Setting: Anywhere there's enough water to float your boat. You'll probably spend most of your time in yacht-friendly locales along the East and West coasts and in the Caribbean.
Attractions: You're the master of your own ship. You can move it wherever you're comfortable navigating.
Drawbacks: Nature rules. You'll need hands-on skills to protect life and property, not only during severe weather but also in a day-to-day environment of changing tides, currents, and winds.
Housing Options: Everything from the marine version of a "handyman's special" to a multimillion-dollar floating palace. Choices depend on the creature comforts you demand and on your abilities as a navigator, electrician, and mechanic. Sailboats generally require higher skill levels and more physical work; powerboats tend to cost more to operate and maintain.
What It Costs: Probably less than a luxury waterfront home in a prime location. A comfortable yacht, ready for the live-aboard life, can cost less than $200,000, in the case of the 33.5-foot Gemini sailing catamaran, or many times that for a 60-foot power vessel such as Malcolm and Penny Farrel's yacht. But while most houses increase in value, boats depreciate. And you have to budget for everything from routine maintenance to dockage fees and fuel. Still, if you weigh live-aboard costs against the mainland expenses you avoid―lawn and car maintenance, home security services, neighborhood association fees, etc.―the numbers may balance out.
Your Next-door Neighbors: Weekend boaters who envy your life, fellow cruisers, plus dolphins, rays, and assorted other marine life.
How You'd Spend Your Free Time: Lounging on the deck, exploring new anchorages, snorkeling, taking the dinghy into an island bar, tying up alongside friends from other ports, and figuring out the latest mystery malfunction in mechanical or electrical systems.
published January 2006