This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.
Is it legal to live on a boat? It’s legal to live aboard a boat in a marina or in international waters as long as all pertinent laws are followed.
Between rising housing costs, political frustrations, and overcrowding, more and more people are deciding to opt out of traditional living. Purchasing and living on a boat is a great way to live more affordably. For some, living on international waters offers the freedom and independence that they desire.
It is completely legal to live on a boat. Boaters can either live primarily in a marina or in international waters. When living on a boat, you must follow the local guidelines for the marina or anywhere else that you anchor. On international waters, all boat dwellers must obey international law.
While it is legal to live on a boat, there are certain unique rules that apply to liveaboards. For example, marinas usually charge higher fees for liveaboards because those living on their boat use more resources. There may also be limitations for how long someone can anchor their boat in a public body of water. This requires boaters to move their vessel frequently in order to comply with local guidelines.
Sources include Business Insider, Waterborne Magazine, Better Sailing, Forbes, The Best Boats Report, and Boats.com.
Is it Legal to Live on a Boat in a Marina?
It can be legal to live aboard your boat while it is moored in a marina. A majority of marinas require people to apply to be a liveaboard. Depending on the region and the popularity of living on a boat, there may be a waiting list to be a legal liveaboard in a marina.
Other marinas may have limits on how frequently or how long someone can legally live on their boat. For example, when Kristin Hanes, a contributor for Business Insider, moved into her boyfriend’s sailboat, their San Francisco marina only allowed them to sleep aboard the boat 2 nights a week. In order to stay on the right side of the law, they had to anchor their boat elsewhere in the bay, sleep in Hanes’s van, or crash on a friend’s couch for the other 5 nights of the week.
What Are the Benefits of Living on a Boat in a Marina?
When it comes to legally living on a boat, it is the easiest to do it in a marina. This is because the boat will be moored and you can easily make a quick run to the grocery store, the gym, or go for a walk. Marinas also have hookups for electricity and water, as well as access to wifi, cable, laundry, a bathroom, and pumps to empty the boat’s septic holding tank.
It is also safer to moor your primary floating residence in a marina. Most marinas have barriers in place to stop large wakes that would otherwise rock the boat. You will also have better access to help if something goes wrong than you would have at sea.
How Much Does it Cost to Live on a Boat in a Marina?
This is the monthly charge to have your boat at the marina. It varies by location, but most boaters can expect to pay between $10 and $15 per foot of boat. Because liveaboard boats are usually bigger to fit bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens, people who live on their boats usually pay more than people who only have a boat for recreation. Mooring fees are usually between $500 and $750 per month.
Marinas normally charge people who live on their boats full time extra. This is because someone living on a boat will use more of the marina’s resources than someone who does not. Liveaboard fees vary greatly by marina, but most boaters report paying between $250 and $350 to live on their boat.
Living on a boat in a marina means access to utilities, which saves you from having to ration water or electricity. Utilities at a marina cost between $100 and $300 a month depending on the size of the boat and the number of people living on it.
In some states you are not legally required to have insurance for your boat. However, marinas will require proof of insurance to moor or use a slip. If you get financing to purchase your boat, you will be required to purchase insurance for the boat.
The good news is that insurance for a boat is relatively cheap when the boat is exclusively anchored in a marina. Depending on the size, age, and condition of the boat, as well as the experience of the boater, insuring a boat as your primary residence will probably cost between $700 and $900 a year.
Is it Legal to Live on a Boat in International Waters?
It is completely legal to live on a boat in international waters. However, this does not mean that you will be completely free from obeying laws. Even when you live on a boat in international waters, you will still have to pay certain taxes, obey international law, and follow the regulations of any country that you are in the territory of.
The 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention established laws that pertain to all international waters. If a person living on their boat commits a crime, they can face trial either in the country and jurisdiction that they come from, the country of their victim, or the country whose territory the crime was committed in.
Additionally, boaters living in international waters will have to be mindful of the territories that they enter. International water is legally defined as an area that is more than 24 nautical miles off the shore of a country’s coastline. It is legal to live on a boat in this region and boaters can anchor their floating homes anywhere without fines or consequence.
Contiguous zones are 12-24 nautical miles away from a country’s coastline. In this area, boaters can legally anchor and sail anywhere they want. However, if that country’s law enforcement suspects that international law has been broken, they have the right to investigate and board your vessel.
Territorial water is up to 12 nautical miles off a country’s coastline. A country cannot charge liveaboards to anchor in their territorial waters, but it has the legal right to limit where boats can anchor in the interest of economic activities or ecological preservation.
Is it Free to Live on a Boat in International Waters?
Despite the freedom of living aboard your vessel in international waters, it is not completely free. While anchoring in the open sea is far more affordable than mooring at a marina, there are still costs associated with it.
If you financed your boat, you will be required to pay for insurance for it. Boat insurance is a little pricier when the boat is primarily at sea, rather than at a marina. Seasteaders normally pay between $1,500 and $2,300 a year for their boat insurance.
Unless you can be self-sustaining on your boat, you will also need to pay the occasional marina fees to charge batteries, swap out propane tanks, fill up water tanks, fuel the boat, and stock up on supplies. When you dock, you can be charged $10 to $15 per foot of boat.
One benefit of living on a boat in international waters is that you are free to dump blackwater in the ocean. In the U.S. and in many other countries, it is illegal to dump blackwater in inland rivers, reservoirs, or anywhere that is less than 3 nautical miles off shoreline. Once you hit the open ocean and are more than 3 miles off the coast, you can freely dump blackwater without having to pay for pumping services at the marina.
Do I Have to Pay Taxes if I Live on a Boat?
If you live on a boat you get to skip property taxes, but there are still some taxes that you are legally required to pay. When you buy a boat, you may have to pay sales tax on the boat, depending on which state it was purchased in. You will also have to pay a small tax when you register the boat.
In some states, you can be charged a personal property tax if you own a boat, RV, or private plane. In some cases, this tax only applies if the boat is not your primary residence. Some boat owners can avoid this tax completely if they keep their boat moored in a certain location for more than 6 months a year.
Even if you live on a boat, you will still have to pay income taxes if you have a job-based in the United States. This applies whether your boat is moored at the marina or if you are living on international waters. The only way to avoid income taxes on a boat is to have no taxable income or have a job-based in another country.