Many people have thought about dropping out of the rat race and retire to a live aboard boat in order to experience the simpler life and travel to exotic places. There are many benefits associated with this type of lifestyle, and waking up in the morning to the smell of the salt air and friendly neighborhood tropical birds looking for their morning breakfast in your backyard are definitely in the top two! Once you've made the decision to live aboard a boat, then there are several more choices that you need to decide on.
What type of boat will it be, a mono-hull or a catamaran? What is the length of hull that you're looking for? How much money are you prepared to invest into the boat and where will you dock it? There will be so much less space than what you're used to in a house, and storage places will come at a premium. Some boats have more space than others, and you will soon find that out when you start attending boat shows around the country or world. How much comfort are you willing to give up for a life of adventure on the high seas?
Mono-hulls are usually what people think of when boating comes to mind, but they do have plenty of drawbacks. They have a deep keel in order to help as ballast and to keep the vessel upright, which is highly useful if you are out on the ocean! But because of this keel, there will also be a great amount of rocking and rolling from side to side as waves hit the boat. If you are not used to this motion, you could very well end up with a bad case of sea sickness that will spoil your cruise. Mono-hulls do tend to have more space onboard for living and storage however, because the shape of the hull is very conducive to that in relation to depth. You will immediately realize though, that the width or beam leaves much to be desired and is often narrows with regard to the total length.
In my opinion the hull of choice is the catamaran, which is a much wider or beamy vessel, and some of the larger boats are so stable in rough weather that a champagne glass sitting on the galley table will not tip or fall over! The ideal length for a cruising catamaran to comfortably accommodate a married couple is anywhere from 36 feet to 55 feet, and the price goes up quite a bit each foot that is added on. A catamaran is designed to sit on top of the water more than a mono-hull, and is usually much wider in beam. For example, the typical 50 foot mono-hull might have a 12 -16 foot beam, but a 50 foot catamaran may have a 26 – 30 foot beam! This really leads to stability in very rough seas, with a huge reduction in the side to side rolling of the mono-hulls. A catamaran has two hulls with an open space between them for the seas to pass through and usually the galley and living area sitting out of the water between the hulls. This leads to good visibility above the water, and a nice wide area for cooking, eating, and entertaining yourself and guests. Some models will have the galley located down in one of the two hulls to create even more living space above. The sleeping areas, cabins, and heads are located down in the hulls on either side of the boat, and depending on the size can normally accommodate up to 4 couples.
The biggest drawback I've personally seen with catamaran boats is the "turnaround room" when standing down in the hulls. I always do an "elbow test" when down in the hulls, which means that I am standing with my hands on my hips and my elbows out and then I stand in one spot and turn around in a circle. If my elbows touch or knock anything, it's a very cramped space! Unfortunately, most of the vessels I've tested had this drawback, but I did find one 52 foot South African boat that passed this test. In fact, there was so much living area and storage space on this boat that I call it a "condo catamaran"! It was pure luxury, with up to six cabins on a normal layout, or for the discerning owner they can have one whole hull just for them which is described as the "owner's layout". This is the layout that really appeared to me, and will provide much closet space and a very private living area for those long voyages with guests. I encourage everyone who is looking for the perfect vessel to go to as many boat shows as they can so they can personally check all the various factors involved and to see if it's something you can live on. The Miami International Boat Show will usually have plenty of both mono-hulls and catamarans for viewing and comparison.
Another factor or decision that you'll have to make is whether it's going to be power or sail. That usually depends on your background and where you plan on boating to. For those people planning on doing an around the world trip, they might seriously consider purchasing a sailboat because it's going to be much cheaper and there really are not as many boats that can carry enough fuel for those trans oceanic voyages. For those people planning to stay closer to shore or mainly coastal travel may look for power boats, even though the fuel will still be an issue for most trips. There are a few boats that are designed for long range expedition voyages that are less than 55 feet long, and they can carry enough fuel to comfortably transit the Pacific or any other intensive cruise. However, for a power boat of this size, be prepared to spend close to a million US dollars or more for a brand new boat. By far the vast majority of around the world cruisers will opt for a sailing vessel, either catamaran or mono-hull. Catamarans tend to be more expensive due to the size and desirability of them, and they also may have higher marina fees associated because of their widths. In fact, a good percentage of them may not fit in some marinas due to how wide they are, and will have to anchor out in the harbor and use a dinghy to travel back and forth to the shore. This can be very time consuming and tiring, especially when traveling back and forth with many packages of food, drinks, or other items needed to rest the boat. These are the types of things you'll need to think about before you decide on and purchase your live aboard boat.
Are you an experienced sailor or boater, or will you need to arrange for some classes to learn more about being on the water? There are plenty of Coast Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron facilities around in the US that can provide the appropriate training needed to safely operate your new vessel. It's very important to feel comfortable with the operation of your boat, and take it offshore for short excursions as often as you can before you embark on any long cruise away from shore. Become an expert, after all, your life will be at stake! Be prepared for any situation, whether it's medical or mechanical, and know what to do to fix it. Take a marine mechanic course, because if your boats engine breaks down far out at sea you'll want to know what to do to correct the problem. You will not be able to just bring the boat into the nearest shop at that point!
There will be many decisions that you'll have to make before choosing and purchasing your new boat and probably training you'll need in order to safely operate it, but the benefits of this lifestyle more than outweigh the negatives. You will need to be prepared for a total changeover compared to living ashore, because of the cramped conditions and inconveniences associated with boat living. Choose wisely, learn all you can before you buy, and get ready for the time of your life! It's what you've always wanted, so get out there and take the plunge!