Liveaboard Size

Question:  What size sailboat makes a comfortable home? This is my largest concern—I want a lot of space, but I also want to make sure that I can sail the boat alone. 


Hudson Harrison wrote:

There are a lot of boats out there, and you should be able to get something that will do what you want in an older boat in that price range, such as a Whitby 42. One post won’t cover all you need. Books are good, and even Liveaboard Magazine has a web page www.liveaboardmagazine.com, or something. Power Boats have more room, and a trawler has plenty, but I wouldn’t take one of those things far out…it takes lots of fuel, and if the engine goes, well, you got no sail.

The Lillie Family wrote:

Whitby is a good choice. It allows a lot of headroom. We recently purchased one and are preparing to leave this summer on an extended cruising with a teenage son. We are all looking forward to this. Make sure you have plenty of headroom, you don’t want to be bent over the rest of your life!

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Doug Abbott wrote:

You’re thinking like a landowner. The bigger the space the more *stuff* you’ll stuff into it. Just what do you have that requires so much space? Rear projection TV and 5-channel digital sound? Acres of closet space for the suits and clothes you’ll never wear? Closets to store things you’ve probably never touched or can’t remember the last time you used? The need to roast whole oxen? What?

Contrary to TV and commercials – less is more. Tip: Look hard at the *stuff* you own and if you can’t remember the last time you used it, discard it. If you use it once a year, discard it. If you think you might use it, discard it. Need assurance? Move into a small efficiency for a few months before moving aboard. If you feel insecure, rent as many storage units as you need to dump this important *stuff*, the same *stuff* that’s holding you back from your dream, and try living without it. Think hard about what you _really_ need, not what someone tells you you need. Listen to you, not them.

Stuart Jantzen wrote:

41′ makes a nice size. With experience, a 41 footer can be sailed single handed but until you have that experience it would be best to have someone helping you. If you are coming from a house or apartment of house any size boat will seem very small. It is something you have to get used too.

Tracy Watkins wrote:

The size of the boat depends primarily on the design. I live on a 36 footer and am very happy. However, I have seen other 36’s that would not be acceptable. As a general rule, I would say 34-41 feet are in the acceptable range. I single hand my boat all the time, the newer boats make it easy to do this with a large boats. I would say that a modern designed boat in the 36-38 range is most likely to meet your needs.

What I decided (1998):

Size DOES matter! I visited plenty of boats that appeared to be fairly large from the specification sheets, but in reality were quite cramped. I went aboard a 36′ Benetau, for example, that barely has enough room to house a hamster…much less my 6’4″ frame!

I found that the CSY models offer a lot of room on the inside…especially since the decking goes clear out to the hull. Unfortunately, these boats are pretty ugly (in my humble opinion).  Plus, the company went out of business a few years ago, so getting parts will probably be pretty difficult.

The Hans Christian that I chose is, of course, the most beautifully crafted vessel ever to set sail! (Ok, perhaps I’m a bit prejudiced, but what with all the teak and holly interior—I mean, come on! She’s gorgeous!). I think that Doug Abbott has it right…most of my stuff is in storage. My 6’ leather couch and matching chair…in a shed. My Harmon Kardon stereo with 4’ tall Infinity speakers…resting in a shack. My hand-crafted Italian bed and intricately carved chest-of-drawers keeps them company (did I mention that these things are for sale?). I honestly don’t miss them. The boat has plenty of places to sit and rest, and tons of storage! I can hang my business suits in the on-board closets, there are plenty of drawers for my underwear, and (get this)…I have built-in cabinets that are totally EMPTY!!! I simply haven’t found any junk to put in them! Room for “stuff” is not really an issue.

As far as my 6’4″ frame, I find that the Hans Christian offers plenty of room. I haven’t hit my head yet! I can even stand up in the head to do my business. I walk around the salon with total comfort. This 38’ home is small by most people’s standards, but it works just fine for me! And, of course, my home is nearly completely self-sufficient. I can move it at any time. If I don’t like my neighbors, I can simply release the lines and sail somewhere else. If the climate turns too cold for my taste, I can be in the tropics in a few days.

In short, I have EVERYTHING I need aboard this boat. It’s a great feeling of freedom that one can’t possibly imaging until it’s experienced first-hand!

Thoughts from 2000:

The stuff in storage is no longer for sale. I got rid of it all in December, 1999. I sold most of it to people who have boats at the yard, but also maintain houses. My leather couch and matching chair? At Tom Holland’s new apartment. He does the painting and rigging at Ortega River Boat Yard. My hand-crafted Italian bed and chest-of-drawers? My best friend and First Mate, Bill Hoffman, is enjoying them in his home.

But that Harman/Kardon stereo? Well, I found a way to get that aboard! It’s playing right now (I’m listening to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack). The trick was to give up my large Infinity speakers and buy those little “cube” Bose speakers. I cannot even begin to tell you how GOOD my stereo sounds aboard this teak-lined enclosure! The sound simply reverberates off the wood. Five Bose speakers and a sub-woofer…WOW!

I also broke down and bought a 12″ television/VCR unit. It’s nice to be able to run to Blockbuster’s to rent a movie and watch it aboard. Several of my neighbors have satellite dishes to receive channels. Personally, I don’t care much for the T.V., but I definitely like to watch rented movies.

Everything else, though, is gone! I no longer maintain a storage unit. There’s a certain liberating feeling that I got when my land-based possessions were sold. Now, EVERYTHING that I own is either on Candide or in the trunk of my ’92 Grand Am.

There’s a story behind using the trunk of my car for storage. When I bought Candide and hired a captain to help sail her to Jacksonville, I helped him move some things from his car. He popped his trunk and it was absolutely full of…junk! He noticed my amusement and said to me, “I’ll give you one year of living aboard before YOUR trunk is just as cluttered!”

Well, he was right. I used to keep an immaculate car. No more…it’s now full of extra clothes, computer equipment, miscellaneous boat parts, a few books, and possibly a dead cat (I’m sure that smell has to be coming from something that once lived). Anyway, if you plan on living aboard and having a car, I’ll bet your friends will soon start to make snotty comments about the things you manage to stuff in the trunk! 😉

Thoughts from 2003:

I have two very good friends who’ve been living together as a couple for several years with their fairly large dog.  He’d always dreamed of living on a sailboat, so he bought a 27′ and moved the missus and mutt on board.  27′ makes for a very small boat!  Their boat has a vee-berth that’s actually quite large.  She has a head, but it is cramped to say the least.  There’s no separate shower, so any water they use to bathe winds up on the bathroom floor.  The saloon is very small, perhaps 8′ across and maybe 10′ long.  The galley consists of a sink and a burner that is actually part of the saloon.  Now, I don’t want it to sound like I’m knocking these folks, because I’m not…they’re very good friends of mine.  It’s just my opinion that their boat would be better suited for a single person…who lives without a large dog.  They’ve been doing it for well over a year now, and seem to get along just fine.  

My friends are somewhat the exception by choosing to live as a couple aboard such a small boat.  Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that liveaboards gravitate towards a certain boat size, depending on their circumstances.  Note that all of these are simply my personal observation; there are certainly no dead-set rules for the “proper” size of a liveaboard boat:

bullet Single – Many people without significant others are quite content living on very small vessels in the 27′ – 35′ range.  In fact, a lot of them consider this to be the ideal size for a single person.  They point out that it’s easier to maintain a smaller boat if you’re living alone, and it’s certainly easier to sail them single-handed than larger boats.  Not only are smaller boats less expensive to initially purchase, but they’re cheaper to keep at the dock (because most marinas charge rent by the length of the boat), and cheaper to have the bottom painted every year.  Boats of this size will typically have a small vee-berth, a head, a saloon with one or two settees, a fold-down dining table, and a galley towards the aft.  Generally, there is no division between the saloon and galley on these smaller boats.
bullet Couple – Those folks who live with a loved one generally prefer larger boats in the 37′ – 45′ range.  Boats of this size are somewhat like an efficiency apartment.  They usually have at least two berths, a generous head (often with a partitioned shower, which is highly desirable for most liveaboards), a full galley (with oven, burners, refrigerator, dual sinks, plenty of food locker space, and ample food preparation areas), and generally a LOT more room to store “stuff” than smaller vessels.  Candide has a 38′ deck, which is larger than most of my single liveaboard friends.  Eventually, I’m hoping to upgrade my personal life to the “couple” stage, but I’ve lived alone since owning her.  If I knew for sure that I would be living alone on a permanent basis, I would rather own a Hans Christian 33′ Traditional.  It has all the space a single guy like me could need, and is a lot easier to handle alone under sail.
bullet Family – Yes, there are plenty of liveaboards (though they are usually full-time cruisers) who are raising kids aboard their boats.  I’ve met several of these families through the years as they pass through Jacksonville.  Their boats are, so far without exception, within the same size range that I described for liveaboard couples (i.e., 37′ – 45′ deck length).  How do they manage?  Well, most boats in that size range have at least two cabins…sometimes three or even four.  Mom and Dad sleep together in one cabin, while the kids sleep in the others.  I met one family who had a very large aft cabin.  They also had a boy and a girl, one year apart in age.  Before the kids reached their teens, the father divided the cabin in two with marine plywood and teak finish.  Instant privacy for both kids!  The father told me a humorous story about his daughter (the oldest of the two).  She had lived aboard a boat her entire life.  When she went away to college, she couldn’t comfortably sleep in the dormitory because there was “too much space.”  Her solution?  She built a tent-like area around her bed to simulate the close confines in which she grew up!