We Ditched Base Housing for a Sailboat and Marina


My husband and I decided to do something weird, crazy and outrageous this duty station, NAS Whidbey Island. Instead of buying a house like we have at our previous duty stations, we bought a boat, got a slip, and moved the entire family–3 kitties and all–onto an Endeavor 42-foot sailboat.

While for many this seems crazy, those who know us know it is part of our road to achieving our dream. Our dream is for my husband to early retire at 44 when he achieves a Navy pension (Navy- and God-willing, of course). In our late 20’s with 8 rentals and 7 years of Navy service for my husband, we are well on our way to achieving our dream.

This past sea duty, my husband was never home and when he was, my full-time job became a barrier for family time. We decided that a priority for us was for me to be able to stay home. This change will allow me to grow our rental empire, raise our family, and have a flexible schedule. 

For all of this to happen we need to live very modestly financially at this duty station in order to still have the funds to pursue our travel and entertainment goals while not preventing us from saving theneeded funds for investing. At previous duty stations, living small has meant owning houses as owning has been significantly cheaper than renting. For example, here is how we saved $500 a month owning while at NAS Lemoore.

Unfortunately, after two house-hunting trips we realized that owning a house would require me to work to keep up our investment goals, since mortgages were all in the $1700-$2000 per month range. In addition, they would be hard to rent, something that is a deal-breaker for us. Since we have 3 cats, base housing was not an option. Rentals here were the same price as a mortgage.

After a lot of careful deliberation, there were four reasons that we decided to live on a boat:

Financially Prudent

One of the most important reasons was financial. I wanted to be able to launch my entrepreneurial career with the least amount of financial pressure from the loss of my professional salary. The boat was significantly cheaper at $950 per month versus houses at $1700-$2000.

Our Love of Sailing/Traveling

We love traveling. Living on a boat will allow us to explore all of San Juan and the surrounding islands. I am beyond excited about learning to crab and fish on our dingy. This is one of the few chances we will have to enjoy life on the water, since most of my husband’s duty stations are in the middle of the desert.

Husband’s Dream

My husband has always wanted to live on a boat. Our dream is to sail around the world during his retirement with our family. This is a great way for us to try out boat living before we start our family. He’ll be able to teach me how to sail since he’ll actually be home significantly more during this duty station.

Easier to Maintain

Neither one of us like housework. At our past residence, we had a housekeeper who came in weekly and a lawn service. A 500-square-foot boat is significantly smaller in size and therefore much more manageable without sacrificing large amount of family time or hiring outside help.

As with any new adventure, there are always lots of growing pains and unanticipated costs. Over the past couple of weeks, we have certainly discovered a few downsides in regards to living on a boat:

Long Walk to the Car/Dock

It is at least a 10-minute walk from our car to the boat. Everything that we want has to be hauled in a cart to the boat, no matter the weather.

High Internet Costs

Even though wifi was supposed to be included, it doesn’t work. Lets just say that dial up is speedy compared to wifi at our marina. So running a business off of cell phones is no small fee. We are looking at $100-$200 a month compared to our $60 a month cable bill on shore.

Laundry/Shower Costs

The boat only has a 6-gallon hot water heater, so while we bought a boat that specifically had a separate shower, we have to do Navy showers– all washing and no soaking. For longer showers, one has to go to the coin-operated showers at the end of the dock which is next to the coin-operated laundry. To do a load of laundry, it is $3 (wash/dry) and it is 2-minutes per quarter for showers. I forgot how quickly these costs add up so this was $60-$80 per month that we did not put in our estimates.

Pets

We did not realize how much room the kittens needed to run around and what the effect of downsizing to 500 square feet would be. We have had to find creative ways for the cats to burn off their energy– from going topside on the boat (they were previously never allowed outside) to taking them on walks.

My husband and I both travel a lot. At our previous duty stations, we have always just had someone come check on our pets if we were gone more than 36 hours or so. One day after few hours running errands,, we came home to all of the pumps working because the kittens had turned on the shower and ran the tanks dry. They are not going to be able to be left on the boat when we are gone for longer periods. Hiring a kennel is going to be an additional expense.

Work Shop

My husband has a full wood working shop and enjoys to do projects as a way to unwind. His last project was a 14-foot boat and now he is building an airplane. It has been significantly harder than we anticipated finding him workshop space as all of the spaces we have looked at are for storage only.

We are brand-new in our adventure. All of the marinas except our current one were full with a 6-10 month waiting list. While we anticipate that other marinas offer more options, at this moment these are the challenges we have faced. I anticipate that over the years we will find handy trick to reducing these and other costs that come with living small, so tune in.

The great thing about being a military family is there is a set amount of time that each set of orders last. Over the years we have found that we can do anything for that amount of time. This is a great opportunity to stretch our wings and try crazy, new things that we wouldn’t try otherwise. We are looking forward to our latest adventure!

Elizabeth is a lover of buying houses, teaching people about landlording, living frugally, becoming a sailor, and blogging at reluctantlandlord.net. She would love to connect with you on her blog, Facebook, or Twitter!

3 Comments

  1. That sounds crazy, but I know other mil families who save money by living in an RV year-round. There are lots of alternative housing options for people willing to think outside the box!
    We have 4 kids, so we are pretty much stuck in base housing for the rest of his career. But maybe after retirement when the kids are grown we can do something wild like this.

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