We’ve now been living aboard our boat Y-Not for 2 months, and it seems like a good time to share some of our initial thoughts on the lifestyle differences from our RV-life.
This is by no means a competition between RV and boat life – we absolutely love RVing, and look forward to moving back aboard Zephyr seasonally. And these are just initial impressions, two months does not make us experts on the subject.
But we did want to capture our thoughts while they were fresh in our mind.
If you’re video inclined, we hosted a live video session on this topic a couple weeks ago, and you can view the archive instead (it is nearly an hour long). Or if you prefer, we’ve written about the highlights below.
When you travel in an RV, usually the space around your parking spot becomes part of your living space. It’s like pulling into a new yard every stop.
You can walk around that space, set-up outdoor furniture, utilize it for a picnic, have a nap in the hammock, make S’mores over the campfire or just enjoy watching squirrels jump between trees.
That’s not so much the case with a boat. In a marina, you have just a little dock space outside your door that’s not functional as a yard.
And when anchored you’re surrounded by water. Sure, you can swim if the water is clean enough or putz around in a smaller vessel like a dingy or paddle board. But it’s really not the same.
On a boat your living space and outdoor space is all on board. And there are less squirrels, but more dolphins.
We kept this difference in mind when shopping for our boat. Some things that stand out to us:
No slides, but still a wide beam. Our RVs have always been slide-free, and well designed to take advantage of the space available. Boats don’t typically come with slides, but they do tend to be much wider than RVs – even those with slides. At least, in the motoryacht designs. Ours is 15′ wide as opposed to our 8′ wide bus conversion. We’re loving the wider living spaces.
- Multi-dimensional living areas. We technically have four levels in our new home and several distinct living areas. Our RV is basically a hallway – one level broken up into a bedroom, bathroom and living/kitchen/office area. We’re loving the space to spread out and be in different rooms.
- Outdoor Space. While some RVs are coming with fold out patios these days, boats tend to have outdoor spaces as as standard feature. We have a shaded back porch, a covered upper deck and an open bow deck. They have become our ‘yard’, and it comes with us wherever we go.
Always in Motion. Once parked, an RV might rock a bit as folks move about or the wind blows really hard. Usually, your view doesn’t change too much once you’re settled in. But there is no such thing as still on a boat. Every little wave in a marina rocks you about. The wind blows, tidal changes, critters swimming by. When at anchor, you’re constantly swinging around the anchor as the wind changes (the bow of the boat wants to be headed into the wind). I honestly was a bit concerned about this as I can be ‘motion sensitive’. It’s not been a problem at all, and we’re finding it really relaxing and cool. Even when stopped, our view is always changing!
- Names. Oh goodnesss, the names that boaters use to refer to areas of their boat are at first confusing. Here’s some sample boat lingo:
- Head = Bathroom
- Berth = Bed or bunk
- Stateroom / Cabin = Bedroom
- Companionway = Hallway
- Cockpit = Water Level Back Porch (funny, I thought the cockpit was where you piloted from?)
- Pilothouse / Helm = Where you drive from
- Flybridge = The upstairs outdoor place you can also drive from
- Salon = Living Room (or, saloon is how some spell it)
- Galley = Kitchen
Boats and RVs have similar systems – so our transition was pretty easy there. We’re used to dealing with features of a mobile house – holding tanks, inverters & batteries, water pumps, engines, generators, etc.
But there are some pretty substantial differences too!
Holding Tanks – Like RVs, boats have fresh water tanks and black water (toilet). But boats don’t tend to have gray tanks for shower/sink water. That water is pumped overboard, untreated, directly into the water you’re floating in. It makes you VERY aware of what you’re putting down a drain. It’s also kinda fun to stand under the shower a little longer without fear of filling the gray tank.
- Pumping Not Dumping – Most RVs are set up with a gravity dump system to dispose of black and grey water. You hook up a hose to a sewer, open a valve and flush away. On a boat, the black tank has an opening at the top, and you use a pump-out – a long hose the sucks the poopy-water out.
- Water Cooling – On an RV, engines and such are air cooled. On a boat, they’re water cooled – pumping raw water through them for heat exchange. Our engines (2 for propulsion and our generator) and our 3 air conditioners are all run this way.
This means on top of changing oil & fuel filters, we also have to regularly clean sea strainers – the filter that keeps the gunk in the water out of the boat systems. They’re mesh baskets that catch all the stuff in the water that is pumped through. This can be seaweed, mud or even jellyfish – we didn’t find those often in our RV filters!
- Pumps galore!! – We have pumps everywhere to help keep water where it’s supposed to be. There’s of course our fresh water pump that delivers to our sinks & showers. There’s sump pumps, that pump grey water up from below the waterline to overboard (3 of those). There’s bilge pumps, that pump any water that gets into the boat back out (we have 6 on board – 3 are automatically triggered by float switches, and then each has a manual back-up pump). And then each engine & A/C has a water intake pump for their cooling systems. That’s a lot of pumps (17?) – and each critical!
Look Ma – No Brakes! – RVs have tires and wheels, which boats obviously don’t. But an important element to keep in mind is that boats don’t have brakes either! You are at the mercy of currents, tides, winds and wake from other boats – and you have to be constantly compensating with your engines and steerage. When approaching docks and objects, you never move faster than you want to impact something. When pulling in it’s not so easy to stop, get out, assess the approach plan and trim back a tree limb in the way. Nope, you have to read the wind & currents and try to aim into a tiny slip that might be no more than a foot wider than your boat (usually with an expensive boat next to and across from you) and do your best to get your first line out that acts as your brake. Docking is far more terrifying than backing an RV into a tight campsite.
Places to Park / Dock
In RVing we have three basic options for places to park our bus: Boondocking, dry camping in developed campgrounds and campgrounds with amenities. And boats have very similar equivalents:
Anchoring / Boondocking – These are generally free places to stay that are publicly owned. No amenities are usually provided. You just show up, pick a place that’s not encroaching on others and setup. With an RV, you make sure the ground is firm enough and park – it’s generally assumed your RV won’t drift away. With a boat, you drop your anchor and set a GPS-based alarm to make sure your anchor is holding. Anchoring is very common in the boat lifestyle, and from an initial glance seem to be far more abundant than boondocking options. Particularly in the eastern half of the US. We’ve now spent 9 nights ‘on the hook’, and adore it.
- Mooring / Dry Camping – In RVing, there are campgrounds with designated campsites that don’t provide hook-ups. These might be forest service campgrounds or state parks. The equivalent in boating seems to be mooring balls. These are anchors that are more permanently placed with a white floating ball with a blue stripe to mark them – and are usually run by marinas and/or municipalities. You grab the mooring ball and tie up to it. You can then use your dingy to get ashore to a dock for access to the marina & town amenities. Once we have a dingy, we’re looking forward to trying this – it’s a lot more affordable than most marina slips.
- Marinas / Campgrounds – And just like in the RV world, there are places to pull your home into and hook into amenities. Here’s some of the difference we’ve noticed so far:
- Marinas offer slips that you rent by the day ($$$$$$), week ($$$$$) or month ($$) – and are charged by the length of your boat, plus you almost always pay electric on top of it. It’s not often we run into RV parks that charge by the foot. By the day, most marinas are ridiculously expensive – $1.50 – $4.00 per foot plus electric (at 47 feet, were looking at $70 – 180/night). But monthly isn’t so bad, we’ve been paying about $14-15/foot plus a liveaboard surcharge ($700-950/month in total) – which is much cheaper than many RV options around south Florida.
- You will not likely have more than a few feet between you and your neighbor – marinas can feel much more packed in than even the tightest of RV parks.
- BUT.. unlike RV parks where almost every RV parked has someone staying in it – marinas are also used as wet storage for local boats. Which means, in many marinas you may only be one of a handful of folks actually on your boat. We’ve only been in two marinas so far, but we are digging that aspect.
- BUT AGAIN… marinas are also where a lot of work on boats is done. And boats require a lot of work. Which means marinas may not necessarily be quiet.
- Apparently, as we head out of Florida along the loop, there will be more options for free/cheap overnight docks hosted by cities.
And just like finding RV parking options (using resources like All Stays, Campendium, FreeCampsites.Net, etc), there are similar resources for finding boat parking (Active Captain, Waterway Guide and Skipper Bob’s).
And apparently, dock-surfing is a thing too. We’re already starting to get invitations to visit folks who live along waterways and have deep water docks and anchorages. We’ve not yet found a Harvest Hosts equivalent – maybe Don & Kim can find us some wineries with water access???
Wrap Up and Related Posts
So there you have it, our initial thoughts on how RVing and cruising are different. I’m sure in a few months, we’ll have much more to add – especially after we have some data accumulated to start comparing the costs.
We’re working on an upcoming post with more on why we ended up with a Bayliner 4788, and then we’ll get to sharing our very first repositioning as we officially started the Great Loop last month!