Living on a boat

April 22, 2015

In October of 2014 I purchased Penultimate II (Penny), moved out of my apartment, and became a full time live aboard. I have now been living on the boat for five months and have recieved many questions from people who think living on a boat is neat but are afraid to take the plunge themselves. To answer some of these questions I decided it would be worthwhile to write up a post of my experiences thus far.

I love Love LOVE living on a boat! For about 6 years I have dreamed of living on a boat and I have to tell you that it does not disappoint one bit.

Don’t you get seasick with your home constantly moving?

Not at all! In fact the motion is my favorite part about living on a boat. Each night when I crawl into bed I am (usually) gently rocked to sleep. I tend to have trouble falling asleep and getting good rest but the rocking motion helps me fall asleep faster and the rest I get when I sleep is drastically improved.

Generally when I am up and about during the daytime I do not notice the boat moving at all. Sometimes another boats will speed by leaving a wake or a big gust of wind will hit and then I notice but it is usually enjoyable. Though a police boat did scream past once and left a large wake that repeatedly slammed my boat into the dock. That was not a happy few minutes as I watched the weight of the boat completely smash the rubber inflated bumpers that usually do a fantastic job of protecting the boat.

When you are on land does it feel like the ground is constantly moving?

After being on a boat for a few hours many people note that it feels like the ground is constantly moving. They are left with some sort of vertigo when returning to land. I no longer experience this sensation. My first boat love is my sailboat Zippey. Zippey has a narrow beam (not very wide) and she rocks side to side very easily. That is generally part of sailboat design. After just a couple months of sailing Zippey every day I ceased to notice any sensation of the ground moving when on land. In fact when stepping over the gunwale (side) of Zippey onto the deck the boat tends to rock a couple feet. It got to the point that I did not even notice this amount of rocking on the boat itself. Living on Penny is a bit different. Penny is twelve feet wide and has a relatively flat bottom. She does not rock much and rebalances quickly.

Standing, walking, laying down, and being still on the boat and on land feel the same after you spend a good amount of time on a boat.

What do you do when it is stormy? Are you ever worried about the boat sinking?

I have never been worried about either of my boats sinking in a storm. Both boats have been through storms with 60+ MPH winds that lasted for many hours without issue. Boats float and as long as they are well maintained you just let them do their thing and all will be well. The only fear I have had during a storm is that the lines holding the boat to the dock would not be sufficient and the boat would become free and dash itself against another boat, the dock, or the shore. Before a storm I generally check all the lines and sometimes add additional lines if the storm is a big one.

Also important in a storm is the location of the boat itself. I have had my boats in four different marinas. Of all four Penny’s current moorage is the most secure I have been in. The slip is covered so wind and rain do not rip down on Penny. Storms in Seattle have pretty predictable wind patterns and during storms the wind shifts and actually pushes Penny into the dock. The dock itself holds Penny from going side to side enough to hit any other boats and when the wind pushes Penny in I can actually take all the lines off her and she will not escape anywhere and attempt to scuttle herself.

Zippey’s marina is completely different. The entire marina is open and exposed to the weather. In that marina more caution is needed because storms actively attempt to rip boats away from the dock. Even there though I have always felt secure with the addition of a couple extra dock lines securing the boat.

In fact the more exposed the boat is in a storm the more fun it is to be onboard sleeping. The rocking movement turns from a gentle rock like a baby in its mothers arms into a larger rocking sensation akin to laying in a hammock and rocking back and forth.

It is impossible to avoid the call of Nature. How do you deal with bathroom needs?

Though the marina has excellent bathroom facilities I prefer doing business in my own sanctuary. Penny actually has an excellent head (nautical term for bathroom). For a boat her size the head is gigantic actually. Marine toilets typically are a bit different than land toilets, and even differ from each other. This toilet is pretty simple, do your business, put the toilet down, flush. Instead of having a tank sitting behind the toilet the water is pumped in and the handle is on the floor. Simply step on it when you are done and the waste magic goes away.

The main difference between waste removal on a boat and waste on land is that in your house waste goes down a magical pipe any you never have to worry about it again. On a boat waste goes into a big tank below the floor and you get to carry it around with you until a pump out service removes it. This can be a bummer if a lot of people are visiting!

It is a common misperception that liveaboards foul up the waterways with waste. This is simply not true. Nearly everywhere you go now requires a waste holding tank and waste cannot be pumped overboard.

How do you maintain your personal hygiene? Do you swim in the lake every morning with a bar of soap?

Hehe, no, absolutely not! This lake is cooooooooold. As I mentioned before the head on this boat is quite large for the size of the boat. There is a full standalone shower. Modern boats typically have a hot water heater and Penny is no exception. The water actually gets too hot. When the engines are running they supply the heat and that will burn the skin right off your bones.

How do you power your devices?

Penny’s main systems ( refrigeration, lights, audio, instrumentation ) are all powered by 12 volts, however as a tech person I need to power my tech toys. When connected to shore power plenty of regular power is available. Shore power is connected to a distribution panel similar to a breaker box in a house. From there it is sent out to standard receptacles and I can plug my devices in.

The reality of power is that in our lives we probably have more that works off standard 12 volt than we realize. When I inventory which devices are *not* running off the 12 volt system the list is short:

  • Oven
  • Hot water heater
  • Main battery charger (though this charges from the motors too!)
  • Laptop
  • Phone charger

That is it! Of those items the laptop and phone chargers are actually 12 volt and with a small amount of effort could be running off the 12 volt system also, especially the phone chargers.

Has your life been impacted in any major way by living on a boat?

Yes! My life and the way I think about living has been drastically impacted all across the board.

Previously I lived in a two bedroom apartment and had nearly 1,000 square feet of space. By contrast the boat is only a couple hundred square feet. I had to purge a lot of stuff to downsize to the boat. Some things I kept in storage for when I eventually move back on land but even that has been drastically reduced. Now before I buy something new I have to think about where and how it will fit on that boat and sometimes even decide what can go away to make space for the new item. I did not think I had a lot before but looking back I had way more than I needed to live and live very comfortably. It is very freeing to not have a bunch of things to take care of.

Life with a 12 volt self contained electrical system has changed the way I think about the way I use electricity. It got me on the bandwagon to figure out how I can cut power consumption even more! I even got excited about trying to design a house with as much running off 12 volt as possible. Another cool thing I have been researching and toying with is generating my own power.

The last major shift is how I use water. I had never really considered how much water I used before but now that I have water tanks with a specific limit of water in them I think about that. I can tell you with pretty fair accuracy how much water I use doing various tasks and it is not much. My water tanks actually last far longer than I anticipated.

What other questions do you have about living on a boat? Ask me in the comments below.

Do you have other questions you have wondered about living on a boat? Leave me a comment below and I will give you my best answer!

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