Why Live Aboard?

Whenever I tell people about my plans to live aboard, the most common response I get is a half-cocked eyebrow and the question ‘why would you want to do that?’. This article discusses the reasons for our decision to move aboard and the life problems that we hope to solve by doing so.

An abandoned tug in Fisherman's Bay, Lopez. This would have made a great liveaboard boat.

I have dreamed for several years now of living aboard a boat. There are really three big reasons why. In order of most importance to least important, I define them as: love of nature, control over my life, and concerns over the future.

However, these are not discrete topics. They are interconnected. The desire for more control over my life stems from my love of nature and the desire to spend more time immersed in the natural world. My concerns over the future make the desire for control over my life stronger, so that I can mitigate the problems I see down the road.

Love of Nature

It took me quite a few years to realize that most people don’t feel the same way I do about the San Juan Islands. Whenever I cross Rosario Strait, that imaginary dividing line, I feel a very strong sense of coming home. This isn’t a quiet feeling. It’s a visceral joy, so powerful that my skin start to tingle – very similar to the pins and needles you feel when your arm falls asleep, but more pleasant. I feel like singing and dancing, and quite frequently, I do. I have a strong sense that I’m where I’m supposed to be.

This is my home and I fit in naturally here. This feeling, which stems from my passion for life, love of nature, and confidence in my abilities as a boater and forager is my personal definition of San Juan Sufficiency. It’s the culmination of those three factors: desire, love, and a hard won confidence, based on experience.

point wilson dart

This tiny fish decided to try an eat a lure four times its size. I'm endlessly amused by things like this.

I am a better person when immersed in the natural world. In the city, I avoid people. I am skeptical of their intentions and avoid socializing. In the San Juans, I seek out other boaters. I love to hear their stories and see if I can render any assistance.

I am endlessly entertained by the natural world. I watch the birds and am amazed at how each species has evolved in such a specialized way. I am fascinated by the deer, squirrels, and other wildlife and their social interactions with one another. My breath is taken away with one beautiful scene after another – be it a wild flower, a sunset, or a kelp bed teaming with life.

A boat in the San Juan Islands is the perfect way to immerse yourself in nature. For this reason alone, I want to live on a boat in the San Juan Islands. But there are other reasons too.

Control Over My Life

When I was twelve and I built my cabin in the woods, it was my first big attempt to integrate my love of nature and a desire for more control over my life. I remember that as a kid, I looked forward to becoming an adult. I resented my parents, teachers, and all the adults in my life who told me what to do, when to wake up, what to wear, where to go, and how to behave. I have always had a strong sense of what is best for me. I have never had any desire to control the life of someone else and I have never desired to let anyone else control my life.

Enjoying some leisure time. Floating around in the dingy reading a book.

As I got older, I realized that adults have very little control over their lives too. They have mortgages, jobs, money, and other responsibilities that dictate where they have to be and what they have to do. Leisure time, which is our greatest natural resource, is in practice our most scarce luxury. When was the last time you blew off work to go fishing or to take a hike in the woods?

In my life for instance, I spend at least five days a week in the following routine: I wake up at a time I otherwise wouldn’t, to wear clothes that I prefer not to wear, to go to a place I don’t want to go, to do work that I really don’t care about. I do this all in the name of responsibility. I have a mortgage and bills to pay and wife to support. I don’t even have the responsibilities of children, and I already feel completely stifled by the mold that society has cast for me.

What it really comes down to is quality of life. If I was to forgo a job and money, I wouldn’t be able to afford my current cost of living and my quality of life would go down as I sank into poverty. It is fear of poverty, and resultant loss of the quality of life, that keeps me (and everyone else) on the treadmill of progress. But what if quality of life and the cost of living didn’t go hand in hand?

This is all a long winded way of saying that living aboard allows me to have greater control of my life by having greater control over my cost of living, without sacrificing my quality of life. The solar panels and wind turbines will provide the vast majority of my electricity needs. The wood stove and propane provide heat at the lowest cost. Moorage isn’t cheap, but is significantly less than a mortgage or rent on an apartment. And eventually we’ll cruise full time, which means the moorage cost will decrease significantly.

Plus, small is efficient. Fourty feet makes for a large boat, but a small apartment. However, small apartments are efficient to heat and much cheaper to live in. All these things give me greater control over my life because they allow me greater control over my expenses. By lowering expenses, I don’t have to work as much, and that long sought after luxury, leisure time, is suddenly within my grasp.

Concerns About the Future

Finally, there is the future. One of the last classes I took in college was called ‘Sustainable Engineering’ and it focused on all the world problems that my generation of engineers is expected to fix. In the five years since I’ve graduated, I’ve come to realize that these problems are not going to be fixed. Too little has been done and we’ve crossed some very important tipping points. Additionlly, we aren’t facing a single problem, but three main issues:

By themselves, they could cripple our economy and our way of life. Together, it’s a recipe for calamety. Despite the urging of many intelligent people and knowledgable scientists, our society has failed to take any significant steps to avoid these problems. To quote Dick Cheney, “the American way of life is not negotiable”.

Most peoples eyes glaze over when faced with such large, long term problems. It’s no wonder, as we’re hard wired to ignore these warnings. However, the data at this point is irrifutable. Socially and economically, we have created a ‘perfect storm’, and I plan to weather it out on my boat. Not only does my boat allow me to live less expensivly, it also allows me to be much less dependent on our modern society.


From my point of view, it will be much easier to take steps now than later. I truly believe that we will hit a tipping point where a significant portion of the global population will ‘wake up’ and realize that we, as a society and an economy, are about to face some serious pain. I believe that point is a few months to a few years away. In the meantime, inflation will rise and the poor will continue to get poorer. Life will get harder. I plan on being financially poor in the future, and so I am buying assetts (like a wood stove, a generator, and solar panels) that will insure my quality of life. It will be much harder to incorporate these things into your life when everyone else is trying to do the same thing.

Let’s Discuss!

What do you think? I am genuinely interested in getting peoples feedback on these topics. What do you think about my plans? What are you doing to prepare for the future in your life? Am I crazy? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Click on the monkey’s fist to read others bloggers on this topic.

The Monkey's Fist

Related posts:

Transitioning to a Liveaboard
Full Disclosure – Financing My Liveaboard Life
Sailing the Gulf Islands, Part 11 (The End)
4 Responses to “Why Live Aboard?”
  1. Corey says:

    Love the Cheney Quote!

    Chris, your not crazy, as a matter of fact, your a member of a VERY small percentage of Americans that is using you brain and seeing the big picture at the same time- so rare! All the information is out there and it can be too scary to realize and face for most people. Im not being as proactive as I should, but Im working on it and am very aware of the “perfect storm” approaching. Of coarse, as you wrote, we are all wired this way(to live as viruses do) consuming until its gone, even if you can see that whatever it is is running out!
    I hate to admit it, but, Im a consumer like everyone else, I shop at stores that sell vegetables and meat that were no doubt raised in harsh, unfavorable and unsustainable ways, I burn oil in the form of gasoline, diesel, propane etc, I use a cell phone and computer like I “need” it, I make money helping extract oil and gas from the bottom of the sea!
    Its ironic to me that I feel more educated than most about the future of our global society and have worked hard to make as much money as I can without a formal education(merchant marines), get myself debt free( almost there), and get as mobile as I can with a boat or van or BOTH to escape to the hills when the system capsizes. My earlier ideas were to have a property with a massive garden and small farm to subside, then I bought a large sailboat that sucked at my bank account a little too hard, so now I have a large van thats capable of traveling pretty much any backroad packed with food and water and propane for cooking- solar panels and generator coming soon. Next I would like to invest in a trailerable boat to fish and crab and ski behind etc.
    When I worked for NOAA up in SW Alaska, I was amazed how one could EASILY disappear for any amount of time in one or many of the thousands of untouched coves and bays that are teaming with game and sea critters to eat.
    In my travels, Ive had the opportunity to see poverty in its genuine form, however, the people are content. It was hard for me to appreciate at first, but thats because I was blessed to happen to be born in the US to a middle class family. Sometimes I look around here in Nigeria and wonder WHY or HOW can people live like this? Then I give myself a mental slap in the face. Thats the environment they were born in, just like we were born in a mass consuming society, the majority of the world looks at us not in envy, but with resentment on how we take and take and even more so, we continue to invest in other countries goods as they watch in amazement, our wealth diminish with useless junk that will help fill our landfills, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the US start to SELL our trash to another country. Ill stop hating on Corporate America now… Anyways, these issues are complex and it almost looks like a runaway train to me.
    I really like your boat and am gonna keep my eye open for something similar. Its perfect for what your about to do, so, well done Sir! And when the rest of society is robbing each other and trying to eat paper money or precious rocks, Ill knock on your hull and trade some fresh food or vegetables for a bottle of wine or something.

  2. Great post! We agree that times are just getting harder, and we may as well live simply while cruising on a boat and exploring the world instead of stuck in a house! I believe the ability to be self-sufficient may be priceless in the future!

  3. Joe says:

    Wow…exactly how I see quality of life. After 2008 and the financial disaster the country found itself in, I concluded that 1) I needed to be debt free – I’m there. 2) I needed to enjoy nature Hence….a boat. First living aboard 4 days a week and then transition to full time live aboard.

    I found that one can live with less space. So, while I am earning good coin, I will enjoy life aboard a 48 footer. It is a whole lot more fun and definitely cheaper than a house or an apartment in Southern California.

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