The liveaboard life

Dinghy drift social hour, in which pvc pipe has been creatively used to deliver both cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. New friends are easy to make in the liveaboard life. Photo courtesy Mike Camarata

By Mike Camarata
For Points East

I am a full-time liveaboard. I am also a snowbird. I have been called plenty of other names, but we’ll stick with those two for now.

A liveaboard is a person who owns a boat and – wait for it – lives on it. Full-time. Liveaboards may own dirt-based homes, but, if they have cruised out of their home area, they can qualify as a liveaboard. A true liveaboard, however, no longer has dirt-based property. We’re not snobs, however. If you say you’re a liveaboard, even part time, we accept you.

A snowbird is someone who cruises on a boat with the seasons, heading south as it gets cold and back north when it starts to warm up. Some snowbirds do this by moving from a summer home to a winter home in warmer climes, but we’re not talking about those kinds of people. People who don’t have boats. People who don’t know better.

Sometimes folks will tell us how envious they are of our lifestyle. How they wish they could live our life. Others ask what we do all day. Or how it is that we can live in such a small space, and what the restrictions are. And just why do we live this way, anyway?

To those who say they wish they could live our lifestyle, we often simply smile and tell them they could easily do it. They just need to have a boat. That’s it. Oh, and they need to simplify their life. Get rid of most of the things they’ve collected and just need dusting. A big house with rooms they barely use. Yards that need mowing. Leaves that need raking. Driveways that get piled high with snow. Lose all of that stuff. Do you really need it? Really?

But . . . but . . . but what about family? What about medical care? What about our friends? Surprisingly, people who live on boats have cars at marinas, or bikes, or alternative transportation. They have family or children they see just as often as they used to when they lived on dirt. Some have their kids living aboard with them. And, when they travel our waterways, they find that pretty much wherever they go there are grocery stores. Most people have to eat, even those who live near the water.

Also, there are hospitals to go to if necessary. Doctors, dentists, Starbucks, and other important providers are available, too. And they are still in contact with old friends. Actually, we have those old friends and make many more new ones out in the wider world. So you just have to decide if you really want to live aboard. Live much closer to nature. It takes an honest self-evaluation. Do you really want to live freer? Simplify your life? Have fewer burdens? Not everyone does. They just think they do. And that’s all right. Makes more room for the rest of us.

The practical questions about living on a boat full-time are the ones we answer more often. The philosophical questions are more boring and tedious. And generally pointless. The liveaboard life is about what we do, how we do it, and what happens day-to-day for most of us who enjoy this lifestyle.

First, and perhaps most importantly, we are much closer to nature than the average homeowner. Whether at anchor, moored, or on a dock, we have to be more aware of the weather, both in the present and the short-term future. Is rain going to fill up the dinghy while we’re away? Will the dock become dangerously slippery? Will the wind blow items off our boat, or even blow the boat away? Important issues.

So we have to think and plan a bit more than dirt-dwellers do. You get used to it. And enjoy it. Mostly. Usually. The slight increase in danger versus living in a house adds a little salt to the spice of life. Okay, that was a pun those of us living on the ocean subject our friends to. And now you.

So living on a boat requires a bit more planning for everyday things. For a dirt-dweller, going to work or to shop might mean a short run in the rain to the car or from the car to the mall. No big deal. For us it means a longer time in the weather in a dinghy, or a walk on a slippery dock to the car.

Wind and bumpy seas can make it a little more exciting, too. But no big deal. It makes you feel more alive. If you spend life aboard in the freezing north (above South Carolina) you have to deal with freezing dock water pipes, very slippery docks, and major condensation in your boat as you heat it. That is why you also want, if possible, to become a snowbird as well as a liveaboard. So the liveaboard life is going to be about how we deal with the day-to-day events of the living-aboard life, but let me start with a little flavor of daily life.

When we are under way on the Intracoastal Waterway, 99.5% of the passing boats wave to us or respond to a wave from us. Some small powerboats zoom by too quickly, and a few of the larger powerboats (I see you, sportfishermen) go by generating four-foot or larger wakes. They may not get a wave. But nearly all of the sailboats, and the majority of the cruising powerboats, get a wave or a return wave. And a smile. How many people on the highway while you’re in your car get a wave? With all your fingers?

And your neighbors? When you leave your house, you may wave to your immediate neighbor if you catch them going to their car just as you’re leaving, but that’s it. Once you get moving, they are not likely to see you in your car. No wave.

At our Connecticut mooring, we do not have close neighbors, but the small boats transiting our area usually get or give a wave. In our Florida mooring field, we have between 200 and 300 boats around. Think about how big your neighborhood is. Probably much smaller. But when we are in the dinghy, between the marina and our boat, every dinghy passing, or moored boat we pass, waves to us. Always. Believe me, we don’t know them all.

So that’s a small taste of the flavor of the liveaboard life. More about this lifestyle may be coming in future issues of Points East.

Michael Camarata and his wife and co-captain Carol Zipke are full-time liveaboard cruisers, mostly snowbirds, whose home is the 44-foot catamaran, Infinite Improbability. They have been boating for more than 35 years, and, Mike says, “No longer do we own any dirt-based property.” They are both Senior Navigators and Past Commanders of the Waterbury (Conn.) Power Squadron of the USPS. Mike is also one of Waterway Guide’s Cruising Editors. (Northern Edition)