Liveaboard Costs: A Reality Check

October 2015 Feature Janet Groene and Gordon Groene


When you lived on shore, household costs came in dribbles and downpours and not always at the best time. The same is true when your home is a houseboat, even a boat that was brand new and fully equipped when you moved onboard. You no longer have to seed the lawn or re-shingle the roof, but living onboard takes its own toll in wear and tear.

If you can swing it, put aside five to ten percent of the cost of the boat yearly for repairs, upgrades, replacements and emergencies. If you’re a clever shopper, do most of your own work, and are lucky, this fund will grow. If you must hire everything to be done, are accident prone, and have bad luck, it may not stretch far enough.

Let’s say you moved into a $100,000 houseboat and budget $5 to $10K the first year for a boat fund. You may add a few personal touches, but for now it’s smooth sailing. Add another $5 to $10K in years two and three. Everything is still pretty new, suited to your lifestyle, and the fund continues to grow. However, by year four you’ll be tapping into the fund as soft goods start to look shabby and mechanicals get cranky. In any case, the game is to reach year 10 with enough money to make major upgrades or repairs or to put a substantial down payment on a new houseboat.

Where might the money go? Here’s just a sampling.

AC Units

Air conditioners work hard. If you have to replace one, the good news is new models are more energy-efficient and may weigh less too. Plan to spend about $600 for a high-efficiency rooftop unit with 13,500 units of cooling power. Installation will start around $75 and up.

Helm Chairs

Captain and co-pilot chairs start at about $300 plus and about $60 for installation and go as high as $1,200 or more. Ready-made slip covers for the old chairs cost about $60 each; custom slip covers cost a little more.


The good news is that inverters are getting lighter, better and cheaper every year. As you add solar panels, upgrade inverters too. 


LED lights shave energy use and reduce generator time, but LED bulbs are expensive. Upgrades cost even more if you get new LED-friendly fixtures. This is one home improvement that can be done piecemeal as the budget allows.

Microwave Combo    

Discard your microwave in favor of a combination microwave/convection oven for around $500.  


CB radio is still alive and well on the highways. It’s a lifesaver for houseboaters on long stretches of rivers where marine radio and cell phones get poor reception. Plan to spend about $100 for a CB and another $60 and up for installation.


Propane cylinders are dangerous when they become rusty or battered. A new 30-pounder costs around $75.

Satellite Radio

A receiver costs about $200 plus the antenna (another $110) with installation around $110. A subscription to programming will run you about $15 a month and up.


Digital TV service costs $2,000 to $2,400 and that doesn’t include installation or the monthly subscription. Keep in mind that cheaper units don’t track satellites when the boat is moving.

Shower Door

If your pleated shower door dies, a new one will cost between $55 and $75 depending on the size. Installation is usually an easy, do-it-yourself job involving two-sided tape and a screw. However, upgrading to a sliding glass or plastic shower doors can run into hundreds of dollars.


Sofa beds and sofas get shabby over time. A new, marine-grade sofa costs $800 and more and easy chairs cost about $350 and up.


A new toilet will run you $180 and up depending on the style, plus installation around $100 if you’re replacing an existing toilet using existing plumbing.

Window Coverings

Window coverings wear quickly from motion and harsh sun. Standard-size mini-blinds run about $35 to $90 each and custom sizes can cost you hundreds of dollars. Bring an expert onboard for an estimate and always be sure to ask if installation is included.


You can add an icemaker for your wet bar for about $800 depending on plumbing and wiring.


A washer/dryer combination unit costs between $800 and $1,000, but are a must for liveaboards.


A water filter at the galley sink assures that your coffee and reconstituted orange juice will taste the same in every port, every day. Add a filter with its own faucet for $70 to $90, plus installation of $60. Replacement filters, which you can change yourself as needed, will cost you between $30 and $40.

Knowing up front what your potential cost may be down the road will help you as a liveaboard be prepared so you’ll be set for smooth waters ahead.

About the Authors

“Living Aboard” is a recurring column that focuses on living on your houseboat. Gordon and Janet Groene lived full-time on the go for ten years and they hold the NMMA Directors Award for boating journalism. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at



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