Water Sports - 20 min read

8 Cheapest Liveaboard Boats (Pictures & Average Price Included!)

Dennis Howard

Dennis Howard, Updated October 27, 2022

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I think, at some point, we all dream about scraping our normal existences and moving aboard a boat of some kind. The thought of a water-borne life is compelling and evokes visions of adventure, glamour, and excitement. Unfortunately, for the most part, these remain dreams and musings, often because of the perceived costs involved. However, buying that dream liveaboard boat may not be as out of reach as you think.

Living aboard a boat means different things to different people. You may have a vision of a trawler or a motor cruiser. A sailboat with beautiful lines may come to mind for the more romantic. A static houseboat, permanently moored to its dock, maybe more to your liking. In some countries, living on a canal barge is an alternative.

In any case, finding the right boat at the right price is the challenge. We have searched for what we consider the best boats in several categories. Our selections are based on livability, space, construction, maintenance, and possible uses. These are factors that most experienced liveaboard people mention when asked what to look for in a liveaboard boat.

Sailboats

For many, living aboard a boat means a sailboat. For many people, sailboats equate to freedom. With nature providing the wind for power, a sailboat looks like a perfect way to escape the mundane everyday world. We must admit that sailing is addictive. We have succumbed in the past to the sailboat urge and have never regretted our time spent with a sailboat.

Catalina 30

Sealion Yachts / YouTube

Average Used Cost: $15,000 to $35,000

I know. It’s white, plastic, and almost boring. On the other hand, the Catalina 30 is probably one of the most chosen live-aboard sailboats when the overriding factor is cost.

This popular sailboat has been in production since 1975, and there are thousands of used Catalina 30 sailboats from which to choose. Over almost 50 years of making these sailboats, Catalina has learned a few things and these boats show that knowledge.

The Pros

For a thirty-foot sailboat, the Catalina 30 is amazingly spacious. Several interior layouts have been available over the years, so you have some options when shopping for these boats if you have special needs.

Catalina designs the Catalina 30 with a wide beam which makes the boat comfortable to sail. The low sail area/displacement makes the Catalina 30 a little stiff under sail, but this generally means a more stable and comfortable ride.

The interior of these boats has standup headroom for all but the tallest people. Every Cataline 30 was originally outfitted with a full galley with plenty of storage space. The heads on these boats are functional for living aboard, with a full-sized shower and extra storage. Later boats feature a slightly wider transom incorporating a boarding platform and ports to the hull sides.

The Cons

Catalina 30s, suffer from many of the same age-related issues that plague laid-up fiberglass boats of any kind. You should have any used boat you consider thoroughly inspected by a certified marine inspector. There are some issues in particular that you should watch for with a Catalina 30.

Catalina deck cores may be either balsa wood or plywood. Common problems with either construction is the deterioration of the core because of water infiltration and compression degradation, particularly at the mast step.

The deck-to-hull joint can show delamination issues caused by the flexing of the boat in rough water or physical damage from docking incidents.

Islander 36

Michael Facius / YouTube

Average Used Cost: $15,000 to $36,000

When we start talking about cheap liveaboard boats, it is understood that we are considering used boats rather than new ones. That puts the Islander 36 in the mix of the best and cheapest live-aboard sailboats.

The last Islander boats were built in 1985. 750 of the Islander 36s were produced from 1971 to 1985. Many are still on the water and still being lived aboard by happy owners.

The Pros

If you look at an Islander 36 you can’t help but notice that this boat looks fast. This is one of the few boats that you can race with confidence or cruise in comfort. These boats have a moderate beam that moves through the water easily. There is no dated appearance to these boats. You will look as good on the water as most much newer boats.

The interior is generous and provides ample amounts of space and headroom throughout. The Islander company paid a lot of attention to the appointments and fittings on the interior of their sailboats. However, many of these boats have been remodeled to accommodate upgraded marine navigation stations and galleys.

Construction-wise, these boats are built tough. The mast is stepped through the hull to the keel. The Islander 36 was available with either a shoal draft keel or a deep cruising keel. Originally, the Islander 36 came with a tiller, but most of these boats have been converted to wheel steering in the intervening years.

The Cons

The construction of the Islander 36 is relatively light, which doesn’t make this a big water boat. These boats were designed for coastal and inland water cruising, so if you want to travel the world, you need to look elsewhere.

In addition, on older boats, the engine mounting, fuel system and the condition of the gel coat on the hull should get a closer look. As with any older boat, the care and maintenance the Islander 36 has been given should be a big factor in your decision when selecting a live-aboard boat.

You will find that most Islander 36s have been modified extensively through the years. Some of these modifications need careful attention to ensure they are properly done and don’t seriously compromise the boat’s safety. Tankage may also be a problem for liveaboards that intend to cruise extensively. The original aluminum tanks may need replacing.

Multi-Hull Sailboats

In the late 1970s and 1980s, multi-hull sailboats gained popularity, especially among live-aboard sailors. The wide beams and multiple hull spaces offered a lot in interior space, deck space, and stability. Even charter companies recognized the benefits of the multi0hull arrangements. Many of these boats entered charter fleets in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Many live-aboard cruisers are still enjoying their multi-hull sailboats in these popular waters.

Gemini 105C Catamaran

multihulls / YouTube

Average Used Cost: $50,000 – $90,000

As liveaboard cruising sailboats, nothing quite compares to a catamaran. Large open deck spaces, generous interior space, and stable sailing characteristics make these boats some of the most popular with liveaboards.

The Gemini 105C is extremely popular as a liveaboard coastal cruiser for families needing more space than a standard monohull sailboat can provide.

The Pros

If you are used to going belowdecks on a standard monohull sailboat, you will be overcome when you step into the saloon of a Gemini 105C catamaran. The fourteen-foot beam of this sailboat is almost twice as wide as a conventional hull, providing more than ample space to move around. An array of portlights give almost 360-degree visibility. Visually, using fiberglass and wood veneers creates a warm and inviting space.

The shoebox design of the hull and deck are extremely well-engineered, with stainless steel hardware on five-inch centers around the perimeter of the hull/deck joint. The wide beam of these boats gives a gentle and comfortable ride in even the most extreme conditions. If the wind doesn’t blow, a Westerbeke diesel gets you where you want to go without hassles.

By and large, these are easy boats to sail and maneuver for even novice operators. The construction is solid and uses the highest grades of materials. The extra space provided below decks makes these catamarans a great family option if you are considering a live-aboard lifestyle.

The Cons

As well-built as they are, Gemini 105C owners report some issues you should look for when purchasing a used boat. The balsa-cored decks show a tendency to get spongy over time. This is usually caused by water intrusion where perforations or fasteners are mounted. Some owners have experienced problems with the original centerboards rotting or becoming worm-eaten.

Any boat with a beam of 14 feet may become a problem when needing berthing space. Some marinas may not have large enough berths for the boat, and putting your Gemini into a slip may mean paying for two slip spaces.

If the boat you are considering still has a Westerbeke engine and drive, it will probably pay to have it replaced with a newer engine and drive.  The company that services the drive leg of these systems is out of business, and parts can be an issue. Many Gemini owners find it more efficient to scrap the diesel and the drive leg in favor of an outboard.

Edel 35

Click and Boat

Average Used Cost: $45,000 to $90,000

Edel is not a well-known name except among catamaran sailors. These boats were first introduced in 1987, and many are still afloat. Owners of Edel 35 catamarans speak highly of the quality of the construction and the handling of these boats. The spacious interiors maximize the wide beam and the overall length to provide generous amounts of cabin and storage space.

The Pros

Over the years of production, Edel offered several different interior layouts in these boats. Perhaps the most popular for family cruising and liveaboards are the 3-module design which offers 4 separate double cabins. This interior design gives even a large family room for private space and a large cabin for communal time.

Edel adopted a simplistic approach to the design of the Edel 35. The goal was to provide a solidly constructed boat at a reasonable price that combined performance and stability. This design philosophy made the Edel 35 popular with many charter companies and sail schools. It is also why many private owners opted for this boat since it became a great foundation for customization.

The Edel 35 can be quite nimble under sail, producing 7 to 8 knows upwind and 11 to 12 knots on a broad reach. This speed still produces a stable and gentle ride in all but the roughest weather conditions. The interior appointments are simple yet tasteful without showing their age.

The Cons

Early-year models of the Edel 35 showed some problems with the composite construction of the crossbeams. Beginning in 1087/88, Edel began using three aluminum crossbeams which proved to be much longer lasting given the rhythmic stress loading these members must endure.

If considering a used Edel 35, pay particular attention to the electrical systems. This is one area where repeated problems seem to surface as these boats age. The interior lining used in some of these boats may also not endure well when exposed to saltwater intrusion. As with any fiberglass boat with sandwich construction, careful inspection of the strength of the hulls and decks should be made.

Early versions of the Edel 35 were designed for use with outboard motors. Later versions were fitted with inboard diesels. In particular, a twin-motor version with a diesel engine in each hull was very popular. Maintenance records and upgrades should be considered if the original equipment is still installed.

Motor Cruisers

If sailing isn’t your thing and power is king, considering a motor cruiser as your liveaboard may be the right idea. In many cases, a used motor cruiser is a cheaper alternative than a sailboat or sailing catamaran of comparable size. In addition, you don’t have to learn to sail, and you aren’t at the mercy of the wind.

Hatteras 40 Double Cabin

Portside Yacht Sales / YouTube

Average Used Price: $50,000 – $130,000

Hatteras is well known for building solid and dependable boats. The Hatteras 40 Double Cabin is no exception. By any standard, these are heavy-weight boats that produce sold stable rides while providing massive amounts of interior space, making them a good choice as a live-aboard motor cruiser. Depending on the boat age you are considering, you may even find some unexpected amenities for a boat at these prices.

The Pros

The aft stateroom on the Hatteras 40 double cabin is a bonus, especially considering it comes with a private head. A queen-sized bed dominates the space, but there is still plenty of room for storage and living. Couple the live aboard amenities with the company’s reputation for building quality boats, and you have two very good reasons to consider the Hatteras 40 double cabin as a liveaboard vessel.

Outside you will find an oversized cockpit. Most used boats have the enclosure for the cockpit plus the flying bridge just a few steps above. For many families living about their Hatteras 40, the cockpit is not just an outdoor space, it becomes a waterside dining room and an extension of the main cabin. Most used Hatteras models will feature upgraded electronics and navigation equipment as well.

From a performance standpoint, the Hatteras can hold its own. The diesel engines can deliver speeds of up to 20 mph. The deep V hull easily powers through even the choppiest seas, and the heavy, solidly built hull gives a stable ride. These boats come standard with tanks to hold about 350 gallons of fuel, so they have plenty of cruising range.

The Cons

As with any boat of this age, the care and maintenance it has received during its life are critical to its condition. There are some issues known that should be thoroughly investigated. As with purchasing any used boat in this price and size range, a complete marine inspection by a qualified surveyor is a must before making a deal.

If the Hatteras 40 you are considering still has the original gasoline engines, you are probably facing a major refit to install more modern marine diesel engines. Newer engines will deliver more power with greater economy than older gasoline engines. This will also require new fuel tanks and fuel lines and may require new controls for the new engines.

Many Hatteras 40 yachts have seen service in areas where they are exposed to some heavy seas during their life, particularly along the eastern seaboard, where crossing big breakers regularly puts much stress on the boat. Hull-to-deck joints can see the damage, which can lead to delamination. Check these areas well.

Sea Ray 415 Aft Cabin

Yacht and Boat

Our second choice in the Motor Cruiser category is another aft cabin model. The Sea Ray 415 aft cabin is just a tad larger than the Hatteras 40 but is in the same class and delivers the same sorts of features and qualities.

Owners of Sea Ray 415 models rave about the spacious interiors, the quality construction, and the amenities that are included in these boats. There are many of these boats that have spent their lives on inland freshwater lakes that are in pristine condition.

The Pros

For interior space, you won’t find many boats in this class that offers this amount of living space. The aft cabin has a queen-sized pedestal bed with walk-around access, storage galore, and a private head with a shower. If privacy on your liveaboard boat is a concern, the interior design of the Sea Ray aft cabin models will allay your fears.

The full galley is a plus, as is the flying bridge. Most of these used boats include the full enclosure for the cockpit area. The flying bridge is only a few steps above the cockpit which keeps the operator in the miss if you are entertaining friends. Many owners find the large forward deck area is another great place to spend time on the water.

From a structural standpoint, these are well-engineered and well-constructed boats. Given the proper care and maintenance, you can expect these boats to perform well into the future with few problems. Most of these used boats are still sporting the original gasoline engines, which do well on inland protected waters. If you are considering coastal cruising, you should probably look for a diesel-powered model or plan to upgrade the power plants yourself.

The Cons

To be honest, we didn’t hear many disadvantages from the owners of these boats. Some of the problems that were mentioned include electrical wiring. It seems that the wiring is not as big a problem on these boats as the repairs or maintenance on the electrical systems. The wiring on Sea Ray boats runs in tight channels and often terminates in compartments with no access. Check the fuse box and see if the breakers have been changed, indicating electrical problems.

Another problem with some Sea Ray boats is foam saturation, which can affect how the boat floats and handles. If you find areas of the foam core that have been saturated, this can be fixed but may prove costly in the long run. Look at the boat when it is on the water and empty of everything but the fixed equipment. If the boat doesn’t float level, the cores may have a problem.

Water leaks around through hull fittings, portlights, and deck-to-hull joints are a problem in any boat that has seen a lot of heavy weather or stressful situations. Sea Ray owners report the same sorts of problems with their boats. When shopping for a used Sea Ray 415 aft cabin, a certified marine inspector can be your best option to ensure the boat is sound.

Trawlers

Some people want to classify trawlers as motor cruisers, but I tend to separate them. Trawlers feature entirely different hull designs and different design philosophies. Motor cruisers tend to be sportier and more performance-oriented. Since they originated as work boats, Trawlers tend to be a bit more stable and offer a different kind of liveaboard experience. A trawler may be your answer if you want a more classic look in a boat that will get you where you want to go in style and comfort.

Californian 42 LRC

moreboats

Average Used Price: $48.000 – $70,000

If you are looking not just to live aboard but to do some serious cruising as well, a Californian 42 LRC (Long Range Cruiser) is a great place to start looking for your boat.

These boats, built in Costa Mesa, California, are built for just that purpose. With twin engines, large spacious interiors, and a nicely raked bow, these boats provide ample live aboard room and a conservative easy ride in rough water.

The Pros

The prominent bow, high freeboard, and semi-displacement hull give great blue water characteristics to these boats. You probably won’t win any distance races, but you will get to where you want to go reliably and comfortably. Most used Californian 42 LRC came equipped with gasoline engines.

Many owners have since replaced the older engines with modern marine diesel engines. In most cases, with new engines, you can expect to make about 9mph on calm seas and get about 1.5 mpg.

Inside, the Californian 42 features a private aft compartment with walk-around arrangements. The aft compartment has its own head. These boats came equipped with either a full-height shower or a bathtub. There is more storage than on most boats this size making life aboard much easier.

The forward stateroom may have either a double berth or stacked single berths. A separate head opens into this stateroom and is accessible from the main cabin. Most of these forward heads only came with a shower. The helm is center mounted on the flying bridge and has back-to-back seating. The console has plenty of room for electronics and navigation equipment.

The Cons

Used trawlers can suffer from the same sorts of maladies that are common on any aged boat. You should invest in a competent marine surveyor to look at any boat you are considering. Californian 42 LRCs don’t get a lot of bad reviews, nor do I see many comments about problems with these boats other than as they age, they take a bit more maintenance and TLC to stay in top shape.

Some owners do mention the blistering of the gel coat on the fiberglass. This is typically not a structural issue if the blisters are repaired promptly. This condition is often problematic with the binding agents under the gel coat and not the fiberglass itself. Blisters are relatively easy to fix and well-suited for most boat owners.

If possible, get the history of the boat you are considering. Former owners are a wealth of information about how well the boat has been maintained, the types and frequency of repairs, and any upgrades that may have been done to enhance the boat’s value.

CHB 42’ Sundeck

moreboats

CHB is a Taiwanese company that was founded by an American who saw the benefits of lowering manufacturing costs by going offshore.

The results are some of the best boat designs on the market, especially in the used boat market. The CHB 42-foot Sundeck trawler is a great example of this and offers exceptional value for anyone willing to shop carefully for a well-used trawler to live aboard.

The Pros

You can get a lot of boat for the money with a CHB 43-foot Sundeck trawler design. The aft cabin design is perfect for a live-aboard couple. The second cabin forward provides ample room for weekend guests or a couple of kids. A private head in the aft stateroom and another forward give these boats much appeal to anyone who has frequent visitors on board and also wants a little privacy.

The twin-engine design provides plenty of power to handle big seas. Most of these boats came from the factory with John Deere diesel engines. Many of the used CHB 42’s still had these original engines and, if properly maintained, will continue to provide years of service without problems. The interior appointments are above average and provide a level of inviting warmth you won’t find on many fiberglass boats.

This trawler design has a wide bow with a deep rake and flare that provides a dry ride in moderate to heavy seas. You won’t win any speed contests, but you will feel comfortable with the handling and ride provided by the hull design on these boats. As with any displacement boat, they tend to rock and roll a bit at anchor.

The Cons

A few areas on CHB 42 Sundeck boats need to be examined carefully if you are considering purchasing a used boat. Any time you spend money on a used boat of this category, a competent marine surveyor should be hired to inspect the boat thoroughly. Good marine surveyors will know what to look for on specific models of boats where problems are common.

On the CHB 42 Sundeck, the motor mounts should be checked carefully. In some cases, dry rot on the support structures has been noted. Don’t worry too much about engine hours. Diesels, with proper care, can provide thousands of hours of dependable service. While in the engine compartment, sniff around a bit. The smell of diesel in the engine compartment could indicate that the support structures have absorbed diesel fuel which can be a major issue.

CHB installed teak decks on the aft cabin and in the wheelhouse. Many owners have since replaced these teak decks with fiberglass to mitigate problems with the teak. These teak decks have proved to be a source of problems as the boats age.

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