Living on a houseboat in a marina is a common solution. But being a liveaboard on a large boat is more complicated in a marina than at anchor.
Yes, you can live on a houseboat in a marina if a few conditions are met. First, the marina must permit people to live aboard their boats. Second, the marina must have utility hookups and docks (or slips) large enough for houseboats.
In this article, we’ll cover how to find a marina for your liveaboard houseboat and whether or not you can legally and practically live aboard at one. Additionally, we’ll cover the necessities you’ll need to find in a marina to make the right choice.
We sourced the information used in this article from extensive research into liveaboard houseboat marinas. We also researched houseboat living requirements, along with facilities offered by marinas.
Is Living Aboard a Houseboat in a Marina Legal?
Generally, it’s completely legal to live aboard a houseboat anywhere it’s legal to live aboard a boat. And in most places, it’s legal to live on a boat.
The story changes on a local level. Some localities have ordinances prohibiting or restricting people from spending more than a certain number of days on their boats.
In most cases, laws designed to prevent living aboard boats only apply to marinas within city limits. Most unincorporated county areas don’t even touch on the subject, and many of the ones that do won’t even care what you do outside of city areas where the laws were designed.
That’s not to say that you should break ordinances, but it’s often the case that old anti-liveaboard laws aren’t enforced.
In some cases, these laws are only used against filthy algae-covered boats caught docked illegally with someone living aboard and collecting trash. It varies between locations, so it’s best just to find an area where it’s legal.
What Do You Need to Live on a Houseboat in a Marina?
A marina must have a few things to make living aboard comfortable and practical. For one, it must be protected. Houseboats don’t handle choppy water, big powerboat wakes, and strong currents as well as other vessels. Additionally, liveaboard marinas must have slips or docks long and wide enough for a houseboat.
The final thing needed to sustain a liveaboard houseboat is power and potable water. Some water hookups aren’t potable (meaning you can’t drink it), and are only designed to be used for washing. Be sure to check if the water from the connection spigots is treated and safe to drink.
Living Aboard at a Marina
Before we go into the technicalities of living on a houseboat in a marina, we should go over the general rules of living aboard. Marinas are usually privately run, though some are owned and maintained by state agencies. Regardless, each marina has a different liveaboard policy.
Most marinas allow living and sleeping aboard your boat to some extent. Some allow unrestricted liveaboard lifestyles (within reason of course, no late-night parties), and others prohibit it completely regardless of what kind of boat you have.
Why Some Marinas Restrict Liveaboards
Living aboard a boat is an acceptable and often economically sound lifestyle. In many cases, it’s much less expensive than living in a house or apartment in the same area. As a result, it’s popular with adventurous and frugal individuals.
However, there’s another side to the coin. There are also many instances of generally irresponsible people living aboard because of poor lifestyle choices. These people have caused an enormous amount of damage and property devaluation to marinas due to trash accumulation, crime, and the general unsightliness of their often dilapidated boats.
This causes stigma, which forces many yacht clubs and upscale marinas to prohibit living aboard altogether. Luckily for marinas, the vast majority of liveaboards are good and responsible people who don’t pile garbage on their boats.
Generally, liveaboard-friendly marinas are mid-level yacht clubs and privately owned docks. These marinas are by far the most common kind, and they can be found along almost every major waterway in the United States. Liveaboards who don’t cause problems are often a welcomed and well-liked part of the local boating community.
State-owned marinas have varied rules on living aboard, and it usually depends on the popularity of the area. Highly-populated marinas sometimes prohibit the practice, as there isn’t enough space to allow for it. Others are completely unrestricted, and you can do virtually whatever you want on your boat as long as you pay the slip fees on time.
Are Liveaboard Rules for Houseboats Different?
Sometimes, houseboats get special treatment. Living aboard on a houseboat can be encouraged or discouraged, depending on the attitude of the marina. In some areas, houseboats are a major part of the waterfront lifestyle and are welcomed.
Other areas, especially those with marine dumping issues, discourage houseboats, as crooks fill their large spaces with illegal waste and often abandon them in place.
Most marinas are indifferent to what kind of boat you have. They could care less if it’s a 20-foot sailboat or a 60-foot houseboat, as long as there’s enough room for the vessel to be moored properly.
How to Find a Liveaboard-Friendly Marina
Finding a liveaboard-friendly marina is easy. Simply find your local marinas and ask if they allow liveaboards, and compare costs between competing locations. Be sure to call on a weekday, as you’re more likely to get an answer at the smaller locations than on Saturday or Sunday.
General Marinas vs. Houseboat Communities
A typical marina is a conglomerate of all different kinds of boats. Sailboats, powerboats, and houseboats are often moored side-by-side, as size is usually the only factor that organizes vessels. These are the most common kinds of marinas, but they pose some issues.
Many marina slips usually hold two boats side by side. For example, a 14-foot wide dock slip can hold two smaller sailboats with a six-foot beam. This is great for sailboat and powerboat owners, as it allows them to pay a discounted rate for boat storage.
Houseboats usually aren’t so lucky, as many of them have a beam exceeding ten feet. That means that they may have to pay double for the slip, or an increased rate if they manage to fit another boat between the houseboat and the dock.
On the other hand, houseboat communities are marinas filled entirely (or mostly) with liveaboards who live on houseboats. They are often designed specifically to accommodate long and wide houseboats, and they’re usually located in areas where houseboats can navigate safely.
These houseboat marinas are better able to handle liveaboards. They feature realistic and properly-adjusted slip rental rates, and they also include more permanent fixtures for power, water, and sewage.
However, they’re still pretty rare, and sometimes there’s a significant waiting list to get in. It varies, so don’t be afraid to explore all possible locations and alternatives.
How to Choose a Liveaboard Houseboat Marina
Choosing a marina to moor your houseboat for living aboard can be challenging. There are lots of options to choose from, and sometimes it’s hard to determine what’s most practical and economically sound. Here are a few tips to consider.
Cost is often the first thing that comes to mind when comparing possible living locations. Rates can vary significantly, and some marinas offer long-term rental discounts that others don’t. It’s essential to enquire about liveaboard rates, utility costs, cost-per-foot, and to call multiple marinas before making a decision.
A marina without reliable power and clean water is not ideal. You’ll need to be hooked up to marina utilities almost indefinitely. Before deciding on a marina, ask around and see if there are any issues with the utilities. Turn on a potable water tap and let it run for a minute, then taste it. If it’s metallic or dirty, consider another option.
Pump-out facilities and sewage lines are also a necessity, and you don’t want to have to go somewhere else every couple of weeks to empty your gray water and black water tanks. Clean restrooms on-site are a plus, but they’re not an absolute necessity.
How nice is the area? Depending on your standards, location can make or break a liveaboard experience. Who wants to be tied up in a busy canal next to a crumbling and toxic industrial site? Be sure to check out the area and look up local crime statistics and marina security.
How well-maintained is the infrastructure? Be sure to visit marinas in person before making a decision. Check out the condition of the docks, outbuildings, clubhouse, and whatever other facilities are provided.
Here’s a question people often forget to ask. Do you have any liveaboard neighbors? If so, what are they like? People contribute an enormous amount to the atmosphere of a marina, and it can be a major bummer if your neighbors are sketchy.
Try to meet some of the people in the marina community, including the management, and get a gauge of what to expect down the line if you were to move in.
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson