Monday, December 1, 2008

Boat Living Revisited

RW recently did a fine piece on Stealth Survival about house boat living. This morning, responding to a comment I'd left on another post, he asked me when I was gonna do one on house boats.... So here it is, boat living ala Mayberry.

First off, a little background: My name is Mayberry, and I'm a boataholic. Not to make light of 12 steppers out there, but I've been a boat nut from childhood. I cut my teeth on Grandpa's 18 footer, driving it since I could see over the console (he actually figured out one day that I couldn't see over the console, propped me up on his knee, and I skippered just fine after that...). My Dad has owned many boats, and I logged way more hours at the helm of his boats than he did! I also helped with care and maintenance. I've worked on, operated, built, and rigged everything from a 10' aluminum boat to a 76' twin diesel offshore rig. 90% of my "library" is boat related. Repair, design, construction, and rigging. I've got years of study under my belt. My resume includes two boat dealerships, a yacht repair yard, a boat builder, my own boat building/repair business, and my current gig with TPWD. Soooooo on with the boats!

Now, a few boat living myths...... Boats are damp. Well, they can be, but most of this comes from the days of old when men were men, and boats were wood. All boats leak a little, wood boats leak a lot. Wood boats require the wood to be wet and swelled up to seal tightly. This works fine below the waterline, but topsides dry out, seams open up, and you get leaks. This keeps the bilges damp, and therefore your interior. Air conditioning alleviates most of the dampness problems in modern boats, as does fiberglass construction, which makes the interior very comfortable. It's not required though. Well ventilated boats stay very comfortable inside, due to the cooler air temperatures typically found on the water, and the breezes the water generates. Granted, humidity is higher on the water, and things can and will get damp at times, but that can happen anywhere.

Myth number two: Boats have no storage. Horse puckey. My 26 foot Chris Craft had storage galore. Storage under the berths (beds). A hanging locker. Storage under the dinette seats. Storage in the galley (kitchen) drawers. Storage in the head (bathroom). Storage in the "eyebrow", or the forward part of the flybridge, the upper helm (steering) station, and on the sides of the bridge coaming as well. Storage in the lazarette, or the compartment beneath the cockpit sole (deck). Storage everywhere! On top of that, she could sleep 4 comfortably, had a fridge, stove, sink, air conditioning, and a full head with shower. When I (sadly) pulled that boat out of the water for the last time, it took me 2 hours to unload all the junk that was stashed aboard..... Storage abounds on most boats. Some are better than others, of course, but with a little bit of ingenuity, one can pack a lot of gear aboard, and not have a lot of clutter.

Myth number three: Boat living is expensive. Hogwash! Of course, if you buy a multi million dollar yacht and dock it at the Ritz Marina it will cost a (not so) small fortune, but their are some very reasonable alternatives. For instance, a quick search on turned up this little gem, for an asking price of $18,995 (which means it could be yours for $15,000 or less...).
Sure, it needs a paint job, but whaddya want for 15 grand? Heh heh heh...... But wait, you could find something cheaper yet! I found this 25' Catalina sailboat on Austin Craigslist for $4,500. Plenty of room for one person, can be had for probably $3,800 cash, maintenance is virtually zero, slip rent is cheap, easily solar/wind generator powered or fed grid electricity from the dock.....

Myth number four: Slip rent is expensive. Well, yes and no. Yes it is expensive when considered in addition to all the other bills associated with modern life. But by it's self, as your only payment, it's dirt cheap! Here are the slip fees from Island Moorings Marina in Port Aransas, where Dad and I used to keep our Chris Craft:
Slip Rates
Monthly Fees:

32' - $255

36' - $287

40' - $319

44' - $351

46' - $366

54' - $469

60' - $522

There is a $60 per month liveaboard fee, and electricity is billed separately. So with a moderately sized vessel (in that 32' or less range), you are lookin' at $315 a month, plus electricity, which won't be much, assuming you don't run the A/C at 60 degrees! Not bad at all from a financial standpoint....

O.k., now that we've dispelled some of the myths, lets get into the meat. A liveaboard boat is going to be a very personal choice, but there are a few generalities to take into consideration to help narrow your choices. Hands down, the most "bang for the buck" comes from houseboats. They give the most interior volume per dollar of most power boats, and even most sailboats. Power boats and sailboats each have their advantages and disadvantages as far as living aboard goes... Powerboats generally have a wide beam, or width, that translates into more interior volume. But (there's always a but, ain't there?) some of that space is eaten up by engines and big fuel tanks. Most sailboats don't have big engines or fuel tanks, but their trimmer, rounder hulls reduce interior volume compared to most powerboats of the same length.

Most larger boats' systems are very similar to RV systems. Propane or electric cooking (some boats have alcohol stoves, which are nearly worthless for cooking, and dangerous in my opinion, due to the nearly invisible flame...), independent 12 volt DC and 120 AC (shore power, and/or onboard generator(s)) electrical systems (some larger vessels have 24 volt, and even 36 volt DC systems for cranking over large diesel engines), holding tanks for waste, water tanks, and their associated pumps.... These systems can be as simple or as complex as you imagination (and wallet) can handle, from a Wal Mart battery, 2 wires, and a light bulb, to multiplex systems with microprocessor control and data busses. The options are nearly endless, though I would opt for the simple systems myself, especially considering a SHTF scenario and possible loss of infrastructure to maintain all that jazzy stuff.

Now for some fun stuff: Modifications, and "home brew houseboats"! Say you found yourself a nice older powerboat for a liveaboard. You're never gonna leave the dock, it's just your floating home. Best to buy a nicer hull with some clapped out engines. Yank those engines out, fuel tanks too, and convert the space into a nice "basement" to store your preps in. Install water storage tanks in place of those fuel tanks. Or maybe build in more bunk space. Your imagination is the limit! You could build yourself a "floater" as we call 'em down here, a floating cabin. A home built houseboat.

I've seen everything from resin coated, foam filled 55 gallon drums, to giant blocks of styrofoam, to old boat hulls used as "foundations" for floaters. I suspect the one pictured here uses the styrofoam method.... Again, one is only limited by their imagination as to what kind of floating home one can create, though local laws, regs and such tend to muck up the works now and again. Check with your local to see what yer "allowed" to do....

If all you're looking for is a floating home, propulsion isn't really that big a deal. You'd be surprised what you can tow (very slowly) with a 12 foot dink and a 15 horse outboard. With the promise of a day on the water (some gas money, and a case of beer....), most folks are more than willing to lend a hand (and a boat) if and when you need to move your houseboat. Large lakes abound here in Texas, so there should be plenty of places to set up shop, and the coast presents many opportunities for waterborne living as well.

Keep in mind that all major lakes in Texas, except Caddo, are man made, and therefore dependent on a dam for their existence. If the dam breaks....... Well, you'd be in for a wild ride, at least. And don't be a pain in the boat! Ha ha. Never, ever dump waste, trash, etc. in the water. If you do drive your house around, mind your wake. You are responsible for damage caused by your wake! Learn and abide by the "rules of the road". Respect fellow boaters, swimmers, fishermen...... And learn the meaning of water tight integrity! Otherwise, you just might get that "sinking feeling". Heh heh. Happy boating!


riverwalker said...

Great job on putting this together.
It makes you want to go out and get one right now!


Mayberry said...

Thanks, and yup! I'd saw off my left arm to live on a sailboat.... Not really.... Wellll...... Heh heh heh.

HermitJim said...

Hey, I have harbored many fantasies about living aboard a boat. One advantage to being single and slightly crazy by a lot of other folks standards, is that it could be a reality for me, if I put my mind to it.

I wonder...desert? or houseboat?? Hummmm...

riverwalker said...

To: HermitJim

I think the fishing would be better on a houseboat!


Phillip said...

I've loved houseboats and sailboats since I was a kid and my dad (occasionally) let me climb aboard one of the Kenner boats built by the company he worked for.
There are even some still out there for sale, and apparently in pretty good shape.
Unfortunately, my wife has a high fear of the water.
Hmmm. Maybe drydock a Privateer in the desert ....
It could work!

Anonymous said...

Excellent article Mayberry - thank you for posting it! Yeah, I can imagine the living off the land near some of our inland impoundments might be a good idea. Plenty of hidden coves / islands to hole up when bad weather / cold fronts are in season. No roads to lead to your place either, so with some good sound and odor control measures, be harder for people to accidentally stumble on it.

One possible downside is you are pretty exposed, living out there in the water. A sniper could put a hurting on you, and you would be hard put to fight back.

There is a really old mid 70's Mother Earth News (MEN) article which had a good article on living on a very large 'houseboat', if you call it that. The owners bought a inland shipping barge that went for a song, then built a small masonry veneer home on it (fire) and called it good.

Had it towed out to the middle of some Mississippi slough, and anchored down permanently with some installed pilings. Even brought some topsoil on board and had a shallow ground garden. Article was in one of the issues in 60 - 70 number, if I recall.

Again - great article.


Anonymous said...

Here's the article - hope I did this right. I found it googling MOTHER EARTH NEWS BARGE LIVING.


Riverwalker said...

To: jr

Thanks for looking up the link!


Anonymous said...

Nice article. Only thing is here a sixty foot slip is about $870. a month in the main marina. Ouch boat ownership can be spendy.

riverwalker said...


You may need to think in terms of tie up space versus a spot at a marina. You're right about those marina fees being excessive. That can be a serious deterrent to boat living. Thanks.


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