There was a post on one of the recent forums from a prospective live-aboard who is interested in purchasing a boat that he believes is a perfect bargain home – and he might be right. But he might be wrong, and if he is, based on his description of the boat, his life will become a living hell.

The thing about boats is that they are hard enough already. Sanding and refinishing a deck or interior is a tremendously arduous job, and a job that requires near-perfection, diligence and attention to detail. Depending on the boat, the job could take weeks or months. This is so hard that many liveaboards end up not doing the work at all, and most end up doing less-than-adequate work.

Now imagine if you are living aboard and trying to refinish your brightwork. There is no place to move your possessions, and the fumes are smelly and toxic. Fiberglass repair is even worse – a very dirty business, and the fumes from fiberglass dust, as well as epoxies and other materials are also quite odoriferous and highly toxic (cancer causing). At a minimum, you will lose the comfort of your home, if not your entire home. And you could easily lose your health. I suffered liver damage while still in my 20s (equivalent to a person who was a heavy drinker for 20+ years) from prolonged exposure to toxic fumes from epoxy – but my liver recovered because of my age. Fumes of any kind can kill you.

How do our liveaboard brothers and sisters handle these issues? Simple. They (we) often don’t do the work. No matter the best of our intentions, liveaboards’ boats tend to flounder or receive temporary or minimal fixes. These problems, of course, are magnified for liveaboards that purchase fixer-uppers, particularly when there is some short-term intention to move aboard. Many fixer-uppers never get fixed up or moved on. It is also worth mention that boat repairs are almost always far more expensive than can ever be anticipated by someone that does not repair boats regularly. And it is not all that uncommon for fixes to reveal new and bigger problems or raise possibilities for other previously-unanticipated improvements. In general, unless you are a craftsperson by nature, consider a boat that is already good-to-go, or as nearly ready as possible. Consider boats that are all fiberglass with very little wood trim (this is one reason why boats by Hunter, Catalina and Benetau are so popular).

If you read my book, you’ll hear horror stories about my surveyor. Nonetheless, don’t ever consider buying a boat, particularly a fixer, without a surveyor. Even if you know boats or know that a boat will need a ton of work, the surveyor’s eyes act as a third-person objective voice. But in all likelihood, they’ll find things that you never thought could possibly be broken.

So please be careful here. To the gentleman on the forum, I hope he understands what he is getting into. But like all boaters, we follow our hearts – and unfortunately, our heart doesn’t end up paying the bills or doing the work.

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