How to Choose the Right Liveaboard Boat

Trawlers make great liveaboard yachts - Learn more!

March 4, 2019 by Charles Giambalvo, SYS Yacht Sales Associate

Ready to make the move and purchase a boat to live aboard? There are many types of boats that make great liveaboard options, depending on your preferences regarding vessel size, interior layout, deck space, performance capabilities and level of creature comforts. Before starting your search, it’s important to narrow down your preferences. The best liveaboard boat is one where the resident(s) feel safe and comfortable, and includes all or most of the comforts of a land-based home.

Having lived aboard a 50’ Jefferson Motor Yacht for the past 4 years, I would like to share my advice on how to decide which type of boat will meet your liveaboard needs.

The most important consideration for any liveaboard buyer is: will the boat be used mainly for cruising or will it be used more as a floating condo that stays at the marina? From there, you can narrow down your search further: considering your priorities for living space versus performance and operating economy. If you are planning to share this relatively small space with someone else, it is best to include them in the boat selection process. In addition, there are some companies that will allow you to rent a boat for a week or more, so you can “try before you buy”.

Which boat types make the best liveaboard vessels?

Houseboats, Trawlers and Catamarans make the best liveaboards, although they each vary greatly in their design. Motor Yachts and Express Cruisers are also good options. Deciding between them all depends on the overall purpose of the boat. For example, for cruising purposes, Trawlers make great liveaboard boats because they are capable of making long passages with their large fuel and water tanks. However, unless it's a newly offered “fast trawler", they normally travel fairly slowly (10 knots or less). Trawlers also offer a good amount of living and storage space. My wife cherishes every square inch of her closet space.

If you plan to be a liveaboard cruiser, and travel most of the time, then considering your itinerary is also important. For example, the Intracoastal Waterway can be difficult to pilot in some areas, due to shallow spots. Therefore, choosing a boat with a shallow draft may be a better option. Trawlers and Motor Yachts are great options, especially for cruising the Great Loop, however, the boat’s draft should be considered depending on the route you are taking. Additionally, if you plan to cruise mostly “inside”, then speed is generally not important, as most of the ICW is a slow speed zone, due to the amount of boats, homes and manatees present.

For ocean cruising, larger freeboard and ocean-taming hull designs are required for safe and reliable travel. Also, most ocean-going captains prefer to have greater speed capabilities, particularly when needing to shoot through long ocean stretches with a limited weather window.

Catamarans are a popular choice, especially for cruising the Caribbean, because of their shallow draft and great fuel economy. Sailboats are also popular liveaboards boats. With their efficient cruising design, yet limited interior space and comfort, sailboats are more popular for cruising, than long-term living aboard (although there are exceptions).

What are the amenities to look for in a liveaboard boat?

Some of the most important amenities to look for when selecting a liveaboard boat is heating and air conditioning, adequate closet space, a fully-functional galley, comfortable master stateroom, and a practical salon with entertainment systems. In order to narrow down your search, it’s important to prioritize the amenities you’re looking for. Try to determine which are initial “deal breakers” and which can be easily modified or added after purchase.

Spacious living areas on 64 Burger Motor Yacht - Great liveaboard yacht

Spacious and comfortable living spaces aboard a 64' Burger Motor Yacht

The galley, for example, is an important element to any liveaboard experience. Galleys vary greatly in size and accommodation. Some are functional for light food preparation, while others are well-equipped for cooking complete meals and entertaining a large number of guests. Some yachts have a ‘galley up’ layout, where the galley is located on the same level as the salon. This layout ensures the chef is easily a part of the party. ‘Galley down’ implies that the galley is below salon level, and therefore more isolated from the common salon areas. Many buyers have a strong preference when deciding between these two options.

A good entertainment system is also important to most people, such as having a large screen TV and the ability to play music both indoors and out. Now that we have over-the-air digital TV on our boat, primary channels can be received at no charge with an inexpensive antenna (within about 30 miles from broadcast stations). For the widest selection of sports, news and movie channels, satellite signal receiving equipment is required, in addition to a monthly subscription. Satellite TV, data and music can be received over a far greater area than alternative signals such as WiFi.

A reliable head system, with an adequately-sized holding tank, should be considered, as it can avoid frequent pump-outs. Also, large water tanks are important if/when a marina’s water supply is not available. A water maker is another handy option to have, although it requires some maintenance. In places like the Bahamas, where fresh water is relatively expensive, this feature is a welcomed one.

Where should you start your search?

Once you have narrowed down what you are looking for, the next step is to contact a reputable yacht broker to assist you in your liveaboard boat search. An experienced, professional broker works as a trusted advisor who can explain all the variations in quality, maintainability, and performance across different boat types and brands.

Your yacht broker will also be there for every step of the purchasing process. Their goal is to protect your interests, from the initial consult to taking delivery of your vessel. Learn more

What do you enjoy most about living aboard?

My wife and I enjoy the freedom of living aboard, as well as the opportunity to take charter guests out from time to time. We really enjoy being outdoors, more than we did living in houses. The ability to easily “change the scenery” without a moving van is a real benefit. At first, it is a strange feeling to travel without the need to pack, realizing that everything you need is already on the boat.

We prefer to spend our time “anchoring out”, rather than staying in marinas. However, we find marinas to be very enjoyable communities, where people are friendly and helpful to each other, more so than in the 16 different land neighborhoods we've lived in.

Not everyone can adapt to the smaller quarters, but through this experience we've realized how little we really need on a daily basis. Now, when my wife (the Admiral) and I, visit friends and family in larger living quarters, we think “what an inefficient use of space, why air condition all that, when you need so much less?”

Living aboard has really changed our lives for the better and expanded our community.

To learn more about choosing the right liveaboard boat, contact Charles Giambalvo. Charles combines his marine industry knowledge and sales know-how to provide his clients the highest level of professional service.

Charles Giambalvo

New and Brokerage Sales

Contact Charles

617-803-9662‬ | Email

Charles and his wife have lived aboard for the past 4 years. He also holds a USCG Master 100 Ton license. When not working on a yacht purchase or sale, he applies his knowledge to training new members of boat rental clubs and captaining a charter yacht. Charles also has over 30 years of experience in high tech international sales. He now applies his experience to assisting clients with their boat buying and selling needs. | View Full Bio

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