation but during the week when I’ve got a million things to do for work and a ton of chores, it just falls short on my list of things I care about. With 1 hungry boy and 1 hungry husband, I’ve learned to make the most of it. In our galley, I have a two-burner electric cooktop which replaced an old propane stove and a convection microwave. We also have a Magma Cabo gas grill, which I absolutely love and use quite often. Even though our microwave has the ability to bake, I’ve never tried it. For some reason I just can’t see it working the same as my stove in the house and so, I never bake. Most meals are cooked on the grill using the microwave to nuke rice or other sides. On very windy days, I have to plan a meal to cook on the cooktop since it rules grilling out. This can cause some power issues (see below) sometimes when I want to use both burners and the microwave and sometimes I have to cook things in shifts. Don’t get me started on the lack of counter space for meal prep, that’s a whole other story…

We have to manage our power consumption

One of the first things Randy and I learned was how to manage the power on Blue Turtle. It never even dawned on me that I couldn’t run everything on the boat at the same time like at home. I can’t tell you how many times we tripped the breaker trying to run something on electric. Even hooked up to shore power, we only have two 30amp 125 Volt DC hook-ups which power the lights, hot water heater, refrigerator, bilge pumps, etc. Running hi-usage items like the microwave, air conditioners or blow dryers can definitely trip breakers. We had to learn which items drew more power and which items couldn’t be run at the same time because they were hooked to the same breaker. Those first few months felt like we were constantly flipping switches by trial and error until we got the hang of it. We joke that if we were to ever rent out Blue Turtle (we wouldn’t) it would have to come with a 300 page manual about what can and can’t be used at the same time. For instance, in the summer with one AC running, I can run the cooktop stove but not the microwave at the same time. We’ve been known to switch off the AC long enough to nuke the rest of dinner before switching it back on. We’ve also found that we can’t be running both AC units while I blow dry my hair, one of the units must be shut off. Movie and popcorn? Nope, not at the same time. We have to switch off the TV mid-movie in order to run the microwave for popcorn. This is all while connected to shore power in the marina. Running on inverter or generator while at anchor is another story altogether.

We are more active

Riding bikes to dinner on the beach

I’ve always been pretty self-motivated to run or go to the gym, but a byproduct of living aboard is that you are generally more active than you would be in a home. We have a pretty long dock walk to get to land, so just by going out to our car, walking to the grocery store or taking the laundry up, we get in a lot more walking now than we ever did before. At our home on land, we never did this type of walking. Sure, I went to the gym, but I drove there. I drove to the grocery store and we drove to restaurants to go out to eat. We now walk to the grocery and if we want to eat out, we ride bikes or walk—something we would never have done in our old home. Trying to get that 10,000 steps? With living aboard a boat, it’s no problem.

We organize and clean more often

Just like in a house, we have to dust, scrub and vacuum. You would think that because a boat is so much smaller it would be easier to clean. It really isn’t. Now, I can very quickly vacuum the rugs and clean the countertops for a quick fix if we have company coming but deep cleaning can take a whole day. A whole day to deep clean 3 cabins you ask? Yes. See, boat interiors get dirtier more quickly, especially in the cooler months where we leave our doors and hatches open all the time. Dust and dirt blow around in the interiors and don’t get me started on the mold and mildew. I’ve spent over 2 hours cleaning mildew off our interior mini blinds. Also, with a messy kid and shedding dog in such a small space, I have to clean a lot more often. I find that I have to keep up with cleaning onboard more than I ever did on land. Boats also have so many nooks and crannies compared to a land home with furniture. Our boat is 42 years old and I’m convinced that I am still cleaning out 40 years worth of dust that rises up out of the bowels of the hull.

I also find that I have to organize and de-clutter more often than in a home. Living in tight quarters, things can get out of hand quickly. Every item has a place it needs to go or our main salon and cabin become very messy.

We take vacations in our home

dachshund on beach in life jacket
Sophie comes with us on all trips aboard Blue Turtle

One of the perks I’ve found of living aboard is that when we go on vacation, our home travels with us.  This means that I don’t have to pack or worry about forgetting something at home. We just have to plan where we want to go, provision for how long we’ll be gone and drop the dock like and go.It also means we get to take our dachshund, Sophie, along with us. I always love the adventure of exploring new places and anchorages, all while in the comfort of our own home.

Trips aboard Blue Turtle are also less expensive (assuming nothing goes wrong with her). We spend very little on fuel and if we anchor out, it costs us nothing. Our trip to the Dry Tortugas and Key West for 3 weeks costs us less than a 7 day trip on a commercial cruise.

We  have an amazing view

Ok, you might be lucky enough to have a home on the beach or a beautiful lake with a great view. But for us, this was never a possibility. Our view at our old house consisted of houses on three sides and a giant wall enclosing a maintenance facility for the neighboring golf course. A waterfront view on Fort Myers Beach was something we could never have afforded until now. Now, we live across the street from a gorgeous beach and wake every morning to see manatees and dolphin playing. When we are out on hook, our view is even better—sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico, beautiful barrier island beaches and crystal clear water in the Keys.

sunset view aboard a boat
No matter where we are we always have an amazing view

Living aboard a boat has many pros (that view!) and cons (ugh, plumbing!) and it’s definitely not for everyone. You have to decide what priorities you have and what you can and can’t live without before making the decision to live aboard. It’s definitely been a lifestyle that we’ve had no regrets about accept that we wish we had done it sooner.

6 thoughts on “Living aboard a boat vs. living on land, how is it different?”

  1. Another great article . I agree with the cleaning part. It does seem to get dirtier than a house . And take a lot longer sometime to clean… but it is definitely worth it !

  2. Thanks for this, We are coming from Canada to buy a liveaboard and dream about the day.We started off with the idea that things will be different but this helps sum it up even more and we still can’t wait.

    • Thanks Tom! There are definitely pros and cons to living aboard and you have to weigh those with what you can and can’t live with. We love it and have had no regrets. Good luck on your adventure to liveaboard!

  3. Thank you for sharing. We are in Florida and have plans for a trip to the keys or Dry Tortugos. Currently have reservations at A&B but we have thought of heading to the Fort instead. Any suggestions for anchorage in the Dry Tortugos?

    • Hi Holly,

      We usually head straight to the D.T. from Fort Myers. It’s an 18 hr haul but we prefer to get there on one day rather than take several. We’ll usually hit Key West after D.T. to refill water and provision for the trip home. As far as anchorages, there’s really only one area to anchor at the D.T. Just know that it’s a little deep (about 20′) and sandy bottom. We did a presentation at TrawlerFest this past year that covers some of this.

  4. I am thinking of purchasing a waterfront property with a dock in Hudson, Florida. Would purchasing a boat and living aboard docked by my own property be allowed in Florida? I have heard answers from both sides, Yes and No. There is power at the dock. The city sewage system is available on the property. Could that be used or would it need to be pumped out? I simply want to live aboard a boat rather than build a house on the lot I purchase. I probably would never leave the dock. Does anyone know if this is legal?


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