Livin’ It up on a Liveaboard
Scary thunderstorms, breezy sunsets. Cramped quarters, simple living. Costly maintenance, low monthly fees. Lack of privacy, built-in community.
These are some of the many two-sides-of-the-same-coin realities of residing on a liveaboard.
“We live on 10 acres of waterfront, and I don’t have to mow it,” says empty-nester Brian Edwards, who lives with his wife Laurie on a liveaboard (the aptly named Soul Mates) docked at Kent Island Yacht Club, outside of Annapolis, MD, over the Chesapeake Bridge from Washington, DC.
“We open our sliding door right onto the sunrise every morning,” adds Edwards.
And the flip side? “Basically when it rains, it rains inside the boat,” says Laura Naso-Costello, 31, who used to reside on a liveaboard on the southwest waterfront in Washington, DC, with her husband Jack Costello, 31, and their dog Lola, a 9-year-old Lhasa Apso.
“She still loves the boat,” says Naso-Costello of Lola. “I worried about her every time a storm came through.”
The couple still own the Archimedes, but now lives permanently on land.
Not Always Swell
Indeed, there is no getting around it: Weather and nature in general are a big factor on the water — for good and bad.
“At night, especially in the beginning, you lie awake for hours trying to figure out where all the knocking is coming from,” says Chad Chitwood, 36, who lives at the southwest waterfront in Washington, DC on a 36-foot Carver Cabin Cruiser.
The knocking, it turns out, is “actually catfish eating algae off the bottom of the boat,” Chitwood says.
Then there are the creaking of the lines and the squawking of the birds that land and fish off the side of the boat. There’s also the constant rocking and rolling of the hull, which can be very soothing or, if you tend toward motion-induced nausea, sickening.
“It’s something to think about if you’re considering a liveaboard,” Chitwood adds.
Aside from the daily rocking and rolling—which Edwards likens to sleeping on a waterbed—there are hurricanes and other seasonal storms that can be memorable. “During Hurricane Sandy, the refrigerator door was flapping open like there was a poltergeist going on,” he says. “And I was holding on to the TV for dear life,” Edwards adds.
Another important consideration is space. Are you a thing person? If so, the tight quarters might not be for you. For Edwards, though, it felt great to move from a 1,350-square foot condo to Soul Mates’ roughly 300-square feet.
“It was so liberating to get rid of all that stuff,” says Edwards. “I love being a minimalist, and you only get to take so much on the boat.”
Fortunately for Edwards and his wife, they sold their condo four and a half years ago to a first-time homeowner who was thrilled when the condo came with furniture. “We ended up only having to get rid of kitchen stuff and some clothing,” Edwards says.
But to be clear, the two cook onboard lots—they have a stove and an oven—and even do a standing rib roast for the holidays.
Naso-Costello felt differently about the tight quarters and was pleased to swap the 400-square-foot Archimedes for an 850-square-foot dream apartment in Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC a couple of years ago.
“You really learn to live without a lot of stuff, which is great, but there are things, like managing different sleep schedules, that become really difficult on a boat,” Naso-Costello says.
Chitwood, though, despite his 6-foot-4-inch frame, says he doesn’t feel cramped on the boat.
“But if I were any taller I’d have to duck a lot,” he acknowledges.
Guard Ye Gold
So what might one save—if anything—by living on boat?
Well, it depends greatly on the cost of the boat. But the monthly marina fees (which cover things like common area showers and laundry, as well as frequent water tank maintenance) are likely much lower than renting an apartment or paying a mortgage.
“I estimate that we save about $2,000 a month,” Edwards says. But he says boats do need a lot of TLC and especially liveaboards that are not often taken out of the water.
“The saying goes, BOAT stands for ‘break out another thousand,’” he says with a laugh.
Chitwood, whose Southwest DC neighborhood features studio apartments renting for between $1,500 and $2,000 a month, says he definitely saves a significant amount of money by living on a boat.
“It’s a great location, and for me it’s been a very affordable option,” Chitwood says. He acknowledges he’s been lucky—his boat was not pricey, and it’s required minimal maintenance so far.
Naso-Costello and her husband admit they are paying significantly more now that they are renting on land.
Aside from the lakefront, lower cost, and minimalist aspects of living on Soul Mates, Edwards and his wife really love the marina community, which in their case consists mostly of empty-nest couples like themselves.
“It’s a blast,” Edwards says, adding that often after work the couple heads to the marina pool and club house to hang out with “neighbors” and “just chill” over a drink.
The Gangplank, one of three marinas in the southwest waterfront in Washington, DC, where Chitwood docks his boat, is a more diverse community. “It’s a very, very diverse group of people. I don’t think there is an average person,” Chitwood says. “It’s really all over the map,” he says, adding there are families with kids, seniors, singles, pet-owners, young, old, and in-between.
Still, there is great community.
“There’s lots of camaraderie,” says Jack Costello. “During summer there are weekly happy hours, and at Halloween we go from dock to dock in our costumes,” he says. “It’s extremely social.”