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Sitting on the Dock of the Bay—Permanently

Beat the housing crunch by living on a boat.


This is part of "Live Large, Spend Less," a comprehensive guide to surviving (and even flourishing) in America's most expensive city. See all of the stories here.

Imagine living in one of the Bay Area’s most exclusive neighborhoods, with instant coastal access and million-dollar views. All you need: a boat of sufficient length (usually 35 feet), a willingness to be awakened daily by squawking seagulls, and $500 to $600 a month, plus another $35 or so
for PG&E bills. “Marinas aren’t just where the rich park their toys now,” says Matt Butler at the San Rafael Yacht Harbor. “They’re becoming floating trailer parks for middle-class people who can’t afford to live on land.”

Technically, marinas aren’t zoned for residential living—liveaboards are allowed only under a curious proviso that counts them as a security measure (an inhabited marina is harder to burglarize). By state law, only 10 percent of slips (marina speak for the space where you park your boat) in any given marina can host permanent residents. That’s why slips that that allow liveaboards are a scarce commodity.

Waitlists vary from one year (Emery Cove Yacht Harbor) to three years (Pier 39 in San Francisco) to “until someone here dies” (Richmond’s Brickyard Cove). Oakland Marina filled up in the two weeks it took to report this story. But Bair Island marina in Redwood City has “1 or 2” vacancies, and Ballena Isle Marina in Alameda has an unbelievable 20. “We welcome the liveaboards,” says harbormaster Mark Omel. But at the rate the slips are being snapped up, you’d better set sail for your new home fast.


Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco 

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