Living off the grid on a boat ( Top 15 Things to Know )

Living off the grid on a boat comes with a lot of challenges when you compare it to living off the grid on the land. The good news is that it is possible, and there are several people who live on a boat for most of their lives. Most people who live on a boat have a unique way of living and they couldn’t imagine living in any other way. However, if you are new to off grid living and living on a boat that this will be a massive challenge.

By default, if you live on a boat you most likely live partially off the grid, most ports, and harbors where you can park your boat come with some utilities like electricity for example, and there are some companies that specialize in waste removal. The biggest drawback of living in a boat is the cost of it, boats tend to be fairly expensive, and if you are planning to travel around then the fuel costs can add up significantly.

If you want to live off the grid on a boat then you will have fairly limited options when it comes to generating power, my personal recommendation is to use solar panels that are made for RV’s as they are more efficient and tend to occupy a lot less space then traditional solar panels Click here to check it out on Amazon.com

Parking a boat even temporarily can be also extremely expensive, so if your goal is to live as frugally as possible then you most likely will not be able to do it. The bad news is that currently there are only a few high-end solar panels that can lower the costs of fueling your boat, on the other hand, most solar panels will be able to power the boat, except the engine. If you want to live completely off the grid in a boat then you have two options.

Either sail the seas for most of the time or stay in the harbor, both of them have their advantages and disadvantages. Sailing the seas can be costly due to the amount of fuel you need, and you will have to invest in long term supplies. On the other hand, if you stay in a port or in a harbor for most of the time then the parking fees can quickly add up, but you will not have to spend that much money on fuel. If you are wondering if the off grid lifestyle is worth it then check out my recent article Is living off grid worth it? ( Top 8 Reasons Why ).

Not all boats are good for living off the grid

If you want to live off the grid in a boat then you will need to find a boat that actually allows you to have this lifestyle. I am not saying that you should go out and buy the latest and the best-equipped boat, but you have to think long-term, especially if you are planning to sail a lot. The problem with modern boats is that they have a lot of equipment that uses a lot of power, powering these with solar panels will be extremely difficult.

On top of that, the more electrical devices the boat has the more sensors it has, and if you have a newer car then you probably know that sensors tend to malfunction fairly often, and sometimes they won’t even allow you to start the engine. Older boats tend to have fewer sensors that can malfunction, but you will have to be extra careful what kind of boat you actually get. Make sure to check for leaks and mold, generally speaking, older boats will have some mold on them, and this can quickly rot the entire boat from the inside out. There are a couple of people in Hawaii who live off the grid either on their boats or on land, for more information check out my recent article Off grid living in Hawaii ( The Aloha State ).

Emergency money for living off the grid on a boat

The general rule if you buy a boat is to have around 30% of the price of the boat as emergency money, older boats tend to have a fairly high maintenance cost. Living off the grid in a boat is not like living off the grid in a homestead, if there is a problem then you will have to fix it, there is no time for delays. The structural integrity of your boat will be the most important, if it starts to leak then the salt water can do a lot of damage, and in the worst-case scenario, your boat can even sink.

Saltwater tends to be corrosive, it will quickly destroy and rust metal, although this is not as a big of a problem for newer boats. On the other hand older boats tend to use a lot of rust-proof paint, the problem is that even the best rust-proof paint will lose its anti-rust properties after some time.

Living off the grid on a boat needs a lot of supplies

If you are planning to travel by your boat then you will have to get plenty of supplies, food, equipment, water, tools, and so on. Generally speaking, you should get a lot of canned goods and foods which have a long shelf life. If you are planning to generate most of your electricity with wind or solar then you will probably not have enough electricity to power a freezer, so do not stockpile frozen goods.

Installing a rain catcher system on the boat

Water will be the biggest problem if you are planning to go for longer trips, stockpiling some water is a good idea but sooner or later you will have to harvest rainwater. Setting up a rain catcher or a rainwater harvester system on a boat is fairly simple, but your main concern will be to not get the rainwater contaminated with saltwater. Converting saltwater to freshwater is possible, but these systems tend to use a lot of power.

In addition to this, you will have to think about where and how you will store the water, normal water barrels will be not enough. These tend to be top-heavy and if the boat tends to rock around then it could easily topple over. Your best option is to either use stackable water bricks or a square water cistern. There are some industrial cisterns that are made of thick plastic and also come with a metal cage, so you should probably find out if you can get one in your area.

Installing a water filter on the boat

If you are harvesting rainwater then you will have to filter it. The bigger the surface of the rain catcher the more rain you can harvest, but the closer you get to the shore you will notice more and more birds coming and landing on your boat. The feces from birds can quickly get into your water tanks if you do not use a filter. My personal recommendation is to use two water filters, one when the water comes through the rain catcher, and one which comes out directly from your water cistern.

Using a propane or butane stove on the boat

If you want to use as little electricity as you can and you still want to cook, then you have two options, either get a propane or butane stove. The main reason why I recommend propane or butane is because they are by far the safest gases that you can store. Propane tends to have a lot higher BTU than butane, which is the heat output. Propane also tends to be a lot cheaper than butane, although butane stoves do have their advantages as well, for more information check out my recent article Best butane stove for indoor use ( Top 10 ).

Fishing equipment for living on the boat

It is always a good idea to have some extra food, and while you are on a boat your only option is to fish. The best part about fishing is that you do not need any kind of high tech equipment and storing the fish can be extremely easy. To store the fish for the long term you have to salt it and dehydrate it, the problem is that if you eat salted fish then you will drink a lot more water, so that is something you should think about.

Vitamin C Supplements are needed if you want to live on a boat

If you are planning to go on long trips then you will need some kind of vitamin supplement. Even if you have stockpiled a lot of food, you still should add vitamin supplements to your diet, especially if you plan on eating a lot of fish. Scurvy is an extremely dangerous disease that develops due to the lack of vitamin C in the body. Even mild forms of Vitamin C deficiency can make living on a boat extremely difficult.

Installing a composting toilet on the boat

Most boats do not have a composting toilet, so you will have to refit your toilet. This will cost you some extra money but in the long term, it will be well worth it. Waste removal tends to be not only expensive but fairly challenging, especially in the wintertime. On the other hand, if you are planning to live in a marina then you could use the public toilets, this way you do not have any problems or expenses for waste disposal.

Installing solar panels on the boat

Solar panels are excellent for generating power on a boat, the problem is that these solar panels tend to be extremely sensitive. The saltwater is extremely corrosive and solar panels have metal conductors built into them if the saltwater gets in through some cracks then you will notice your solar panel will start getting brown spots. From that point on it is only a matter of time until you have to replace the solar panels.

Installing a wind generator on the boat

It is extremely important to have a backup system to generate power, not all days will be clear but you will have at least some wind blowing every day. In addition this the wind generator can work both during the day and night, and it doesn’t matter if the skies are clear or not. There are a lot of wind turbines that are specially designed for boats, and most of them are extremely reliable.

Installing a battery bank on the boat

You will need a battery bank to store all that power which the wind and solar power systems generate. Generally speaking, most people living on a boat use lithium-ion battery banks as these tend to be fairly reliable. The problem with any kind of battery bank is that it can be extremely dangerous if they come into contact with water. Even small amounts of water can destroy the battery bank, and in some cases, they can even destroy the entire boat.

You have to be extra careful what kind of battery bank you get, and the most important thing when you decide which one to get is the climate in which you will be using it. Battery banks tend to struggle in colder environments, and in extremely hot environments. In cold environments, they tend to simply not function, and in hotter environments, they can easily overheat and become a fire hazard.

Installing a diesel furnace on the boat

If the climate in which you are in is cold or if you are planning to go into areas with a colder climate then you have to have a good source of heat. Most people who live on boats in the northern parts of the world do use a diesel furnace, generally peaking these tend to have a fairly high heat output and they do not need that much fuel to work. You will have to make some calculations on how much diesel you need to carry, in order to not run out of diesel in the middle of nowhere.

Signaling devices are needed if you want to live on a boat

If you are planning to travel by boat then you will need some signaling device, most boats do have flares and mirrors which should be enough. Although older boats that still have their original flares are extremely likely to malfunction, so just buy some new flares.

Communications device are needed to live on a boat safely

All boats should have a marine VHF radio, and you also should know how to operate it. Most of the newer models have an inbuilt battery which lasts quite a bit, although it is always a good idea to have a backup system in the form of a satellite phone. Satellite phones work even if you are in the middle of nowhere, and some of them are even waterproof and specially designed to be used on boats. Satellite phones do not cost as much as they used to and they are a must-have item on any boat.

In conclusion

Living off the grid in a boat is possible, but as you can see it comes with its own challenges. The biggest problem with living on a boat is the sheer cost of it, the maintenance of a boat can quickly spiral out of control, and if you are planning to sail around a bit then you will need plenty of extra money for supplies and plenty of fuel.