Why Live Aboard a Sailboat?
Thousands of people choose to live aboard their sailboats. It’s an alternative lifestyle with a host of benefits for those willing to deal with the added challenges.
Liveaboards can move their entire house on the water, and it’s typically cheaper to live on a boat than in a traditional house. This is especially true in major waterfront cities, where rent in the same area as the marina can be several times more expensive.
Some people love the marina lifestyle, and others travel the world. All-in-all, living aboard a sailboat can be a rewarding, enriching, and financially-freeing lifestyle choice.
What to Consider when Buying a Liveaboard Sailboat
The most important thing to consider when buying a liveaboard sailboat is what level of accommodation you need.
Some people aren’t bothered by limited amenities; in fact, many traditional sailors prefer a stripped-down and basic sailboat interior. However, many others appreciate useful features such as electric toilets and a full kitchen.
You can find virtually creature comfort on board a modern sailboat, so it’s up to you to decide what level of convenience you expect.
For most people, a standard cruising sailboat interior from after 1970 will suffice, as these typically include a usable kitchen, shower, head, and ventilation.
Offshore VS Coastal Cruising Accommodations
Sailboat interior design is dependent on certain criteria, such as the sailboat’s intended use. Long-distance cruising sailboats have cabins arranged to suit such a journey.
Long-distance sailboats usually remove any unnecessary furniture or extras down below to increase storage, and sleeping options are altered to ensure easy access, which allows the crew to regain control of the boat in a pinch.
Coastal cruisers tend to feature a more luxurious layout, with larger sofas and more complex interior features. Additionally, storage space is generally reduced to allow for the inclusion of other amenities.
Whichever style you choose should reflect both how you plan to use your boat and what level of comfort you need.
What Makes A Great Liveaboard Sailboat?
For this article, we’ve outlined a few requirements which we believe identify an excellent liveaboard sailboat:
- Standing headroom (at least 5’10”)
While many people live aboard boats without standing headroom, it’s still a nice feature to have. Months or years spent crawling or crouching can wreak havoc on your back and body, so standing headroom is a necessity in this list.
- 120V AC availability
Electricity is a definite requirement for our liveaboard list. Boats without 120V AC outlets present major challenges to liveaboards, as there’s no way to charge most computers or cell phones. Some boats feature a 12V outlet, but full-time liveaboard boats should have standard house connections for electricity.
- Kitchen facilities
Unless you plan on eating out every day, a kitchen is a must for our list. We define an adequate kitchen as a facility with a sink, ice box or refrigerator, and a stove. An oven is an added bonus, but one can usually be added along with a new stove.
- Electric lighting
Electric lighting is a matter of both safety and convenience aboard boats. There’s nothing wrong with kerosene lamps; many sailors adorn their boats with them. However, a long-term liveaboard boat should feature safe and reliable electric lighting.
- Toilet with plumbing
Sanitation facilities are vital on board a sailboat, especially if you live on it. Improper human waste storage and disposal will spread awful diseases. Plus, nobody wants to live on a stinky boat or use a porta-potty all year long. We required each of our ten boats to have built-in and properly outfitted toilets, plus safe storage tanks for pumping out later.
Bathing facilities are also a must on most liveaboard sailboats. However, many liveaboards opt not to use their on-board showers in favor of marina or gym facilities. That being said, it is very convenient to have a shower on your boat. Keep in mind, some boat showers drain directly into the bilge. If you use your onboard shower, be sure to keep the bilge pump in working order and remember that anything you put in the drain ends up below your floor.
- Separate seating spaces
We think a liveaboard sailboat should have extra sitting spaces on board, apart from the main bed. A place for sitting, eating, working, and navigating is essential when living aboard long-term, and the added convenience of a separate space will make day-to-day activities much more enjoyable.
Last but not least, we believe ventilation is essential for any liveaboard sailboat. This is the simplest of requirements, as a passive solar roof vent or opening porthole should be sufficient. In short, there should be a way to let fresh air in without opening a main hatch.
Top 10 Liveaboard Sailboats
Here’s a list of the top ten liveaboard sailboats that you can purchase used today.
These are in no particular order, but each boat meets or exceeds the requirements of a great liveaboard sailboat.
Remember, the features listed for each of these boats could vary based on age or trim, so be sure to check back to this list when inspecting a boat.
Without further ado, here’s ten of the greatest liveaboard sailboats ever produced.
1. Catalina 30
The Catalina 30 is one of the most common production cruising sailboats ever.
Thousands of these reliable and robust fiberglass boats still sail, despite the fact that they first entered the market in 1972.
This 30-foot boat features a modern and spacious interior, with all the accommodations you’d expect on a boat its size.
Most models feature a large and useful kitchen, along with running water supplied by electric pumps.
The Catalina 30 also featured a ‘suite’ layout, with a master bedroom V-Berth closed off to the rest of the cabin by a door.
An enclosed shower and head make it a pleasant boat to live on.
The layout of the Catalina 30 also featured a dinette, which serves as an excellent chart table or workspace as well.
2. Islander 36
The Islander 36 is a well-rounded liveaboard sailboat which also has impressive cruising capabilities.
While manufacturing ceased in the 1980s, the I-36 was the company’s best-selling model with nearly a thousand built.
Islander boats are known for some well-adorned cabins, and many featured elegant wooden interior trim.
Like the Catalina 30, the Islander 36 includes an enclosed head with a shower and flush toilet.
The interior layout of the I-36 is spacious and well-designed, featuring a long port and starboard settee which folds out into a double-berth for sleeping.
An enclosed shower and spacious master berth make it a very well-rounded option for cruising and living aboard.
3. Contessa 32
Contessa Yachts produced their venerable 32-foot cruising and racing sailboat from 1970 until 1990, but custom boatbuilders still manufacture the yacht today.
It’s well-known for cruising capabilities, but it has a lot to offer as a liveaboard as well.
The traditional cabin is thoughtfully designed, featuring a fold-up table in the center of the cabin floor.
The spatially conscious design of the Contessa 32 makes it an excellent option for the no-frills and organized sailor.
This vessel features a separate master bedroom, along with a head and shower in the hallway between the compartments.
4. Pearson 34
Pearson produced their excellent 34-foot sailboat during the 1980s. This medium-sized cruising yacht features an extremely spacious interior with plenty of floor space to move around.
The layout is complex, but not overwhelming. The kitchen nook is functional and features convenient overhead storage for utensils giving it a ‘home-y’ feeling.
The head is enclosed and spacious, including a bathroom sink and mirror.
The separate master bedroom is also enclosed with ample clothing storage throughout.
Out of all the boats listed so far, the Pearson 34 should feel most like a traditional living space to most people.
If the Pearson 34 seems a little too compact, be sure to read on and check out the next two boats on the list.
5. Nordic 40
So far the largest boat on our list, the Nordic 40 is a super-capable offshore cruiser with excellent liveaboard facilities.
This relatively rare boat features an extremely spacious interior, which is more than ample for a couple to live comfortably.
Standing headroom throughout, a spacious master bedroom, along with a nearly full kitchen allows for superbly comfortable living in any climate or region.
The extra storage aboard makes remote living possible, so owners can anchor out for weeks or months at a time with enough provisions to last.
While this boat isn’t very common, it’s still worth keeping an eye out for it while searching for a liveaboard sailboat.
6. Peterson 44
The Peterson 44 is what’s known as a ‘center-cockpit cruiser,’ featuring a split-cabin both fore and aft.
This spacious interior layout maximizes living space without decreasing sailing capabilities.
The boat features a master bedroom and bathroom, along with another cabin, berth, and head behind the cockpit.
In addition to two bathrooms, it features a full kitchen, booth dinette, and settee.
All these extras combined with excellent storage make it an excellent liveaboard option.
Pearson is well-renowned for building excellent boats, and their interior quality is above average.
7. Nor’Sea 27
The Nor’Sea 27 is a classic compact sailboat, which is ideal for minimalist or single people living aboard.
The interior is surprisingly spacious for its size, featuring all the amenities you’d expect on a larger boat.
This beautiful little boat likely mimics the comfort of a Catalina 30, and should cost less in slip fees.
The interior features a toilet, shower, and kitchen.
The forward berth converts into a dinette but features two other bunks underneath the cockpit.
Production of the Nor’Sea 27 began in 1976, and it’s still produced today.
And the best part—you can legally tow it on a trailer. It’s arguably the ultimate compact cruiser/liveaboard available today.
8. Cal 34
The Cal 34 is very typical of mid-range sailboats of the 1970s. Produced between 1968 and 1975, this basic but comfortable yacht has a lot of potential as a liveaboard.
The interior is simple and spacious, without much luxury or adorning. However, less features make for less maintnence, and everything you’d need is available in the Cal 34.
A master bedroom, shower, and toilet are all standard, along with a well-arranged kitchen and comfortable sitting area.
The boat features ample storage for clothes, food, and gear.
All mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems aboard are easy to maintain, plus the cabin is well-designed.
9. Catalina 38
Another classic Catalina sailboat makes the list, with a well-thought-out interior that’s spacious enough for a couple to live comfortably.
Catalina produced their 38-foot sloop between 1977 and 1990, and it came standard with many excellent liveaboard features such as electrical outlets throughout the cabin.
Also, the head is spacious and includes a sink, which is always very convenient.
With plenty of places to sleep, there’s no need to fold away the kitchen table to get some rest.
The Catalina 38 is another fantastic mid-sized sailboat for living aboard, especially if you aren’t quite comfortable inside a Catalina 30.
10. Hunter 33
The last boat on our list is also one of the longest-lived in its category. Hunter produced their 33-foot sailboat starting in 1977, and it’s still in production today.
This handy mid-sized boat features excellent interior accommodations, with plenty of sitting and sleeping areas to choose from.
In addition to a full dinette, it features a toilet and shower aft away from the master bedroom. Such an arrangement is a great option for sailors, as it allows the use of the head without moving too far away from the controls.
Standing headroom throughout the long cabin makes for a very comfortable long-term living arrangement.
The kitchen has plenty of storage space and the L-shaped layout allows for easy and efficient use.
At the end of the day, you’ll get to choose the liveaboard sailboat that works best for you. Check out some of the boats we mentioned and get an idea of what they offer.
Use this list to help identify features that you need, and perhaps avoid features that you don’t want.
When it comes to living aboard, there’s a lot more to consider than just your boat. As long as the boat you choose is in good condition, you’ll likely end up falling in love with it.
Either way, consider these top-ten liveaboard sailboats when you’re on the hunt for your boat.