Consider This

Mike and I have never ‘lived aboard’. The times we have spent night after night on the boat, times where we’ve been able to get into any kind of routine, we’ve been at anchor somewhere on vacation. That’s a way different animal in many ways than living aboard at the marina. This week we turned the house over to Jill and Andrew and decided to stay at the marina. We get 8 days/month to stay aboard without being considered ‘liveaboards’, so we figured we’d take them while the weather is decent.

When you live at the marina, you get to see things like this.

When you live at the marina, you get to see things like this.

How are we doing with living at the dock? Pretty good. As a rule we’ve always enjoyed being at the marina, and, of course, we love our Galapagos. But here are some differences between dock living and land house living that readers who don’t have boats may not have considered. These are among the many things you must be able to take in stride if you are going to live aboard a boat happily. So if you are considering living aboard, consider these points.

ONE: It’s loud. I mean really loud. We are next to the freeway and the train tracks. We are next to other people on other boats; people who talk to each other when we are trying to sleep, people who have dogs that bark at us. Flushing the head is loud and long. Everytime someone runs the water the water pump comes on. Walking across the floor would put an old house’s creaks to shame.
Our solution? These particular earplugs. Even though I am very hard of hearing, earplugs are necessary for me to get any sleep here. Fortunately, these really do work! I just ordered a lifetime supply. You might want to hurry and order. They’re on sale. Don’t let the price deter you. You can use them over and over and over.

The neighborhood.

The neighborhood.

TWO: Privacy is different. We love the marina community here and everyone appears to be entirely respectful of each other’s private space. But it is very different because you actually see people all the time. They are out and about, walking up and down the docks, sitting in their cockpits waving as people walk by. It’s like living in the middle of a small city. We hardly ever see anyone at home, and if we don’t make an effort, we can go weeks without visiting our neighbors. We really enjoy being in a community of people at the marina, and the amount of privacy we had at our house is unlikely to be missed too much. But I can imagine some marinas where this would not be at all true. I think it has to do with the people where you are and we got lucky at Foss Harbor. In spite of that I will not be sitting in the cockpit in next to nothing drinking my morning coffee in the marina like I do at home, and at anchor. I do have my limits.

THREE: Tasks take longer and require advanced planning. Consider my aforementioned morning coffee routine. Boil water, unplug kettle, plug in frother and froth milk. You can’t do it at the same time, and in the winter I will have to turn off the heater before doing either of these things. That’s because there isn’t enough power on the boat, even plugged into the dock, to run two heating devices at once. (Not to mention the fact that there are way fewer areas to plug things in.) I learned that the hard way last winter when I tried to make coffee while the heat was on. Whoops. Want to dry your hair? Turn everything else off first. Need to change a lightbulb? Well, it’s unlikely you will be able to get to the extra bulbs unless you take a bunch of other things out of the cabinet first. It’s not like at home where you walk into the utility room, reach up on the shelf, grab a bulb and go for it. Probably it’s going to take you at least 15 minutes to do that simple task. Multiply that by the number of tasks performed daily.
Just ugh.

Just ugh.

 FOUR: Grit City. This is how Tacoma is referred to and we have figured out why by having our boat docked in downtown Tacoma for several years. This black grit is everywhere and on everything. Therefore it’s kind of hard for the boat to ever feel really clean to me. Today I rinsed off the hatch lenses and lo and behold, there really is sky out there and I can see it again! Wiping the surfaces inside the boat will reveal everything getting covered in gritty black dust. If you like to clean, you’ll love living on a boat in a marina in the city. I like our marina, but I look forward to getting away from this dirt.

FIVE: Everything is tiny. This seems obvious, but think about the implications. Doorways are tiny. Passages are narrow. Sinks are elfish. In the shower, you can practice your squats to pick that soap up off the floor because there is no room to bend over. Small, narrow spaces mean you have to pay attention to where your body is in physical space. Bruises are ubiquitious to boat living because there is always something to bump into. And that’s just while at the dock! (Actually, there are fewer bruises when underway in these small spaces because they give you a place to brace yourself. But this post is about being at the dock.) These small spaces also mean that the few pounds I put on over the summer have to go. I really feel the difference on the boat. And remember, we have a really big boat by most people’s standards.

Turn sideways, please. And watch your step and you walk through our shower.

Turn sideways, please. And watch your step as you walk through our shower.


SIX: Cooking is tantamount to building the Parthenon, as we say around here. That means it is unnecessarily complex. The workspace is on top of the fridge, which is bloody inconvenient almost all of the time. Lots of people love cooking on a boat and maybe you would be one of them. But even at home, I’m not crazy about cooking. In a perfect world I come down to find breakfast waiting in a variety of heated dishes on the sideboard and served by a man named Jeeves. Since that’s unlikely in this lifetime the simpler the better in terms of meals.

From unloading the fridge to accessing various pots and pans at the bottom of a deep storage space, most boat cooking is a bit of a challenge. I haven’t found my groove with refrigeration organization yet.

SEVEN: You must have constant vigilance regarding moisture. And I’m not talking about the obvious thing like boat leaks, although there’s that, too. I’m talking about how you can’t store anything below the water line without putting it in plastic to avoid mildew. And that’s only the beginning. For instance, today I bought air tight containers to store medications and first aid supplies because the air on a boat is always moist to some degree and that moisture ruins things. In a house, you bring home your medications and even things like spices, and you put them in the cabinet. On a boat, you do that at your peril. Storage containers must be airtight if you want these kinds of things to last. Think for a moment, if you will, about storing everything you have in your house in plastic ziplock bags or air tight plastic storage containers. Everything.

Jeeves. Fridge to the left, cabinet where pots are stored to the right.

Jeeves. Fridge to the left, cabinet where pots are stored to the right.

EIGHT: Boatatosis. We all have our super powers and mine is the sense of smell. I could always tell when it was time to clean the floors at my house by how the house smelled when I walked in. This was due to our having a dog in the house. On board Galapagos, we battle smells from our engine room. Hiram’s room (our little red Beta engine) can have a smell reminiscent of teenage boys’ filthy socks. Maybe we should have named that engine Audrey because everyone knows girls smell better.
The worst part is that when a boat has a smell, people, including us, assume it must be the head (the bathroom). That’s not always the case. For us, it’s the bilge. We’ve tracked down the smell to the spillage of hydraulic fluid which, when mixed with bilge and heat, creates a stinky stew that is really offensive. At home, I could just wash my floors and get that clean house smell. On the boat it’s much more complicated and involves cleaning out a deep, dark reservoir of rank. Oh yes, and we can’t actually see into this bilge because Hiram is sitting on top of it. (Yes, Mike is just finishing up replacing the original hydraulic fluid lines, which apparently had a leak somewhere. Hopefully this will lessen our problem.)

NINE: Expanding on number 5, even the trashcan is smaller. When cruising trash is a really big deal to handle and our boat is large enough that we have to have a written plan for handling it.  But even at the dock, dealing with the inevitable trash of modern life is constant. We have one trashcan. One. And it is smaller than the size of a plastic grocery bag. We endeavor to keep as much trash as possible off the boat but even so, especially when doing projects, we have to make at trash run each day. We almost always have an overflow trash bag in the cockpit, which drives me a little crazy.

Trashcan for tiny trash.

Trashcan for tiny trash.

TEN: Rule of the boat. Boat dwellers already are familiar with this. This is the law of nature that says that wherever you need to go on a boat, someone is going to be in your way. Need to get through the passage into the aft cabin? Mike will be in the engine room with the doors open blocking the way. In order to get through you will either have to go around, or he will have to disturb his task to let you through. Need to get something in the galley? Not if someone else is there first you don’t.

Am I complaining? Not even a little bit. But it is what it is and people need to know all the things that are true, not just the sunshine and sandy beaches things. Which, by the way, we did not even get this year. There will be times when I will become seriously annoyed at one thing or another on this list. But on the whole, it’s going to be completely worth it. In fact, last night as I nestled down in my comfortable berth after a long day of boat projects, I noticed this little niggle of a feeling bubbling up from somewhere close to my solar plexus. I think it was something like contentment.

Do you live on a boat? What annoys you the most?

27 thoughts on “Consider This

  1. We don’t live on our boat; but we spend every weekend there. It is alternately our cottage on the water and our vacation transportation. A minor annoyance is the refrigerator. Which is a top and bottom fridge/freezer. We are a power boat. It is a great size and works for a 1-2 week vacation and all of our weekends. BUT, it is not frost free and tends to ice up and have to be defrosted about every six weeks. Sigh.

    Our boat needs to be washed every time we go there. We don’t have Tacoma dirt; but we seem to have the bug of the week. We dock on the great lakes. Every single week it’s a new bug and a new mess on the boat. And the spiders! Freshwater seems to be spider haven on boats. We go spider hunting every weekend night at dusk and kill lots of them. I wish I could let them live; but they are dying to get into our cabin and make a home. They also shit purple ink spots all over our beautiful white fiberglass.

    We also dock right next to an airbase. When the base is particularly active they leave lots of gray/black dirt on our boat from jet exhaust. Luckily that doesn’t happen too often.

    I love my boat neighbors and the 150 boats that dock in our marina. But sometimes privacy is an issue. Those afternoons when the boat is lovely cool with air conditioning and you want to take a “nap” with your sweetheart; don’t always stay interruption free. I am so tempted to have a sign made that says, “the captain is sleeping; come back later”.

    And, last but not least. We have 16-18 boating weekends in the Great Lakes. I love sharing my boat and weekends with friends. BUT, there just aren’t enough of them to have everybody we know out to visit. I do not want company every single weekend. It is hard to fit everyone in. And truthfully; if they are not boaters they just don’t get it. We work hard at trying to fit everyone in; but sometimes it just isn’t going to happen.

    With all of those “annoyances”, I still love our boat time. All of our sacrifices to make it work; are worth it.

    • Wow, I am pretty glad to say we don’t have much of an issue with bug or any other kind of wildlife at our marina, or in Washington State for that matter. I would not be a fan of purple spider crap, although I admit it sounds pretty amusing. Much more amusing to read about than to live with I imagine. We, too, live next to an airbase. I wonder if that adds to the grit we have? I think mostly our grit problem is due to the railroad right across the street, and lately the paper mill on the other side of the waterway. That adds a fine layer of wood dust over the grit. Lovely. Still, short seasons and all, yes, it’s worth it! Oh yes and I feel your refrigerator pain. At least we have one, though! I have neighbors who don’t have them on their boats.

      • As an interesting exercise, drag a magnet along the curb on a busy street or hiway. You’ll be amazed at what it collects… a substance I can only describe as “powdered automobile” When we had Eolian on Lake Union, we had a constant drift down of powdered automobile onto our decks.


  2. I don’t live on a boat, but do want to mention you might wish to be cautious about wearing earplugs for too long a time. One of my nieces was living in a pretty noisy neighborhood and got into the habit of wearing earplugs at night so she could sleep. She ended up with a nasty infection and lost 20-25% of her hearing in one ear before she was able to fully get rid of the infection. A moist, closed environment is a recipe for germs to grow, and apparently her earplugs created just that. So do be watchful to ensure you don’t get infections.

    Enjoy your blog, and I can relate to much of this one from the times we’ve chartered (for a week or so at a time). For example, I come back with many bruises and I have no recollection of receiving them.

    • OOH, thanks for the heads on that! I already have hearing loss so I wouldn’t want to lose more of that. What I’m hoping is that we’ll get used to the noise after awhile and it won’t bother us as much. Thanks for letting us know about that, though.

  3. Your “Grit City” discussion is so right on for us in Emeryville, CA of San Francisco Bay. Wash the boat weekly and you see black stuff running out the scuppers. Look at it under a microscope and it is tiny flecks of black stuff. Soot? Rubber from the tires on I80 1 km away? Other ideas. You won’t see that grit once you escape the big city.
    Love yer blog.

    • Hi Don, always glad to have you commenting here. I imagine that any city is going to have the same issues with grit and dirt. We have trains, cars, and a paper mill right across the waterway. It all adds up to black sooty grit. This week I will get the power washer out.

  4. Biggest annoyance? The kids speeding through the overpass.
    On our boat, we have so much less space than you that minimizing the amount of “stuff” is a constant battle. I really look forward to cozy sweater season and falling asleep to rain on the foredeck, but have struggled with where to put the wet stuff during those months.
    Minor annoyances: no bathtub, refrigerator and freezer in the parking lot, doing boat yoga to get into the vberth every night, icy docks in January, train dirt on the deck, this annoying wheel taking up half of our cockpit, the constant battle with cat sawdust, smiling when people talk about how relaxing boat life must be, standing on one foot to wash dishes…

    • I honestly don’t know how you and Trish do it sometimes. Especially with no fridge which I know Kerry and Donn also do without. We do have a lot of space on our boat and we’re really grateful for that. So grateful that we will take things like having to raise the mizzen mast to find that leak in stride! And hey, the benefits of standing on one foot to do dishes? I’ll bet you have core muscles like no one else! Ah, boat life. So relaxing. It’s like being on vacation all the time!

  5. Great list!! One of the nice things about Indiantown, especially during hurricane season, is that it is so quiet. Even when there are a lot of people around, everyone goes to bed early and it’s very rare that your neighbors keep you up at night with partying, loud talking etc. I’ve also lucked out that all of my boat neighbors are real sweethearts, which is good, because I see them all the time 🙂

    • One thing that is different in Florida, other than algae, alligators, and heat, is that the sun goes down that much sooner for you. We get dark after 9:00 in high summer up here, so people are pretty active well into the night. I’m imagining that the place will be much quieter as winter approaches and it’s too cold and nasty to emerge from the cocoon of the salon.

  6. In our experience, living aboard is akin to living in a *very* small town with all the plusses and minuses you’d expect. Lots of community support and very little privacy. We loved it. Well, I loved it. The shine wore off for my wife and kids when winter hit. However, I would encourage you to consider moving away from the grime and noise of the Foss area. It’ll wear you down.

    Part of the joy of living on a boat is freedom of movement, but it takes a while to realize it after living in a house. When those cold but sunny days arrive, cast off the lines and have a weekend adventure. The boat’s already packed and provisioned! Same goes for your “permanent” moorage. The Sound isn’t that big and there are plenty of places you can live aboard that are less industrial. Enjoy the variety!

  7. That is good advice. We haven’t been away from the dock NEARLY as much as we should, mostly because of our dog and boat projects. Now that we have adult kids living in our home, the dog has live in sitters and we have more freedom. Now, just get those steering cables hooked back up. We do keep in mind that come next spring, we’ll be off the dock for a long time. Keeps us going. But the grime and noise is a constant.

  8. Re: #1 (loudness/noise), you must be in a noisy marina! I’ve found most marinas are much quieter at night than my apartment (in Seattle). Elliott Bay Marina is super quiet / peaceful most of the time (they don’t allow liveaboards though, I was just there a few nights a month), and Shilshole is pretty quiet as long as your neighbors aren’t noisy.

    For us the biggest annoyance was transportation. We don’t have a car, and a lot of marinas have really poor access to public transit. We ended up using Car2Go, ReachNow and Uber a lot, but those usually involve a bit of a hike and/or extra planning.

    • I imagine Shilshole would be a great marina in terms of noise, given its location. We are right downtown with the freeway and it’s reverberating sounds, plus the train tracks right across the street. We probably have more than our share of noise. I know that right across the Foss waterway it’s actually much quieter. If we really wanted peace and quiet we’d move over to Tyee Marina, across Commencement Bay. But we like the folks here too much to move. We’re learning to live with the noise.

      • having spent 15 years (?) in Shilshole, I can confirm that noise and grit are neither a problem. But there are blackberries growing on the sidehill of the bluff, and the birds know where they are… But that’s only in the fall.

        We loved the community out on the end of G Dock at Shilshole. But like any transient community, it changes over time. When we left to move the boat to Anacortes, we were the second (I think) longest residents. There are a lot of hellos and goodbyes.

        Living on 30 amps is a challenge, if you are used to having unlimited electricity available to you. You correctly point out that it is using electricity to make heat that is the greatest culprit.

        But living aboard has wonderful benefits! You will enjoy the community and the life close to the water and the weather. But it does sound like you need to change marinas…


        • In order to get away from the constant grit, we would have to move across the water. Right now, changing marinas is not in the realm of possibility due to my work, and Mike’s commute. We are conveniently located for my clientele, and Mike can easily get to the train via bike or foot from this marina. It’s just the most convenient location, especially as we have cut down to one car. Until we cut ties with our land jobs, this is the best choice for us, in spite of the noise and grit. We’ll see how I feel in the middle of winter!

  9. I’ve been away from the boat so long that I have forgotten all of the usual annoyances, and I only have the longing to be back. I’m sure there will be “oh how I find this annoying (insert item here), moments again. All of this work on the house to get it sold has put a bee in my bonnet, (to put it nicely), I have hated fixing everything nice for someone else. I WILL fix up my boat for ME now, no more procrastination.

    We put a dehumidifier on our boat before we left last winter, and not only has it kept the boat nice and dry, no mold/mildew as of yet, at least that’s what the boat watcher says. The unit also has a small heater in it, so we haven’t run the small electric heaters since we left, and the boat has reported to us (through our Siren Marine system), that it has been very warm onboard as well. Just a thought for you…. warm and dehumidified, easy peasy.

  10. I tell you, you won’t regret fixing up your boat to make YOU comfortable. It’s funny how we don’t really know how to do that except what we learn from fixing things up for someone else. When we rented the house out for that few days, we did a lot of things to make the renters comfortable. Then we came home and said ‘huh. Wonder why we didn’t do this before?. I don’t know wha that’s about but I can say that I now try to look at my boat through the eyes of ‘what if I were going to try to sell it’. It makes a difference. We have a big dehumidifier on the boat and that made a big difference last winter. What unit do you have that has an integrated heater? We are thinking of going with those radiant style heaters, the kind that look like radiators. We have a small heater with a blower, but really it’s not enough.

  11. I love those oil filled electric radiators but if you’ve only got one 30A shore power connector, I think you’re going to have a hard time using electric heat to keep the boat warm enough to live on over the winter. If you’ve got a diesel fired furnace, it’ll keep things much toastier.

  12. I love those oil filled electric radiators but if you’ve only got one 30A shore power connector, I think you’re going to have a hard time using electric heat to keep the boat warm enough to live on over the winter. If you’ve got a diesel fired furnace, it’ll keep things much toastier.

    • You know, you have a point there. We do have only one shore power connector and we do have a diesel fired furnace. Guess that will be running for a few months.

      • We too struggled using space heaters for heat aboard. But all that changed when we installed a heat pump. The only problem with the heat pump is that it isn’t practical to run it at anchor – we use our diesel Dickenson for that.

        And as for moisture… in this climate, and esspecially for liveaboards, you need to get a dehumidifier. Ours uses only 1.6 amps of AC and removes more than 15 pints of breathing and cooking moisture from the cabin every day.


        • Very true. Last year when I started working from the boat in the middle of January, I bought a dehumidifier and it makes a huge difference. I imagine it will be running 24/7 when we live aboard. I’ll show Mike your post regarding the heat pump idea. Thanks for the suggestion!

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