Alternate Home and Bug Out
There has been discussion before on the use of boats for bugging out. However, I would like to expand on that some. I also think that boats are highly under rated for normal day to day living as well. There are not many homes that you can bug out with and not have to pack before leaving. You can also carry a lot more on a boat than you can in a backpack.
I approach this topic from the aspect that my spouse and I are full time live-aboard. We have a 30′ sailboat that we have almost all our belongings in. We live here and can effectively bug out in less than 10 minutes. Yes, we keep a few things in storage that we are not convinced we want to get rid of yet, but there is nothing vital stored there, so we can still leave on short notice with no loss.
Generally, boaters that live-aboard are of two types, those who live aboard and sail on occasion (hopefully) and those who live-aboard and cruise. Cruising is when you actually go someplace other than your local marina that you live in. Some cruisers travel south for winter and north for summer. Some travel around the world taking as much as 2 or 3 years to do it. What ever type of live-aboard you decide to be, it is the one that works for you.
So, let’s look at the benefits of a sailboat and living aboard, and why I think boats are one of the better choices for a bug out plan.
First off, when we talk about boats, we only are talking sailboats. Power boats are going to give you more room in the same length. They are going to be more comfortable in calm weather. You can feel like you are living in a smallish apartment instead of a shoebox. However, you have to remember that power boats need fuel. Lots of it. A power boat with twin diesel engines can burn 6 gallons of fuel an hour, to travel 8 to 12 miles. Gas engines are even worse. Sailboats use the wind. Learn to sail well and you rarely need to start the small single diesel motor most sailboats have. If you do have to run it, most average half a gallon of fuel use per hour. With an engine refit and bio-diesel, you can see the savings there.
Quick side note, catamarans and trimarans can give you the space of a power boat and still use sails, but they are specialized and usually more expensive to own. IF the unthinkable happens with a catamaran and you tilted far enough (known as ‘heeling’ in sailboat lingo) you will flip over and only a special boat or crane will be able to right you. A regular sailboat (known as a mono-hull) that is designed right can go all the way over and come back up.
So besides the ability to operate with little or no fuel usage, what are the advantages of living aboard a boat? For starters, if you are careful in your purchase, and are handy with doing your own repairs, boats are much cheaper financial cost than having a house. A well built and cared for boat can last many many years, and it is easier to pay off a boat than a house. After that, they both share maintenance costs, and while a boat can have mooring costs, if you study and learn to live “on the hook” you can cut those expenses down to almost nothing. On the hook means finding a place to anchor your boat that is away from marinas that charge you and using your secondary boat (usually a small rowboat or inflatable) as a “taxi” to take you to shore.
But what about food, water, electricity, toilets and showers???? All part of the package. You are going to have grocery bills regardless of where you live. You can store more food on your boat than you can carry in your car when you decide to bug out, and it is already loaded. I can easily fit enough food for 3 months on board with little problem. Most boats have some kind of cooking system, I happen to have a non-pressurized alcohol stove and oven as well as a propane BBQ that uses 1 lb. canisters. Like anyone who lives near a lake, I can fish, with the added benefit of salt water fishing when in the ocean. Probably not going to get all my food that way, but a good way to supplement.
Water? I carry 40 gallons in tanks. I top them weekly from the shore hose. (I choose to live in a marina for the comforts at this time, pending any need to bug out). I can catch rainwater to refill the tanks if needed. I am currently in fresh water upriver from the ocean, so I can also use Berkey filters if needed to clean up the river water for use. If I bug out to the ocean, there are hand pump desalination devices, reverse osmosis devices called water makers, and you can catch rainwater there as well.
Electricity? In the marina I am plugged into shore power so have all the amenities of any other home. I have my computer, I have CFL lights, I charge my cell phone, I have TV with DVD (some marinas have cable, I just use an HD antenna and watch the regular free channels), I have a microwave and a toaster oven. I even have an electric heater for when it gets chilly! When we set off to sail, or bug out when time comes, I have 12v lighting, a kerosene lamp, the aforementioned alcohol stove and BBQ. I also have VHF radio, 12v car stereo, and a radar/GPS/plotter that uses 50w of power. This is all run by my battery bank of 5 deep cycle marine batteries. The batteries are recharged in port by a 120v charger, or at sail they are charged when the engine is running. (remember the economical fuel saving diesel?) My future plans are for adding some solar panels to finish it all off, but you can also add wind turbines, and they even have devices you can tow behind the boat to recharge your batteries. Power is not a problem! If it gets cold, I even have a wood stove! I can burn small sticks or charcoal briquettes. Either way, I can stay warm even in winter with no electricity.
Any boat big enough to live on will have a head (toilet) and usually have a small shower of some kind. Current laws restrict how you use that head and restrict any discharges. In a grid down situation, probably not going to be high priority for law enforcement though. During normal times, you have to use a holding tank, which then has to be pumped out. Not a problem, even if you are on the “the hook”. All marinas are required to provide a pump out station, and 99% are free to anyone who needs to use it. Kind of like the ones you see at rest areas along the highway. You can minimize the times you have to go pump out your tank though.
If the time comes you need to bug out, chances are you will not be taking showers. You will be hoarding your water supplies. In the meantime, if you are in a marina, most of them have showers and toilet facilities for the people there. If you are living on anchor, you will learn to be very careful about your water usage… which is actually good practice for bugging out! Win-win!
Now some folks are probably muttering about how an RV can do all this too and is much more comfortable. You may think that, but you would be wrong. First off, an RV is going to cost you money to move it. Fuel, lots of it, just like a power boat. Even midsized RV’s towed by an SUV will cause you to use a lot of fuel. If you have an RV small enough to be pulled by a car that gets good gas mileage, then it is too small to live in comfortably. Second, once you leave the RV park or public lands, you are really limited on where you will go with your RV. In a bug out situation, you are stuck with using roads that have choke points and potential road blocks. There are no road blocks in the ocean. Besides, an RV does not rock you gently to sleep each night.
If you look at load capacity of an RV a standard lightweight 30′ model may have a cargo capacity of 1000 pounds. An ocean capable sailboat of 30′ length can carry much more weight than that. My particular craft is rated to lower 1” in the water for each 900 pounds loaded, and I have about 3 more inches to go before affecting draft too much. That is AFTER I already loaded what I have aboard.
One final point on boats verses an RV, while an RV can go anywhere on land, the earth is 70% water. With careful planning, and sailing skills, I can take my sailboat and bug out from the west coast to Hawaii for the cost of food, a little fuel and 2 weeks of time. I can go to almost any country in the world that has a coastline should I find a need to become an expat. Even staying inside the USA, given the proper access to waterways, I can move freely from one area to another.
Granted this strategy is limited if all you have near you are lakes and streams. Not much good bugging out to the middle of the local lake for long term situations, but for short term emergencies, it could be a great option. Even if you never leave the marina, given the right amenities you can live comfortably at a much reduced cost, which can then be put back into more preps! Another win-win!
Like all prepping ideas, you can spend a little or you can spend a lot. Boats are no exception. You can buy a smaller craft suitable for a single person to live on, you could do like us and get a 30′ and have 2 people (you really have to like each other and get along), you could move up to larger sizes at proportionally higher prices. You can get boats as cheap as $5000 or up to the millions.
When reading about boats you will either hear that they are a great lower cost option, or you will hear that they are money pits that will drain you dry. Both are true, and for two reasons. First, it depends on how willing you are to get your hands dirty and do your own work. The more you are willing to take on your own tasks, the less a boat will cost you. The more you want things fixed by others, the more it will cost. The second reason is dependent on how much you have to have the latest greatest gadgets. If you have to have the latest GPS chart plotter, the newest water maker, large generators, refrigerators instead of ice boxes, big screen TV, omnidirectional satellite dish reception, etc, the more you will spend not only in buying them, but in keeping them repaired. Learn to live with less. Isn’t that what prepping mindset involves? As an example, we do not even have a refrigerator or freezer. We have an ice box that we put ice into each day (supplied as part of the marina services) and so we keep very little that needs refrigeration. You learn to live without it, another aspect of getting practice for bugging out!
Living aboard is not for everyone, but for those who are willing to look at it seriously, and willing to put in a little time studying, it can be a great option. You can save money, be ready to move on a moments notice, (and if you get tired of the neighbors, just pull anchor and move!) don’t have to pack to bug out, and your friends will be jealous!!!!
There is a multitude of resources for learning more about living aboard a boat. Here are some to get you started. There are also a huge number of boat types and makers out there, and most have a website somewhere dedicated to them. Read, study and learn. Then decide.