We recently received an email message from a reader asking us the following question:
I’m rather new to Fort Myers and we are pursuing boat living! Our only issue is we are complete novices and have never owned nor driven a boat! Where do we begin?? We don’t know anyone here with a boat yet to potentially teach us, unless we enrolled in formal classes. Any recommendations? We love the idea of visiting nearby islands, but with no experience, how long does it typically take to feel comfortable doing so?
Interestingly enough, we’ve received several similar messages over the years and so I thought I would write a post to address these questions in the best way that I can. This is by no means a guide to living aboard, it’s just a little info and advice that (hopefully) might help somebody.
First, I’ll start with a little background info on how Randy and I came to be live aboards. As land dwellers, we both loved the water and loved to scuba dive, fish and boat. Randy had a small 15′ flats boat that we would go out on, but it was the only boat he (or we) owned prior living aboard Blue Turtle. Randy’s only real captaining experience other than driving the flats boat was driving his father’s 28′ Carver on the Chesapeake when he was a boy. Now, my parents have owned boats most of their lives and so I’d been out on them many times, but I’d never driven one or knew anything about maintaining one. They were living aboard a 37′ Carver when Randy and I made the decision to enter this lifestyle as well. Our reason for wanting to be full time live aboards was a financial one… we wanted badly to have a large boat to cruise on but couldn’t afford both a boat that size and a house. And so, almost 6 years later here we are! We wouldn’t change a thing and our only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.
Getting comfortable on the water
As our writer mentioned above, they are complete novices to boating and have never owned or driven a boat. We all have to start somewhere and my best suggestion is to get out on the water! If you don’t have any friends that own a boat, try renting a pontoon to get to know the area. Pontoon boats are easy to drive, have a shallow draft and relatively bullet proof as far as boats go. Getting out on the water as frequently as you can and getting comfortable is the best place to start. Randy had a ton of experience driving a small boat but not much with a larger one. Our first couple of years, we made an effort to get off the dock as much as possible and it helped him to get more comfortable with driving and docking and was also excellent experience for me to get used to handling lines. We’ve found that everything to do with cruising and living aboard is better handled by just jumping in with both feet and learning as we go.
There are schools and training for learning to drive a boat and how to handle docking etc. There are several online boat safety courses you can enroll in to get your feet wet. If you’re interested in sailing, there’s the Offshore Sailing School on Fort Myers Beach. If you’re more in the market for a power boat, I recommend Captain Chris Yacht Services. We met Captain Chris and his wife Alyse, also a captain, at TrawlerFest last year in Stuart Florida while we were presenting there. Both have an enormous amount of experience and they offer on-board training.
While enrolling in schools or training are great, the best way to really get comfortable driving is to just do it!
Is living aboard right for you?
Next up, you may want to make sure living aboard if right for you. While the sunsets and happy hours are amazing, there are some sacrifices to be made as well. I wrote a few posts (below) a while back reflecting on the living aboard lifestyle and how it differs from living on land, the sacrifices we make (space, plumbing and laundry) and also the wonderful benefits and experiences we’ve had through this amazing lifestyle.
- Living aboard a boat vs. living on land, how is it different?
- Living aboard a boat – is it minimalism?
- Celebrating 5 years living aboard – reflections and observations
- The costs of living aboard a boat
Living aboard isn’t for everyone as I’ve come to recognize when I mention to a land lubber that I live on a boat. I’ve gotten looks from downright sympathy, to ‘are you crazy?,’ to envy. You really want to look at it from all aspects before making the jump.
So many boats, so little time
Where do you even begin searching for a boat to live aboard on? Before starting that search, you need to identify whether you plan to cruise or not, how much cruising do you plan to do, and where? If all you plan to do is live aboard and have no plans of leaving the dock or your anchorage, you can get a lot of space for the money with a house boat. House boats make great live aboard boats but they really aren’t meant for cruising off the coast of Florida—they are better suited for lake cruising.
Once you’ve identified that you want to cruise, and assuming you’ve ruled out sailboats, there are still a lot of boat styles out there from your large yachts and trawlers to sportfishing and express cruisers (“weekend boats”) which go fast but have minimal living space. Hull design can have a large impact on cruising range and cost. Trawlers have full- or semi- displacement hulls which typically cruise slower and have longer range because of the lower fuel consumption. Boats with planing hulls cruise faster but burn up more fuel so it’s important to understand your cruising expectations before searching for a boat. If you still plan to work and need to abide by a strict schedule, then a faster boat would be the way to go. If you can be flexible with your cruising schedule, then you might opt for a more cost-effective, longer range boat like a trawler.
There are so many things to look for finding the right live aboard boat and it differs for everyone. Below are a couple posts I wrote with regards to choosing the right live aboard boat and other things to look for:
- Choosing the right live aboard boat
- Single engine vs. twin engine trawler, maintenance, fuel consumption, costs and other considerations
It also helps to research, attend boats shows, join live aboard Facebook groups, and talk to folks who cruise and/or live aboard. Educate yourself as much as possible about boats and their various systems.
You don’t need have a captain’s license or understand diesel engines (although it helps) to live aboard and cruise. You just need to have an adventurous spirit and a will to make it happen. Also understand that things will break and cruising plans will get changed, you just need to be flexible and go with the flow.