How to Buy and Live Aboard a Sailboat in Your 20s (with little experience)

In honor of moving aboard our Catalina 380 this weekend (!) this post is dedicated to the people who want to do the same thing, but don’t know how or where to start. Having just been through this 6 month process, here is a step-by-step list of how we did it. Keep in mind, we aren’t cruising yet! This is about living at a marina in the U.S.

(NOTE- This is a LONG technical post. If you’re looking for an update on “Conor and Tay’s Big Adventure”…hi Mom, hi Dad…it will be up tomorrow)

1) Take a sailing 101 class. Make sure you actually like sailing. If you hate it but like the simplicity of small living or dock life, think about a trawler.

2) Make sure you and your partner (if you have one) are on the same page. Go to your local boat show, and tour different models. How small are you willing to go? Which boats do you fit comfortably in? Are you a fan of catamarans or do you like the traditional feel of a monohull? What would you need to live day-to-day? And last but not least: what kind of use are you looking to get from your boat? Coastal cruising or bluewater?

3) Start saving money. You will need to put between 10-20% down on your boat. Also, a lot of extra fees will pop up, so leave some wiggle room. We saved 25% of our max boat budget. (Make a note: figure out your own max budget/expenses projected at least 3 years out)

4) Research marinas in your area. If you are west coast, you might have a harder time finding marinas that allow liveaboards (some only allow 10% of slips to be liveaboards). What is the wait list? In California, it was up to 10 years. Price to dock per foot of boat? Are the facilities nice? Is it a reasonable commute to work? It would really suck to buy a boat, only to find out that you can’t live on it! MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PLACE TO PUT YOUR BOAT BEFORE YOU BUY IT!

5) If the stars are aligning and you’ve found your perfect marina, contact a local BUYERS boat broker. They work for you, like a real estate agent. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Look at sailing forums, see what people have to say about certain agencies or brokers. Call around, and find someone you mesh with. I decided on our broker based on his great reputation, his bio (lived aboard for 15 years—can’t beat that expertise!), and the fact that the brokerage company as a whole promised to help newbie buyers navigate a complicated process. I wanted someone who would be patient with us and answer questions we didn’t know we had. If you don’t get that vibe, look for a better broker. They’re honest and they’re out there, you just have to do the legwork.

6) Start getting rid of all of your shit. Donate it, sell it, store the important stuff with family—and even though you THINK you’ve downsized to your bare minimum, you will still have way to much. We downsized to a 7×7 POD (only half full, too!) and I’ve discovered we will only need about a third of it all. Once it is gone, you won’t miss it, I promise.

7) Remember what I said about the boat show? Make a list with your broker about your wants/likes. You can talk make/models, but if this is your first boat, keep an open mind. Then let him or her do their thing. Our broker came back with 3 solid choices, and 2 additional boats that he thought would be a good fit, even though they didn’t fit our minimum length requirement. Lo and behold, we went with the smallest boat!

8) Once you’ve found your dream boat, you’ll need financing. You will put an offer on the boat, making sure that the deal is CONTINGENT ON SECURED FINANCING and a SATISFACTORY SURVEY. This clause is important, because if you can’t get the money or your survey sucks, you can walk away from the deal. 10% of the boat cost will go into an escrow account (remember when I said to save money?) while you find someone to finance your boat. Such a large loan that is not a house is difficult for some credit unions and banks to wrap their heads around. If you’re younger like us, they will basically laugh at you. Be prepared to have someone older than you with a longer credit history cosign the loan. Our cosigner will never pay a CENT of our loan, but he was needed on the paperwork. We went with LIGHTSTREAM for financing, a division of Sun Trust Bank, because their rates were reasonable and they allow liveaboards.

9) Schedule a survey with a certified surveyor. This will include a thorough check of the boat’s internal and external systems, as well as a haul out to inspect the bottom/keel (Ding ding! Surprise fees! See my post about our survey for more details). Your boat broker and the current owners will accompany you for this. It is an excellent time to ask questions about the boat! What are her quirks? What is their favorite thing about her? If no major issues are found during the survey, then is no need to counter-offer back and forth with the current owners regarding your original offer.

10) Now for the tricky part—GETTING INSURANCE! We hit a snag on this one. Nobody wants to insure first time boat owners, especially when your boat is a lot of money and you want to live on it. Add in the fact that we have never actually sailed a boat this size, and we were in trouble. Forums will tell you all the time to just get regular boat insurance and not tell your insurance company that you live on it, but I refused to lie. I was not going to deal with the anxiety of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, and plus, this blog would give us away in a heartbeat! WR HODGENS MARINE INSURANCE was willing to work with us, thankfully. They don’t care if you want to live aboard, and we were able to get insurance by adding in a “Captain’s Clause”. This was basically our promise to not take the boat off of the dock unless we were accompanied by a certified captain. Once we have fulfilled a certain number of private instruction hours on our boat, our captain will send in a letter to the insurance agency stating that we have enough experience to be on our own. Then voila! Restriction removed and we will be the sole operators of our vessel.

*Remember when applying that ALL boat experience is experience, even small powerboats. Every little bit counts.

11) Once you have insurance, then you wire the rest of the money into the escrow account, the old owners sign the paperwork, and you’re the proud new owner of your boat! Everybody wins.

12) MOVE ABOARD YOUR BOAT! The old owners (absolute saints that they are and knowing that we are newbies) left us a detailed manual on how things work (galley, head, AC., etc) that we’ve been slowly working our way through. Even the simplest tasks become so much harder on a boat! We’re learning, though, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our first private lesson is next weekend, and until then, I’m just focusing on not hitting my head on everything.

Love,

Taylor and Conor

PS—If you have specific questions pertaining to your own situation, please feel free to email or comment and ask! I would love to help you out 🙂

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

My voice echos through my empty house, my suitcase looks like it exploded, and I’ve only eaten sandwiches the past few days to avoid cooking. As I shove the last boxes into a tiny 7’x7′ container, I marvel at the fact that this POD now holds everything we own in the world.

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Packing tip: Use stackable Rubbermaid bins and Pelican cases. Their durability is great for long-term storage and life on a boat!

Packing up the POD is more than just putting our stuff in storage for the next 2-3 months, we are also saying goodbye to any sense of ‘home’ for the near future. Giving up our stability and security is an adjustment, but by pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones now, our sacrifices will be exchanged for greater gifts down the road. At least, that’s what I told myself last night as I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag.

For the time being, we are adrift. Well, about to be cut loose, anyway—checkout is on Friday. It is terrifying and exciting all at the same time, and we get to discover what we actually need in order to get by day-to-day. Familiar creature comforts are gone as we prepare to live out of 1 suitcase each for the next 2 months, from temporary living at an Airbnb, to driving across the U.S., to our TBD situation on the east coast.

The great news is that I heard from our broker today 🙂 I will update with boat info soon! He’s found us some truly spectacular options.

Love,

Taylor and Conor

6. More. Days.

We are in the final stages of moving out! Sorry there haven’t been as many posts during these last two weeks, but you guys really haven’t missed anything. We’ve been doing more of the same—getting rid of stuff on Bookoo and Craigslist, cleaning out the house room by room, and making numerous trips to the dump.

Here’s the really fun part over the next few days: I get to pack up the POD all by myself! Conor has a field op, and it’s on me to move us out.

Every time I almost have a panic attack, I remind myself that no matter what, by the end of the month, it will all be over, because it has to be. There is no other option. I will do the best that I can to prepare everything, but by the time I need to check out of the house, nothing will keep me here. Didn’t have time to fix the holes in the walls? Charge me, I don’t care. Didn’t mow the lawn? Okay, fine me the $25.

No matter what happens, come March 31, I’m tossing the keys to the housing office and burning rubber out of here. The end result will be the same regardless, I just have to breathe.

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Re-creating our move-in photo, with our furry little helper

I’m daydreaming about April, and our month-long Airbnb vacation in San Clemente. When we get to relax and unwind for a month while still in California before taking a cross-country road trip, all of this will seem worth it. Middle of April is also when our boat broker in New Bern, NC will ramp up the search for our perfect boat!! We should have 4-5 boats lined up for us to see in May.

Love,

Taylor and Conor

PS- If anyone you know needs a washer/dryer or a couch, send them my way. They are the last few things we need to get rid of by next week!

Full Hearts

Our declaration that we are moving onto a boat has only been met with incredible support from our families and friends. This post is a shout out to all you wonderful people who are cheering us on, who give us confidence in ourselves with your unwavering enthusiasm. Whether it is checking in to see if we’ve found our dream boat yet, calling for an update on the downsizing process, or even offering to help us move, we thank you.

To those who say we inspire them to achieve their goals—know that we will have your back just like you’ve had ours. For the people who embrace our quirkiness and understand the true purpose of this dream—our lives would not be the same without you.

We still have moments of doubt and fear, but we have a safety net of those we love to catch us if we fall. And, most importantly, they do not judge. Our v-berth will always be open to you all to come and experience the dream with us 🙂

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Sleeping on the Floor

As we get further along with our downsizing, it has only gotten easier. It might be the excitement of getting down to the final weeks, or maybe I just want it to be over with because it is EXHAUSTING. Either way, I don’t feel any pangs of regret as our house empties out. The rooms do feel smaller now, though, as everything that made this house uniquely ours is disappearing.

Stuff is just stuff. If we change our minds in 5 years and decide to move back onto land, then we can get more furniture. What really scares me is the thought of forgoing the liveaboard dream because we are too afraid to let go of a favorite bedroom set/couch/dining room table. I refuse to let inanimate objects dictate what we can and cannot do in life.

However, it does make me happy that our stuff is finding new purpose with other families that need it. Donating has been my favorite part (Craigslist and Bookoo are a pain in the butt). Giving to friends and family and neighbors has brought joy to this process. I feel like Santa. Or Oprah.

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Three more weeks to go, but we are already sleeping on our mattress on the floor. I’ve never slept better.

Love,

Taylor and Conor

Jumping for Joy

We. Have. Orders.

Yes, you heard that right…we finally have a concrete plan! I guess all those positive vibes we have been sending out into the universe worked, because we are going to CAMP LEJEUNE! We check out of Camp Pendleton on May 1st. Conor also got his dream job. It feels unreal.

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Me right now.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have an actual timeline and location. All of the plans we’ve been making over the past few months have been for the best case scenario. We have been holding our breath during the wait, just hoping for it to work out.

We got lucky. So, so lucky.

We decided to downsize, move out of our house, plan a POD pickup, and book an Airbnb for the month of April all under the assumption that everything would fall into place. It was risky (and expensive), but the payoff was worth it, because now the ‘best case scenario’ and the ‘official plan’ are united, and we have already done about 75% of the work!

I also feel like this is the biggest validation that we are on the right path. If our boat plan wasn’t meant to be, it would feel like we were swimming upstream instead. I think the universe is with us instead of against us on this one. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of hard work and planning went into this, and it didn’t just magically happen. However, anyone who has been in the military and rolled the PCS dice for jobs/duty stations knows that the odds aren’t always in your favor. Our outcome is serendipitous, to say the least.

We are grateful.

Love,

Taylor and Conor

Needs and Wants

Main requirement for our liveaboard: the boat must float.

But really, because we are so inexperienced, we are not looking for a ‘project’ boat by any stretch. We are on the hunt for a sailboat that is move-in ready, not a fixer-upper. We already feel like we are in over our heads enough without having to worry if the electric will catch fire or if the bilge pump will fail and sink us overnight.

So besides looking for a structurally sound boat, here are a couple of our ‘must-haves’ to make living on a sailboat work for us:

  1. Center cockpit, which means a bigger aft stateroom with enough headroom for Conor
  2. A 3-cabin configuration with aft and v-berth staterooms (basically 2 bedrooms and a main living/kitchen space). Separate cabins with doors allow a bit more privacy when you’re living in close quarters. Enough space, but not too much boat for 2 people to handle when sailing.
  3. Fully-functioning galley with refrigeration
  4. A SEPARATE SHOWER in the head! This is a big one for me. I am not a fan of the idea of a ‘wet head’, where my entire bathroom gets soaked and I have to sit on the toilet every time I take a shower. Gross.

Besides these four things, we can compromise and make most situations work for us. However, if we found the PERFECT boat, it would also include these ammenities:

  1. Low-maintenance (aka no teak) deck
  2. Swim platform
  3. Enough storage space for Conor’s field gear and diving gear
  4. Washing machine
  5. Convertible settee to have extra beds for guests

Notice that these are all liveaboard aspects of the boat, and not a whole lot about the sailing aspect: sails, rigging, navigation systems, engine, etc. That’s because we honestly don’t know enough about that part yet to have a preference. Any recommendations from you experienced sailors? All of our ‘must-haves’ and ‘would-likes’ are pretty superficial, I know. I’m sure by next year I’ll look back at this list and laugh.

Love,

Taylor and Conor

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Throwback to 2012 when we spent the night on a GORGEOUS 100-year-old sailboat. I cannot imagine maintaining something like that, though!