Boatless new guy looking for advice

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Jul 21, 2016
I live in MI and work in DC 12 days a month. I pay $2K for a studio apartment there. Talking to a colleague who is a long time boater with a convertible, and I mentioned the following - I pay too much for a crappy apartment; I need to invest in my and my Wife's "snow bunny" condo/apartment or whatever (we live in the extreme north of MI), but hate to tie myself to one location; and I love the Eastern Seaboard and the Florida Keys. He said "you need to buy a trawler, live on it in Annapolis or National Harbor, and take the intercostal every year for your winter escape... So; following a massive amount of googling and drooling over the trawlers I viewed, I'm inclined to say that in spring of 17, when my lease ends, I'm seriously considering making this leap. My one showstopper is this, and I can't find anything on line that addresses it: My wife is handicapped, nominally confined to a wheelchair. She can walk short distances with assistance and climb stairs with little difficulty. Is this a showstopper for us as potential trawler owners (getting on and off the only, but significant, concern)? How stable is embark/disembark? Are there options for lifts on boats as you see for hotel pools, etc...? I would be very grateful for any words of wisdom or experience. Thanks in advance, Joe
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Welcome aboard. There is/was another TF member in a similar situation. Can't remember the circumstances...sorry. Maybe someone else with a better memory can direct you to the thread(s). GREAT that your wife is even entertaining the thought.
Welcome to the forum! Your approximate ages? I'm not going to say the handicap would be a deal breaker. You most definitely would want to stay at a floating dock marina. This would allow you to keep the boat tight to the dock for easier on and off. Also, the height relationship at your home slip between boat and dock would remain the same. Cruising may require more planning at marinas because of possible boarding issues. This isn't a deal breaker, but does make your wife's situation more complex. Before buying, I would suggest renting for a week on vacation and see how you will handle these complexities.

We been a live a board for 18 years, over the years my wife is disabled to a point of using a walker and stairs are a problem for her, so we have been selective of the marina and the slip. The boat my wife bought with stabiliy and easy boarding with few steps. The interior of the boat with the many hand holds has been a blessing for her.

We been traveling the east coast and notice the tide swing the further south the less the tide swing. The tide in the puget sound swings 12+ ft, so the marina ramps are a consideration, and the slip close to the gate. So your wife could be a live a board with the right boat, slip and marina.

The secret to being a long term live aboard is to make it easy for you wife.:flowers:
The couple that bought my last liveaboard which was a 1986 Silverton Convertible have had no issues for the last 10 years with her....the wife was totally disabled with a severe case of spinal bifida.

She was in a wheelchair but could pull herself up a few stairs or get around on one level by crawlings or wheelchair..

A freind who had no use of his legs owned a 33 Egg Harbor Convertible and would get himself and his wheelchair aboard and even to the flying bridge by himself using a power davits to the hardtop on the flybridge.

Where there is a will, often there is a way.
My one showstopper is this, and I can't find anything on line that addresses it: My wife is handicapped, nominally confined to a wheelchair. She can walk short distances with assistance and climb stairs with little difficulty. Is this a showstopper for us as potential trawler owners (getting on and off the only, but significant, concern)? How stable is embark/disembark? Are there options for lifts on boats as you see for hotel pools, etc...?

I don't think it's necessarily a show-stopper... but it likely means you'll have to solve 80% of the issues during your boat shopping stage. For example, a wide swim platform with a wide transom door might be especially useful.

And then solve another 10% during your marina-shopping stage, and that'll have additional impacts when you're moving from place to place. For example, floating docks -- so you can more easily access that swim platform thing -- could be part of your solution.

Interior layout might be the biggest challenge, though, because most of the boats we think of for that kind of traveling have some steps from main saloon level down to staterooms, heads, sometimes galley, and so forth. Might take some creativity to deal with that... although I know there are home stair-lift things that could likely be fitted in a boat (assuming available space).

Might be some exceptions, assuming you're willing to work around weather. I think the Blue Water boats (brand name) might be relatively flat inside, more like a houseboat layout than a trawler layout... although that's just a guess. (I think some folks here have those and could chime in and/or correct me on that.)

Happy to kibitz on DC-area locations, commutes, etc. once you get to that phase.

Also look at the Chris Craft Yacht Home. Kind of a cross between houseboat and motor yacht. Living spaces on 1 level except the bow cabin and a few stairs to get outside.
Ok, stretching the memory here but I seem to remember an old (like 15yrs ago) article in Passagemaker Magazine about a couple in a similar situation and the modifications they made to their trawler. I believe you can also buy back issues .... worth an email to them.

Others have addressed the handicapped access better than I can. But have you considered the ramifications of a cruise from DC to say the Keys and back every winter to do your "snow bunny" thing?

To do this comfortably, you need to leave DC by mid November at the latest. It will take at least two weeks to get to warm Florida, say San Augustine and another week to get to the Keys. The journey will be mostly nice, but with some cold, blustery days at that time of year. Then you stay in southern Florida for whatever time your schedule allows and do it all over on the way back to DC.

The point is, you will spend 6 weeks each year coming and going. You can also hire a delivery crew to do it for you- about $4,000-5,000 each way.

have to be a spoiler here.

Boats and boating conditions and activities are just not designed to be handicap friendly and if the admiral isn't happy nobody is going to be happy.

If she really wants it then go look at some boats and experience the dockside conditions but if this is primarily your idea be very cautious.

DC may not be northern MI but it gets very cold, wet and has big snow storms.

Can you operate the boat single handed? That's what you will be doing if she can't get to the dock lines or easily get to the head or balance is a problem with wakes.

I also don't think you will save money living on a boat.
The previous owners of my previous boat needed an ADA accessible boat as they both lost mobility after completing my boat. They went with a 38' pontoon houseboat. Not at all a coastal cruiser but the 100% flat deck is 1" higher than the dock and they can wheel or walk themselves unassisted to anywhere on the boat. They hire a monthly detail service to wash the boat mainly so the roof gets washed, they can easily wash the rest of the exterior.

With hot rods we say there's no substitute for cubic inches. With handicap accessibility there's no substitute for square footage.

Would you rather boat to the Keys once and sell because it just doesn't seem to work or boat in a local lake or river for decades in something that is fun for all the loved ones? If nobody else is willing to say it I will, boats are compromises. Good luck and happy hunting.
Being a live a board is more expensive than living on land. We live in a motor home during the winter months and the boat during the summer. Millions of older generation head south for the winter and many of us have limitations and many have trailer boats or rent charter. When my wife can no longer live on the boat we will live in the rv year around. Might want to look at both boat and rv.

We been talking about having low to the dock stern side gates installed when the time comes. Once she is on the boat or in t moter homr she is completely independent. Both require 4 steps up.
Living aboard can either be more expensive OR less expensive.

Just like living on dirt can be frugal or extravagant.

Depends on a lot.

There are boars that are had capped favorable and some that would be tough.

Like houses.

And like houses, certain small adjustments can be made to make them usable...whether how easy they may be is relent to how much both partners want to make it work.

From a person who has had several "handicapoed" partners, being able to get underway has had a lot of meaning in their lives.
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A slightly different situation but...

When I was first looking at the used North Pacific 43s I called North Pacific Yachts to speak with the owner. The phone was answered by a nominal secretary who offered to answer any questions since she and her husband own one. I specifically asked her about the lack of side decks and being able to efficiently get around the boat. She said that she didn't have any problems getting all around her boat for docking etc... She then told me that one of her legs has been amputated above the knee. Even with that she gets around on the boat just fine.

Now, not everyone will be as capable or as fit as she, but I would never have guessed that an amputee could do so well on a boat. So while having mobility issues will take some adaptation, it likely can be done.
Welcome. I would be looking at low profile vessels with an nice cockpit that is easy to get on.

Best of luck.


Since your "crew" is unlikely to be able to help much with docking and lines, you might consider making your wife the "captain" and ensuring she becomes proficient at boat handling for docking etc. While there are many "single handlers' this is not an easy skill to learn on your first larger vessel. Much easier when there are two operators.
You can afford the slip rent, and if you can you cant afford the crime rate at the dock.

Wait until you work somewhere else.
When I commercial fished there were two captains. WWII veterans. Lefty, one arm and Shorty, one leg gone above the knee and one gone below. They liked the life and adapted. I had many of my bones from the lower back to my feet broken, I have pain, and I'm 69, but like my boating life, so I adapt.
If your wife wants the life then you can make it work. If your talking her into it and If she's doing it to please you, it probably won't work.
One hint - a big comfortable boat is easier to live in with disabilities than a smaller boat with tight spaces and steep stairs.
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