Some Truths about Live Aboards

We are live aboard boaters.

We want you to know that we love this life we have chosen. This means that our only permanent home is a boat. Living aboard a boat is a time honoured tradition on our coast.  Sometimes we are cruising the coast of British Columbia. At other times we may be anchored in a safe harbour or tied up to a marina. One of the real pluses of our chosen lifestyle is that we can choose where we want to live, and if we decide to move, all we have to do is untie the lines or pull up the anchor and go. It’s all about freedom, a thing many talk about but fewer find.

There are other things that attract us to the life of a live aboard boater. We live in close proximity to nature. Often, our neighbours are seals, otters, mink, seagulls, Blue Herons, Kingfishers, and a variety of fish. Our human neighbours are fellow boaters from all over the world. On a marina dock, we learn to live close to each other where the skills of both being a friend and at the same time giving each other the space needed for privacy are essential. This sense of community among live aboard boaters is the memory most cherished by many of those who have moved back to shore. Living aboard a boat is also a way to simplify one’s life and have a smaller impact on the environment using less of our increasingly scarce resources. We have been able to give up the use of an automobile and rely on our feet or public transportation. Because we spend the winter docked in downtown Victoria, most of the amenities we need are either a short walk or bus ride away.

Very often we are told by people living in traditional life situations ashore, that we are living a secret dream they have had for years. Our response is always, “If you really want to do this then just go for it!” Lynn and Larry Pardey, famous world cruisers said, “Go simple and go now.” However, careful consideration is needed before making this choice; it’s not for everyone. For instance, if you are married, it is essential that you both share the same dream. (And there’s little hope for avid gardeners!)

We are writing this article because we believe that it is important for you to have an accurate account of what the live aboard life represents. Often in the media, people who live aboard and the boats they live in are presented in a negative light. A recent piece in the National Post had a large headline with the words “shanty town” and “derelict boats”. However, there were no pictures of either in the article. Many municipalities have a fear of live aboard boats due to these misconceptions, so we would like to present you with some facts to counter the prevalent myths about live aboard boats and their crews.

Myth number one: Live aboard boaters are trying to live under the radar

Live aboard boats and the people who own them are fully in the public eye. Many marinas where they live are either open to the public or, if gated, very visible from the shoreline. Here in Victoria Harbour, the boats are a tourist attraction, with many visitors coming by, taking pictures and asking questions. The live aboard boats are a large part of the ambience of the harbour.

There are a number of families with children living aboard, and we all know, you can’t hide children. Live aboard boaters do not wish or choose to be hiding from the communities in which they live. If they are pushed into a position of feeling they have to hide, it is only due to the kind of prejudice and lack of real knowledge and understanding that so often afflicts  minority communities.

Myth number two: Live aboard boaters do not pay taxes

Anyone living aboard would prefer to be securely tied up to a dock in the winter months when they are not cruising.  Anchoring out in a harbour in the winter is a choice some are forced into when marina space is either not available or unaffordable. Live aboard boats rent the dock space they occupy in a marina from the marina operator. Live aboard boaters pay all municipal and provincial taxes through the moorage fees assessed by the marina in which they live, in the same manner that would be applied to anyone on shore living in rental accommodation. If one sees live aboard boats occupying an anchorage in the winter, ask if the adjacent marina offers live aboard moorage at a reasonable rate. Most often the answer is that the marina operator does not or is hampered in this by local by-laws restricting live aboard moorage. Too bad, because, as you will see below, they are giving up a lucrative revenue source. This fact becomes even more unreasonable when the same marina offers sequential moorage to people living on boats all summer long in the same location.

Myth number three: Live aboard boaters are unemployed (a reason recently given by Port Hardy city council to evict live aboard boats from the harbour)

Most live aboard boaters are either employed in the community (that’s why they need moorage adjacent to their jobs) or are retired from a work career. In my observation, most live aboard boaters are in their mid sixties and have lived aboard for more than seven years. In our community we have former military people, university professors, landscapers, retail staff, electronics engineers, mothers & fathers, computer programmers. A number of them are self employed and work from their boats,  …. you get the picture.

Myth number four: live aboard boaters pump their poop and other pollutants into the harbour.

Federal laws prohibit the pumping of toilet waste (black water) and solvents ( oil, fuel, etc) into marine environments. Boats with marine toilets (heads) now have holding tanks for these wastes and most marinas provide services to promote clean harbour living such as holding tank pump-out, or they have shore side washroom facilities. The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority has a publicly available pump-out station located at Fisherman’s Wharf. The GVHA also provides its live aboard customers with a mobile pump out service at the boat, once a week. This service is paid for by all boaters using their facilities as a portion of their moorage fees.

Very often, pollution in the harbour comes from shore. Oil slicks on the inner harbour water and fertilizer run off come from municipal storm drains; plastic bottles, plastic bags and coffee cups are thrown from shore. And the worst pollutant, cigarette butts, come from thoughtless smokers of all stripes.

We live aboard boaters choose to live in this beautiful aquatic environment and none of us wants to see it polluted in any way.

Live aboard boats have a very small environmental footprint. Many occupy less that 400 square feet. They get by on 30 amps of electrical power for all lighting, heating, and cooking needs. That’s less than a homeowner on shore uses to cook dinner on an electric range. Two people living on their boat will only use about 50 gallons of fresh water in a week. We have no lawns to water. A number of us do not own automobiles and make frequent use of public transit.

Myth number five: most live aboard boats are derelict

Most live aboard boats are not derelict. Just like a house on shore, to be able to comfortably live aboard a boat, it must be maintained and kept in good condition. Also like landowners, we take pride in our homes and spend a great deal of time and money on maintenance.

Often, to be allowed to moor, insurance is required. Boat insurance is more costly than house insurance and requires rigorous regular inspections to qualify.  Many boats that appear to be derelict are, in fact, not lived aboard, but are abandoned by their owners.  Owners of run down boats like run down houses onshore, are an individual problem that needs to be dealt with on an individual basis. The same thing goes for anyone putting pollution into the harbour; deal with the individual committing the offence. Do not punish all for the bad behaviour of a few.

Myth number six: People living on boats are not contributing members of the community

There are almost two hundred live aboard boats in Victoria Harbour, and we are very much contributing members of our community. Our moorage and associated fees alone contribute  over $1,100,000.00, to the local economy. Added to this is the money spent (locally) on groceries, clothing, maintenance, services, entertainment, education and a host of other expenses.

Live aboard boaters also contribute to the community through volunteer work, they sit on the boards of local service organizations providing community involvement, and they contribute to the economy through their jobs. One man, living on his boat in Esquimalt, is a Provincial Emergency Coordinator, providing amateur radio services during an emergency. All live aboard boaters have VHF radios on their boats and would be able to provide communication services in the event of an emergency.  They are also the eyes and ears at the marinas where they live, preventing theft and damage to facilities and unattended boats. At Fisherman’s Wharf and the Causeway Docks in the inner harbour, we are tourist attractions contributing to the beautiful ambiance of Victoria Harbour. Can you imagine how many of us there are in photographs of Victoria shown around the world?

So, there you have it from our perspective, living on the water. We laugh, love and feel just like all others, and we are a part of our community. Next time you are in the harbour, stop by and say hi.

Rick Schnurr & Jude Brooks

Aboard Julie May

From the galley of the Julie May

Rick Schnurr & Judy Brooks

On our four month summer cruise in 2011, we found it difficult to find good yogurt in small out of the way provisioning stops. This was a problem as we have yogurt for breakfast (with blueberries and homemade granola) almost every morning. It makes a filling easy breakfast when you have to get going to make that tide through the narrows five hours later!

I started making my own yogurt shortly after returning to the Wharf St. docks in Victoria in the fall. When on shore power, it’s easy to heat the yogurt during its “cooking” stage (5 below) by using an electric heating pad and a towel or blanket. However, I did not want to waste inverter power for 7 hours while off the grid. It occurred to me that the engine room stays very warm for hours after just a few hours run. So, my plan became to start the yogurt making process as soon as the hook was set and we would have a fresh batch of yogurt by lights out.

I am happy to report that our first batch was a success right here in Port Browning last night.

Engine Room French Vanilla Yogurt

Milk (amount is determined by your yogurt maker capacity. I use 1 ¼ liters of whole milk in a 2 liter glass jar with tight sealing lid).

1/4 cup powdered milk (this is a thickener and is the key to thicker yogurt)

1/4 cup light brown sugar

3 tbsp of vanilla (use real vanilla, no imitation stuff)

¼ cup of store bought yogurt (use plain if you can). Once you start this process you can use your own culture to start the next batch.



1. Heat milk to 185° F. I use a double boiler (to save your fresh water for drinking, use salt water in the bottom of the double boiler).

2. Remove milk from heat and let cool until the 120° F range. This takes between 10 and 15 minutes. (Again, I use cold salt water in the bottom of the double boiler (no heat) to cool down the milk.)

Note: As the milk cools, a skin will form. I just wind it around the thermometer and discard. Don’t panic if you see the skin–it can be removed with no ill effects on the final product. This will not happen if you keep stirring to augment the cooling process.

3. Add the powdered milk, vanilla, and sugar. Stir.

4. Monitor the temperature of the mixture and add the yogurt culture when the thermometer reads 112° F.

5. Now set your yogurt in a warm environment for 7 hours. I place mine in the engine room wrapped in a towel or fleece pillow case.

6. Enjoy!

Kissing the Bottom

April 30, 2012, by Kris Samuels, SV Fantasea

You could call yourself a pretty lucky captain if your keel has eluded the sea floor. For a lot of us, that’s just not the case. Even the most careful captains make mistakes. A handful of my friends have kissed bottom this year already – some with expensive consequences and difficult lessons learned. The fact is, most of these incidents are easily avoided but of course, that’s often obvious when it’s too late.

As a liveaboard my boat is my home and losing that, means losing everything. So disrupting the delicate balance between water and home is extra scary for me. That’s how I felt when I hit bottom in some back corner of Squirrel Cove, Cortes Island. I was securing the anchor while my crew (who is fairly new to boating) slowly followed another boat in our group out of the cove when Fantasea came to a crunching stop. I looked down in horror at the small rocky bluff we’d run on to. With luck and the rising tide we were able to power off within 5 minutes and when I later dove to inspect the damage, only a few small scuffs were found. What could have happened differently? I was new to Squirrel Cove, I knew it had some funny reefs and it was an exceptionally low tide. It would have been better to instruct my crew to hold position while I secured the anchor. I could then pilot the boat out with extreme caution reviewing the charts, watching my depth and plotter. It would have also helped to have better communication between the boat ahead of us, because they hit the same rock a few minutes before. Fortunately there was no damage to either boat. Full keels tend to be pretty forgiving.

I know a captain who recently went to Sidney from Victoria to haul out and have some work done. The easiest route is through Banes Channel then between James and Sidney Island. Setting up a course out of Banes can align you perfectly with a few nasty rocks: Johnstone Reef, Zero Rock and Little Zero Rock. It was a nice calm day and the captain had invited some friends including his father who also had a boat of his own. The captain was watching the boat but also being a host to his guests and on some level assumed that the father would navigate in his absence. With the captain below, the hit came swiftly and slowed the boat from 6 knots dragging the fin keel over the rock. It was Little Zero. What could have happened differently? The captain realized that he couldn’t be a host and a captain at the same time. It would have been better to either remain at the helm and have his crew help themselves OR verbally transfer the helm to his father (or capable crew member) so that he would be more alert/clear to the helm responsibility. The boat made it to Sidney for the haul out and the last time I talked to the captain, the repairs were running into the thousands.

Another captain took some friends out for a short day sail. The weather was calm and he had sailed the area before. He didn’t bother turning on the chart plotter (it is below decks anyways) and his depth sounder was on. He was just out from Race Rocks and thought that he was well off the danger zone when his keel struck bottom. What could have happened differently? The captain admitted to being a bit casual and confident with what he felt were familiar waters. He speculates the rock was a sharp pinnacle and that’s why he didn’t notice it on the depth sounder. Race Rocks is a notorious area for groundings and it would have been a good idea to double check his position and increase attention to his depth sounder. A few cracks have been found and the insurance company has been notified. It is likely the boat will be hauled for a full inspection of the damage.

Sometimes our electronics don’t work the way we expect them to. Depth sounders malfunction or chart plotters read inaccurate. This was the case in a recent ‘Lectronic Latitude  (Lattitude 38 ) article “Cutting the Corner to Complete the Loop” where a couple sailing in Mexico showed their plot line crossing land for a good few miles before returning to water. Mexico is known for inaccurate charts, but it can happen here too. A fellow captain and I were in the Broughton Archipelago a few years ago when we made to anchor in the Burdwood Group. As we were rounding one of the islands he contacted me and said that the island we were rounding wasn’t on his chart plotter. I checked mine, and it was there. Later he showed me his plot line rounding nothing but blue water.

With the 2012 sailing season upon us I encourage you to think about the following:

1.     The captain is responsible for the vessel and crew. Use the tools and people available to you – don’t take this position lightly.

2.     Resist being over confident or complacent. Double check things, even in familiar waters.

3.     Ensure clear communication between captain, crew and other boats.

4.     Study new places before you arrive. Get to know where the dangers are.

5.     Use multiple methods to gain information about the sea floor below you – Visual, charts, chart plotter, depth sounder. Don’t just rely on one.

6.     Set an alarm on your depth sounder for anything less than 20 feet.

7.     Update your paper and electronic maps when possible.

A lot of these things are common sense, but sometimes we captains need a reminder. Any chain of events could happen and almost all of them are preventable.

Happy Sailing,
Kris Samuels of SV Fantasea

Massive Marine Garage Sale

Massive Garage Sale

Massive Garage Sale

On Saturday, April 21st, the Maritime Museum of BC is hosting the ‘9th Annual Massive Marine Garage Sale’ at Ogden Point – Pier A, Victoria, 9:00am – 1:00pm.

The BC Nautical Residents Association will have a table at the Garage Sale, and is soliciting donations that will help us earn some money for BCNR projects. Do you have an item or items that you’d like to donate to the cause?

Donated items should be in saleable condition: marine electronics, anchors and anchor rode, sails, cruising guides, galley gear, blocks, etc. etc.

If you live in the Greater Victoria area (Sidney to Colwood) and would like your donations to be picked up, please contact Tim Finlay: by April 19th.

And if you’re planning to attend the Garage Sale, please stop by the BCNR table to introduce yourself and have a chat.

Thank you for any items you’re able to donate to the BCNR. Hope to see you on April 21st at Ogden Point, 9:00 – 1:00.

Tim Finlay
BCNR Director

GVHA Annual Lighted Ship Parade

Kudos to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority for putting on another successful Lighted Ship Parade! It was a perfect calm, cool night for the event. Even Santa and Rudolph showed up! They were able to raise over $300 in cash for Cool Aid Society and 3 bags of warm clothes and food. The Hot Chocolate donations also raised over $340 in cash for Santas Anonymous!

Thank you to the GVHA and their supporters for a great night! – Capt. Kris