Living the Dream – A Comparison of Lifestyles

February 3, 2016 in Blogs, Crusing

Living the Dream – A Comparison of Lifestyles


Liveaboard Life on a 32 foot Sailboat and Full Time in a 28 foot RV

Judy and Aubrey Millard retired and sold their house in Toronto in 1998 and have been living full time in their Ontario 32 foot sailboat, or part time in the past five years in their 28 foot Jayco trailer, ever since.

Capital Costs – Sailboats, like RVs, can span a wide range of capital costs, from $5,000 to over $500,000, depending on what one can afford and what a person wants to do with the investment. We bought our 1978 used Ontario 32 foot boat for about $45,000 twenty years ago, and have put the equivalent amount into it in maintenance and upgrades since. We wanted a boat that we could live on for prolonged periods of time and that could safely cross oceans. The boat has served us well and continues to do so. We crossed the Atlantic twice, circumnavigated the UK, the Mediterranean and Black Sea, and the Caribbean, sailed the east coast from Newfoundland to the Florida Keys and Central America, and the Pacific northwest from Washington and B.C. to Alaska.

Five years ago we bought a used GMC Yukon XL (2006) and a used Jayco Jayflight 28 foot trailer (2007), the cost for both about the same $45,000 we paid for our boat. After living in a 32 foot sailboat, the 28 foot trailer is spacious. We have not had to spend as much in maintenance on the trailer and GMC, but we will have to get a newer vehicle in the next year or so.

Operational Costs – are far less on a sailboat than an RV. The wind is free, and the motoring costs of our three cylinder 30 hp diesel engine are far less than the costs of gas for our eight cylinder Yukon. Marina costs are about the same as RV parks, but vary according to the length of the boat. The costs for nightly transient mooring in a commercial marina can be from $.50 to $2.00 a foot. However, we prefer to anchor out in sheltered isolated bays, free of charge. There is no charge for anchoring in most places. We spent months at anchor free of charge in the Great Lakes, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Central America, and the Pacific Northwest. The only costs were for fuel for our dinghy 15 hp Yamaha outboard and food and refreshments. We have solar panels and a small Honda generator to keep our batteries charged up when at anchor, and a 100 amp alternator when our engine is running.

In an RV, the gas costs for travelling are a major consideration. The RV park costs of course can vary from zero on some BLM lands to nominal $3.00 to $70.00 a day. There are few spots an RV can stay safely overnight without charge. We use Wal-Marts, Casinos and Pilot or Flying J stations when in transit.

Facilities – When in a full service RV park, power, water and sewage are provided, with some additional perks such as free WiFi or TV hook-ups. It is the same for boats in a marina, except boats have to go to a pump out system for their holding tanks. Most boats have holding tanks for black water, and the grey water from the sinks goes overboard. However, being at anchor is like dry camping, and boats need to go in to marinas periodically to pump out or get water. Boats can pump out overboard their own black water, but should not do so unless at least three miles off shore. Most boats also have a Y-valve which can allow black water from the toilets (heads) to go directly overboard. In the Great Lakes it is illegal for boats to even be able to discharge overboard. Such systems must be disabled or risk a fine by the Canadian Coast Guard. There are no tides in the Great Lakes to clean out the bays or anchorage waters.

Facilities on a boat are similar to RV’s, but more compact. Our boat has a three burner propane stove with an oven. The stove is gimbaled so it can stay level when the boat is heeling under strong winds. It also has fiddles, arms attached to the sides of the stove to prevent pots from moving when the boat is under weigh. Refrigerators in most boats are smaller than those found in RV’s with no or smaller freezer compartments. Most are also top loading fridges as opposed to the standard front door on most domestic and RV fridges. Our refrigerator operates off battery power only, and is the big power hog on the boat. RV refrigerators are smaller versions of domestic refrigerators, and can operate with propane or 110 ac electricity.

At sea or at anchor, many boats will have an inverter to produce 110 power, some powerful enough to operate coffee makers and microwaves. Ours is a smaller 750 watt invertor for light tasks such as charging our laptops, or operating an electric drill. Larger $250,000 to $500,000 yachts will have all the bells and whistles, including powerful generators for all their power needs including air conditioning, hot water heaters, electric winches to raise and lower their dinghies or tenders, etc. For each of our boat and trailer we have a small 1000 watt Honda generator and two 85 watt solar panels. The solar panels are sufficient for charging our batteries in the trailer, but not enough for keeping the batteries charged in the boat when we have the refrigerator running. We then have to use the Honda generator for a few hours every second day at anchor.

Our compact galley has a deep single sink with hot and cold pressurized water, as well as a foot pump for overboard water. We have hot water available from a heat exchanger when the engine is running, or when we are plugged in to shore power. In the trailer we have a double sink with hot and cold water available, the hot water heated by either propane or electricity. We always have to conserve our resources of water, fuel, and battery power, as when at anchor or sailing at sea or along remote coasts or islands, supplies at marinas are hard to find. Trailers are limited in their time of dry camping by the capacity of their water tanks and their holding tanks, but only need to be hauled to the nearest gas station or RV park.

Our bed is located at the forepeak called the V birth (seven feet wide at the head and two feet wide at the foot), and has fitted fleece sheets. We have a dining table that when folded out can accommodate up to seven or eight people. The outer leaf can be dropped to make up a ¾ bed for guests. Our trailer has a large queen sized walk around bed with a large storage compartment beneath. The dinette can accommodate only four people. There is also a large full bed pull-out couch. A couple of easy chairs beside the large panoramic rear window provide a tranquil venue for relaxed reading and conversation.

The cockpit is like an add-a-room in that it has bench seats on both sides and at the stern (back) with comfortable Sunbrella covered cushions that allow us to stretch out reading or snoozing. It has a hard bimini (roof) and full side curtains, allowing us to sit out in rainy weather or at night. It has bimini mounted reading lights, steering and cockpit instruments (GPS chart plotter, depth sounder, wind indicator, and engine console), twin speakers from our radio/CD/tape deck and Sirius satellite radio, and a propane barbecue on the stern rail. Outside the trailer we have an awning, a couple of collapsible lawn chairs, and a barbecue mounted on the side wall.

Summary – RV life is more expensive due to fuel and camping costs, whereas sailboats use less fuel and can anchor free of charge almost everywhere. In RVs maintenance tends to involve a trip to a dealer as access to the systems on board usually requires a technician with the right tools and equipment. In sailboats the crew can usually do all the maintenance and replacement of defective systems. We know more about marine toilets than we ever thought we would know. We have rewired our boat, but to rewire an RV is far more tricky. One of my wife’s favourite sayings is that “liveaboard cruising give you the opportunity to do maintenance in exotic locations.” Incidentally, she is also a good mechanic, electrician and plumber.

We are biased in favour of the cruising lifestyle on our 38 year old 32 foot sailboat, but enjoy the convenience and spaciousness of our 8 year old 28 foot trailer. RV living is easier and more convenient. Liveaboard life on a sailboat is more exciting, dramatic, romantic, and fulfilling.

Note: Aubrey & Judy will be making a presentation on their first six years of sailing down the Mississippi, across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean and Black Sea at the Quartzsite Library at 7:00 pm, Thurs. Feb 11th.

Yukon and 28 foot trailer Back area of our trailer



Compact Galley on Veleda IV