Living Aboard  


This page is based on my experiences living aboard my 34 foot Gemini 105Mc catamaran for several years. This page was written to offer entertainment, insight, what to expect, and advice based on my own experiences living aboard full time.          

 

The S/V "Pura Vida," a 2001 Gemini 105Mc Catamaran.


Living aboard a boat is an adventure but at the same time consistent work to keep your boat properly maintained. There are things you will have to sacrifice and learn to live with out (creature comforts such as endless hot showers and staying indoors) but if you can adjust to these things, it is an exciting experience you will always remember, learn to love, and always want to be a part of. 

Making the plan to live aboard

If you plan to live aboard or at least spend a significant amount of time aboard a boat, you need to think about three things: What your intended use will be for the vessel, how much you expect to travel with the vessel, and how much money you are willing to invest in your boat. As for me, I was not rich, I had a moderate income, and my intention was to live aboard full time with my significant other and our son. This was a dream we both shared and based on circumstances in our lives we decided a few years ago it was the right time to do it.

There is alot of pre-purchase planning when making arrangements to move aboard a boat. My first advice is that if you are new to the boating world get as much education as possible about your new lifestyle. Do not go into it blinded. Figure out your finances, estimate how much you have to budget for boat expenses every month, and save a monthly amount for unexpected expenses (and yes it does happen without warning). Learn the basics in marine navigation (also known as "the rules of the road"), boat terminology, basic boat handling, care and maintenance of your boat, and read everything you can about the vessel you intend to buy (owner's manuals, online boat forums, etc.). If you are truly planning to live aboard full time, part with things you can not take with you, or have a family member you trust watch over the things you absolutely want to hold onto. Anything you own that costs you unnecessary expenses (such as an RV, a 70 inch flat screen television your still making payments on, etc.), part with it before you move aboard. You will not need it. Keep it simple.

Choosing the right vessel for your adventure 

Keeping the three things in mind I said earlier (intended use, travel plans, and monthly income available), we had set out on our search. I was fortunate enough to have a pretty good background in sailing and boating in the past (I was an experienced sailor who had worked aboard a sailing catamaran in Key West, Florida when I was very young, an experienced surfer, and had spent eight years in the U.S. Coast Guard as a qualifed Coxswain and Federal Boarding Officer), so it was a big advantage based on my previous training and experience. We knew we wanted something that was safe, designed to take us anywhere we wanted to go in the Caribbean or beyond, easy to sail, comfortable, and not too cramped for the three of us. From there I knew a few core things that I wanted based on my own sailing experience: A sailing catamaran (for added safety and better sailing stability for my family), something that was a used vessel (for added vessel size for our budget), liveaboard or near liveaboard ready, something well taken care of by the previous owner, a sailboat designed to handle offshore sailing, and something within the range of $200,000.00 or less to purchase.    

After a few weeks of researching specifications of dozens of sailing catamarans, we decided the best fit for us was a 34' Gemini 105Mc catamaran which was built by Tony Smith from Performance Cruising in Annapolis, Maryland. We chose this catamaran for a number of reasons; A. The vessel's hulls and bridge deck were made from a one piece solid mold (so she was a rugged boat and could take on rougher seas if need be), B. We liked the idea of the liftable Sonic drive leg which raised out of the water and connected to an inboard 27 horsepower Westerbeke diesel engine seated in an aft compartment in the cockpit (which eliminated worries of galvanic corrosion at foriegn marinas and packing gland leaks from thru-hull shafts that could go bad), C. She had catamaran qualities underway but only had a 14 foot beam so we could put her in any marina slip, D. She was equipped with retractable centerboards which raised up into the hull and gave her a draft of only 18 inches, E. Her sails could be easily handled from the cockpit which was spacious and had a fiberglass overhead that would never let you get wet while sailing, F. Her interior accomodation spaces for her size were well laid out (with 6'1" headroom, three sleeping berths, a full main salon, galley, several overhead hatches, nice head and shower layout, and plenty of locker space.

So we began our search for the right Gemini 105Mc. We knew we wanted the most recent version of the 105Mc (1999 or newer), and we knew we were looking for a better than average deal. We searched both broker listings and private vessels all over the United States until we found the right vessel. We looked at dozens of Gemini 105Mc's. Some we literally walked on and walked right back off within two minutes. The ones that come to mind was a Gemini that had two labroador retrieivers living aboard and the entire boat smelled like wet dog, not to mention an over abundant amount of dog hair everywhere, and claw sracthes on the cabin door and teak wood interiors. Another Gemini we looked at had so many "home projects" on it (wire nuts and electric tape joining the electric wires, wire ties supporting gear hanging off of the lifelines, non marine garden type solar panels backed with bare plywood hanging from one of the aft rails, and the clutter of gear all over the interior spaces of the vessel) that I knew the vessel was going to be full of expensive "gremlins" that would in the long run more inhibit the vessel rather than aid the vessel in long trips or crossings.

The right vessel finally came along when a very nice and honest broker we were working with gave us the heads up on an elderly couple that was privately selling their Gemini 105Mc on the west coast of Florida. He gave us their number and we called them. A few days later we drove out to see the vessel. The vessel was amazing. She was a 2001 Gemini 105Mc. She was kept on a custom made lift in their backyard so she spent very little time in the water. Her engine hour gauge was just past 411 hours. Her amenities were almost untouched, and the faint smell of the newness of her was still there. She had alot of extras ideal for living aboard her. Some of these amenities were: A built in 16,000 BTU Mermaid air conditioning system with digital controls, pressuriezed hot and cold water with an auxillary Whaler foot pump, a 120 volt electric / propane Dometic refigerator / freezer unit, stainless steel dinghy davits, bristol condition halyards and sheets, and a secondary jib rig forward of the main jib for a 420 square foot schreecher sail for low wind sailing. After about fifteen minutes of being aboard her, my girlfriend and I knew we wanted to have this Gemini.


   The Pura Vida in the boatyard getting upgrades

Once you have found the right boat, what to do next

We hired a local marine surveyor who came to look at the vessel with all of us present the following week. She sailed beautifully and aside from a few minor findings, she was in top condition for her age. With the aid of a yacht financing agent (in this particular case we did not use a broker to close the deal), we worked out the details of the vessel and made an offer on her that was just under the vessel's fair market value based on the results from the survey. The offer was accepted by the seller and we brought her home to the east coast of Florida.  


My beautiful significant other thought of the name for the Gemini while we were brainstorming for a good name. The vessel was named "Pura Vida" which is Spanish for "Pure Life." It was more than fitting and appropriate for the way we both looked at life, our dreams, and for the adventure we were about to embark on. 

In the first few months we owned the Pura Vida we decided to add some upgrades. With the help of a local yacht contractor (after shopping around for price and a good word of mouth reputation), we added things we thought would be crucial to our comfort, happiness, and safety. How we economized and afforded these upgrades was by literally selling everything from our home either through the paper or ebay. We purchased what we needed mostly through ebay or online stores which was much cheaper than buying marine equipment at places like West Marine or Boater's World. Most of the equipment we bought was used (about a quarter of the equipment we bought was brand new). On average the equipment we bought online was about half the price of what it would have cost if we had bought it retail.     


The first upgrade was a 115 watt solor panel which was installed in between the stainless steel davits on the stern of the Pura Vida. The solor panel was easily attached to the solar panel wiring harness that had already been installed at the factory where the Pura Vida was built. A Sunsei brand charging regulator was added in the solar panel circuit to properly control charging and to avoid overcharging of the batteries. When completely finished the solar panel installation, the panel could completely charge the four batteries on board in approximately 24 hours.

The second upgrade was a 2500 watt power inverter which converted 12 volt DC power to 120 volt AC power. I purchased a brand new Vector brand 2500 watt modified sine wave power inverter which mainly ran the microwave oven and a 15" flat screen television we later installed. If I had to do it over I would have purchased a pure sine wave power inverter for a few dollars more. The only downfall to modified sine wave power is that it will greatly shorten the life of rechargable batteries (such as cell phones and computer batteries) when they are plugged into the vessel's 120 volt AC outlets.

Other upgrades we added the first few months were: A hot and cold water aft deck cockpit shower (mounted on the port side transom), a hidden starter kill switch (to avoid theft of the vessel while unattended), a new stainless steel Force 10 brand gimballed propane stove (for safer cooking underway), new propane lines (the old ones had some corrosion on them), a new CO2 / smoke detector in the main salon, a Honda 2000 watt portable generator, shore power cord adapters for standard plugs and adapters for foreign ports, and spare double braid nylon lines for docking or any other situation that might come up where extra lines would be needed.   

115 watt solor panel mounted on the aft davits

 

Microwave and flat screen television permanently mounted in the main salon on top of the Dometic refrigerator 


A Catagory II 406 MHz EPIRB

Things on board a vessel you can not live without

When planning to live aboard, always assume the worst will happen and equip your vessel for that scenario as if it may happen. I highly recommend that aside from the usual VHF radio that is onboard most vessels, to never go underway without an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). Many different companies currently make EPIRBs. Onboard the Pura Vida was an ACR brand "Category II" 406 MHz radio beacon. I also had a personal ACR radio beacon attached to my life jacket that I could deploy if I could not get to the main one.


How they work is fairly simple. The EPIRB can be manually or automatically deployed (depending on the kind you buy). Once deployed the EPIRB will send a radio signal out to other Coast Guard and emergency rescue stations. This signal is specific to your vessel. The EPIRB will also transmit a GPS location using a longitude and latitude position from the beacon to the rescue station giving your exact location no matter where you are in the world. Understand that in foreign countries the response time may be much longer than in the United States. The transmitted information from your EPIRB will include your name, your location, the name of your vessel, and the name and contact information of people you list when you register the EPIRB after it is purchased. It's an amazing tool and has saved countless lives all over the world. Most EPIRBs range in price from $250.00 - $1,000.00.

Life jackets are also essential. Not only by common sense but by Federal law. According to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (33 CFR 175), every person on board must have a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket that is in a readily accessible location. This means everyone including children must have an appropriate fitting life jacket that can be easily accessed in the case of an emergency. There are no exceptions to this law, and you can be fined or your voyage can be terminated by authorities for not having them aboard. I bought six type III life jackets and on each one I attached safety gear that had lanyards fixed to them so they would not be lost if someone dropped them in the water. The safety gear affixed to each life jacket were: One marine safety whistle, one stainless steel diving knife, one waterproof safety light, and one chemical light. These items were attached so that if someone went into the water, I could see or hear them if I had limited visibility and could get to their location as soon as possible. The knife was attached to cut away any lines or debris if someone got entangled in them while going overboard. I know some of that may seem far fetched to some boaters, but I always say, "better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it."

Other safety gear I had on board was: Two type IV throwable PFD's, sailing safety harness kits with quick release six foot lanyard straps, a complete first aid/EMT medical kit (that contained assorted bandages, aspirin, burn cremes, iodine, alcohol, and a suture kit), two spare fire extinguishers (giving the vessel a total of four fire extinguishers on board), a portable power supply pack (that contained 12 volt jumper cables, an auxillary light, a 120 volt / 500 watt power inverter, air compressor, and a 12 volt auxillary plug), two waterproof portable ICOM brand VHF radios, and a deployable emergency bag (which was a large floatable waterproof canvas bag that contained most of the above mentioned gear, plus food, drinkable water, an AM/FM radio, spare batteries, flashlights, thermo blanket, and a fishing kit). 


Navigation gear

If you plan to travel anywhere past your own dock or mooring, you need to have the appropriate navigation gear. When I was enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard we were trained to navigate with our charts first and use our electronic GPS and radar as secondary devices. I still practice that rule to this day. If you do not know how to navigate using charts, learn how to. It is not that hard to grasp. Learn how to configure your time, speed, and distance factors mathmatically rather than rely on a nautical speed wheel or a GPS unit. If your power fails and you do not know how to navigate using your magnetic compass and charts, you will be useless to your crew and if underway far from land you will have a feeling of helplessness, embarassment, and fear you have never experienced before. It is a good safety practice to get in to and a great way to impress your friends. I use nautical charts everywhere I go offshore. I never travel without them. 

 

A nautical chart of the Gulf of Mexico


Other navigation gear I had on board were: Three nautical dividers, nautical navigation star charts, a course plotter, a course and leg identifier, a nautical speed / distance slide rule, a Raytheon brand 24 mile electronic radar, a Garmin GPS (both handheld and fixed mounted), a magnetic compass, a handheld compass, a fixed Raymarine brand ST60 tridata system (which measured wind speed, wind direction, vessel speed, water depth, and outside air temperature), a night vision scope with a 3.5 optical zoom, marine grade binoculars, a copy of the U.S. Coast Guard navigation rules book, and a "Coast Pilot" book to properly identify inlets and ports.     

The dinghy

This is an important point to talk about if you live aboard a boat. The dinghy (the smaller vessel that is used to transit from land to your big boat) is a boat that you will tend to use more often than the actual boat you live on. Especially if you live on a mooring or cruise the islands in the Caribbean. There are two main types of dinghys that are commonly used; The inflatable dinghy and the solid hull dinghy. I have owned and used both kinds while living aboard on a daily basis. I will give you the good and the bad on both.  

The inflatable dinghys are typically made from a synthetic rubber like material. Most common synthetic materials are Hypalon or PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). The inflatable dinghys are very bouyant and very stable even in rougher waters. A typical nine foot dinghy can seat four persons and will weigh about 250 pounds. The inflatable dinghys will typically have hard aluminum or plywood decks. The retail cost is approximately $1,000.00 - $2,800.00 for a new one. The down side is that inflatable dinghys tend to be prone to punctures and glue seperations within a short period of time. When I first bought the Pura Vida, I purchased a well known brand of an inflatable dinghy. Within 10 months of owning the dinghy the sun had literally baked the hypalon glue to a brittle like substance and the glue had lost its adhesion qualities. First the transom began to come apart, followed by the handles, then the seams to the actual dinghy itself. I bought a hypalon glue kit to repair the dinghy however it would only hold a few more months and then come apart again. The inflatable dinghys will deflate naturally over the course of a few days from the warming and cooling of air and water temperatures during the day and night. You will find that once every few days you will have to re-inflate the chambers in the dinghy. If you are planning to live aboard for more than a few months, I personally do not recommend you purchase an inflatable dinghy. It is more headache and maintenance than what it is worth to say the least.

After happily cutting up the above mentioned inflatable dinghy and throwing it in the dumspter at the marina, I drove to Boater's World and purchased a solid plastic 10.5 foot Pelican International brand dinghy. The dinghy was the "Scorpio" model dinghy and weighed only 111 pounds. It was made from a very hard durable plastic they refer to as "RamX®." The dinghy came with a forward towing eye and a stern metal mounting plate for outboard motor installation. Although not as stable as the heavier inflatable dinghy, I was very satisfied with this dinghy and used it for years without a problem. The best part is that there were no air leaks to worry about, no hypalon glue used to hold it together, and I never had to inflate it once! I purchased the dinghy brand new for $599.00.

If you have the opportunity and space, I recommend you stow the dinghy on a set of dinghy davits. Stowing the dinghy on a working deck will impede on your running rigging and could cover an overhead escape hatch you might need one day if the vessel were to capsize. Towing your dinghy from the stern will cause drag to your vessel and will significantly slow your vessel down while underway. 


  The Pura Vida with the dinghy and Yamaha outboard on the davits in Mexico

The outboard motor on your dinghy

This is also another important point to address as you will use your outboard motor on your dinghy often if not daily. I recommend that you do not exceed the recommended weight and horsepower rating that is labeled on the dinghy's capacity plate (usually found on the stern or the aft interior quarter sides of the dinghy). The other main point is to do your homework and use an outboard motor that you know to be well built and extremely reliable. Do not skimp on your budget for this item. I have owned several outboards over the years, but my personal favorite that I used on the Pelican dinghy was a Yamaha six horsepower, four stroke outboard. This outboard was extremely well built and reliable. The outboard was equipped with an internal fuel tank under the engine cover (also known as the upper engine "cowling") with an optional external tank line attachment. The outboard motor was a pull cord (or manual) start. The outboard motor was tiller controlled and steered, and weighed only 68 pounds. I bought the outboard motor (still new) from a guy who advertised it on Craigslist for $900.00.


Stocking the boat to live aboard

I will first tell you that in order to properly stock the boat with all the gear that you will need will take you anywhere from six months to a year. No matter how fast and efficent you think you are. I will cover some key points on stocking the boat with gear and what to expect.

Food and water

When underway or working on the daily chores of living aboard you will look forward to chow times more than most other times of the day. We did not keep food refrigerated while making trips underway because the 120 volt / propane Dometic refigerator we had would draw too much power off the batteries over a long period of time and would suck up a canister of propane every four to five days. What we did is eat meals from pre-perpared dinners that could be stored in room temperature, canned foods, and anything that could be steamed or kept at room temperature. We kept soy milk, special dairy milk, and cooking oils that could be stored at room temperature and were contained in paper carton or plastic containers. Boxed fruit drinks and "Yoohoo" chocolate drinks were the big treat aboard while underway. Fishing was always fun and added fresh meat to the table. You want to be sure to package everything in plastic tupperware type containers and not in the food's original boxes as moisture, insects, and the occasional mouse will find their way in to them and give critters a reason to stay aboard your boat.


What to expect at foreign ports

When traveling abroad on board a boat it is very important to research what customs requires in the country you're going to visit. Also before you go, check out the U.S. Department of State's website to look up travel advisory information for details regarding that country mainly for your own safety.                                                                                                                       

Stamped passport from places I have been to.


Customs in most countries will require you to fly a quarantine flag on your vessel until you have checked in to their customs office. Once checked in they may require you to fly a special flag or no flag at all to show that you have been through customs. All countries now require that you have a valid passport. If you are staying for an extended period of time customs fees may apply to your vessel for a temporary permit. Not all customs offices will accept checks or credit cards, so make sure you have cash on hand. Be sure that your passport is stamped and that you are given a receipt for your customs fees.

Most customs offices will not send agents to board your boat. If they do let them know if you have any contra-band on board the vessel before they go (such as guns, ammunition, mace, and extended blade knives). Typically if you have these aboard they will ask for proof of ownership of these weapons and lock them in a safe either with the dockmaster at the port or at a designated customs office. You are allowed to receive the weapons back upon your departure from that country. Call to verify if your weapons are allowed into the country before you go. Some countries will not allow "warlike" weapons into their country (such as automatic weapons or bayonet rifles). If you bring an unauthorized weapon into a country that does not allow it, you stand the chance of customs seizing the weapon and facing charges or being expelled from the country indefinitely.


Having weapons aboard

I know not every cruiser has weapons aboard their boat. I however did. When you're underway hundreds of miles from land you are the police, the fire department, and the hospital. When an emergency situation arises you have to deal with it yourself. There is no help coming for a long, long time. I carried a 12 gauge shotgun and three handguns aboard the Pura Vida while underway. They were all hidden in seperate, secure locations on the boat and easy to reach in a hurry if needed. I never had a problem offshore with pirates or any shady types but I felt a lot better and confident that the guns were there. I checked them into customs at certain locations and always got them back when I departed.

If having a gun on board is not your thing, but you would like something to protect yourself, I would recommend finding an older model 12 or .410 gauge steel flare gun. They have not been manufactured in over 15 years but you can still find them at used marine gear supply stores and on the internet. All flare guns today are made of hard plastic. These older metal flare guns are literally hand held shotguns and will properly shoot a buckshot or slug round as long as you're using the correct gauge. They are still considered safety gear on board a vessel. If you get to a foreign port you can check in the shotgun ammo with customs or otherwise dispose of it before you arrive. A typical flare shot from a plastic flare gun will still scare the hell out of any would-be boat trespasser just the same if fired at them, although the flares may not be deadly. This is a personal choice you and your crew will have to discuss and decide on.


   The Pura Vida underway

Sailing and rough weather 

For the beginner boater I wanted to write something about steering, sailing, and controlling your boat. Sailing a boat is not rocket science. It is no more difficult than learning how to drive. I know for first timers it seems scary and overwhelming. Trust me every licensed captain and yacht master once felt that way. Sailing a vessel to me is something you simply feel. You must first understand the properties of water current, wind current, and the limitations of what your vessel can do. When I first bought the Pura Vida I ran the motors and practiced maneuvering in a remote cove that had a vacant dock. I was scared to death to get the sails up underway because I owned her and I knew if I screwed something up it was going to cost me thousands in mechanical or sail repairs.


The best thing to do is to baby step into it. Take your boat with an experienced buddy on a short trip up and down an inshore river on a calm day. Once you have gained confidence with that, then practice docking and backing down in tight areas again and again until you feel confident with that. Then when you think you're ready, take your boat offshore on a calm day with your experienced buddy and get the sails up and see how the wind pushes the sails. As you get used to controlling your vessel the fear will slowly subside. Do not be afraid to ask for help or ask questions if you are unsure about something. My rule about sailing in general is this; "if in doubt, don't." There is no need to take unnecessary chances.

Since we are on the subject of safety again I wanted to also suggest that you and your crew practice man overboard drills. Do this by throwing a large boat fender overboard and maneuvering the vessel around it to pick it up. Always turn the boat in the direction of the side the person went overboard. Do not take your eye off of that person while they are in the water. Throw something they can float on in the water as soon as you see them go over. Keep in mind they will drift in heavier seas quickly so get to them fast. They will be heavier than normal because of the water so be aware of that when getting them back on board. They may also have limited or no strength so have a rig on board to help you with this (an outboard crane or a dinghy davit is great use for this). Do these drills again and again and switch out crew members to practice each role (as captain, watchstander, etc.).  

One thing I would like to stress in this section is not to believe everything you hear on the VHF weather channels. NOAA is fairly accurate, however there is no 100% full proof prediction of what the weather will do. It can change very quickly and go from ugly to down right scary in just a few minutes. If a storm front is coming and you have some distance to cover, don't try to race the storm. It will most likely catch up with you. Just wait it out and let it pass. It is alot better than being tossed in 20 foot seas with sustained winds of 40 knots. To say the least it is not enjoyable and not worth risking your life.

If you find yourself in heavy seas while underway there is one rule I want you to remember; "Bow to the seas." This means to keep your bow pointed in the direction of the waves that are coming at you. It will help prevent the vessel from capsizing and make for a safer ride. You can also keep the stern to the seas, however you risk flooding the well deck or stern section of your boat and "surfing" on the wave which will make for a much rougher ride. Never have your beam to the seas, even in a multi hull boat. You will greatly increase the risk of capsizing the vessel doing this.

A few more things to add when discussing rough weather; in any voyage let a trusted friend or loved one on land know your "float plan." This means where you are going, who you will be with, and when you expect to return. It will greatly help the rescue operation if something happens to your boat. Another point is to always wear your life jacket and sailing harness with a lanyard that is attached to something that will hold your weight when in rougher weather. I am far less concerned about who pokes fun at you rather than being thrown overboard in a storm.


Some of the comforts of living aboard

Living aboard is a great life. Most of the people that we have met that are fellow live aboards are some of the most kindest and helpful people I have ever known. It is a small community and it will give you a feeling of belonging to a subculture. Living aboard has made me feel far removed from the bustling of land living. Most of that are things I do not miss.

If you have a significant other living aboard with you my advice on this is very simple. If your partner is not happy, you are not happy. Be sure that she (or he) can have every creature comfort on board the vessel that is within reason. Make the interior of the vessel feel warm and cozy. If music is their love, upgrade the audio system. If they love the sun, install a deck or stern hammock for them to enjoy. When underway have lots of books, favorite movies, and games to keep the crew happy and occupied. Doing this and being as accomodating as possible will make for a happy crew and a happy captain. You are in this together, so make it a joint adventure.

   Main salon of the Pura Vida

  Master berthing


 

Galley area on board the Pura Vida

Some other miscellaneous tid bits that I learned

If I wrote about every single thing that I have learned while living aboard I am pretty sure I could write a 300 page book about it. I wanted to cover some of the most important key points I have not mentioned already in this article. These are things I have learned along the way and are only based on my personal experience.

•  If you need the boat serviced and it must go into the boatyard, find a boatyard that is a "do it yourself" boatyard so you can do some of the work yourself. If you hire a contractor watch what they do closely so you can learn from it. You never know when you may need to do a repair on your own underway.

•  Shop around for marina and boatyard rates. Some of them will work with you on the rate especially if you are going to be there long term or are dealing in cash. Their printed rates are not necessarily what they will accept. 

•  In some smaller towns and areas, marinas will be willing to offer you a better weekly or monthly rate for dockage if you fuel up your tanks there or agree to use their services during your stay. 

   

27 HP Westerbeke diesel engine of the Pura Vida


•  When hiring a marine contractor, word of mouth on reputation is the best reliability. I have seen many marine contractors overcharge and do half effort work on boats. It does not matter how flashy or well advertised they appear to be. Make sure they give you an estimate for the job, verify their credentials, make sure they have a valid business license, verify they are properly insured, and be sure you get an itemized invoice for their services. Many marine contractors are good at hitting you with unexpected or hidden costs when they give you the invoice. Remember that they work for you. Do not let them bully you. If something feels wrong, it probably is.

•  If your boat's shaft or drive system has rubber bellows, check them often. Rubber bellows do not have a long life around seawater and sunlight. Usually after two years the rubber will begin to crack and wear through. These areas of your vessel's drive system are the weak links where seawater can get through. Inspect them often. If any signs of wear are seen, have the bellows replaced. On board the Pura Vida I had a custom canvas cover made that velcroed over the rubber bellows going from the reduction gear to the drive leg. It aided in protecting the bellows but I still needed to replace it after about four years. If seawater gets through the bellows it will turn your gear oil into a milky white substance and will begin to corrode the internal parts of the drive leg. That is much more expensive than the cost of replacing the rubber bellows.

•  No glass on board your boat! No way, no how, no exceptions! Unless you like to clean up broken glass and remove it from your skin on a regular basis.  

•  Check your zincs! All vessels are equipped with zinc anodes. Some may be found on the external hull of the vessel, others will typically be installed in the enigne, water heater, and watermaker. Any stray current that is in the water will find its way to your boat. The stray current is positively charged and will attach itself to negatively charged metals in the water causing corrosion to the metal. The zinc anodes have more negative electrochemical protection than the other metals on the vessel (most often steel) and will wear away at the zinc rather than the steel. Once these zinc anodes are worn it will corrode the steel. I recommend checking these anodes at least once a month. The positive charge will change depending on other vessels in the area, the salinity of the water, and water temperature. So don't assume corrosion is happening at a certain consistent rate.   


•  Turn your seacocks regularly. Seacocks are the valves (typically made from bronze, steel or marelon) attached to the inside hull of your vessel that allows seawater into your boat's systems. Typically the seacocks are located near the engine and head compartments of the vessel. Ball type seacocks are what ABYC recommends on every vessel that is manufactured today. Any other type needs to be replaced with these ball type seacocks. Turn them regularly (at least once a month) so they do not corrode in the open or closed position. The valves should be in the closed position when they are not in use. When I was in the Coast Guard, most of the boats that we responded to that sank while tied to the dock were from open seacocks or the attached hoses that failed while the boat was unattended. Many times when we tried to close the faulty seacock once the boat was refloated, the seacock was corroded and stuck in the open position. I often see seacocks stuck in the open position on yacht surveys.  

An illustration of a ball type seacock


Teaching my son to stand deck watch while underway

•  Have fun and enjoy your time on the water. The money you spend to own and maintain your vessel should be worth what you get out of it. When underway teach your significant other and kids everything you know about the boat. Be patient when teaching them. This will add to the safety of your crew. Don't be afraid to say you don't know something. If you don't, look it up and share it with your crew. Let them steer the vessel, help with the lines, aid in maintaining the boat, etc. This will be a bonding experience you and your crew will never forget. It will also give everyone a sense of pride and unity in owning the boat.   

•  Make plans on board your boat a group decision. Aside from safety concerns, everything on board should be a group decision or at the very least some sort of compromise. This should include things like: Where to sail to, how long to be underway, what to eat, activities to do aboard the boat, etc. Making a happy crew makes for a happy captain. Even during those rainy and cold days aboard.


The overall costs of owning a boat

This is a question that I get alot from people that are curious about living aboard. I can only speak of my own personal experience and can not speak for everyone's living aboard costs. It varies greatly depending upon the vessel, the owner's decisions, living habits, and spending habits. For us living aboard at first was very inexpensive. However every boat tends to have a "seven year itch." This means about every few years the vessel will need some kind of maintenance that will require a good amount of money. For us it was repainting the bottom of the hull, rebuilding the drive leg, and replacing motor mounts. Since the vessel was that far apart we also had the engine and reduction gear rebuilt, upgraded the alternator, and re-canvased the interior of the Pura Vida.

Once the Pura Vida was paid off, costs for living aboard got easier. Living on a mooring versus in a marina can significantly reduce monthly living expenses as well. All in all I can say as a whole, if you do what you can to reduce your costs, the financial burden of living aboard a boat is the eqivilant to renting a two bedroom apartment in a middle class neighborhood. Some months there is almost no expense to live aboard, but when it is time to go into the boatyard for routine mainenance, the costs catches up to you. Some will forego regularily maintaining their boat, but you can tell these boats even from far away. Those owners are also sacrificing the safety and dependability of their boat which is priceless compared to the costs of proper maintenance.

My advice for budgeting your money is to save about 25% of what you make for boat maintenance costs. You can not always predict when that will be, so be ready for it at any time. Avoid hefty loans for this unless absolutely neccesary. Living aboard should ease the stress in your life, not add to it.  


The natural enviroment you live in

I am sure most of those that are reading this do not need to hear this, but being that I have lived in this enviroment for several years now I need to stress the issue. Respect the enviroment you live in. This means that the ocean, bay or intercoastal waterway you may live in is not your personal garbage can. As a matter of fact it is illegal to dump garbage or black water waste into coastal or inland waters. If you are caught doing this fines can range into the thousands of dollars. The reality is that most do not get caught. Nothing is more angering or annoying than someone recklessly polluting the water with garbage they are too lazy to take to the marina or paying the $5.00 it costs to use a pump out facility for black water waste. In some counties in the United States pump out services are free, and some have county vessels that will come to your boat and perform this service at no charge. You only have to hail them on your VHF radio.     

Dolphins swimming off the bow in the Caribbean


Polluting the water is not only illegal in most countries in the world, but it will affect everyone else including you. Keep in mind that the fish you catch and eat, the water you swim in, and what you discharge into the water is affecting your health and the health of every other living thing around you. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Enjoy the water, be safe, be healthy, and I hope your time living aboard is one of the best times of your lives. I have enjoyed it, as my family has. I will always have it in my soul to be a part of sailing, surfing, and the ocean. I am forever drawn to it as I always have been since I was a boy. Fair winds!

Captain John Banister, AMS®
Suenos Azules Marine Surveying and Consulting

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

www.SuenosAzules.com