How Big of a Sailboat Do You Need to Live On?

It’s always been your dream to live aboard your sailboat. The waves would rock you gently to sleep every night, and you would wake up to the warmth and brightness of the sun in the morning instead of an alarm clock. Should you decide to make your dreams a reality, what size sailboat would you need?

If you’re going to live on your sailboat, we recommend getting one that’s between 33 and 40 feet long. This should give you the space to sprawl out comfortably and make yourself at home on your boat! 

In this article, we will explore all facets of living on a sailboat, including talking more about boat size. We’ll also dive into legalities, the cost of living, and what kind of gear you need to make day-to-day life on a sailboat more sustainable. You won’t want to miss it! 

Living on a Sailboat: How Big Should Your Boat Be?

First, as promised, let’s elaborate more on the necessary sizing for your sailboat if you’re going to live on it. 

A sailboat can seem large enough if you’re spending an afternoon onboard. However, once you realize this is where you sleep, eat, and live your life, the boat can begin to feel very constricting. That’s fair, especially considering the average sailboat is about 20 feet long. Some are even smaller, only 14 feet.

That doesn’t give you much room to stretch your legs, that’s for sure. Should you make the move to houseboat life, the 14-foot sailboat and even the 20-footer isn’t going to cut it anymore. You need a much more sizable boat for your plans.

We recommend going no shorter than 30 feet with this new sailboat. Some sailors even opt for a boat that’s 35 feet long. Should you find you need even more space than what this lengthy boat could afford, you can always shop around for a boat that’s 40 feet. That will definitely make you feel like you have a lot of room. After all, a 40-foot sailboat is twice the length of an average sailboat! 

Is It Legal to Live on a Sailboat?

Alright, so now you know the size of the sailboat you’d need for your new life. What about the legalities of the whole matter? 

Whether it’s legal for you to live on your boat depends on where in the country you go. There are certain parts of the United States that sailboat owners like yourself flock to since you can park and live there. We’ll talk about these later, so keep reading.

If you can get in one of those places, then it should be legal for you to live in your sailboat. We say “if” because these are pretty popular spots. They’re so popular, in fact, that many of them have liveaboard waitlists. When you get approved, you can live there. Otherwise, it’s no dice. 

Even if you’re allowed to live somewhere on your boat, local regulations may demand you move the boat every couple of days. You may also be limited in how many days or hours a week you can actually spend on the boat.

To get around these rules, other sailors embracing this same lifestyle split their time in a van or RV so they’re not constantly on their boat. 

How Expensive Is Living on a Sailboat?

If you’re contemplating a more permanent kind of life aboard your sailboat, you’re probably doing so to save some money, right? After all, the boat life should certainly be cheaper than renting an apartment or owning a home. 

While that’s very often true, the cost of living on your boat can vary based on some factors. For one, there’s utilities. These aren’t as pricy as when living on land, with some boaters reporting their utilities begin at $5 a month. 

Also, you have to consider the cost to live at the marina you’ve anchored your sailboat. The more desirable the location, the higher the price is to match. This can set you back $400 a month, maybe even more. 

In an article in Waterborne Mag, a sailor named Elena shared her experience of living on a sailboat. She says her boat isn’t even that big, but it still costs her £500 (British pounds) per month to live on. That’s about $645 USD. Now, what does “isn’t even that big” mean in this context? Elena’s boast is 26 feet long, so it’s not super tiny by far.

This post from The Bold Italic by Kristin Hanes shares yet another perspective into life on a sailboat. She again mentions how cheap utilities are, only $6 monthly. Her boat is 41 feet long, which is quite spacious. 

Then there’s an article in Business Insider from 2015 about a couple named Sam and Francesca. They too have a big boat, a cruiser that’s 40 feet. They said that, in an average year, they spend $2,200 on living costs. That’s it. For a lot of apartments, that’s the rent…for a month.

Imagine spending what you may currently pay for rent every month but just once per year. It’s no wonder many people choose life on a sailboat. 

While it sounds like this kind of lifestyle can be both sweet and cheap, you will have to pay more than just utilities and rent. Here are some other costs you must be ready for. 


Almost nothing in life is tax-free, and that goes for sailboat living as well. Depending on where you live, tax prices can be reasonable or far costlier. The taxes we’re talking about in this case are property taxes. 


If you thought you would get away from having to pay a mortgage because you live on a sailboat, think again. The only exception would be if you paid for your sailboat in full the day you bought it. That is the only way I would do it and the only way I recommend you to buy your dream boat. Considering we’re talking about a pretty big boat here, it’s likely you got financing or borrowed the money to buy the boat. You’ll then have to begin paying it back.

Repayment may vary depending your boat size and condition. Very new sailboats may cost a lot more than the older models. Some sailboat owners pay $10,000 a month and others up to $20,000 or more. 


Parts of your sailboat will break down, and often at a more accelerated rate than you would expect. That’s because you went from using the boat infrequently to every single day. If you skate by without a lot of maintenance, you might get away with paying $1,000 annually on boat upkeep. Some sailboat owners who live on their boats have reported dropping $6,000 a year to keep their vessels up and running. 


When you anchor your sailboat somewhere, this is known as moorage. If you’re doing this at a recreational location, you can lower your costs somewhat. That said, if you’re stuck with liveaboard moorage, prepare to shell out up to $750 every month. 


You probably already pay insurance on your sailboat, if not then let me mention this: it is not a legal requirement to have an insurance expect if you live in Arkansas and Utah, the only two states that do require some type of liability insurance. Additionally, some marinas may require you to have some type of insurance to be able to dock there. In any case you might end up paying a couple of thousands of dollars each year for insurance, if you choose to take one.  

Where Can You Live on a Sailboat? 

If you’re buying an apartment or a house, there are certain parts of the country that cost more because everyone wants to live there. Well, the same is true of life on a sailboat. As we mentioned before, certain spaces come at a premium for that very reason: popularity. 

These locations include:

  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Tampa Bay, Florida
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Sausalito, California
  • San Diego, California
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Berkeley, California
  • Alameda, California

Since the weather in most of these locations is warm all year long, that makes them ideal for those seeking to live on their sailboats. 

Equipment and Gear Needed for Living on a Sailboat

Finally, let’s talk about some gear and equipment that will make your life that much easier and enjoyable on your sailboat:

  • Laptop and books to make good use of your time. 
  • GoPro or another high-quality camera
  • Hot water bottles
  • Fold-up bicycle (you’re not on your sailboat 24/7, after all)
  • Kindle or other reading tablet
  • Ceramic mugs, bowls, cups, and dinnerware, since these can’t rust
  • Slippers to say warm
  • Coffee maker
  • Water maker for potable water
  • Head torch
  • Portable bidet
  • Ceramic knives for easy cooking 


If you’ve always wished you could live on your sailboat full-time, your dreams could come true. You can save a lot of money with this lifestyle, but some of that cash does get funneled back into rent, utilities, mortgage, taxes, and maintenance. 

You want to ensure you have a big enough boat to support you and maybe another person, so get one that’s anywhere from 30 to 40 feet long. While it’s not always easy to find a place to anchor and you must make sure you follow all the rules, life on a sailboat can be absolutely incredible. This article should act as a great guide to getting you started. 


I am the owner of sailoradvice. I live in Birmingham, UK and love to sail with my wife and three boys throughout the year.

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