For the true minimalist on a budget, tying up to the old ball and chain, AKA the mooring ball, is often the way to go. Besides being considerably cheaper than mooring dockside at a marina, there are the added benefits of more privacy, security, and solitude.
And let’s not forget the view! You can watch sunsets all alone with only the sounds of fish jumping and the lap of water against your hull. Jump into the water anytime for a swim and don’t worry about marina swimming rules. Or any marina rules at all! There’s no neighbours to bother you, no stereos and no drunks. At a marina, depending on security, almost anyone can access your boat. This is not the case on a mooring ball. But living on the ball requires planning ahead and organization. You need to put in some effort on a daily basis. Provisioning becomes an exercise in precision because if you forget the milk, it’s back into the dinghy headed for land. Being a liveaboard, you’re always going to have to moor your boat somewhere and most of the time that’s going to cost you money. If you are prepared to rough it a bit, living on a mooring ball is one way to keep more money in your pocket.
Here are some of the main issues you need to consider while living on a mooring ball:
Everyone knows water is the most important ingredient for sustained living. Most importantly for drinking, but showering is also a good idea. If you have big holding tanks, you can probably fill the tanks every couple weeks on land. Otherwise, it’s a manual process bringing water aboard in containers. If you need to ferry water to your boat on your dinghy, you might consider getting a bladder tank and a transfer pump. You can fill the bladder tank in the dinghy and pump the water into your boat’s tank. (You can pick up fuel at the same time.) Alternatively, if budget isn’t a problem and you’re in an area with clean water, you can use a water maker.
Most boats on the water depend on electricity. How much electricity you want to use is up to you. Calculate your power needs based on what you’ll be using; computer, lights, TV, stereo, water pump, etc. For starters you’ll need an adequately sized battery bank and a way to recharge the batteries. Solar and wind power are a nice green option, but most liveoboards living without shore power need a generator. Operating with unbalanced and undersized electrical systems will cause headaches, financial and otherwise. You can expect dead batteries and long charging times. You can use a gas or diesel generator for excessive power consumption situations like power tools and vacuuming. Running your generator for a couple hours a day will also charge your batteries. It is possible to live with less electricity. Without a shore hookup, air conditioning is something you’re going to have to live without. On the ball, your boat usually points into the wind, offering a fresh breeze. Alternatively, heat can be produced with a wood stove (if you have the room). Cooking can be done with kerosene, alcohol or propane instead of a microwave or anything that runs on power. Instead of a fridge, you might use an icebox. But that means you’re going to have to haul ice to your boat every couple days.
You will need a reliable dinghy to shuttle yourself back and forth to land, especially if you need to get to work dry. Or go grocery shopping or have a night out on the town. If you’re relatively close to land, you might not need an engine; you can use manpower to row yourself ashore. And once on land, you need somewhere to moor your dinghy. You can make arrangements with a marina, or a private dock for landing. If you have a car on shore, you could trailer the dinghy at a public launch.
There are some elaborate systems out there for reducing and disposing of human waste, but most liveaboard boats use a holding tank connected to the head. When the tank is full, you take the boat for a pumpout at a local marina. Some harbours have a pumpout boat that comes to you. Pumpouts are pretty cheap and they are a necessary part of boat living, especially on a mooring ball. Dumping into the water is illegal in inland waterways in North America. And it’s generally not a great thing to do – lakes and waters shouldn’t be treated as your personal toilet.
Garbage is your second concern. Organic cooking waste can often be recycled by birds and fish. Bring less garbage onto the boat by getting rid of excessive wrapping at the place of purchase. You’re going to have to haul a certain amount of garbage back in forth in your dinghy. The idea is to be as minimalist as you can and not let garbage build up. If you don’t have a formal place to unload your garbage, trash cans are everywhere. Be discreet with small amounts of garbage and you shouldn’t run into any problems.