Houseboats: Weathering the Economic

As many Americans ditch their gas guzzling clunkers for more fuel-efficient vehicles, others are going a step further and trading in their rent and utility bills for life at sea.

Living aboard is a very unique trend in the United States, providing some with the adventure of traveling the seven seas and others a cheaper alternative to monthly rent and utility bills. In marinas throughout Boston, people are embracing life on the water.

According to Linda Ridihalgh, editor of the Texas-based bi-monthly magazine Living Aboard, most people who live in a houseboat only do so for six months of the year, and find more suitable living conditions during the winter.

“It’s a highly transient lifestyle. People say they live aboard, they may live aboard on the water for six months of the clement weather, and then they…I personally know several people who’ve done this kind of thing, they live essentially the same life in their RV,” said Ridihalgh, who herself lived aboard for several years. “So they follow the sun.”

However, Ridihalgh admits that due to their love of the water, some people do attempt to live at sea during the winter, noting that they take extra steps to keep their boats warm.

“They are, in my humble opinion, the most adventurous of the adventurous,” Ridihalgh said of people who choose to live on the water during the winter. “Lots of people really, really enjoy it. The water is quiet and they take precautions to keep their boats cozy. They wrap them in plastic often, and it’s almost like living in a greenhouse.”

Although many people choose to live aboard for a sense of adventure and freedom, other motives for choosing this lifestyle range from a cheaper alternative to renting an apartment to college students looking for temporary housing.

“People who live aboard are really a diverse lot,” Ridihalgh said. “I mean you have everything from college students to airline pilots. They don’t share in their ages, and they don’t share in their families or their financial circumstances but they do share a sense of adventure and a love of the water.”

In Boston, people have been embracing this lifestyle for years. However, living aboard in Boston is no easy task, something that Mark Nicholas, author of “The Essentials of Living Aboard a Boat,” knows firsthand.

“I had lived in a number of places in the Boston area including the Constitution Marina in Charlestown, Marina Bay in Quincy, and I lived on a dock on a mooring in Salem Harbor,” said Nicholas, who was also a practicing lawyer.

Nicholas says that these locations had their own benefits, such as being close to the nightclub scene he wanted, and a short commute to his office in the morning. However, each one also came with its own downsides, like lack of security.

“One of the big issues is Charlestown is, even though it’s an economical way of living for the overall neighborhood, it could still be pretty expensive. More expensive then you would expect. Nicholas said. “And then in Salem Harbor it was rough. The water moved, a lot. Even on days when there was not much wind, you sometimes found yourself flung around your boat, I mean you could break your back or your neck.”

Although Nicholas admits it wasn’t an easy life, he is also quick to point out the many benefits of living on a boat.

“It has a level of romance to the lifestyle. …Certainly if you’re catering to those who can’t afford a house, they’re not really looking for the romance of it. But there is romance to the notion of living aboard,” Nicholas said. “You get the gentle rocking to sleep, watching the sunsets and sunrises, the cool breezes. Sitting on your deck, or the dock with a cool drink in your hand, being very close to a very close community of your neighbors and friends that all share the same benefits and turmoil that you do.”

Although Nicholas relocated to Los Angeles, years ago, marinas in Charlestown have had no problem filling his spot.

“There’s about 25 to 30 people living on boats right now,” said Patrick Lyons, Dock Master at Shipyard Quarters Marina in Charlestown, of how many people are living there. “The boat owners pay the marina a rate of $90 dollars per foot from November first until May first. Then from May first until October 31st they pay a rate of $130 dollars per foot.”

Although the rough economic climate has increased the overall number of people utilizing boats as apartments, according to Lyons it has not caused a significant jump in the amount of houseboats at Shipyard Quarters Marina.

“It has increased the number of people. I wouldn’t say it’s been a dramatic increase, but we definitely have more live-aboards then we did before. I think that interest aside we do have a lot more people stopping by, inquiring and kicking the tires.”

Lyons elaborated on the condition of the live-aboards located at Shipyard Quarters Marina“Almost all of them are very nice. A few of them are…I wouldn’t call them run down, but they’re boats that are in older stages of life. But for the most part, most of them are what are called aqua-lodges, and they look like little houses that float.”

Although Lyons says that most of the aqua-lodges are in good condition, he says that he has no plans on moving into one himself.

“I am happily married and living in Plymouth Mass with my wife,” Lyons said. “I will not leave Plymouth Mass for the foreseeable future.”

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