The Marina – Your Liveaboard Neighborhood

Once you’ve bought a boat to live aboard, you’re going to need a place to park it.  One option is to simply anchor it in a river somewhere, well away from the channel used by moving boat traffic.  Anchoring is free; you can pretty much do whatever you like while you’re “on the hook” and not pay a single dime to anyone for the privilege.

But such isolation has major drawbacks.  How will you get electricity to power the laptop, TV, iPad, iPhone, and stereo speakers?  Sure, your new boat may have massive banks of house batteries, but they will eventually run down.  You can recharge them from the engine, wind generator, or solar panels, but engines will require you to buy fuel, wind generators only work if there’s a good amount of wind blowing, and solar panels don’t work at night.  What about getting to work every day?  If you have a job, you’re going to have to get from the boat to shore.  You can get a dinghy, of course, to ferry you back and forth between the boat and land.  But you’re going to have to find a place to park that dinghy during the day where it will be safe while you’re at work.  Once you reach land and have parked your dinghy, how will you get to work?  Most likely, you’ll need a car.  But where are you going to keep that car at night, where it will be safe while you’re sleeping at anchor on the boat?  What if you want to order a pizza?  Papa John’s doesn’t deliver on the water…

All of these problems can be instantly solved by moving into the trailer park of the boating world…the marina!  A marina will rent you a spot where you can park your boat in the water and a car in a parking lot.  They’ll have electrical outlets where you can plug in your boat and use all the electricity you like.  They also have unlimited amounts of drinkable water, which you can use to fill the boat’s fresh water tanks.  Because marinas have a street address, Papa John’s is quite happy to deliver to them.

Since I didn’t know anything about marinas before I bought the boat, I used the Internet to start posting messages and sending e-mails to those “in the know.”  Here are some of the responses that I received:

As to marina ideas, you will be constrained by what is available to choose from, and may not be able to invent the one you want. 🙂  So, get a Jacksonville paper, or call up a chamber of commerce, and somehow see if the people in that area have some sort of publication about marinas. Something with a grid/chart comparing the amenities and prices. And do find out about the probability of being allowed to live aboard. For reasons not agreed to by live-aboard advocates, many many many marinas and municipalities have severe limits on the percentage of live-aboard slips allowed in a marina or area. Waiting lists abound.

Most marinas have bathrooms, not all have showers. Most have sufficient parking, not all is secure parking. Laundry facilities are nice, but I know from experience that if it is routinely busy you can toss the laundry bag into your car on the way out in the morning, stop off at a laundromat on the way home, go grocery-shopping while is is being washed, and end up home with not much time spent doing the job. A coffee shop nearby would help this process, of course.

If you ever intend to actually use the boat (and you should, to get to know it better!) out on the water, you want a slip easy to get in and out of. Again, you may not have much choice, if live-aboard slips are at a premium.

I lived aboard our 46′ sailboat in San Francisco area. We had a total of 30 amps available for our entire living space. Really not a problem unless it was very very cold. We did not have a boat heater, and relied on electric space heaters. At that time, electricity at our marina was not metered, btw. Two heaters going during a particularly cold winter, and we also had an electric mid-size dorm-style refrigerator. We found out that if we used the toaster and the the ‘frig cycled on that we would blow the fuse at our dock box. This assumes the lights and the stereo were also going, of course. Can be very cold outside on the dock.

New boat, new area, and we have a diesel heater on board. Also have really good set-up with two sets of two 6 volt golf cart type batteries. Good lighting, good 12 volt refrigerator. We can sit 3-4 days at anchor and still have good amount of batteries to start the engine. This is one of the “big things” you will learn about. The ability to start the engine after sitting around on batteries. We have many friends who routinely run the engine for at least an hour a day to keep up the batteries. They have freezers, and/or a less-good battery set-up.

Learn about inverters. And regulators. We can run the computer on the inverter, plus the color printer. All at anchor, without the engine running. Knowing you can do this means you don’t have to fear a 110 power outage as much. One of the guys on the newsgroup lives aboard his boat in Norway. Uses his laptop or his Psion and a cell phone for most of his communications. Has an oil heater.

BTW, our microwave uses 65amps. So does a hair dryer, which we do not have on board, just know this because I wanted to test the inverter when we put it in. Microwave gets used sparingly when we are on battery power, but can be used as much as we want when underway with engine on. Oh, get a large alternator.

See, you may want just a floating home, but wouldn’t it be cool if you can take that home off on a weekend once in awhile?

Gee whiz, I keep thinking up things nice to have. One thing important maybe not mentioned by anyone yet… if your shower pan drains into the bildge and not into a sump area with its own pump, change it quickly. That is, if the bilge is deep, and not shallow like on our Beneteau. Deep bilges with shower water really stink. See what you are getting yourself in for?

– Anne S. Paul

 Slips should be easy to find with the amenities you wish. However, you may find this gets expensive. Sort of like owning the home, but leasing the property. You may want to equip your boat with an inverter to give you 110 out put, more like home.

– The Lillie Family

I suggest you ask yourself the following question: What do I absolutely need that requires me to be tied to land? The biggest problem is going to be finding slips where you can live aboard. Most of the *land lovers* view boaters who live aboard with less than enthusiasm. To me, the amenities are nice as long as the price remains reasonable. Check around and find the best deal for the money.

I look for slips with a good breeze, little or no wake, easy access for sailing and getting around, and a well-maintained marina. That being said, I  *far prefer* to anchor out. A proper cruising boat doesn’t need to be connected to the land by umbilical. I go to the dock once or twice a month to fill up with diesel and water then head back out onto the hook. I run the engine twice a day to chill down the fridge and freezer (I have engine driven refrigeration as well as 12V), heat the water for showers and dishes, charge batteries (although I have a wind generator and solar panels) and to keep the engine in good operating condition.

I get TV and radio on the hook. I can use my cell phone to voice and data on the hook. I can choose my perfect location on the hook. I can choose my neighbors on the hook. I can save *lots* of money by staying on the hook. If I need to go to shore there’s always the dinghy.

– Doug Abbott

I can’t stress enough to shop around before you settle on the marina you intend to make your home. We were in two before our number came up on the St. Pete waiting list. We waited from March to June. First one was great but to expensive, second on was a regular Payton Place dump, but cheap.

– Mark Fay

We’re still working – not – cruising liveaboards (kids in college), so live in a marina. Beyond all of the obvious, which you will hear from everyone, I look for other liveaboards and check the attitude of the marina.

We moved this year (after waiting for the slip for 2 years) and I simply can’t believe the difference in our life. The owners of this marina seem delighted to have us aboard — beautiful marina and a real welcome mat.

I’ve been working aboard for 7 years and find the space requirements a little tight at times, but have a land-based partner who does store some of the larger items. Last year sometime I had an article on Working Aboard published in Living Aboard. I can dig it out and send a copy if that would help. (Robert’s Note: Louise sent me a copy of the article…it’s very informative. It’s also copyrighted, so I can’t publish it here).

You’ve got a great attitude and seem willing to make changes and take a risk. Best of luck in your search for a boat!

– Louise Coulson

The most important consideration in finding a marina is liking the people and the environment there. While most marinas have showers, not all will have telephone connections (critical in your case) and many marinas are notorious for having questionable electrical supplies (another key for you). This is easy to check by asking the folks on the dock if they are happy with these services  This will also give you a flavor for the personality of the facility.

– Tracy Watkins

It is possible to find marinas with all the facilities you mention. Remember the more facilities, the more you pay. Most marinas charge by the foot so a 40 footer would cost more in the same marina than a 20 footer. With “Jantzen’s Joy” you would need 110V power and water. Washer/dryers are available at better marinas. One item you have to look for is facilities to empty you toilet holding tank otherwise you have to use on shore facilities or a porta potty. “Jantzen’s Joy” comes with both a fixed latrine system and a porta potty.

– Stuart Jantzen

What I decided (1998):

Since posting my initial questions, I have done a lot of research into liveaboard slips. Unfortunately, few marinas allow full-time liveaboards to lease slips because of local and state regulations. In fact, the State of Washington is trying to ban the lifestyle altogether. If you’re looking for a liveaboard slip, my suggestion is to get on the phone and start calling marinas in your area. They’ll point you in the right direction.

I was very fortunate to find a liveaboard-friendly marina in Jacksonville, Florida. The Ortega River Boat Yard (904-387-5538) charges $8.50 per foot for liveaboards, plus $60.00 for electricity. They have showers and laundry facilities on-site.

ORBY, in fact, encourages liveaboards…they have more than 60 of us. The really cool thing is that a certain community develops within the docks. My next-hatch neighbors are from Canada and they’re here for a couple of months and then they sail off for the Caribbean. He teaches geography, and she’s a professional singer. The couple at the end of the dock built their own 51’ yacht. They rebuild houses for a living. Two boats down is a retired man from Queens, NYC. He speaks fluent French and travels whenever he gets bored with one particular place. There’s a mason worker six boats down. He’s my age (and a good drinking buddy). He’s from Whales, and lives on his boss’ boat rent-free in exchange for keeping the vessel in ship-shape. There’s also a couple from Alaska who fly down to Florida to spend their winters here.

The communal aspect of life in a marina appeals greatly to me. I enjoy watching boats being hauled from the water to have a new barrier coat applied. I’ve made friends with most of the dock workers, and I’ve learned a lot about their various trades (which, of course, will come in handy as I maintain my own boat). I also enjoy sharing a glass of wine with the true “cruisers” who only stay for a short time. We exchange stories over a drink, and they sail to every point imaginable. They’re quickly replaced by new people with new stories and new, exciting destinations.

Life with my fellow liveaboards is truly fantastic. Just today I awoke and my next hatch neighbors invited me over for coffee and muffins. They’re French, and we talked about literature and politics as we looked over a rising sun on the St. Johns River. What an experience!

Thoughts from 2000:

Last summer, I decided to leave my marina and move Candide to St. Augustine, Florida (about 50 miles to the south). I quickly learned the difference between those yards that welcome liveaboards and their lifestyle versus those who are only interested in making money.

St. Augustine, as you may know, is the nation’s oldest city. It was founded in 1521, and is a very popular area for “transient” boaters who are merely passing through the area on their way north or south. The City Docks charge by the foot for these boats on a daily basis, and they can make a TON of money by keeping boats moving through (most marinas give price breaks for boats staying for a week or a month). The City Marina allows boats to stay for a maximum of only three days!

Knowing this, I found a place around the bend (about two miles from the City Marina) called Oyster Creek Marina. I was very impressed with their all-new docks and facilities. The people seemed nice enough and I looked forward to spending several months with them.

Then the problems started. First, they were charging $10 / foot for liveaboards. I knew this in advance, and I didn’t particularly have an issue with the price. I became very irritated, though, when the management tried to convince me that Candide is 50′ long…not 38′! “You have a big bowsprit and stern pulpit,” I was told.

Had I been on a wharf, taking up 50′ of space, I would have understood their point. But Candide fit perfectly into the slip they had assigned to me…and I didn’t feel that an extra $120 per month was a fair price to pay for a bowsprit. Eventually, we settled on 42′.

The second problem followed a month later. I went to pay my rent and the management said, “We noticed that you are using an air conditioner at the marina. We have to charge you $100 for electricity.”

Well, I was flabbergasted! My parents live in a three-bedroom home in Florida and don’t spend that much to keep it cool during the summer!

Now I knew for sure that I was getting screwed by this marina. People who know me will tell you that I don’t take getting screwed lying down! I promptly called my attorney, who informed me that it was illegal, under Florida law, for the marina to make a profit on the use of electricity. His suggestion was to demand that an electric meter be installed. I was told by management that none were available.

I called Florida Power and Light to complain, and they had a brilliant suggestion. They suggested that I use the meters on my boat to estimate the electricity that I consume on a monthly basis. I could then pay the marina for the standard kilowatt hours charged by the electric company.

It was quite obvious that this marina was only interested in taking as much of my money as I’d let them. So, I did what every liveaboard has the power to do…set sail for Ortega River Boat Yard, where I knew I’d be treated more like family.

Thoughts from 2003:

For several months, I had been having some minor problems with ORBY.  The fact is, it’s a full-service marina. This means that boats are constantly getting sanded, painted, re-fiberglassed…you name it. The yard is, quite frankly, a mess even in the best of times. In many ways, living in a full-service marina can be like living next door to a factory. It can be noisy, polluted, and perhaps even dangerous at times.

I had been living in this marina off and on for over four years. I got along with most everybody and could deal with the working nature of the marina. Eventually, though, I grew tired of the whole situation. I longed for clean bathrooms, grass lawns, clean parking spaces, and docks that weren’t a hazard to walk on. So, in September of this year, I cast the dock lines from ORBY and moved up river to a new marina in Orange Park, Florida.

This new marina has everything that I wanted. There are only about fifteen people who “spend significant amounts of time aboard their boats” (a county ordinance doesn’t allow liveaboards at this marina…but the owner of the marina stays aboard her boat every single night.  Call that arrangement what you will, but it’s definitely not a liveaboard situation.  Nudge, nudge, wink, wink!).

Fewer full-time people at the marina means less waiting time for the showers, and I can almost always find a convenient place to park my car (though the parking lot does tend to get full on the weekends). The owner takes great pride in the marina, and there are a ton of personal touches that makes the place a very attractive home. The grounds are kept in immaculate condition. The place is actually landscaped with various bushes, plants, trees, and even grass! At ORBY, one had to use old charcoal-fired grills to cook out. At the new marina, they supply gas grills! All it takes is the touch of a button, and there are instant flames!

There are three showers here, and each has a large vanity with…now get this…flowers! OK, so they’re fake flowers, but come on! In all my years of boating, I’ve never stayed in a marina whose owner takes enough pride in the place to spruce up the bathrooms with flowers. Another great thing about the bathrooms at this marina is that they have “reading baskets.” These are simply large wicker baskets that hold various sailing magazines, newspapers, books, etc. What more can a man ask for while spending time on the Great White Throne?

The marina sports a gazebo that serves as the center of marina life. At least twice a month, the marina hosts parties that are attended by 20-40 sailors. Usually, food and drinks are served and there’s some sort of organized talk about sailing. Perhaps folks describe a recent trip to St. Augustine…or to the Bahamas. Or, maybe there are several people who want to get together for a sail the following weekend. In any case, this community is very focused on sailing. NOT power-boating. Sailing! In fact, there are only about three power-boats in the entire marina! As a guy who lives aboard a sailboat, I truly appreciate the sailing-centric nature of this marina.

While this marina is considered “full-service,” all of the work is done behind an eight-foot privacy fence so that the boat owners never see other boats undergoing repair. This means that my car won’t get covered with over spray from boats being painted, I won’t have to dodge masts and rigging that have been left laying around the yard, and I don’t have to listen to the pounding, grinding, and sanding that takes place every day in any working marina!

I’m much happier here! I suppose the best way to summarize is to say that ORBY is like a low-rent apartment. The staff can be surly at times, the neighbors sometimes have questionable legal status, and some of the facilities are falling apart. My new marina is more like an “upscale” apartment complex. The staff are more professional, the facilities are maintained perfectly, and the marina abounds with small details that make the place “homey.”

Now mind you, I’ve had to adapt a bit to this upscale marina. At ORBY, I couldn’t care less if my dock lines were neatly arranged into a “Flemish Coil.” I often left cans of varnish on the docks (along with mixing sticks and brushes) for weeks at a time. Hell, my dinghy sat on the end of the dock for months! This was the norm at ORBY…pretty much, do whatever the hell you wanted and nobody complained because they were all doing the same thing! This results in a public-housing-like atmosphere. It’s not exactly a place where you can take pride in the appearance of the place.

Now, I carefully coil the dock lines every time I return to the slip. Nothing is ever left on the docks for more than a few hours while I’m working on the boat. I scrub the decks every two weeks. I actually put up Christmas lights this year because most of the boats at the marina had them! I never leave anything in the cockpit (at ORBY, Candide always had several empty beer bottles, a bag of trash, and maybe a bra or two in the cockpit). I’ve had to give up skinny-dipping off the boat with my friends during warm weather. No more pissing over the gunwales whenever the need arises.

I live the “clean life” aboard now. I take pride in the fact that there are many fine-looking boats at this marina that are lovingly maintained by their owners. Candide has joined their ranks. I guess this is the price to pay for living in an “upscale” marina.

Perhaps you’ve got a couple of questions about my new pad. I can only tell you that the cost of this marina is approximately $20 more per month than I was paying at ORBY. Well worth it, in my opinion! Unfortunately, I cannot divulge the name or location of this marina. As I mentioned earlier, this marina does not allow liveaboards. If I mentioned the name in a public forum (and how much more public can one get than the World Wide Web?), I’d soon find myself booted out of this place!

My advice is to find a marina that allows liveboards. Take whatever you can get! After several months, you’ll start hearing through the grapevine which marinas will accept liveaboards…regardless of their official policy (or even the law)!

Thoughts from 2012:

Now that I’ve stayed at several marinas all over the Southeast U.S., I have some pretty strong opinions on what to expect from a liveaboard marina.  In no particular order, they are:

  • Deep Slips.  Candide’s draft is just a tad over six feet.  This means that she has to have water that’s at least six feet deep in order to sail or enter/leave a slip.  My last marina in Florida (Fernandina Harbor Marina) was great when I moved in several years ago, but over time the marina has silted up.  This means that a massive amount of mud trapped Candide into her slip at low tide.  It was simply impossible to leave this slip for several hours every day.  The management understood the problem, and always let me move to a transient slip (expensive slips reserved for boats passing through for a night or two) so that I could get out the next day to go sailing.  But I always had to time my return to the marina so that I’d arrive on a high tide.  It’s not fun living in mud!
  • Working Internet Connection.  Almost every marina today advertises free WiFi for their customers.  In theory, boat owners are supposed to be able to access the marina’s internet connection from the comfort of their boats.  This is often not the case!  In general, marinas aren’t staffed with computer-savvy people to maintain the WiFi access points.  If the service goes down, it might take weeks to have it restored.  My current marina (Charleston Harbor Marina) advertises its free WiFi access, but the signal is so weak that it’s useless.  And Candide happens to be on the dock closest to the WiFi hotspot!  To get a reliable internet connection, I’ve had to subscribe to a 3G internet service offered by a wireless phone company.
  • Working Electrical Plugins.  One of the big advantages of living in a marina is that the boat can be plugged in to shore power, and the owners can enjoy an unlimited amount of electricity (which is useful for air conditioning, heating, playing on the computer, etc.).  Yet, many marinas seem to have a hard time keeping the electricity flowing down the docks.  Before selecting a marina, always ask existing tenants if the power on the docks is reliable.  If the power is out for more than a couple of days, be sure to ask for a significant discount the next time rent is due!
  • Laundry Facilities.  I have one pair of underwear, and I expect to be able to wash it on the first Tuesday of every month.  I expect the marina to maintain laundry facilities to allow me to do this.  It’s also nice for the marina to provide chairs to sit in while the wash is being done.  My current marina has rocking chairs, which are great to sit in and read my Kindle while I wait.  At this particular marina, the dryer is broken in a way that favors the customer.  The “on” light is always lit…so there’s no need to feed it coins to dry the load…just throw the clothes in and press the button!  In no way, though, does this make up for their horrible Internet service!
  • Well-Designed Bathrooms / Showers.  Generally speaking, I prefer to shower at the marina facilities.  They generally have an unlimited amount of hot water, and plenty of room to move around.  However, not all marina shower facilities are created equally.  I prefer facilities that have a private toilet, sink, and shower all in the same room.  Many marinas have toilets in one area (with sinks, of course), and showers in a completely different area.  I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable shaving at the sink with people walking in and out of the men’s room.  I like my privacy!  The shower area should have a place to sit down (useful for putting on socks and shoes), and several hooks on the wall to keep your clothes and towel from getting wet.  The Ultimate Marina Shower House, which doesn’t seem to exist anywhere, would have lockers where liveaboards could keep their own supply of shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc.  Public bathrooms, by the way, should be professionally cleaned at least once a day by the marina staff or subcontracted to a cleaning service.
  • Access to Civilization.  I prefer to stay at marinas that are within walking distance (or at least biking distance) to restaurants, shops, and bars.  My old marina in Fernandina Beach was within walking distance to 26 restaurants, and I managed over the years to try each one of them at least once.  My current marina in Mount Pleasant (Charleston), South Carolina is about 2 miles from eateries and shopping.  That’s a little too far for me to walk, but I ride my bike to that area several times a week.  It’s good exercise!
  • Functioning Dock Carts.  From time to time, you’re going to need to restock your boat’s pantry with food and snacks.  On occasion, You’ll also be hauling around heavy things like propane tanks and batteries.  It’s really nice for the marina to provide dock carts to allow you to haul stuff back and forth from your boat to the parking lot.  It seems like every marina I’ve been to has five or six such carts…but they seem to be able to keep only one or two of them in working condition.  One solution to this problem is to buy your own dock cart and keep it chained and locked when you’re not using it.
  • Floating Concrete Docks.  The better marinas have invested in concrete floating docks.  These are great, because they rise and fall with the tide…so your boat is always level with the dock.  Many marinas have fixed wooden docks.  This means that the deck of your boat might be reachable from the dock at high tide, but you might need to climb a ladder at low tide.  Floating docks are definitely more convenient!
  • BBQ Area.  Many marinas provide barbeque grills, bench seats, and a covered place to eat.  These amenities are great places to socialize with fellow liveaboards and weekend boaters.  I think that every marina should provide a place to cook out, but not all of them do!
  • Staffed Office.  Since I live on my boat at the marina, I need a place to have packages and mail delivered.  Every marina that has a regular office usually has mail slots for its liveaboard customers.  Some will label the slots by groups of letters representing the last name of the customer (A-C, D-F, G-I, etc.), while others will print individual labels to identify the mail slot of each liveaboard.  The office is also good for sending or receiving an occasional fax.  They’ll also sign for package delivery.  If you’re really lucky, the marina will have 24-hour access to the office.  This means that you can get access to your mail any time you like!
  • Well-Maintained Docks.  Marinas require a lot of maintenance.  Electric and water lines that run from shore down the docks need regular inspection (especially on floating docks).  Wooden boards that have weathered and warped over time need to be replaced.  The docks should be pressure-washed on a regular basis to keep them clean (you’ll be amazed at how many marinas let the docks get covered in bird shit).
  • Security.  I don’t expect armed guards at the marina, but it sure is nice to know that someone is keeping an eye on the place…especially at night.  Over the years, I’ve seen outboard engines stolen right off the boats in their slips, bicycles taken from the racks, and cars stolen from the parking lot.  I don’t appreciate people from the general public deciding to use my dock as a fishing platform (they tend to leave bait and fish guts that I have to walk around…this also attracts birds that, as we established earlier, shit a lot on the docks).  Plus, I don’t know if these people are really fishing, or using the activity as cover while they’re casing the place for nefarious reasons.  It’s also annoying to have the general public think they can use the docks at night on the weekend to get drunk, piss off the side of the docks, and listen to loud music with their friends.  If it was up to me, I’d shoot these people.  But it’s probably best if the visiting public is monitored and controlled by the marina.
  • Marina-Sponsored Get-Togethers.  A good marina will foster a sense of community.  Annual Christmas parties are nice, but it’s even better if the marina has a few get-togethers spread throughout the year.  This is a great way to get to know your neighbors!
  • Fuel Docks.  Virtually all boats (even sailboats) require gasoline or diesel for their engine(s).  It is very convenient if the marina you live in sells fuel at a specially designated dock.  This means that you won’t have to get fuel from another marina, where you might not know the tide situation or the staff that will be “helping” you.
  • Mobile Pump-Out Service.  If you live on board your boat and use the toilet, you’re not allowed to flush your waste water overboard.  Instead, the boat will have a special “holding tank” that will store your waste until you can have it pumped out.  Many marinas will have “pump-out stations” that are often located at the fuel dock.  However, some marinas will have pump-out equipment that they can bring directly to the boat.  This saves the trouble of having to move the boat when it’s time to empty the holding tank.
  • Oil and Fuel Disposal.  It’s a good idea to change the oil in your engine and the filters on your fuel lines on a regular basis.  However, you can’t just throw the old oil or fuel filters into the trash; they must be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.  Many marinas have a 55-gallon drum that can be used to dump oil and fuel.  It’s a lot more convenient to let the marina dispose of your oil / fuel than running around town trying to find a facility that will take it.
  • Well-Placed Trash Cans.  I usually fill up a 13-gallon “tall kitchen trash bag” every week or so with empty pizza boxes, junk mail, used napkins, etc.  At some marinas, this trash has to be taken to a dumpster in the back of the parking lot.  This can be quite a long walk from the docks (especially if the bag is heavy!).  It is better if the marina has large trash cans at the end of every dock and empties them on a daily basis.  Better still, I stayed at one marina where they had several trash cans spaced apart for every ten boats or so along the entire length of the dock.  The ultimate trash collection system has to be at Hemingway Marina in Cuba.  There, you just take your trash bag and throw it onto the dock right next to the boat.  Every few hours, someone will come by to take it away.
  • Good Dock Lighting.  Marina docks can be very dark at night.  After all, they’re placed far into the water and don’t get much light from streetlamps or building lights.  Instead, most marinas will have “lighthouses” that shine light along the length of the docks.  Lighthouses usually have electrical and water hookups as well.  Be sure that your docks are well-lit at night, and that they stay lit all night long.
  • Library.  Many marinas have a library (usually located near the laundry facilities) where boaters can borrow books and magazines.  The general rule is that you can borrow a book if you like, but if you take one to keep, you should leave one in its place.
  • Month-to-Month Slip Rental.  Some marinas require you to sign an annual contract in exchange for a reduced long-term rate.  I’ve never signed an annual contract for a slip; I prefer to pay on a monthly basis.  This way, I’m free to leave whenever I choose.

So there you have it!  Twenty things to keep in mind when you’re looking for a marina that can help make your liveaboard experience even more enjoyable.

  • Hilton Kaplan January 27, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Wow – thank you! I’m new to this & really found this useful!

  • Kevin Mulhearn February 26, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    I have a small (53 slip) marina on the Caloosahatchee River across from downtown Fort Myers Florida. We love our liveaboards ! Occasionally we get a bad apple but I do monthly contracts so that we can let them go if they are a problem. Call me if you are interested in finding out more about our facility. 239-980-0051 Kevin

    • Diane McCarthy June 5, 2014 at 9:06 pm

      Hi Kevin

      We are thinking of selling it all and living aboard in Florida. Can you tell me what the costs are for living in your liveaboard community?

      We are sailors with a CS 36 and members at Cathedral Bluffs Yacht Club in Toronto, so life on the water is not new to us.

      Thanks !!

    • Jay Walker June 21, 2014 at 7:54 pm

      I am enjoying all of this useful information and learning.
      Just yesterday I was “Google Earthing” my area here in Lee County Florida to find a home for her when I make the purchase.
      I will be contacting you soon Kevin.
      (Small world)

  • Keri C. February 28, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Thank you very much for putting all this together, very helpful and insightful.

  • Paul Zellner July 7, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    All of this has been a big help. Retired now and hope to use this info soon. Thanks

  • Bob Day October 3, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    My wife and I are considering downsizing our life and buying a boat to live on in San Diego, CA. We know what we want but just have to make the decision. This article has great information that will be very helpful when we go looking for our Marina.

  • scott October 31, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    I am relocating to southern california from nevada and i am interested in renting to become a liveaboard. Is this possible and can anyone point me in the right direction? if your a renter and have any questions feel free to e-mail me thank you for any information you can provide

  • david shapiro February 22, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    i’m buying a 38′ shannon cutter rigged sailboat and intend t0 live aboard in the port washington, glen cove oyster bay etc. area. Does anyone have any knowledge of a good spot I can call home.

  • Graham York May 26, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    My name is Graham York we are looking at buying a sailboat live aboard or renting or rent to own a floating home on Vancouver Island please contact if you know of a nice cove on Vancouver Island that is reasonable close to amenities and has a good coffee shop or French Bakery and a friendly Marina with 24/7 Security
    Thank you Kindly

    • Libby Ewing October 25, 2015 at 10:18 am

      Did you find a place on the Sound? Ian looking for the same thing and would appreciate any information you have found!

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  • DS August 23, 2014 at 9:37 am

    What a fabulous resource you put together here. So very appreciated bythis wannabe liveaboard!

    BTW, i am looking to rent a liveaboard for a while before buying my boat. I want to be in a w. florida marina that is walking distance of restaurants, market, etc. i am flexible on the dates and length of stay…anytime between october this year and april of 2015. Contact 617-734-6862. Many thanks.

    Sunny breezy days to you,
    DS, Boston

  • Kate S, Madison, WI September 8, 2014 at 11:08 am

    I am 6 months away from making a move to the water, have researched exhaustively, and am still in a total panic! Your writings here make it a bit less frightening – the friendly advice I haven’t gotten until now. Thanks!

    • Maggie Dia January 12, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      Any progress Kate? I’m doing my own research to move to water and also in a panic reading these forums! We are wanting to design/build a floating home and seems like not many marinas allow them….

  • Kim D June 27, 2015 at 7:16 am

    I never knew such nice marinas exist. We are in our first boat – a 66′ houseboat. Our marina offers electricity (metered) and city water. They have bathrooms in one corner of the dock and up in the parking lot. They have dumpsters where you bring your own trash. They charge for dock maintenance as part of the slip fee but they don’t take care of the docks. I have never seen them clean them. Birds crap all over them and there are tons of cobwebs and spiders. The only time the docks get cleaned is if it rains and we are in an area that typically doesn’t get much rain. No internet, no public area to socialize or cookout, no laundry, nothing. For this we pay about $950 a month plus electric. Most people are friendly at the marina but there are a few that believe everyone wants to hear their music and bass. Security guard does nothing. Now, I wish we were able to move down to Florida and check out those marinas.

  • Christine Urbanek July 1, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    Where are you, Kim D?

  • Laura July 2, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    I am looking for a week rental on a live aboard in San Diego area.
    Specific dates July 8-15. I have lived aboard before and am considering moving to SD area. There for a week for work.
    Thanks! Laura

  • Paula Almeida July 26, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Looking for live abord slips near pompano Beach. Moving from California. We had a 30′ and sold it. We are looking for a 36-40 to live on water. Can somebody help? We have good references and credit.
    Paula and Carlos…

    • Tanya Bokat December 12, 2015 at 9:43 pm

      Are you looking for a slip or a boat? We have a 38′ boat and are looking for a liveaboard situation for someone else to liveaboard our boat. Tanya

  • Lee July 31, 2015 at 1:17 am

    Is there any problem with using the marinas address as your permanent address for car and boat registrations?

    • Adam December 31, 2015 at 9:22 am

      check with your marina. most marinas don’t mind it as long as you don’t abuse it. some will even have a “gang box” where the postal service can deliver to each unit

  • ray embach October 6, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    Kevin Mulhearn
    I have a small (53 slip) marina on the Caloosahatchee River across from downtown Fort Myers Florida. We love our liveaboards ! Occasionally we get a bad apple but I do monthly contracts so that we can let them go if they are a problem. Call me if you are interested in finding out more about our facility. 239-980-0051 Kevin

    going to be in your area first week of nov. need name of marina and location

  • Michael Montgomery November 21, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    I am NOT a boat owner but I am very interested in a live aboard rental I live in Arkansas and I’m selling my home and moving to New Orleans I live aboard would be perfect for me. Can anyone help me find someone who owns a live aboard that needs an income coming in from that live aboard. My phone number is 501 691 3 6 7 8 you can call me anytime

  • Sean November 30, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    Looking for a floating dock in the Bahamas in about 1 year presently on a 36 foot boat in Virginia Beach Virginia

  • LJ April 13, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Ah, living aboard; unless you been there don’t knock it. Lubbers just don’t get it. My first liveaboard (48′ 1938 trawler) was right out of the military. I was 22yrs old. One thing you learn real quick just coming out of service is you are unemployed, and homeless. So live aboard I did. It was a great time. I loved my liveaboard friends.
    I’m on a 1990 40′ Marine Trader.. upgrades and downscaled. I have lived on the hook. It has it’s pros and cons. I got lucky with moorage. I rent from an elderly lady who has a house w/dock on the Halifax in Daytona Beach, Florida.
    I knew Washington state was headed that way; it is not as liberal minded as people suppose it to be. And St Augustine is a rip. Too bad, so sad.
    Some quick comments on your list: A priority list
    Deep Slips are a must even on a barge.
    Fuel and pump out. Within close proximity (a quarter mile), please.
    Floating docks. Oh God yes!
    Internet, electricity, and lighting kinda go hand-in-hand; it’s a matter of voltage/signal drop over distance. A lot of folks (marina owners) figure they have power in the office, so it will transfer down to the dock. Nope. They need to invest in dock power alone… but it ain’t cheap. And whose paying rent? I try to go low voltage (AC & DC). Dead batteries suck.
    Civilization (damned if you do and damned if you don’t), Office staff (ugh), laundry/dock carts/bathing/library (really?). Privacy is a myth when combined with civilization (and office staff). I bath from a shower head, I installed on the aft deck ( my aft deck has a full enclosure; priority on the list), it’s considered gray water so over the side it goes. Walmart has handy folding wagon style carts… that come in handy… when taking laundy out. Library, isn’t that what the internet is for?
    Yeah, this is a long list. All these things we are willing to share, and learn from each other, are what make the live abroad community so special.
    Ah but don’t sit still too long, you might be growing an underwater garden.

    • Shawn Wolfe December 25, 2016 at 9:14 pm

      Hi LJ!
      I’m currently living in Seattle and we still have liveaboards! What the DNR (Dept of Natural Resources) was really trying to get rid of are the non-powered floating homes on Lake Union (think Tom Hanks floating house in Sleepless in Seattle) and I think they came to an agreement that the existing ones could stay, just no newly built ones. Actual boats were never really at risk and most marinas set limits on how many liveaboard slips they have but still allow them. It’s not cheap, but still cheaper than trying to buy waterfront property!

  • Jessica opie April 16, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Hello I now live on a 35ft 70s sail boat. Newly divorced and live docked without no electricity or flame. I’m rebuilding the old hag looking forward to my new life moving to the next door marina with water and electric keep me up dated in new opportunities. Docked on water street apalachicola fl.

  • Shannon April 19, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Looking to retire to the water full-time! It appears to sound easier than it actually is. We are learning that new FDEP regulations have made it difficult if not impossible for marinas to offer liveaboard options to their clientele. My question is this…when looking for a full-time “home port” and local marinas do not offer that option, where do you go? What do you do? Any direction is deeply appreciated. Thanks 🙂

  • Lynn June 3, 2016 at 1:47 am

    Thanks for this information. I am determined to find the right boat and the right berthing, but I am realize it is going to be a lengthy process. Your articles are a lot of help and encouragement!

  • Steve Medlock June 7, 2016 at 2:14 am

    Kevin Mulhearn
    I have a small (53 slip) marina on the Caloosahatchee River across from downtown Fort Myers Florida. We love our liveaboards ! Occasionally we get a bad apple but I do monthly contracts so that we can let them go if they are a problem. Call me if you are interested in finding out more about our facility. 239-980-0051 Kevin

    I am interested in the Marina, I am not yet living the dream and looking for info and more about small Marinas that offer livaboard .

  • Sara September 13, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks so much! Just what i was looking for.

  • Laura Gebhart October 18, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Your writing style and content made this a wonderful read! Kudos…oh and thing? How do you manage to move your car AND your boat to another marina? lol…friends I assume;) Also…your next bit can be about what to expect maint costs (the hull, engine, pest control, etc.) to be on a liv a board…insurance, where do you go when there are storms and getting certified to and/or learning to navigate your new home…

  • Debbie January 14, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    My husband and I would like to try to live aboard a house boat or larger sail boat. We don’t care to leave the dock with a rental. If you know of anyone please let me know. 770-775-3999 St Augustine area.

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  • Marina Living – Living Aboard April 26, 2017 at 12:08 am

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