How to live on a boat in New York.

Despite the fact that we’re now cruising full-time, I probably get 5-6 emails a week from people who want to learn more about living on a boat, especially in New York City. Since being covered in Forbes, I've gotten a boatload (pun intended) of people asking the same questions, so I figured a blog post was in order! 

There’s a good reason that not that much information is publicly available about this topic: living on a boat in the New York area as your full-time, permanent residence is, as far as I've been able to tell, technically illegal at every marina... so, intrepid aspirational liveaboards, read along at your own risk. 

However, if you have even an inkling that you'd like living on a boat, in NYC or otherwise, you definitely should try it! There are very few of us who actually get it together to do it, and no one I know has ever regretted it. 

With that said, come with me and I’ll drop some knowledge on ya about how to do it. 

Don't live on a boat to save money.

Every boat is different and living on a boat can be an extremely economical way to live in an expensive city. But don’t discount the costs associated with purchasing and maintaining a boat. Every repair you make will cost you thousands instead of hundreds of dollars. That’s why $1000 is affectionately referred to as a “boat buck.” So, consider that whatever you save in rent will likely go back into boat maintenance in the long run. There are tons of blogs that outline their monthly or yearly costs of living and cruising on boats.  Mark Nicholas' classic on being a liveaboard also outlines the general costs of living on your boat. 

Look for marinas with discretion. 

No marina in the NYC area will say they accept liveaboards. Look instead for marinas with "wet winter storage" or in-water storage, and for marinas who accept "frequent stayaboards". 

Many marinas accept stayaboards, but you need a separate permanent address (P.O. box is fine) for legal and tax purposes, and in emergency situations, another place to go. You don’t have the same rights as a renter in an apartment. Your slip doesn’t count as your home. 

In short, it's accepted by many marinas to stay full-time but not quite legal, though many people have done it for years and years. 

 This can be an inconvenience at times -- if they have to fix the water or facilities they work under the assumption every tenant doesn't live there full time, even if they know they do, so you have to make alternative plans. This wasn’t an issue for us but it's different at every marina. 

There are a number of marinas in the same canal, so it's up to you to choose cost and amenities over convenience

You'll have to call around to see about current policies. Lots of people live part or full-time in marinas around New York, but you have to be discreet and respect the rules of the marina hosting you. We've been called out for NOT being discreet, by even noting that we've lived on a boat in NYC, without ever disclosing location. (Hey you, aspiring La Vagabonders, don't even consider starting a YouTube channel if you want to live aboard in NYC.)  

Liveaboard slips are very marina-by-marina. Some people care a lot, and some people don't care at all if you stay all year. Look for places that provide bubblers (sort of like giant versions of the kinds find in aquariums) so that the water around your boat doesn't get iced over. 

As far as more general information, I'd really recommend Mark Nicholas' classic on being a liveaboard as well as Facebook groups on the subject. Sailing and Cruising has a lot of info on living aboard and there are about 5 million blogs on living aboard -- the easiest way to start getting to know all of them is to start liking them on facebook (try ours  -- Sail Me Om and Sailing Chance, who is also in New York) and you'll get suggested more. 


Remember that when you live on a boat you aren't connected to a water or sewage system.

In summer, water is a no-brainer, just fill up your tank every so often from a hose right at your slip. In the winter, water is annoying but doable. You'll get an extra long hose, or some docks link their hoses together and they fill directly from pumps on land. This is annoying. Sometimes people will leave water in the hose and it'll freeze and you have to do ridiculous things to unfreeze it (like taking 200 feet of hose into the shower to melt it, true story) but totally doable. If you have large water tanks it's a non-issue (we don't, and it was still only an every-two-week affair for us.)


In every marina we looked at, they didn’t have pumpout services for heads in the winter (as in, pumps to clear your toilet tanks). Your alternatives for this include: don't use your head at all, or only do #1 and open it straight into the river. Use marina bathrooms for everything else. You can also get a composting head (toilet), which renders this a nonissue. Note that especially in winter, you shouldn't plan on showering on your boat because of the moisture, so you'll be in those bathrooms regularly. Also, most FT boaters keep pee-only heads anyway, because it dramatically reduces smells on your boat. There's the gross explainer on that. 

Know your boats and their capabilities. 

Or at least what kind of boat you hope to live on. Powerboats provide a lot more space but tend to be more expensive to travel on than sailboats. Sailboats tend to have less space, but after the '70s era-runs, they become much roomier inside.

Note that houseboats are neither sailboats nor powerboats. They are meant to be in one space and not move. Just because you live on your boat, this doesn't mean your boat is your houseboat. In any case, basically every boat is expected to have a working engine, and you're expected to have insurance to keep it in almost any marina. Your insurance rates may vary wildly depending on the condition of your boat. Also, don't expect it to be okay for you to tow a derelict boat into a marina to live on. It won't be accepted. 

What size boat can you live on?

There's no rule for this, but we've found that the smaller the better. 37 feet is enough for us two, even though we thought that would be too small when we started. Many people make the mistake of buying big and regret the dock fees (charged by foot) and maintenance fees (which get infinitely more expensive as you go bigger). So if you're not sure, try out a friend's boat for a couple of days or Airbnb a boat of the size you're looking for to see if it's right for you. 

That's it! What other questions you got? I'm happy to answer them. 

We're leaving New York for a life of remote work and sailing adventures.

Throughout the spring, you may have seen a few sprigs of big changes aboard The Scallywag. We hauled the boat out for upgrades, quit our jobs, we went notably quiet on our blog. 

And now, in the throes of early summer, our plan is ready to meet the full light of day: We’re casting off the lines to become full-time sailors. 

While our decision may seem out of the blue, the preparation and intention behind it have taken months of deliberate work. More importantly, it’s taken a hundred conversations between Jon and myself about what we love to do, and what we want our lives to look like now and as we grow older. 

Before moving to New York two years ago, Jon and I worked remotely for five years. Sometimes running a business together, sometimes working separately. This wasn’t gig economy work, but rather traditional companies that were trying a new format of working. And it worked. I completely and emotionally bought into this idea and lifestyle. It felt natural to us to pace our days and weeks around the work we needed to do and the life we wanted to live rather than a more traditional schedule. 

While working this way, we lived by the flexibility to travel while getting things done. We rarely ever took vacations, but instead set up in coffee shops while we were on the move, sometimes so flawlessly that the only way our coworkers would know was by the change in background when we video chatted. 

Without jobs that tied us to a place, we kept having the same conversation: where did we want to live, and what kind of people would that make us? Were we LA people? San Francisco people? Would we fit in better on the East Coast or somewhere in South America? As all our friends started to settle down, finding the answer seemed more urgent, and that’s when we bought a boat. We had a home that could take us anywhere. 

Fast forward three years and we found ourselves living in New York, an amazing city where we could be anything, but only in one place. As we hit the two-year mark of residency, we were once again itching for change and we took interviews for jobs we could have only imagined being recruited for. But each time, we came home to each other and asked ourselves… then what? We have that awesome job and... then what? 

The paradox of choice is a weird, wonderful and very “now” problem to have. 

As a woman who wants to have kids someday, I found this indecision particularly challenging. Smarter women than I have told me the key to great work-life balance is to lock down baller job a couple of years before having kids so that you have deeper job security for your maternity leave. But a really big part of my heart wanted to build a flexible career that kids could be warmly welcomed into, rather than interrupt. I wanted to start that career before it was 9-months-urgent and continue it after, on my own time. 

So the answer, for us, continues to be to pursue careers that don’t have geographic limits. It’s never been a better time to go that route — most places finally have the infrastructure to support digital nomadism and the speed with which things are changing is breathtaking. Five years ago, I got my first smartphone — in Iraq. During a recent trip to Myanmar, we learned that though the internet essentially didn’t exist there year ago, there are now more people connected via smartphones than there are houses wired to an electrical grid

And on a recent vacation to the French Caribbean, we found pockets of internet where fellow boaters said nothing had existed just months ago. 

The ability to work anywhere, and work well, is here — even if it takes extra time and inconvenience to figure it out. 

This is the freedom that today’s technology provides, and yet to embrace it can still make you an implausible hire and a weirdo. 

So, we’re ready to be weirdos. 

We’ve launched businesses (his, mine) that allow us to do the work we love while we travel, with the assumption that there will be frequent trips to metro hubs to see our clients face to face. We’ve outfitted our boat with solar panels, a wind generator, cell and wifi boosters, we’ve upped our data across multiple networks. And we’ve hungrily read the stories of people who have gone before us to figure out just how much we can pull off without risking our sanity and quality of work. 

Our plan is to sail back to California, the long way. First north, perhaps as far as Nova Scotia, then south to the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal. We don’t have a set itinerary or time span, though we think it’ll take about a year. We’re excited to explore parts of this continent and its surrounding isles we’ve never seen before, to take it slow and to make lots of mistakes as full-time cruisers. 

(Our first, for example, was to set a hard date for leaving, which we promptly blew after having a camera crew see us off. ::Facepalm::)

That’s our plan. Subject to lots and lots of changes. By this time next week, we should be somewhere in the Long Island Sound, with many more stories to come. 


A couple's guide to living aboard a boat in winter.

So many of you have asked about what it's been like for us, and our marriage, to move aboard a boat in the middle of winter.

We've been toying with ways to show it to you best, and luckily our friend David Freid dropped in after a particularly big snowstorm to film a short doc about what it's been like for us. 

Freid is an old friend who, in a former life, traveled the world with us when Jon and I ran a nonprofit in conflict zones together. (THAT was good training for living on a boat, to be sure.) He's seen us at our best and our worst, so we were delighted to have him barge in on our tiny space.

A few of behind-the-scenes extra features: Jon MAY have actually been still drunk or hungover while filming those outdoor shots... The term drunken sailor doesn't come from nowhere. Also, I have so few clothes on the boat that I realized I had accidentally ran out of clean pants the day of filming.

I had to make an emergency ferry run to the mall across the river. I called Freid in a panic as he was driving over, yelling "Stall the crew, I have no pants!" That will probably make it into the bloopers at a later time. #boatlife.

By the way, all the work that Freid does for MEL is gorgeous. I've been jealously watching him globe trotting for the last six months shooting things, and they're delicious to watch.

Last time he stayed on the boat, he slept in the captain's berth and had dreams he'd been buried alive in a coffin, so maybe if we offer him a spot in the main cabin with a double bed-sized berth, he'll come back and film again in the summer when the boat (and our coupledom) looks a little more enviable. 

And hooray! Our story has already been featured on Tiny House Blog, one of my favorite small living publications. It was so fun to stumble across my husband's face while surfing the interwebs. 

How to build a DIY smart LED system for your boat, RV or other 12v setup.

One of the things I miss most about apartment living are my Philips Hue lights. These lights can change color, intensity or turn on or off at the command of my phone. By changing the bulb colors, I could completely change the mood of a room. They also served as an morning alarm in our basement bedroom. They were our favorite splurge of last year.

Unfortunately, my Hue lights had to go into storage when we moved onto the Scallywag because the boat’s primary electrical system -- and all its lights -- run off of 12V electricity.

I started looking for alternatives to Hue that run off of 12V and are designed for marine use, but there really just aren’t any good consumer-level contenders out there. That left me thinking about how to recreate the system from scratch...

Welcome to our space boat. 

Initial research had me believing that I could get the system functionality I wanted extremely cheaply. I thought that a few Mi-Light units would be all that I’d need and I'd be able to build the whole system for less than $100. While these do work to some extent, I’m also a big proponent of good build quality and that you get what you pay for. These Mi-Light units are so cheap that I can’t imagine them making it through more than a season or two before becoming a headache. But, if you want a cheap, quick win — they’ll probably work.

Instead, I opted to go with the more expensive LED wifi control hub and LED controllers from LEDENET. They are a little more pricey at $140 for the hub and about $50 per controller, but the build quality is excellent and they give me just about everything I want in the system.

Tory and I are now able to control lights in the v-berth, cabin and galley from apps on either of our phones. Pre-programmed lighting effects, like our  favorite tone of light for reading at night in the v-berth, also sync across all our devices — something even Hue couldn’t do. If our phones die, there is also a physical remote with customized groupings and zone control so you can do more than just turn all the lights on and off at once.

After installing everything, I added a last final touch. I have always been slightly disappointed with the lighting in our locker. We had an old light fixture on one side that requires me to open both locker doors to get to and leaves my half of the closest poorly lit. To fix this, I decided to take the project to the next level and install a motion detector switch to control a warm white LED strip at the top of the locker. The closet is now perfectly illuminated  and turns on the second either door opens. It’s also set to turn off after one minute, so no more forgetting to turn the light off!

Here is a list of what I used to make this whole system work.

Total cost: $576.69

Total time: 8 hours

Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate

Cabin, V-Berth and Galley

LEDENET® 2.4GHz WiFi Lighting Control System Bridge Hub Wireless Support 12 zones RGB RGBW CT DIM CCT LED Strip Bulb Ceiling Spotlight Lamp Controller for iOS iPhone iPad Android Smartphone Tablet - $139.99 -- Master control to connect everything and sync with mobile app.

LEDENET® V8 4-Zone 2.4G LED RGBW Controller Remote Control RGB RGBW LED Strip Lighting Panel Lamp (V8 RGBW Remote) - $21.99 -- Master remote control. Amazon says that the item is currently not available, but keep an eye out because the quality of this remote blows all the others out of the water.

LEDENET® 2.4G Wireless Remote receiving Controller RF Constant Voltage Receiver DC 5V 12V 24V 20A for Single Color RGB CW/WW RGBW RGBWW LED Strip Tape Lights (5 Year Warranty) (R4-5A CV Receiver) - $53.99 x 5 -- You will need one of these for each strip that you want to individually control, including if you want to be able to control the port and starboard sides separately. You can always group strips together to control at the same time through the app or remote. I opted to include on for every individual strip I wired to have maximum control.

SUPERNIGHT 16.4ft 12V 5050 RGBWW Warm White LED Strip Lighting 5M 300 LEDs Waterproof Ribbon Lamps Multi-colored LED Tape Lights - $18.99 x 3 -- These strips have true RGB + Warm White. This results in double the LEDs per strip (300 vs. 150) and twice the power consumption, but if you only run one of the two at a time, you still keep the power draw to a minimum and it gives you more flexibility overall. Having both on gives a lot of light, whereas just one or the other is very much accent lighting.


LEDENET® 12V 24V PIR Sensor LED Dimmer Switch Motion Timer Function Sign Control PIR8 Cotroller LED Strips Lighting - $10.95 -- Motion detector to sense when the door opens and turn on the lights. Simply cut the connector off the next strip and wire this motion sensor between the LEDs and your power source.

LEDMO 12V 5050 LED Strip Light, Warm White, Super Bright 150 Units SMD 5050 LEDs, Waterproof, 5050 LED Ribbon Light/ LED Tape Light, Pack of 16.4ft/5m - $11.19 -- I didn't need RGB color in the closet, so I opted for the less power intensive warm white only strip here.

Misc parts

ESUMIC® 5M Extension Cable Wire With 5Pin Plug for LED 5050 RGBW Strip Ribbon - $8.99 x 2

ESUMIC® 2.5M Extension Cable Wire With 5Pin Plug for LED 5050 RGBW Strip Ribbon - $6.99 x 3

LEDENET® 5pin Female Connector Wire Cable For Flexible 5050 RGBW RGBWW LED Ribbon Lamp (5-pack) - $9.48

Blue Sea Systems 12 Circuit 30A Terminal Block - $12.86

Blue Sea Systems Terminal Block Jumper for 30A Terminal Blocks, Pack of 5 - $4.36

7 sublime photos of bohemian boat living in Sausalito.

Have you ever fantasized about living on a houseboat? I have since I first watched Sleepless in Seattle. (This couple did too, and actually bought that house! Jealous.)

There are a few famous houseboat communities across the country, but my favorite has always been Sausalito's. I've long dreamed of commuting from San Francisco on the ferry, watching the sunset with a glass of wine and stepping off to return home to one of those colorfully painted homes.

Unfortunately for us plebs, houseboat living in the bay isn't cheap these days -- many are going for upward of $1 million

But you can't stop a girl from dreaming. So on a recent trip to Mendocino, we took a detour to wander the docks. After a wrong turn, we found something new -- Napa St. Galilee, another completely charming liveaboard community. 

Galilee has been the site of boat homes for more than a hundred years, according to its community association. It's harbored everyone from dock workers to elite society looking to escape the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. 

These days, it functions as affordable artist housing-cum-co-op for a sliver of Sausalito's creative class.

Napa St. Galilee Harbor Mailboxes

If you're as lucky as we were, you'll be met at the entrance by a woman in costume playing a piano. And maybe some balloons. But the docks seem welcome to visitors any time. Small plaques in front of each boat describe their names and the histories of construction to minimize the number of questions homeowners receive, I'm sure. 

Napa St. Galilee Sausalito Houseboat windows

Unlike other places I've visited, there's a pretty healthy mix between wild structures and normal boats. 

Napa St. Galilee Sausalito Houseboat docks
Napa St. Galilee Sausalito Houseboat dogs

Next to this sailboat, a little house floated at anchor. For a dog? A tiny seal? I am both enamored and confused with this, but I love the idea that someone's pet likes to chill so truly a-sea. 

Napa St. Galilee Sausalito Houseboat research boat

This boat was built for a university class project back in the '70s, and now has a full-time resident aboard.

Napa St. Galilee Sausalito Houseboat Art

There are two long piers of quirky boats to wander around, and an open bay area for boat launching and beach-going along its side. It also has a community garden. 

Napa St. Galilee Sausalito Harbor

Would you dig this way of life? Have you seen other communities that surprised you with their ingenuity or creativity? I'd love to hear about them. 

The decision to live aboard a boat in New York City.

A year ago, my husband Jon and I embraced adventure twice — once with moving across the country to New York and again a month later, when we were married after six years of being together. 

New York has been everything it was promised to be — glamorous and full of opportunity, fast and dirty. It was everything we needed, and yet we were missing something from home.

You know how distance sometimes gives you clarity? If our lives were a romantic comedy, this would have been the moment where, in the midst of a sequined party or night out with laughing friends, Jon and I would look melancholically off screen and a montage of sailing footage would play nostalgically onscreen. 

The Scallywag. A boat for which we feel a love something akin to what you’d feel for both a pet and a home, all rolled into one sturdy vessel. It’s true that we’re not lifelong sailors, nor have we had her for very long. But where there was once nothing, she was suddenly there in our hearts, implacable and irreplaceable. We missed her. We missed our slower way of life, our days where we entirely forgot the internet existed, the sunburns and the rocking to sleep. The way we could do nothing with her and feel perfectly content. 

Book Of Jonah Scallywag

You can’t reason away love and you can’t deny it. After months of rushing blood pressure and adrenaline, it was time for a change again. Against our better financial judgement,we trucked her out. Two months later as summer peaked, we laid our plans to live aboard when our lease runs out. Two months from now, the Scallywag will be our full-time home. 

Come next week, we'll be setting up Scally as our full-time home and making the transition from apartment to boat life. 

Also like any good romantic comedy, the situation is unlikely. Living aboard, in New York, through the winter? Living aboard, with no shower, no hot, running water? It’s not ideal, but love never is.

Until, it is, I guess.