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How to Live on a Boat for Free? – The Simple & Easy Way

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

how to live on a boat for free

For the thalassophile at heart, nothing beats being able to live on a boat in the ocean. How can you not love the perks? No worries about zoning regulations, being able to commune with nature and with people with whom you share interests, and, of course, not having to mind the cost of living.

You have to earn them, though. Living in the ocean for free requires no less preparation since you’re aiming for self-sufficiency. You’ll need to invest upfront in both your boat, equipment, and skills.

Let this post guide you on how to live on a boat for free.

A Few Things We Need to Clear Up Before We Begin


What exactly does “living on a sailboat for free” mean? At best, it’s keeping your cost of living at zero and other expenses at a minimum while living on a boat. This does NOT include repairs you may need to do on the vessel’s parts and the equipment you invest in.

Based on my research and experience, these are the main things that will hold you back from living cost-free:

  • Docking fees
  • Utilities
  • Medical expenses
  • Taxes
  • Boat maintenance

On the whole, don’t expect to be fully free from having to rely on dough once your boat is good to go. If you think you’ve saved enough or have a source of passive income, then good. Better if you actually learn how to repair the tools you’ll be relying on like solar grids, the watermaker, and other important gadgets.

If not, I suggest you consider taking work-from-home jobs, rendering specialized services, or selling various products you can create while living on a boat. This is so you can just have a safety cushion should necessary expenditures arise.

Moreover, you’ll have to sacrifice Internet access if you’re bent on deciding to live on a sailboat with no costs. Otherwise, you can always rely on public wifi whenever you’re moored in town.

Things You’ll Need

All of these count as upfront costs necessary for living on a boat for free and self-sufficiency.

  • A sailboat or houseboat
  • Solar grid
  • Watermaker
  • Supplements
  • Gardening equipment and seeds
  • Fishing gear
  • A stockpile of food and drinks just to get you going

Note: Your sailboat should be able to accommodate all these things. Some vessels aren’t wide enough for solar grids, so don’t settle for anything less than 35 feet.

Here’s How You Can Live on Sailboat for Free


Step 1: Learn All the Essential Skills First

These include being able to fish, grow vegetables in the conditions you’re in, cook, learn what to do during emergencies, do DIY repairs and upgrades, and other fundamental skills that will allow you to keep your costs to zero.

I can’t stress this step enough if you want this endeavor to succeed and actually be able to stick to your main goal. Take note that the average monthly cost to live on a boat in the US is $2,500. Always put that into perspective if you’re aiming for all-out self-sufficiency.

Step 2: Install the solar grid and watermaker

You need to take care of two basic needs from the get-go: water and electricity. If you haven’t got the time, it’s best to rely on professional help.

Otherwise, hit the books if you’re going for the complete DIY route because solar panels alone cost a fofree-houseboatrtune and you obviously don’t want your money to go to waste. 

  • I recommend reading this guide for installing solar panels on a sailboat. This video is a good reference if you want something more visual:

  • As for the watermaker, head over to this site for a good, detailed guide. Also, here’s a video tutorial:

Step 3: Set Up Your Fishing Gear

Adopting a pescetarian diet makes living on a boat for free possible. However, you’ll also need to be mindful of potential nutritional deficiencies that you may encounter while living on it alone.

You still need good sources of Vitamin C, which is why I encourage gardening and having a stockpile of supplements.

The fishing setup I have is a lot similar to the one featured in this video:

It allows me to get a continuous supply of fish even if I’m on the move. I can’t stress brushing up on your fishing skills enough.

Step 4: Grow Greens and Other Veggies


Veggies and herbs can be grown successfully as long as you grow the ones that can withstand sea conditions.

Filling veggies include potatoes, peas, cabbage, and squash. Don’t forget about nutrient powerhouses like broccoli and certain varieties of lettuce.

  • You can keep a compost bin onboard. If you dock in places where you can get free compost, then seize that chance. Otherwise, you can visit local diners and cafes and ask for compost materials.
  • Learn how to save seeds from your harvest so you won’t have to buy new ones.
  • Set up hanging planters that won’t be affected if, for instance, your boat keels. Going vertical saves space like this tower garden:

Growing veggies while living out at sea has already been done successfully by numerous sailors. Here’s a great story that inspired me to grow my own.

Step 5: Know Where You Can Dock for Free and Live at Minimal Costs

Make up a list of towns and cities where you can dock for free.

Certain docks offer public docking spaces like, for example, in Newport Beach where I get to anchor my boat for free. Be on the lookout for other regions that offer them.

It’s hard to say that you won’t be spending money at all because, once you think about it, no one can 100% state that they’re self-sufficient.

If you’re willing to spend at least a few hundred bucks a month, the most ideal international candidates for the cheapest place to live on a boat I can recommend since I’ve been to them and can confirm the costs are:

  • Thailand
  • Philippines
  • Vietnam
  • Bangladesh
  • Goa

Step 6: Take Care of Taxes


Another perk of living aboard a boat is that you can actually defy the saying “death and taxes” – at least, if you know the exact places where you don’t have to deal with the latter. Stick to states where you don’t have to pay recurrent property taxes and sales taxes.

The best I can recommend are New York, Florida, Alabama, Connecticut, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands.

How about income tax? Well, this is where it gets tricky if you’re a US citizen.

It’s easy if you can 100% prove that you don’t have a source of income while living on your boat. You can just declare that you have no taxable income.

  • Otherwise, there are ways to keep your taxes as low as possible. You can read how to do this here.
  • If you’re willing, you can also apply for citizenship in countries with no income tax. Options include the Bahamas, Bahrain, Brunei, Kuwait, the Maldives, Cayman Islands, and plenty of countries in the Middle East.

Still Have No Boat?

Unless your boat is free or was inherited, you’ll need to buy or rent a vessel to even start doing the steps I’ve outlined here.

If you’re still way back in the planning phase and actually don’t have a vessel yet, don’t miss out on opportunities to get a free houseboat. You can try to live aboard boats for rent, assuming you have the money to cover the entire duration you intend to adopt this living arrangement.

To rent a boat properly is a separate topic in itself and requires a few know-hows. You can start with the questions presented in this video to know whether it’s the best route for you.

Moreover, I suggest you try lurking on Craigslist. Here’s a great guide to get cheap boats to live on and even get a free boat if you’re quick and patient enough to seize the opportunity.


To sum it up, learning how to live on a boat for free involves learning how to be self-sufficient in electricity, water, and food. Once you get your watermaker, solar grid, fishing, and gardening tools set up, you’re halfway done.

Always be mindful of possible costs and tax regulations. As a closing note, to be able to live on a yacht is an idealistic notion for plenty of people.

Alas, it’s a privilege that you need to earn. To me, the earning part is the most difficult one since you’ll need time to acquire all the necessary skills and resources.

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