Small, independant living units, on water ? - Possible ?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by rwatson, Mar 29, 2014.

  1. rwatson
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    Location: Tasmania,Australia

    rwatson Senior Member

    I include a really informative quote from Eric Sponberg (well done Eric ), that is interesting to me, and maybe to others.

    We see time after time threads on "retirement houseboats", "shanty boats" etc, all with the aim of creating some independent, flexible, inexpensive living environments.

    The main premise in all of these is the potential savings on land purchase and land based amenities. Secondarily, the ability to relocate easily and cheaply as desired.

    At one time, I thought it might be viable, but after several years it appears ( in my location at least ) that after you weigh up the real costs associated with repairs, transport and amenities of boats, that land based 'living machines' are still way cheaper for the amount of value that they provide.

    For a start, the initial cost of a decent sized hull, and the gear to provide electricity - is probably not that much greater than a bigger block of (not prime) land with similar equipment - and you don't have the annual costs of hull maintenance and other repairs created by being water borne.

    Second - mooring fees are not all that cheap. They are probably similar to water/sewer rates on land. If you don't permanently moor, then you are subject to the bother and possible dangers of water transport to the floating 'living machine'

    If anyone else cares to provide some views about the subject, perhaps based on real experience, I would be very interested in 'hearing' them.

  2. waikikin
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    waikikin Senior Member

    It's possible to live very cheaply on the water, my experience of this is living aboard a 10m sailing cat for a couple of years when first married. Most places living aboard is not condoned so you need to sail under the radar. Generally no issue unless you have party mode on, loud music, washing out & we generally brought the dinghy up close between the hulls.
    costs roughly 20 years ago were $80 month mooring(now 300)- the boatshed we rented from allowed after hours alongside too, kero for stove/hot water about 15 a month, Laundromat about 30 a week & the lady owner would fold strait out of the dryer.... very presentable, food was what would be eaten anyway & with small refridgeration shopped daily, insurance was about 1400 PA, antifouling was careening between tides with ply pads on the sand & tarp rolled out to catch drips, around 8 liters plus tape & disposable rollers & brushes, the vessel was insured for 130K but market value around 100 on sale.
    Other than that I lived very cheaply in a 10' x 14' tin shed on land to NSW South Coast, whilst I built a "proper" house, pretty much like camping in a tin tent, again shopped daily, gas for the stove & hot water, rates of around 1000 PA on land that cost 9500 30 years ago(now 120-150K.
    This is in stark contrast to current residence, brick veneer in southern area of Sydney, houses in this street 600-1000K, 2-3 shiney cars in the drives, I know how I got here..... by doing all that other stuff to save money & by buying building materials to put it up myself..... much harder to do these days apparently.....
    I'm sure it's still possible to live cheaply on a boat or in a caravan, must just take some extra effort than accepting what's considered "normal" though.
    I believe land costs less in Tas but not so little as it used to.
    All the best from Jeff.
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    FAST FRED Senior Member

    Money savings is not the object for the retired,


    As the days of ones lifetime are not shortened by the days spent afloat , living on the water is a great concept.

    The sad part is these folks never discover real boating, and just duplicate a dirt house lifestyle tied forever to a dock.

    A boat , or houseboat, simply anchored out is far superior in terms of lifestyle, privacy, ventilation and views.

    On a clear night one can actually see stars!
  4. philSweet
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    Location: Beaufort, SC and H'ville, NC

    philSweet Senior Member

    Well, I've got a bit of experience of low cost living both on land and water. I've been a full time rv'er since '93. I currently have a 37' 5th wheel with four slides, but started out in a 1963 25' Airstream. I volunteer a few hours a week at the rv park in exchange for rent and utilities. My living expenses last year were a bit under 5k. Top rated park, My neighbors are millionaires. My footprint is a 75' x 40' site with a beautiful few over a small lake and the farmland beyond. Walmart is 1 mile away. I drive 30 miles per week - to visit my parents.

    I lived on my boat also. 38' Catalina anchored in Beauford SC. It was free until last week, but the anchorage is being taken over by the Beauford City Marina. I just reserved my ball for $200/mo. That's not too bad since it costs me at least half that to maintain my anchors, and I can't really set them by myself anymore. Figure in the risk and liability issues, and I'm okay with it (and I'm parked in the marina while they build the mooring field for the same 200/mo:)). My boat has received minor damage twice in the past three years from other boats. The next time it might not be so minor. Other benefits include free parking and shower house and secure dingy dock (proposed). If I can leave my dingy at Beauford and drive a cheap car there instead of my truck, that will save me another $50 bucks each trip.

    The key to living cheap in the modern world is to NEVER buy anything that won't last 20 years. If you average 30 years of use from every dollar you spend, it only costs $5000 a year to maintain 150K in capital goods. You can have nice cars, boats, a house, tools, and all kinds of stuff for a 150K. I buy $16/pair socks because they last 20 years. I budget $150/yr for clothes.

    One difficulty in living small is energy efficiency. My energy footprint is not as small as my physical footprint might suggest. I work the energy angle mostly by not being wasteful. I live in an inherently material efficient community. But fuel for heating is quite high because all these units are poorly insulated and often just run strip heat. Electric + propane was running up to $300/month for some residents, but the 43', million dollar bus running heat pumps with diesel backup was 1/3 of that. I use about the same energy to heat my rv as my parents do to heat their 1400sqft house - and I keep mine 10 degrees cooler. I'll replace my ac's with heatpumps when they break - probably in about 20 years.
  5. Eric Sponberg
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    Thanks for reposting, RW, and I'll be interested to see continuing comments.

  6. oceannavigator2

    oceannavigator2 Previous Member

    I'm also an early adopter of this. Been in small spaces (boats and small RVs) since 2006. I do not enjoy being stuck in one area.
  7. frank smith
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    frank smith Senior Member

    It all depends on the individual. Some people can go off into the woods with a 40lb pack, and enjoy a week comfortably, others need a villa. How big a boat do you need, what amenities are necessary for you? How much money do you have? In the end if you want to do it, you will, or you wont. It depends on the person.
  8. Squidly-Diddly
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    Location: SF bay

    Squidly-Diddly Senior Member

    Click my "handle" for my gallery to see my 'modular' concept.

    I'm a 'dirt' carpenter by trade.

    One of the key concepts would be the ability to add and subtract specialized hulls, so you might own a fast cat with structural tent or even RV perched on flat deck, but could rent a hull able to a week or month's worth of water and sewer.

    And of course you could add hulls and deck in any direction, all 'bolt on' and more or less all 'pre-engineered' within limits for any given condition.

    Be heavier than more engineered system, but simpler to plan and use, and hopefully cheaper, especially if such a system gains Critical Mass enough so parts have resale value.

    I think the "big problem" will remain the amount of sewage produced by anything close to 'dirt house' lifestyle.

    I had no problem living in van for a few months. Even became more productive without a whole house to distract me. But I had access to land based plumbing 90% of the time.
  9. frank smith
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    frank smith Senior Member

    A small green house, and a composting toilet could take care of fecal matter. That would leave urine and grey water. It would be nice to use the nitrogen rich urine for fertilize, or to make gun powder.
  10. Squidly-Diddly
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    Squidly-Diddly Senior Member

    Thing is when you wash your arse fecal matter gets into grey water, and in general 'shower water' isn't something you want to directly recycle.

    The real problem is local authorities in any decent region will be all over anyone 'setting up house', and will generally assume the worst and not be impressed by any CLAIMS you and your homemade systems 'got it all handled'.

    I've never heard of any authorities on land cutting any slack for "grey water". Waste water is waste water to them, with the possible exception of rinse off hoses at marinas.

    Thats why I'd lean towards a specialized water and sewer hull that would come with some sort of certification to satisfy local authorities and be fairly easily serviced.
  11. frank smith
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    frank smith Senior Member

    Yeah, I see your point. Perhaps a total system then, designed, tested and approved.
    What are they doing in Sausalito? This another point of how much money do you have. If you have the money to store it and have it trucked away, then no problem. If not then you will have to be conservative, and reduce you consumption of beer while on the water
  12. Westfield 11
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    Westfield 11 Senior Member

    I could be wrong, but from here it sure looks like dsome of the cost savings derived from a floating lifestyle comes from illegality. Both in location and in what I think of as "house systems"

    Illegal location means a lifestyle that involves "flying under the radar" as one poster put it and saving money by essentially squatting in a place where one is not supposed to live long term or by evading marina or mooring fees. This is no different than simply not paying ones property taxes and getting the benefits of a community without contributing towards the cost of that community.

    Illegal house services range from making electricity with noisy and grossly polluting generators to homemade sewage purification systems of dubious effectiveness and include dumping grey water directly overboard. While gratuitously creating air pollution is not illegal it is certainly not something to be proud of, the same with adding to the nitrogen in our bays and estuarys contributing to algae blooms by pouring grey water from sinks and showers overboard as well as "feeding the fishes" with garbage. I have even heard of liveaboards who urinate in their showers to extend the intervals between pump outs, if they ever do pump out at all.

    A lifestyle based upon evading reasonable health and sanitation regulations or upon using land based services like sewage or water without contributing to the upkeep of those services by illegally anchoring out or by evading mooring or marina fees is nothing to promote or encourage. Nothing romantic or noble in being a floating freeloader. It is no different than the dozens of permanent RV residents who park on the side streets of our city, move their campers once a week on street sweeping day and bathe in the restrooms of the local gas stations and convenience stores taking advantage of police and fire protection, public parks, ER services, etc. Two of our nicest parks are essentially off limits to residents as they are filled all day with RV gypsies and their dogs using the public parks as their livingrooms. These are not transient tourists, but longterm full time residents who are drawn by our warm climate, low crime and pleasant surroundings. Since we have been "discovered" the climate hasn't changed, but the crime rate has risen and the surroundings are decidedly less pleasent.
  13. frank smith
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    frank smith Senior Member

    Westfield 11, I think that part of the deal is to avoid being hassled all the time, so I dont think it would be a good idea to start off doing things the wrong way, However On my daily walks, i dodge great pile of dog crap, yet am not allowed to relieve myself.
    The rest of your comments sound like they come from an uptight control freak, the kind that most of us get boats to avoid.
  14. WestVanHan
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    WestVanHan Not a Senior Member

    Don't forget depreciation of purchased units-be they RVs,boats,houseboats etc.
    I guess value won't matter a whole lot if one kicks the bucket while living in it-but if one needs to go into a seniors home it'd be nice to get some decent money back/support the wife with something that might sell within a decent amount of time.

    As well,all this will vary with location.
    In the Vancouver BC area any liveaboard dockage within decent distance of any amenities is expensive-so much so it would be much cheaper just to buy a cheap condo and make payments.Or an RV,and park it.

  15. frank smith
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    frank smith Senior Member

    WestVanHan, you're on the right track with kicking the bucket, but remember you only live once.
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