10 Things Marina Owners May Not Tell You About Living Onboard

November 2020 Own Janet Groene and Gordon Groene

In 17th century England, laws established that “a man’s home is his castle.” When it’s your home, your houseboat is protected by common law but it’s also subject to the laws of the marina, anchorage, boat yard or other landlord who owns the location where the houseboat resides.

If the houseboat is your only home, first make sure living onboard 24/7 is permitted at all. Then note these things that may not have been mentioned. 

1. How You’re Viewed

Your dream might be the marina’s nightmare. Living aboard is a goal that many of us work hard to achieve and harder still to uphold. It comes as a shock when others view your lifestyle as nutty, freeloading or hedonistic. Any marina operator who has dealt with transients has horror stories about liveaboards. You may not be the celeb you think you are.

2. Coverage Proof

Liveaboards must carry a huge liability insurance policy. You’re responsible for your own boat, but also for damage your boat could do to nearby vessels. You may be required to show that you have six- or seven-figure liability insurance.  

3. Membership Required?

Before buying a membership in a yacht club, know your rights at home and away. A yacht club may be closed to non-members, open to guests of members or available to non-members for a fee. When you can take advantage of reciprocal privileges at other yacht clubs during a long cruise, your home club membership can be a lifesaver. Dockage may be free or highly discounted.  

4. Commitment Issues

The best rates may not be available at first. The best part of liveaboard cruising is the luxury of staying a month here, or a season there. Long-term rates are highly discounted, but some marina managers may be “unable to commit a lease just now.” That may be a polite way of saying they want to look you over before offering a long-term deal. Stay a while at nightly rates, and then ask again if a long-term deal is likely to be available.

5. Work In Progress

You can’t live onboard during repairs and maintenance at some marinas. If the boatyard doesn’t know you have no other place to stay, they may not tell you that they require you to vacate the boat when it’s being worked on. This is usually an insurance rule, not a lack of hospitality.

6.  Party Hearty

In tourist areas where boaters have to cram a lot of fun into a short vacation, sportfishing boats start their big diesels before first light and the last merrymakers stagger back to their own boats at 3 a.m. Does the marina have quiet hours and are they enforced?

7. On Site Resources

Your pump-out may not be dockside. Even though the pump-out may be available at the marina for free or for a fee, you may have to leave your berth to get it.

8. Shore Power

Even when docks are adequately wired for 30- and 50-amp service, local power companies may be subject to frequent shut-offs. This is especially true at older marinas and/or developing nations. Ask if the marina has its own backup power or if you must run your own generator during outages.

9. Taxi Service

The fare into town could be a rip-off. If you don’t have your own transportation for shopping and exploring, what are your alternatives? Some marinas have a free loaner car while larger marinas may even have on-site car, golf cart, bicycle or scooter rentals. Public buses may stop at or near the marina and larger cities have coin-operated bicycle rental stations. Be sure to know all your alternatives before calling a cab.

10. 24-Hour Coverage

It’s good to have a dockmaster available around the clock and even more important to have effective security. Find out who will be available if a problem should arise.

In boating, to “leave a sticky wake” means behaving so badly that the next liveaboard who comes through will be caught in flotsam and jetsam you left behind. Take one for the team.


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. Their books include Living Aboard and Creating Comfort Afloat. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at www.BoatCook.blogspot.com.

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