Sailing: Buying Your First Liveaboard

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Buying Your First Liveaboard Sailboat or Powerboat

A lot goes into buying your first liveaboard, it is by no means the same process for everyone, but this is a guide brought to you by two experienced liveaboard sailors. Mary and Tharon have been living aboard their 36 foot Hinterhoeller Nonsuch for the last two years. With only a short break between other travels, they have what it takes to help others find their dream boat and start living aboard. This post will provide you useful information to assist you in buying your first liveaboard boat.

First things first. Do you have what it takes to live aboard a boat? There's maintenance to take care of regularly, a much smaller living space than most people are probably used to, and it can cost a whole lot of money. There are urgent problems you will need to solve on the fly, sea sickness underway, and it will take you a considerable amount of time and planning. The list goes on and on, but we still believe living on a boat is by far the BEST way to live! There is an amazing community of other boaters, beautiful scenery, and having a home that floats is pretty darn cool. To achieve this level of freedom, it will take the right boat first, so if you think you're ready to untie the lines and set sail, continue reading and let's find your first liveaboard!

Sailboat or Powerboat?

If you've been dreaming of living on a boat, you'll have to consider which will be more of your style - Sailing or Power? Sailing is more casual and affordable, but is considerably slower than a powerboat. Powerboats are faster and have larger interiors, but are more expensive to operate, are not as relaxing (in our opinion), and have a greater impact on the often pristine environments you are living in. Whichever you decide, ask yourself what makes sense for your lifestyle and comfort on the water.

Attend a Boat Show

Although it isn't necessary, attending a boat show is very useful when buying your first liveaboard. They showcase multiple boats, new and old. Getting to see and tour a variety of boats will help you get an idea of what is will be like living on your own boat someday, and more importantly, introduce you to a community of like-minded individuals.

Popular Boat Shows in the United States

  1. Annapolis Sailboat Show - Annapolis, Maryland - Late April or Early October
  2. Annapolis Powerboat Show - Annapolis, Maryland - Mid October
  3. Atlanta Boat Show - Atlanta, Georgia - Mid January
  4. Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show - Ft. Lauderdale, Florida - Late October
  5. Miami International Boat Show - Miami, Florida - Mid February
  6. Mid America Boat Show - Cleveland, Ohio - Mid January
  7. Newport International Boat Show - Newport, Rhode Island - Mid September
  8. Providence Boat Show - Providence, Rhode Island - Mid January
  9. Seattle Boat Show - Seattle, Washington - Late January/Early February

Take a look at other shows that may be in your area or schedule one of these for a weekend getaway. Instead of just scrolling through dozens of online listings, get on a few boats and see what works for you.

You won't regret it if you're on the fence about what boat to buy.

Liveaboard Boat Budget

This aspect will vary drastically per cruiser but is important to consider before starting your search. Will you finance your boat or pay in full?

  • Cost of Vessel - Figure out the high end cost of what you're willing to pay and don't budge on going higher.
  • Cost of Upgrades - Figure this into the cost of vessel, it all adds up and should be part of your initial boat budget. Examples could include instruments, upholstery, canvas, sails or something else you'll require for your comfort.
  • Surveyor - For your first liveaboard, we highly suggest getting an unbiased boat surveyor to look at the boat you are considering.
  • Time is money - Make sure the boat is worth your time to maintain in a timely manner. Understand the projects you'll take on and set a sail date to keep your projects on time.

Additional Thoughts on Budget

Although you will not need to know these costs right away, it will help you in determining costs after the initial purchase.

  • Moorings and dockage are charged daily, weekly, or monthly. If you're properly equipped, anchoring is free most of the time.
  • Prices on gas and diesel are a large cost to consider when deciding to buy a boat.
  • Maintenance is always ongoing regardless of what the boat is or how old it is. Make sure you are properly preparing for the costs you'll have for weekly, monthly, and yearly maintenance items.
  • Hauling and storing the boat may be needed. You should consider these costs before buying a boat.
  • Educational classes can really help people feel confident when getting into boating. Not always necessary but important for some who are not as experienced. There are classes for people who want to learn to sail, learn diesel mechanics, improve their safety at sea, etc.

Living Space

If you're moving from a house to a boat, you're surely not going to have as much living space as you once had. As you begin looking at potential liveaboards, make note of which features are important to you, are must-haves, and what sets it apart from other boats you've looked at. Over time, this will help you to  determine which boat makes the most sense for this new lifestyle.

  • Exterior - While on the boat, you'll spend a lot of time outside. It will be crucial for you to have a comfortable living space outside in the cockpit, fly bridge, deck, etc.
  • Interior - The boat's interior will be your galley, head(s), cabin(s), and storage. Decide what is most important in each of these areas and pick out the best fit for your lifestyle. Some will pick larger boats for additional space and others will choose smaller boats because of their functionality.

Other Things to Consider

Similar to the living space, make note of what must-haves you should have included with your initial purchase and be on the lookout for anything you think may be questionable on the boat. With a boat surveyor, you'll have an extra eye on any issues with the vessel. They will look for structural damage, soft spots on the deck, condition of the hull, etc. It will be important to check for water damage, leaks, and other signs of wear. If you're getting a sailboat, check the sails and rigging. Also know what you would like included with the boat - ie. anchor set up,  dinghy , outboard motor, dock lines, etc. Quality over quantity when it comes to boat gear.

When in doubt, it takes time to understand the boat you are looking for. Be patient while looking at different boats and ask all the questions you can think of. There isn't a perfect boat out there but

If you have questions or need additional assistance, email us at For more information about Mary and Tharon aboard S/V Tipsy Gypsy, visit 

Cheers and thanks for reading!

1 comment

  • I like that my husband is looking for a boat dealer because we finally decided to get one after loving our time together during sunsets renting a boat almost every week. Anyway, we needed to know that dockage and mooring fees are paid on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. It’s also good to know that most of the time, anchoring is free if you have the right equipment.

    Taylor Abrams

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