I live with my boyfriend on a sailboat in San Francisco Bay.
Why? San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the United States, falling just behind Manhattan. The average rent here is $4,730. For the past six years I’ve had my fill of apartment shares that have cost me more than $1,500 per month, just for a room.
Sailboat living, with its cramped, small quarters, isn’t for everyone, but it has saved me and my boyfriend thousands of dollars in the last year-and-a-half I’ve lived aboard. At first, moving onto the sailboat was more of a necessity than a desire, as I’d just lost my full-time job as a radio news reporter in the city. But now, I love the financial freedom it affords me, and I have more time and money to do what I love, which is travel, see family, surf and hike.
Saving money is important because soon we want to sail around the world.
My boyfriend has a full-time job working as a contractor in San Francisco, and I’m a freelance writer. He’s spent the last two years restoring his beautiful 1972 CT-41 ketch, which he bought in Canada for $30,000.
While small compared to a house, the sailboat is plenty big for the two of us. It’s a 41-footer with two masts, and about 150-square feet of living space. It’s a beautiful, old-fashioned looking boat which at full sail has three or four sails up depending on the wind. There’s a galley with a stove, sink and kitchen table, a living room with two couches, a tiny bedroom, and a bathroom.
Our slip fee is around $500 per month in Marin County, and the utility bill never goes over $6. Water and garbage are included. To get internet for my freelance work, I head to my gym, which has workstations and wifi.
Boating on a budget
Living on a sailboat isn’t the only way we save. We have no cable or television bill, instead choosing to watch movies and shows from the library. We eat and drink mostly at home. We shop at second-hand stores. The reason we’re trying to save money is simple. One day, we hope to work less and travel more.
An additional bonus of sailboat life is lowering our environmental impact and minimizing our consumer-based life. Now that space is precious, I question every new thing I buy, whether it’s a pair of shoes or something handy for the kitchen. How long will this pair of shoes last? Do I really need a new sweater? Can this kitchen item be used for more than one purpose? For example, instead of buying new glasses for cutting onions, I threw on my boyfriend’s old snorkeling mask. It worked like a charm, and I didn’t have to buy anything new.
But living on a boat isn’t always the easiest thing in the world. When we first moved in, the boat was an explosion of tools, and had so many missing parts. We had no running water, no toilet, no heating, no stove.
We used the bathroom at the marina and at our gym, and luckily, the Bay area is warm enough to go without heat in winter. I remember standing over the kitchen sink using my tiny camping Jet Boil stove with a frying pan balanced precariously on top. I could cook simple things like turkey burgers while manning the pot with one hand and the spatula with the other. After that, I transitioned to a hot plate, which made cooking a thousand times easier. But now, I have a new sparkling stainless steel propane stove with two gas burners and an oven, which cost around $700. I’d never been so excited to see a stove in my life.
Luckily, seasickness hasn’t been a problem yet. When the sailboat is moored at the marina, it barely moves. When we anchor it out for the night, it has a pleasant rocking motion from boat wakes and tides, which always puts me to sleep.
Built to last
It’s taken two years of constant work and restoration and tens of thousands of dollars to get the boat where it is today. My boyfriend put in the money and did all the labor himself, from fixing the propellor, to installing the steering system, to painting the bulwarks, to researching and installing new rigging, to buying a brand-new set of sails and sail covers. He’s put in so much time and effort to make it safe for heavy seas. Now, the boat has all the essentials we need to live, including a rudimentary shower that we fashion by attaching a long hose to the kitchen sink and taking it outside. We can then shower in the boat’s cockpit under a sea of sparkling stars. Eventually, there will be a real shower, and a real marine refrigerator to take the place of our cooler with blocks of ice.
As soon as all this initial maintenance is complete, my boyfriend will be comfortable quitting his full-time job. We estimate when out cruising, we’ll have to spend only $15,000 per year for us both. We hope to fund this through my freelance writing, and my boyfriend can work on boats.
The thing I love about living on the sailboat is its potential to take me to amazing and distant places, but it’s even awesome close to home. We use the boat to get away from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco; the crush of honking cars and swarms of people. When we release her from her ties at the marina, we can take her anywhere and anchor out for the night in spots like China Camp or Angel Island, about an hour’s sail away. We cook, play music, and feel like we’re somewhere far away, where life is simpler and more connected to nature, where we see the face of the moon and feel the rhythm of the tides.
Living on a boat isn’t for everyone, but I do think there are simple things anyone can do to save money and follow their dreams. Maybe a first step is cutting cable and heading to the library for movies and shows.Here are some other things to consider: Eat in a few more nights per month. Downsize to a smaller house or apartment. Sell your car and buy a beater. Get rid of subscriptions like Netflix and Hulu.
Only with financial freedom can we live the kinds of lives we want. Living on a sailboat so I can travel the world is my solution. What’s yours?
Kristin Hanes is a journalist and writer living on a sailboat in the San Francisco Bay. She's fascinated with ways people are paying debt and living simply. Kristin worked 14 years in radio news and has been published in local and national outlets.