I spoke with one of our brokers last week and we got around to talking about couples looking for a trawler yacht to live aboard. It is a well-worn topic of discussion on many of the trawler forums, as people dream about combining their love of boats and the water with their “regular” life.
I suspect anyone who enjoys cruising has pondered this on occasion. What would it be like to live on a boat full time, balancing the romance of living on the water with the realities of a job, career, and the rest of life “back in the world?”
I will say at the outset that in all likelihood there is an ideal liveaboard for you. Granted, the word “ideal” implies “perfect” and that doesn’t really apply to any boat. However, if one honestly evaluates one’s situation and liveaboard needs, in all probability there is at least one yacht that matches those requirements perfectly, or close enough to be considered an ideal liveaboard.
Given the inevitable compromises, my short list of ideal liveaboard trawlers would now include:
- Northern Marine 64
- Krogen 48
- One of the DeFever pilothouse trawlers
- Selene 47
- One of the custom trawlers that occasionally come on the market, such as the Park Isle 57
There is, of course, some latitude as to what constitutes “living aboard.” I have a friend with a house in Annapolis, yet he and his wife go down to Hopetown in the Bahamas every winter for six months to live on their sailboat during the winter. They are living aboard during that time for sure, even if it is not their full-time, year-round home.
On the flip side, I know people who have only one home, their boat, and they live full time in Boston Harbor. Every fall the liveaboards on their dock wrap their boats in opaque plastic sheeting to keep the boats relatively warm during the winter months. The water on the dock is turned off, and they also need to deal with pumping out holding tanks. But living on the water more than makes up for the obvious inconveniences.
(Below: A group of Krogen trawler owners tie up together.)
I know other couples who lived for several years at a marina on the coast of Connecticut, and they, too, enjoyed the experience and lifestyle. Boat living can be found in many places, and the quality of life during the boating season more than makes up for the down time when it is not quite as romantic.
A friend came up with a concept some years ago about what he calls the two types of boaters: the “Movers” and the “Stayers.” The movers are always cruising and never put down roots. That title aptly describes a couple on an older Grand Banks who always seem on the move. They have a land home in Southern California, yet in all the years I’ve known them, they never leave their Grand Banks. It is their home.
There are also dozens of other cruisers, especially here on the East Coast, who take off after the fall boat shows in Annapolis, and head down to Florida on their trawlers. Some eventually arrive in Marathon in the Florida Keys, as one destination, and settle in for the winter, the trawler never leaving the dock until the following spring. They are stayers for sure, as they live on their boat, but only move when it is to their next place of semi-permanent residence. And this cycle continues, year after year, until some life change happens, or they burn out.
I’ve lived on a boat several times in my lifetime, and each time it took place at a time and place where it was not only attractive but utterly doable. Working in downtown Seattle made it easy to live on Lake Union or even Lake Washington, not to mention the nearby marinas on Bainbridge Island. A quick ferry trip to the downtown area is a wonderful way to start the day, especially compared to sitting in traffic crossing one of the bridges from Bellevue or Kirkland.
In Annapolis, I lived for a time at City Dock, in Spa Creek and the heart of downtown. Later, I was one of the residents on F Dock at a marina on Back Creek, a liveaboard dock in a marina where we all got to be friends and look out for one another. During one hurricane’s storm surge, we had an all-day-and-night dock party. As the waters from the storm surge came in, we kept adjusting our dock lines. It was fun to share the experience of seeing the dock go a foot then two under water, dock lines running down and disappearing into the water. Ah, the good old days.
(Below: Friends gather on the cockpit of a Nimbus 405 at a marina. It's common to become friends with other boaters docked in the same place.)
I’ve had similarly unique experiences while living aboard in Florida and New Jersey, each with its own issues, such as having to gang up weekly all water hoses during the winter months to refill our water tanks, as the water on the dock was shut off until spring. Yup, definitely a unique experience.
And getting one’s holding tanks pumped out also comes with challenges, depending on season and location. Sometimes it is best to use the marina facilities when it is off season, while more and more waterfront towns offer seasonal mobile pump out services run by the harbormaster.
Let’s look at some of the subjective criteria of what might be important to you thinking of a liveaboard trawler. I can’t count the number of times at a boat show I’ve heard someone remark to a spouse or friend, “Now, I could live on this boat!” I’m sure we have all said that at one time or another.
Keep in mind each of these points must be considered in the context of one’s situation, which will vary from person to person. But it is a worthy discussion for anyone planning this lifestyle change.
So, just what to consider for a trawler (or for that matter, any boat, sail or power) as a potential full-time home? On one hand we may be talking about people who are retired, Jimmy Buffet types who can get by just fine with a couple of cut off jeans and a handful of faded t-shirts, and a sweatshirt or two for a wardrobe. And this goes all the way to the other end of the spectrum, professionals who commute to work each day, or work from the boat much of the time.
Some people may be active members of the community, with interests other than boating, and have friends and relatives they entertain on a regular basis. Many people have cars or some form of transportation other than a couple of rusty bicycles chained to a nearby piling.
These people may be a small family that goes south in the winter months and return in the spring to resume work at seasonal jobs they enjoy and find fulfilling. Or they may be like one couple I knew, both doctors, one a surgeon, who live very well indeed on their large Seaton trawler yacht that gives them their downtown waterfront experience, with vacations on the boat up to British Columbia.
Accessibility—The Quality/Convenience of Being Easy to Use
Not all boats are a good match for one’s home dock or pier. While it may seem obvious to mention this, but the simple act of getting on and off the boat should be easy. In places where floating docks rule, a boat with side access, such as a side gate into the aft cockpit, is ideal for stepping up and aboard from a floating dock.
But the rest of us must contend with tides and other issues when dealing with fixed docks. So, unless there are several ways of boarding, depending on height factors between dock and boat, this can become, at the very least, inconvenient. If you have a dog, and the boat is not always lined up with the home dock, it can be a nightmare assisting a large or ailing dog on and off the boat. And having to deal with this on a regular basis gets old quickly. Some boats make it easy to deal with. Swim platforms, side doors in cockpit and side deck, even side door access to the Portuguese bridge. (That is particulalrly appreciated in dramatic tidal regions, such as Nova Scotia.)
And consider carrying groceries, pets, clothes from the cleaners, luggage, or other things that are heavy or unwieldy. It really helps if one’s home dock accommodates the boat.
Now let’s add weather to the access consideration. What about when there is a light dusting of snow on the dock…or inches? Early morning frost can become a safety issue. Many trawlers do not have the protection of covered side decks or cockpit to help shield people from getting wet when it is raining. The covered cockpits on some boats, such as the Grand Banks Europa, Krogen yachts, Hampton Endurance, and Northwest Yachts, are so much better to deal with than boats that ensure you are dripping wet until safely inside the boat, along with soggy grocery bags.
(Below: A Meridian Sedan Bridge with cockpit and bridge coverings.)
On the many trawler designs that follow the Grand Banks Classic style, there is no protection from the elements whatsoever. If it is raining, you must step aboard in the rain, transfer your groceries and packages aboard, in the rain, and then put them inside the boat, while the rain pours inside the boat from the open doorway. That is not high on my list of acceptable qualities.
Open to the World—Let the Sun Shine In
One pet peeve of mine involves all the battle wagon trawlers that look like they are ready to tackle Cape Horn. They have dogged doors, sealed windows, and lack any form of ventilation besides the onboard HVAC. It is a shame to buy a trawler for a home and not be able to open to fresh air when the weather is nice.
Walking the docks at boat shows on a beautiful day and seeing trawlers running air conditioning because no hatches or windows can be opened, seems counter to how I want to live on a boat.
To me, the joy of living aboard is being part of the outside world, such as when the breeze is warm, and the smell of fresh evergreens and flowers is in the air. I only wish I could invite you aboard our power catamaran and let you take a shower in the master stateroom head. Located in the bow of the starboard hull, with the large overhead hatch open, was the most delicious experience. When we were on the Gulf Coast of Florida, tropical breezes would surround you while taking a shower, with great water pressure and the sun shining down on you. It was hands down one of the most enjoyable and liberating experiences on a boat. It simply does not get any better than that. My friends with a Fleming motoryacht remind me of this all the time.
Opening the boat in nice weather and sunny skies is a delightful aspect of living on a boat. With the pilothouse doors open, any forward hatches and ports open, and the saloon windows and door open into the aft cockpit, it is a very pleasant experience. Even if one lives in the Pacific Northwest, if your boat has covered side decks and a covered cockpit that keeps the spring rain out when you have the boat open, this is healthy and good for the soul.
Living Spaces—Room to Live
Most traditional trawler yachts had few choices where one can sit down and relax. That space is usually on the saloon settee, the only place to sit and read a book or cruising guide, pay bills, eat meals, and take apart a faulty autopilot head. After three months of living on our 36-foot Downeast cruiser, I tired of having only one place to sit. Nap, read, work on the computer, eat meals, talk with family on the phone, visit with other boaters who stop by, and many other activities. It made an impression for the future.
Some trawlers have a pilothouse, some with chart tables, so there is often a place to use as a kind of desk. One can sit comfortably, use the laptop or tablet, have devices not far away (perhaps a printer in a locker), and take care of business without having to transform other spaces for this purpose.
For me, having a comfortable and quiet place to work and write is an important requirement and would drive part of my boat selection process. This may not be as important to you.
I think having dedicated seating is a good thing, such as the Ekornes chair in the saloon, reserved for reading and/or taking a nap.
I also like the ability to make the bed without crazy gymnastics. Being able to make one’s bed in the morning is not just a feel-good thing. Crumpled bed sheets on corner berths drives my wife crazy, when the only way to properly make the bed is to climb aboard and attempt to pull sheets and blankets flat when you are laying on them is difficult.
I used to love to stretch out on the watch berth while reading in the pilothouse. At anchor or at the dock, the pilothouse was a good place to get away and chill out to get quiet time to read a book.
The Galley—Not Just for Heating Up Cans of Soup
When you live aboard, making meals should become one of the joys of the daily routine. If it is a chore, it won’t be enjoyed very much and the meals—and crew—will suffer.
When I consider how I might live on a trawler at this stage of my life, I think of the things I use regularly enough to have them stay on the counter. The coffee grinder comes to mind, as does the electric kettle and French Press. It would be a pain if I had to pull these things out of a cabinet or locker every morning. I have no problem storing other appliances away for occasionally use, such as the toaster, food processor, or popcorn popper.
I don’t think I would skimp on the number and shape of knives in the galley. I don’t need lots of knives, but again, I don’t want to just get by. The right knife makes light work of preparing food in the kitchen or galley. They are important to me.
This past holiday I baked Christmas cookies for the first time in quite awhile. I wonder if I would do that living on a trawler? I may stop short of carrying a large pastry board to roll out the dough, and I doubt a rolling pin, set of cookie cutters, and other galley tools can be justified just to make gingerbread cookies once a year. It is all about understanding the big picture and making reasoned choices.
The obvious solution to the above holiday scenario is to make a date at a friend’s house to cook Christmas cookies together and make it a social event at their home. You avoid the mess on your boat but get to enjoy the holiday fun. Bring them a good bottle of wine.
I would want a dishwasher on my trawler this time around. I know that many of the smaller modern dishwashers use less water than doing dishes manually and washing dishes by hand is too much like camping to me now. Sorry, call me an old guy. But I like running the dishwasher and having everything squeaky clean. I see more and more trawlers coming with dishwashers, so I know it is not just me. Sure, on a 34-foot boat this may not be possible, but on a larger trawler it can usually be accommodated.
(Below: Luxury liveaboard boats, like this Krogen, have very well-equipped galleys.)
Since I use an oven at home most every day, my galley would need to have a nice stove and oven. The oven is not a luxury to me.
While we’re thinking about the ideal liveaboard situation, I would also like a really powerful exhaust fan in the galley. While it is invigorating to smell bacon in the morning, I don’t care for an odor that lingers and mixes with other kitchen smells all day. A clean galley includes the air.
Storage—The Bugaboo of Every Boat
The subject of storage is perhaps too long to cover at one time. But some key things to mention will bring up scores of other thoughts.
How do you bring groceries from the car to the boat? Like many cruisers and liveaboards already know, it is handy to have a cart of some kind to transport bags and packages. How does it work on the boat/dock, and where do we store it when it isn’t being used? Does it fit somewhere in the cockpit, or does it live in the car’s trunk?
What about consumables we regularly use? It is nice to have a pantry or linen closet somewhere, so when a box of Kleenex in the saloon is empty, it is no big deal to pull out a new one. That is not the case if the supply of boxes is buried behind settee cushions under paper towels and toilet paper.
What about the land things we still use? How about bicycles, and what about our hobbies and other non-boating interests and hobbies? I am into photography, so where do I keep my gear? I don’t develop my own film anymore, so I don’t need any of that paraphernalia, but a camera bag needs a place where it is readily accessible. And if digital images need to be processed in the computer, if all I have is the saloon table that is not going to be a good solution at all.
What about musical instruments, such as a guitar or keyboard? Or quilting and sewing, or camping gear, or whatever. Is there a good place to store it all on the boat and then easily pull it out when the mood strikes? Or is there some better place for all of it off the boat?
If I go skeet shooting, where can I store a shotgun on the boat and where will it also make sense to clean the gun when I return to the boat? I would think a workbench of some kind in the engine room might be ideal, assuming it is roomy enough to move around, is well lit, and doesn’t smell like an old, leaky engine room.
What about your off-season clothes? Is there a good place to store them without damage? Again, no big deal if this isn’t the only residence or we’re living a more relaxed lifestyle down in the islands for several months, but what if it is our only home?
The storage on many trawler yachts consists of large spaces behind, under, and around other furniture and structures. Is it usable, practical, and safe for what is stored? A large bin for off-season clothes may be great and out of sight, but not if it must be routinely moved around to get access to thrusters or stabilizers. Or eventually develop smells that make them unwearable.
(Below: The interior of this Novatec 55 has lots of cabinets and storage opportunities throughout the boat.)
And what about if you have an extensive wardrobe? If one needs to have more than a blazer or sport coat while living on the boat, it is not going to be easy to find a place for everything. Same with shoes, dress shirts, ties, dresses, and all the other accessories. It is a boat, after all, and while James Bond can pull off a tuxedo under a wetsuit, most of us can’t.
Layout and Comfort Systems
It is the rare person who doesn’t need a handy place to charge phones and other devices each day. Is there a good place where all these devices can be plugged in without a hunt the next day for where they are? I’m talking about phones, hearing aids, fitness trackers, and all the other personal electronics we have. It is nice if there is an obvious central space for us for this purpose.
All the systems that make living aboard such a nice experience also have their maintenance needs. If the HVAC systems have filters that need regular cleaning, are they easy to get at without taking the boat apart? Much the same as my need to have great access to fuel filters, any serviceable things on my boat should be easy to get at, and the spare replacements should also not require tearing the boat apart to locate.
Ideally, a place for everything, and everything in its place…without clutter.
Above All—Make it Easy
One big point in this discussion is how we make the boat suitable for living aboard without losing the ability to leave the dock easily and quickly. Unlike a few household plants that can be placed in the galley sink to keep them from toppling over, the rest of the interior should not need to be transformed before we can go boating.
If a couple decides to go anchor out for the weekend up a quiet creek or visit an exciting downtown city marina for a few days, it should be relatively easy to make this happen. It shouldn’t require a pile of stuff be left on the dock. Assuming the trawler has a gyrostabilizer or active stabilizers, we should not need to reconfigure the interior to handle the boat’s motion.
Obviously, the dog’s water bowl might need to be stored in an “at sea” special spot, but this should involve minimal effort. Clothes in hanging lockers survive just fine when the boat is stabilized, although we are not making a passage. Longer trips will require a careful inspection to get ready for sea.
At the end of the day, living on a trawler can be a satisfying experience for however long, blending the love of waterfront living with one’s other interests and activities. You may find you’ll have to use the same glass for orange juice in the morning as for later to pour a couple of fingers of your favorite single malt at the end of the day. Not a problem.
You can have it all, but only on the right boat, properly set up for living aboard. It can be a fantastic chapter of one’s life, making memories that cannot compare to life ashore.
If done right, you can take it all with you as you pursue that perfect sunset—complete with the Green Flash…or eagles overhead and a bear walking silently along the beach.
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