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Making Money Living on a Boat

I would say there are two extremes concerning how to make enough money to live on a boat and then there is everything else in between.

First, there is the more conservative, only ‘slightly’ dis-associative method which involves living on a boat while still tethered to land. These are otherwise known as slips and marinas. Here you can still enjoy cable television, Wi-Fi, a hot shower, and an endless supply of electricity and water while tied off to a 6′ strip of dock. It has it’s costs ranging from the incredibly cheap (sometimes free) to the average price of $12-15 per foot  ‘length overall’ of your boat. Amenities can be extra as well.

Living aboard in a marina is more conducive to traditional 40 hour a week jobs. Lots of folks still put on the old coat and tie from their floating abode and drive to work from the Marina. While the costs can be high living on a marina, if you have a skill set or occupation with a high earning potential this is probably the best method to stash cash quickly if a daily routine is necessary.

From our experience from living aboard and trying to make money with our hands, it takes time to build relationships and find work which can be very tough if you are constantly moving around while cruising. Staying in a marina gives you the stability to maximize your earnings with a skill set that may be desirable to more than just boaters.

A lot of folks envision setting out and making money from other boaters. The sad truth, most of us are broke or downright cheap. Especially for sailors, we thrive on being self sufficient and will only resort to asking for help when we’ve exhausted all other possibilities first. There are a few areas one can earn money on the water from other boaters.

  • Diesel Mechanic (good option)
  • Sail Maker (canopies, sails, etc.)
  • Rigging (infrequently needed)
  • Bottom Cleaning (probably best)

These skills most boaters will gladly shell out some cash for expertise. Even then, we will probably have exhausted our knowledge base  before resorting to paying someone else.

Then there is the sailor on the far extreme. This type of boater lives on the hook and can live on pennies a day. Only when the kitty drops to near zero does she seek ANY form of gainful employment where ever she may happen to find landfall during her cruise. This type of boater will work at ANYTHING.

  • Food Service (cooking, waiting, bartending)
  • Sail Instruction
  • Hotel staff
  • Dock Work

The upside with this approach is you can almost immediately find ‘some’ work.  The downside, it may not bring in a lot of cash.

Another alternative would be to have a trade or skill that can make some decent cash per hour.

  • Carpenter
  • Plumber
  • Electrician
  • Refrigeration
  • Welder

One consideration for the trade worker, it can be cumbersome to carry around the necessary tools. For me, as a carpenter/remodeler, the gaggle of tools needed to tackle random jobs can be enormous. Currently, I fill the back of the suburban from top to bottom with tools ranging from a portable planer, small power washer, metal chop saw, pancake compressor, hand saws, hand planes, and enough fasteners, paint supplies, random stuff to handle the average residential job (whatever it may be).

The good news for the tradesman, I can earn anywhere from $20/hr to $35/hr when I do find work. Of course, there’s no benefits and no taxes taken out so you’re on your own with the tax man.

Prudent actions begit prudent results,

Extraordinary action begit extraordinary results.

What are we planning? Something in between. In San Carlos, Mexico, the summer heat from late June to mid September is unbearable for us gringos. We would prefer to seek higher altitudes during this period and restock the cruising kitty.

Our plan is pretty simple (at least they always start out that way). We plan on spending approximately 6 months on the boat in the Sea of Cortez and 6 months in cooler altitudes (and latitudes) working. We have some options were still narrowing down to see which will provide us the most capital and still fit our criteria to be together as a family.

  • Remodeling. If I can expand my base and book jobs during the summer months I can fill the 6 month calendar
  • Fair/Festival Concessions. Travel during the summer months from fair to fair? We’re still thinking about that.
  • Seasonal Contract work. The possibility for Hil to teach or me to hire on somewhere in the same location every year is inviting.

Our goal is to live on the cheap (like there is a choice) during the summer months and try to save $24,000 by the end of the 6 months.

NOTE: this is the GOAL. We really have no idea if we can achieve it yet.

Our hopes are to stash $5-6,000 for long term savings and live off the rest on the boat for the rest of the year. That’s our plan until something better comes along or we have to tack to continue to make forward headway

Can we do it? Maybe. Is it unreasonable? Probably. Is it exciting? You Betcha!

You know an ICE COLD draft beer in Mexico is a very affordable price of approximately $1.25! Click Here to Buy Us a Beer.

7 comments to Making Money Living on a Boat

  • I think you’re passing over an obvious choice – working online! The technology has finally arrived; if your job is such that you can work “from home”, you can work just fine from your boat. I’m working part-time as a systems administrator for a media company, basically taking care of computers in a colocation facility that I’ve never seen, and probably never will. Most major cell carriers now have a USB stick modem that works anywhere that you can get cell service. I am currently writing this from my sailboat (and home) as I cruise past Prevost Island in British Columbia.

    There’s a lot of good info about forcing your career into a “work from home” situation in Tim Ferriss’ book ‘The Four Hour Workweek’ – I would *really* recommend you pick up a copy and read it through, it’s pretty much exactly written about what you and I are trying to achieve.

  • Damon B

    My mother has friends who work the festival circuit selling the equivalent of a blooming onion. They work a few months out of the year and make enough to live on the rest of the year.

    You’d have to come up with something new. Something the festival-goers of the USA have never seen. Maybe you can import some recipes from San Carlos? Or maybe you can team up with a cigar roller and make hand rolled cigars?

  • big cheese

    It’s good to hear that people can make it in the concession business.

    We’re still working on ideas. One idea was a trailer with 5+ fat tuesday slushee machines making fruity slushees? Another was on the spot fresh fried potato and/or sweet potato chips.

    For us, the big concern is that I have to man the booth myself while the kids are toddlers. Once they get bigger I have a built in workforce :)

  • big cheese

    We have a USB modem (on it now, actually) for our Mac. The big problem I see with the online jobs, you need to be very specifically computer saavy to land a gig like that. We’ve tried internet marketing and it’s a slow progression, especially as you learn how all the pieces go together.

    We generate through donations, affiliate income, and google adsense income a very small amount of money currently. I’d say in the past 8 months we’ve made less than $200.

    The good news, as traffic grows, so does income.

    I’ve read Ferris’s book and it’s thought provoking. We’re still putting the pieces together. I might have to go back and re-read his book.

    Any other ideas and comments are welcome. Thanks for commenting.

  • I’m delighted! It’s refreshing to see someone very knowledgeable about what they do. Keep up the great work and I’ll return for more!Cheers!

  • big cheese

    Hi Zina-

    Thanks. Since this article, we’ve chosen the seasonal gig route. We have been working at fairs and festivals selling mini-donuts with some success.

    It can be done.



  • What about doing 2 hour dinner cruises for small, private parties from various ports? Of course you would need to be able to cook well enough to draw interest from hungry, would-be patrons, but the potential to serve 6-12 people at say…$65.00 per plate, might provide a decent enough income. I suggest doing it at least 4-5 days per week.