Tips To Living On A Boat In Key West | LakeWizard

Key Takeaways

  • Living on a boat in Key West, Florida requires plenty of planning and love for the sea
  • Dock rates, lease rates, and other factors can influence costs tremendously
  • Mooring restrictions are in place, so be sure to check the areas of interest

Living on a boat in Key West can be a truly wonderful experience. But what are some tips to make the process easier?

Being prepared for the unique challenges that come with living on a boat in Key West is important. These tips include having a solid hurricane plan, familiarizing yourself with local weather and sea conditions, and being aware of the regulations and ordinances in place for liveaboards.

Finding the perfect spot to live on a boat in Key West can be challenging, but preparing yourself ahead of time is key. As you will see, these tips will make the experience much better.

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Best Tips to Living on a Boat in Key West

Key West is a beautiful spot to live aboard in your boat, especially with the living coral barrier reef, magnificent marine life, and arguably one of the best places to sail. But there are important factors to consider to boating full time in the Florida Keys. Understanding each tip will help you save time, money, and your sanity while in Key West.

Hurricane Plan

You will need a good hurricane plan in the event of nasty weather towards Key West. Typically, June 1st to November 30th is hurricane season for Key West and all of Florida. If you happen to be caught near one, you should:

  • Stay informed about the storm's forecast and track, whether it is hitting the Florida Keys or not
  • Prepare an emergency kit with supplies such as non-perishable food, water, first aid items, and a battery-powered radio.
  • Make a plan for you and your family for leaving Key West or sheltering in place (better have a good anchor).
  • Heed all evacuation orders issued by local officials in the Florida Keys.
  • Keep important documents and identification in a water-proof container.

Getting Used to Weather and Sea

Key West has warm weather year-round, meaning it has its hot seasons. People that live in KEy West must be used to the heat, or otherwise they could not handle it. If living on a boat there, you should:

  • Stay informed with weather forecasts and alerts so you know what to expect and can plan accordingly.
  • Wear lightweight, breathable clothing and protect yourself from the sun with a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated in the heat and humidity.
  • The heat and humidity can be overwhelming, so take it easy and pace yourself when engaging in outdoor activities.
  • The sea can be unpredictable, so take the opportunity to learn about the tide schedule, currents, and warning signs of rip currents, and always be aware of your surroundings when swimming. Boating safety is very important in these waters.


Many communities in Key West have implemented mooring fields and restrictions on anchoring, which may require the use of mooring buoys and the payment of fees. You will need to be familiar with how mooring buoys work for liveaboard life.

Private docks might be out of the question depending on the location in south Florida. This will be a cost that you need to factor into your boating budget.

Lease Rates

When it comes to leasing a spot for your floating home, there are different rates depending on the usage and rent type. For commercial purposes, the cost is $32.93 per foot on a monthly basis and an additional $1.00 fee for each licensed passenger. The rates may be higher due to boat rentals.

Keep in mind, there is a commercial waitlist in place for various parts of the Florida Keys. For those looking to use the spot recreationally, the rate is $28.61 per foot per month, with a recreational waitlist in effect.

If you are interested in the liveaboard life, the rate is $25.30 per foot per month with an extra $43.60 charge per person, per month. It is important to note that all leases require boat owners to lay down a deposit that equals one month's rent.

Dock Rates

Dockage prices for transient boats vary depending on the duration of stay. Daily rates are $3.30 per foot, weekly rates are $18.70 per foot, and monthly rates are $52.80 per foot. These rates are subject to change at any time, especially during the Key West Marlin Tournament or if a lot of Key West fishing charter activities are occurring.

Water usage is included in the cost, but electric usage is metered. Keep in mind that there is a maximum stay limit of 120 days per calendar year, so be aware for living aboard in a given location.

During the summer months, transient dockage rates are reduced to $2.75 per foot per day, $14.85 per foot per week, and $42.05 per foot monthly. Local transient boats also receive a discounted rate of $2.20 per foot per day, $11.00 per foot per week, and $31.90 per foot monthly.

Derelict Vessels

Local and state governments have been cracking down on abandoned vessels in the Florida Keys, so it is important to ensure that your boat is in good working condition if you plan on living aboard. Liveaboard boaters must also be able to move the boat under its own power and sail to avoid fines.

On average, it costs roughly $240,000 a year just to take care of abandoned boats near the Florida Keys. This is costing taxpayers quite a bit of money, so lawmakers are aiming to crack down on this act.

Pump-Out Service

It is important to be aware of the county-wide ordinance that bans the overboard discharge of sewage in Key West, and to make use of the county’s free pump-out service. This is to protect the national marine sanctuary in Florida that surrounds the Keys, so just use common sense here.

Living Near Various Districts

There is an anchorage area just west of the island being a popular spot for liveaboards. This area is often referred to as "Key West affordable housing" and many of the residents commute to work every day by dinghy.

While there are many Florida communities and beautiful beaches where you could enjoy the liveaboard life, you might need special permits to stay long term. Some of the best locations to be in or around Key West include:

  • Dry Tortugas (and visit historical landmarks like the Dry Tortugas National Park).
  • Florida mangroves (plenty of captivating mangrove forests from Loxahatchee to Key West).
  • Duval Street and Mallory Square (one of the most popular streets in Key West, along with a historic old town).
  • Key Largo all the way to the Historic Seaport (the southernmost point)

Is it Difficult to Live on a Boat in the Florida Keys?

The short answer is yes, it can be difficult to adjust to life on boats. Living the boating life is not for everyone in the continental United States, even in the Florida Keys, so you will need a different perspective to have the best boating experience and set anchor somewhere you prefer.

If you want to enjoy boating and the liveaboard life, here are the pros and cons:


  • Get to see diverse marine life while at anchor, like spiny lobsters, and potentially have wildlife encounters with key deer on land
  • Buy a fishing license to catch various species of tropical fish
  • If you want to explore, but do not want to move your boat, a boat rental or guided tour for a day trip are easy to find
  • Seagrass beds, coral reefs, and the national marine sanctuary are beautiful sites to see while boating


  • Strong winds with storms make it difficult to live on boats, even in the Florida Keys
  • Private charters, along with other boating companies, might take up a lot of dock space in many marinas
  • Some people might not like the Atlantic Ocean, the coral reef, Florida fish, or the florida Keys at all, or just prefer land in general
  • Depending on your experience sailing, there may be areas you want to steer clear of in Florida if you are not familiar with the area
  • You will need to get familiar with how to use a mooring buoy and be able to identify boundary buoys and trap buoys
  • New laws limit the amount of time you can spend living in the Florida Keys on a boat, which drives away business for that scenario

How Many People Live on Boats in Key West?

Since the new law a few years ago, liveaboards are only able to stay 90 days at a time. So the number of boats has gone down dramatically over the years, where numbers used to be around 100 or so.

On average, you can expect to see anywhere near 70 boats at a time throughout the Florida Keys that live aboard their boats. However, these vary based on time of the year and availability of dock space.