Living Aboard Our 2001 Gemini 105Mc Catamaran
by Capt. John Banister
(Palm Beach Gardens, FL)
Our 2001 Gemini 105Mc
Living aboard a boat is an adventure but at the same time consistent work to keep your boat properly maintained. There are things you will have to sacrifice and learn to live with out (creature comforts such as endless hot showers and staying indoors) but if you can adjust to these things, it is an exciting experience you will always remember, learn to love, and always want to be a part of.
Making the plan to live aboard
If you plan to live aboard or at least spend a significant amount of time aboard a boat, you need to think about three things: What your intended use will be for the vessel, how much you expect to travel with the vessel, and how much money you are willing to invest in your boat. As for me, I was not rich, I had a moderate income, and my intention was to live aboard full time with my significant other and our son. This was a dream we both shared and based on circumstances in our lives we decided a few years ago it was the right time to do it.
In the first few months we owned our catamaran (the S/V Pura Vida) we decided to add some upgrades. The first upgrade was a 115 watt solor panel which was installed in between the stainless steel davits on the stern of the Pura Vida.
The second upgrade was a 2500 watt power inverter which converted 12 volt DC power to 120 volt AC power. I purchased a brand new Vector brand 2500 watt modified sine wave power inverter which mainly ran the microwave oven and a 15" flat screen television we later installed. If I had to do it over I would have purchased a pure sine wave power inverter for a few dollars more. The only downfall to modified sine wave power is that it will greatly shorten the life of rechargable batteries (such as cell phones and computer batteries) when they are plugged into the vessel's 120 volt AC outlets.
Things on board a vessel you can not live without
When planning to live aboard, always assume the worst will happen and equip your vessel for that scenario as if it may happen. I highly recommend that aside from the usual VHF radio that is onboard most vessels, to never go underway without an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). Many different companies currently make EPIRBs. Onboard the Pura Vida was an ACR brand "Category II" 406 MHz radio beacon. I also had a personal ACR radio beacon attached to my life jacket that I could deploy if I could not get to the main one.
Life jackets are also essential. Not only by common sense but by Federal law. According to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (33 CFR 175), every person on board must have a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket that is in a readily accessible location. This means everyone including children must have an appropriate fitting life jacket that can be easily accessed in the case of an emergency. There are no exceptions to this law, and you can be fined or your voyage can be terminated by authorities for not having them aboard.
This is an important point to talk about if you live aboard a boat. The dinghy (the smaller vessel that is used to transit from land to your big boat) is a boat that you will tend to use more often than the actual boat you live on. Especially if you live on a mooring or cruise the islands in the Caribbean. There are two main types of dinghys that are commonly used; The inflatable dinghy and the solid hull dinghy. I have owned and used both kinds while living aboard on a daily basis. I will give you the good and the bad on both.
The inflatable dinghys are typically made from a synthetic rubber like material. Most common synthetic materials are Hypalon or PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). The inflatable dinghys are very bouyant and very stable even in rougher waters. A typical nine foot dinghy that can seat four persons and will weigh about 250 pounds. The inflatable dinghys will typically have hard aluminum or plywood decks. The retail cost is approximately $1,000.00 - $2,800.00 for a new one. The down side is that inflatable dinghys tend to be prone to punctures and glue seperations within a short period of time. I personally do not recommend you purchase an inflatable dinghy for long term liveaboard use. It is more headache and maintenance than what it is worth to say the least.
After happily cutting up the above mentioned inflatable dinghy and throwing it in the dumspter at the marina, I drove to Boater's World and purchased a solid plastic 10.5 foot Pelican International brand dinghy. The dinghy was the "Scorpio" model dinghy and weighed only 111 pounds. It was made from a very hard durable plastic they refer to as "RamX®" The dinghy came with a forward towing eye and a stern metal mounting plate for outboard motor installation. Although not as stable as the heavier inflatable dinghy, I was very satisfied with this dinghy and used it for years without a problem. The best part is that there were no air leaks to worry about, no hypalon glue used to
hold it together, and I never had to inflate it once! I purchased the dinghy brand new for $599.00.
Sailing and rough weather
For the beginner boater I wanted to write something about steering, sailing, and controlling your boat. Sailing a boat is not rocket science. It is no more difficult than learning how to drive. I know for first timers it seems scary and overwhelming. Trust me every licensed captain and yacht master once felt that way. Sailing a vessel to me is something you simply feel. You must first understand the properties of water current, wind current, and the limitations of what your vessel can do. When I first bought the Pura Vida I ran the motors and practiced maneuvering in a remote cove that had a vacant dock. I was scared to death to get the sails up underway because I owned her and I knew if I screwed something up it was going to cost me thousands in mechanical or sail repairs.
The best thing to do is to baby step into it. Take your boat with an experienced buddy on a short trip up and down an inshore river on a calm day. Once you have gained confidence with that, then practice docking and backing down in tight areas again and again until you feel confident with that. Then when you think you're ready, take your boat offshore on a calm day with your experienced buddy and get the sails up and see how the wind pushes the sails. As you get used to controlling your vessel the fear will slowly subside. Do not be afraid to ask for help or ask questions if you are unsure about something. My rule about sailing in general is this; "if in doubt, don't." There is no need to take unnecessary chances.
If you find yourself in heavy seas while underway there is one rule I want you to remember; "Bow to the seas." This means keep your bow pointed in the direction of the waves that are coming at you. It will help prevent the vessel from capsizing and make for a safer ride. You can also keep the stern to the seas, however you risk flooding the well deck or stern section of your boat and "surfing" on the wave which will make for a much rougher ride. Never have your beam to the seas, even in a multi hull boat. You will greatly increase the risk of capsizing the vessel doing this.
Some of the comforts of living aboard
Living aboard is a great life. Most of the people that we have met that are fellow live aboards are some of the most kindest and helpful people I have ever known. It is a small community and it will give you a feeling of belonging to a subculture. Living aboard has made me feel far removed from the bustling of land living. Most of that are things I do not miss.
The overall costs of owning a boat
This is a question that I get a lot from people that are curious about living aboard. I can only speak of my own personal experience and can not speak for everyone's living aboard costs. It varies greatly depending upon the vessel, the owner's decisions, living habits, and spending habits. For us living aboard at first was very inexpensive. However every boat tends to have a "seven year itch." This means about every few years the vessel will need some kind of maintenance that will require a good amount of money. For us it was repainting the bottom of the hull, rebuilding the drive leg, and replacing motor mounts. Since the vessel was that far apart we also had the engine and reduction gear rebuilt, upgraded the alternator, and re-canvased the interior of the Pura Vida.
Once the Pura Vida was paid off, costs for living aboard got easier. Living on a mooring versus in a marina can significantly reduce monthly living expenses as well. All in all I can say as a whole, if you do what you can to reduce your costs, the financial burden of living aboard a boat is the equivalent to renting a two bedroom apartment in a middle class neighborhood. Some months there is almost no expense to live aboard, but when it is time to go into the boatyard for routine maintenance, the costs catches up to you. Some will forego regularily maintaining their boat, but you can tell these boats even from far away. Those owners are also sacrificing the safety and dependability of their boat which is priceless compared to the costs of proper maintenance.
Enjoy the water, be safe, be healthy, and I hope your time living aboard is one of the best times of your lives. I have enjoyed it, as my family has. I will always have it in my soul to be a part of sailing, surfing, and the ocean. I am forever drawn to it as I always have been since I was a boy. Fair winds!
Captain John Banister, Principal Marine Surveyor
Suenos Azules Marine Surveying and Consulting
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Eds Note: Thanks John from the editor...this was well written and informative. I would encourage readers to visit Capt. John's website... A boat buyer having access to a good impartial surveyor is invaluable.