How do I find a live-aboard slip in the SF Bay Area?
May 2, 2009 4:46 PM   Subscribe

I need help finding an inexpensive live-aboard boat slip in the Bay Area. General boat-living hints, anecdotes and tips are also welcome.

I'm considering accepting the offer from a friend to use a small (25 foot) sailboat as a quiet residential place to get some downtime, quit smoking and work on some stuff. The boat has been stripped of galley and some other furniture in preparation for a refit. The bilge is dry, the boat has no leaks or minimal leaks.

I'm having trouble navigating the hundreds of marinas in the bay, most of which have mostly uninformative websites, and I've never had to look for a "live-aboard" slip in my life.

Location isn't so much as a concern for me, but things I'm looking for are:

1) decent access to BART and transport.
2) Electricity and Wifi access
3) Showers on site, sewage pump-out and hopefully laundry
4) Hopefully in a low-wake zone. Those container ships throw a considerable wake as they pass.
5) Hopefully quiet, IE, not a scurvy party dock.
6) Damn near as cheap as possible.

Any expert suggestions on where to look? Any tips for living aboard a small boat?
posted by loquacious to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Treasure Island isn't a live-aboard friendly marina. There's a 3 consecutive night stay limit, or so says my friend who keeps his boat out there.

That's all I got.

Good luck!
posted by mollymayhem at 5:08 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: From long-time-ago experience on a friend's boat, Alameda meets 1 and 4. 2, 3, 5, 6 unknown this many years later.
posted by ctmf at 5:19 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: I know people who live in Berkeley Marina and the Alameda Marina. The Berkeley Marina is pretty close to BART with good bus access, I don't know about Alameda. I've been told by a few folks that the East Bay Marinas don't get the tide surge and wakes that can occur in SF (don't know about TI, I guess it will depend on what side of the island it's on.) Both Berkeley and Alameda have electricity and showers. I don't know about WiFi or laundry, but I'll inquire. By the way, both people love living in their respective Marinas.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:19 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: Berkeley Marina is out. They allow liveaboards provided the boat is habitable (don't think your boat would pass). Unfortunately, they have a two-year waiting list.
posted by zippy at 5:20 PM on May 2, 2009

Response by poster: Ooooo crap, that's something that I didn't think of yet - whether or not the absence of a galley is going to complicate things.

I wasn't personally planning on doing much or any cooking, but I can see why they would want to be assured you had a safe kitchen. Personally I can live a long time without a fridge and a stove (dry, cold cereals, fruits, nuts, mission buritto once a week or two) but what I'm personally capable of is moot when it comes to boat inspections.
posted by loquacious at 5:35 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: It's not the marina's inspection you should be worried about. Worry about the insurance inspection. Forget about parking the boat anywhere if it's not insured.
posted by ryanrs at 5:43 PM on May 2, 2009

Response by poster: I believe the boat has been insured, inspected and registered as it was just recently purchased and relocated, but I'll confirm this with my friend.
posted by loquacious at 5:50 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: Not to discourage you but it is very, very difficult to get a new and legal live-aboard slip in SF Bay anymore.
posted by fshgrl at 6:28 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Not to discourage you but it is very, very difficult to get a new and legal live-aboard slip in SF Bay anymore.

This is the elephant in the room that I didn't want to look at until now, and I just did, and explains why I'm having trouble getting callbacks or even finding open slips listed anywhere.

Which technically makes it the best answer. Thanks.
posted by loquacious at 6:55 PM on May 2, 2009

Response by poster: But best answers for everyone because I hate picking favorites and they were all useful.
posted by loquacious at 7:02 PM on May 2, 2009

I have friends who live aboard a boat in Sausalito. They have lived at at least two different marinas, so there seem to be some options there.
posted by pombe at 7:19 PM on May 2, 2009

Being on the Hudson River in New York I'll limit myself to your more general request for hints about living on a boat in a marina. (Damn, I'd love Sausalito, though...)

Water quality (potable and non-potable) is likely to be important even if the marina has dock-side showers or washing facilities.

Likewise waste facilities - will you have to move the boat in order to pump out the holding tank? If not, do you want to be living near the gas/pump-out dock?

My 28 foot cabin cruiser is all set to get in the water next week. A new job means I'll probably be staying on it on the Long Island Sound for at the next few months, saving money on hotels etc. It'll just be me, so there should be loads of room. In your case, probably even more as it is a sailboat. Enjoy the clinking of the rigging and the lapping of the waves.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 7:56 PM on May 2, 2009

Regarding the difficulty of getting a slip, its real real tough. The economy may have loosened things up a bit, but when I was looking at slips in the bay area about 3 years ago, the usual wait was 9 mo. - 1 yr. You may have better luck, especially considering the downturn, picking up someone else's lease of a liveaboard berth. Also, bear in mind that most marinas have a limit on how many berths can be leased to those living aboard; I think it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 10%.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:58 AM on May 3, 2009

Are you planning on giving up your land apartment altogether? Because the rules for live-aboard are pretty loose at the Berkeley Marina. If you are gone a couple of nights a week, have a separate mailing address and generally keep a low profile you can pretty much live there.

The showers are nice. They have laundry facilities. There's decent bus access but it's an uphill bike ride to BART (though totally do-able). It's easy to get PG&E there. The people are nice and low key. You don't get wakes from the tankers. The wifi is crappy- you might want to figure out your own via cell phone or something, or maybe go in with someone who has a phone line. You will need to have insurance, which is really easy to get- they don't even look at your boat if you get it as a rider to your rental insurance for your apartment. Your boat will have to be able to motor over to the harbor master's once a year for your slip registration renewal. (You have to register your boat with the DMV, too. It's cheap.)

As for the waiting list for slips- that seems to be a little vague. Yes there's a waiting list but if you check in very politely and in person very very regularly you can often get a slip that just opened up. The waiting lists are a little bit of a farce because as far as I can tell they don't update them often. People will put their names on every list on the Bay and then never take it off even if they've found a place, Just In Case. I don't know about the Live-aboard waiting list, but I'd take the time frame for all of them with a big grain of salt.

The harbour staff are definitely Berkeley city workers. I have my doubts that they can even be fired, so be obsequious, persistant, and if one person says no, it's worth bringing it up again when they're at lunch and someone else is on desk duty.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:08 PM on May 3, 2009

In general, if they allow it, it is much cheaper to drop the hook outside the marina proper and just tie up every once in a while for filling the water tank and loading groceries and stuff. Don't know if this is allowed in the US or not, but that's the way we did it in Mexico back in the day.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:07 PM on May 3, 2009

I know of a guy who does it the way the way stavros suggests in Santa Barbara. He anchors offshore most of the time and comes in for an overnight berth when a big storm comes through. It complicates the logistics a bit (you'd need to take a water taxi or have some sort of skiff for getting to and from your boat) but you'd save on slip fees. Santa Barbara isn't SF, but I can at least confirm that it can be legally done somewhere in California.
posted by contraption at 10:32 PM on May 3, 2009

In general, if they allow it, it is much cheaper to drop the hook outside the marina proper and just tie up every once in a while for filling the water tank and loading groceries and stuff. Don't know if this is allowed in the US or not, but that's the way we did it in Mexico back in the day.

I know that there are a number of people who do that over by the Bay View Boat Club. You need to be a member to use their facilities, but after talking to a few folks, it doesn't sound too hard to get in (you need to be 1/4 owner of a boat is the biggest requirement I remember). I spent an evening hanging out there once, they're a pretty fun crowd.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:54 AM on May 4, 2009

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