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Old 08-04-2021, 01:35 PM   #1
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How big is too big?

I had originally completely written off the idea of buying a trawler big enough to liveaboard.

Not that I don't like the idea, I do, it's the kind of thing I have done all my life (with zero experience building my own place on an island, where winter access was limited, moving to Argentina, then Peru, then Colombia, spending 4 straight years travelling the world etc.)

My ONLY concern was feeling cramped, and I suppose the cost of a new boat or the maintenance on an old boat.

Now as I look around BC and see the crazy property prices, especially for the waterfront I really want, a liveaboard is starting to look more and more attractive.

Of course I would, like anyone, love to have a brand new Grand Banks 44 or a Kadey Krogen or something similar. Or one of the bigger tugs.

But I can't afford that. Or well, I could, but I'd have to go back to work to make sure I had money for fuel.

But a slightly used 42 footer is financially possible for me ($400k to max $600k) while still leaving me a nice retirement fund. I'm a former financial guy so I've done the numbers, very conservatively.

When I ran the idea past my very experienced sailor brother, he said 42 is too big for a guy like me. Alone and inexperienced.

He said I'd rarely leave the marina, as it would be too difficult for me to anchor and dock, even with the fantastic modern bow and stern thrusters.

He suggested 32 to 36 ft would be plenty. (He himself lived aboard a 26 foot sailboat for several years, in Canada, with ice and bubblers and no hot water on board)

I suspect he is right, he usually is. If I was struggling to manage the boat, I'd probably not take it out much.

Thoughts? Can a single person live comfortably on a 30 something foot boat?

The other benefit than easier handling I see is that I could probably afford a brand new 34 or 36 footer.

I'd be in the PNW. I am absolutely not a tropical climate person. I head South for some vacations, but I stay clear of beach resorts when I do. I would probably spend 3 months each winter off the boat, travelling.
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Old 08-04-2021, 02:03 PM   #2
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My wife and I are currently living on a Mainship 350 (39' 9").

That doesn't mean you can too. It's not for everyone. I know people that shudder at the thought of it.
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Old 08-04-2021, 02:05 PM   #3
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The answer will depend on your own unique use case. A single person living aboard with a minimalist lifestyle and occasional family/friends visiting would fair well in something like a 36' sundeck or GB. Full width master in the stern and a small v-berth for the overnight or weekend guest. One head.

If you plan to have more guest onboard more often then two heads are better than one. Two staterooms and a bunk room open you up to hosting family with kids.

Different layouts live differently. We prefer Pilothouse designs becuase of space seperation between three levels (Salon/Galley, Pilothouse/Office, Staterooms/Heads). The PH also serves as a guest overflow when we're packed full.

We went from a 40' PH trawler to our current 54' and now live aboard. While we could've lived on our 40 I can't imagine it would be nearly as comforable for our lifestyle (two humans, two dogs, three kids who are out of the house but visit throughout the year). We like full size appliances, washer dryer, a sectional sofa in the salon, etc.

I'll also say I was 100% comfortable single handing our 40...not so much our 54 (yet anyway).

The advice took from this site and from other more experience live aboards was go look at a LOT of boats. You'll get a feel for what works and doesn't work for your specific use case.
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Old 08-04-2021, 02:27 PM   #4
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Effort to single hand depends as much on boat layout, helm position, and other factors as it does on size.

I consider my 38 footer pretty much impossible to singlehand safely, but there are plenty of people that singlehand boats of similar size and larger (both power and sail). In my case, the limitation has nothing to do with size and everything to do with layout (too far to move from helm to line handling). Only way it could be done safely would be one of the fancy remotes giving engine control (and I'd probably want a bow thruster too).
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Old 08-04-2021, 02:30 PM   #5
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If I were going to live aboard, I would want an aft cabin or similar setup. The bed is easier to make and easier to enter and exit. And aft cabin boats have (generally) better hanging locker spaces.

A 40 ft. aft cabin setup would be my minimum for a liveaboard. I don't see much difference in single-handing 42 ft. versus 36 ft. The setup of the boat, such as whether it has thrusters, is a bigger deal than a couple of feet.
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Old 08-04-2021, 04:05 PM   #6
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I think the ideal size would be somewhere in the 36' to 44' range. Probably closer to the 36. That gives you enough room so you shouldn't go stir crazy, but also gives you some room to go out with a couple if you desire. Any larger than that, and you'll have difficulty single handing. Under 40 would be easier to find moorage though . . . .
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Old 08-04-2021, 04:22 PM   #7
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A single person puts you in a weird spot. You don't need nearly as much space, though living aboard typically requires ample storage. On the other hand, unless this is a boathouse, you're going to need to single-hand the vessel as well.

A 44 aft cabin will be very difficult to single hand. I'd be looking for something with a lower helm and a side helm door with a flush-deck step out. (no steps out from the lower helm to the side deck).
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Old 08-04-2021, 05:22 PM   #8
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Its a head thing, no not the flushing kind of head. I have lived full time with my wife in a 21 foot trailer at the trailer park by the Lions Gate Bridge. Then onto a 35 foot fifth wheel at the same park. Latter during a reno, my wife and I and our son and dog and cat lived in a 17 foot trailer during a very long reno in North Vancouver in Deep Cove.

For me I discovered I did more things with smaller trailers and less spontaneous things with larger RV's, also had a Winnebago 32 motorhome I lived full time in with another major reno in Qualicum.

Some are convinced they need the full Monty, freezer, fridge, dishwasher, many rooms, basically a small house on the water. With my boat major refit I became a marina groupie hanging out at several marinas constantly, sit in the car, watch the action, eat lunch, snooze, walk around the marina - even if it was private. My experience was the bigger the vessel the less it went out. Some only went out for two weeks, then out a very few times over the weekends and the boat was put to rest until the next season.

Smaller on the West Coast is easier to find a home marina, smaller is likely to get you out and about more. I found with my wife and I as long as there were two rooms, in reality that was all we needed. The two rooms not because we argued but a place each could go to sleep, watch tv, play on the computer. etc.

I come from a backpacking background where fanaticism over weight and necessity of use ruled the day. A three quarters tooth brush with holes drilled in the handle was better than a full tooth brush. A hotel bar of soap was better than a full bar of soap, etc. So for me, living in a smaller space isn't a hardship, for others it is.

Its just important that minimally you have a bow thruster on the boat to help in tight spaces.
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Old 08-04-2021, 05:25 PM   #9
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After a flush toilet, everything is extra
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Old 08-04-2021, 05:30 PM   #10
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FWIW, I am very comfortable handling my 43' boat single handed. It isn't an ideal layout for single-handing, but works well. Never a problem anchoring while alone.


If I was going to live aboard, I would be looking at around a 40' boat, give or take. Once you get familiar with a boat, you learn to handle it. I know a guy that has a boat just like mine that is single and spends much of the year on his boat in BC. He manages just fine.
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Old 08-04-2021, 05:52 PM   #11
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There is no answer to the OP's question. 40' is to big for some and to small for others. When I was in my 30's, less experienced and single, 35' was as big as I was comfortable single handling. Later I gained a wife and we moved up to 42'. It wasn't too long and I could single handle the 42'. Now, were are in our 60's and we know we can no longer live on a 42', that is why we now have a 54'. Over time, we changed.

What we could tolerate in or 30's we won't tolerate in later years. Its impossible for any of us to know what some one with little to no experience can tolerate.

I think those who advise writing down what amenities you need and then search for the smallest boat that accommodates those amenities are probably steering you towards the best guess.
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Old 08-04-2021, 07:27 PM   #12
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HOW BIG TO BIG?

My thoughts! Frist i and most likely you want a boat that does not need a captain and a crew. Ok, working my way down in size I would be very very picky to be sure a dock at an affordable cost is available. Around here docks are at a premium with virtually none without a waiting line. And docks for boats greater that about 45' are really tough to find and they get pricey.

And if you only intend it for seasonal use...............better make sure you can find a place to haul and store it. Those are my thoughts....

EDIT: My Silverton is a 40' aftcabin that I have totally enclosed it. No way, no how would I want to live on it. The boat is not rectangular but 14 beam x 40 length is only 560 square feet. Add another 100 for the enclosed rear deck so now the square feet is nearing 700 BUT THE BOAT REMEMBER IS NOT RECTANGULAR.

Our kids are long gone but I intend to die enjoying the space my 2500 square ft house provides and it is tiny when compared to the sizes going up in my neighborhood.
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Old 08-04-2021, 07:47 PM   #13
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The trick to single-handling is quick/easy access between helm and dock.
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Old 08-04-2021, 08:13 PM   #14
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With preparation and practice, just about anything up into the mid-forty foot range can be handled by the skipper alone. As to the configuration, a lower helm station with a door onto the side deck is a necessity, IMO. As Mark Pierce notes, you will always benefit from quick / easy access from the helm to your dock lines or ground tackle. Other characteristics are more a matter of personal preference, and dependent on where you boat.
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Old 08-04-2021, 08:18 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by markpierce View Post
The trick to single-handling is quick/easy access between helm and dock.


Lots of solutions for different folks, but I very intentionally chose a boat with a full walk around. They are very out of style, because boats six foot smaller than me look like huge yachts inside compared to mine.

I donít have thrusters, but would like one. But Iíd sooner give up the thruster before the twin screws. But thatís largely because I know this boat so well and more importantly I can predict what I can and cannot do. Knowing confidently what you can do, is often more important than your skill level itself. The trick to single handing, is knowing how to stay out of situations that may get away from you.
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Old 08-05-2021, 12:46 AM   #16
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I think every commenter so far has captured all the important considerations.

Of course it is impossible to tell what will work for someone else, I mean I don't even know for myself, but experienced opinions help a lot.

Everything is a tradeoff, unfortunately.

I was just down at Kits Beach, looking up at the $25 million dollar waterfront homes and then out at the boats anchored in the harbor, with the same views but at 1%-5% of the cost of the mansions.

Not really a fair comparison, but it's what has me thinking about the liveaboard.

I'm just going to have to go and look at a whole bunch of 36 to 42 foot boats and see if any of them would be comfortable enough for me.

Just heard of the Seattle Trawler Boat show, sounds like something I need to attend.
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Old 08-05-2021, 02:28 AM   #17
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The trick to handling any boat by yourself is planning and not fighting the wind and current. I mostly solo an 83' boat, no thrusters. Before I dock I have my lines ready and fenders out. Anchoring is a no brainer.
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Old 08-05-2021, 05:57 AM   #18
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For a larger boat that you plan to singlehand without much prior experience, consider one of the pilothouse style boats with doors on both sides of the PH giving easy access to side decks to place a breast line to the dock (breast line is a short line from mid ship cleat to dock - holds both ends of boat relatively captive until you get lines set). In your price range, bow and stern thrusters and a cockpit helm station are also within reach. I'd further say to avoid aft stateroom models as the raised aft deck makes getting on/off dock without stairs difficult.

Different boats respond differently to wind and current, the two influential factors when docking. Heavy, full displacement boats tend to be "sticky" and less affected by wind (but more by current). I prefer the stickiness of heavy boats and find light, high windage boats to be a bit of a Dixiecup.

Bottom line, in your selection, you may want to be more conscious of close quarter maneuver agility than, say, a couple transitioning to cruising who may place more emphasis on creature comforts.

Good luck.

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Old 08-05-2021, 06:33 AM   #19
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Different boats respond differently to wind and current, the two influential factors when docking. Heavy, full displacement boats tend to be "sticky" and less affected by wind (but more by current). I prefer the stickiness of heavy boats and find light, high windage boats to be a bit of a Dixiecup.

To add to that, in general, bigger boats are more "sticky" and respond slower to wind and current. Even a light, high windage boat still gains weight faster than windage or anything else as you make it larger. Add enough length and beam to double the windage and you've likely at least tripled the weight.
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Old 08-05-2021, 10:53 AM   #20
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Bigger heavier boats respond to wind slower ( most things being equal)... but all vessels respond the same to drift, handling characteristics may mask some of that when maneuvering in marinas.
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