Before buying a live-aboard boat, says Open University instructor Tim Ehlen, you must consider:
Type of boat:
* Sail: "You need a longer boat to get enough living space."
* Power: "Good room for living, but they use a lot of fuel and can be more expensive."
* Houseboat: "The most houselike--the poor man's yacht. Meant for protected-water cruising such as lakes and rivers. On the Chesapeake, they could be uncomfortable--and dangerous--from pitching and rolling in a wind."
Type of construction:
* Fiberglass: "Easy to care for."
* Steel: "Solid, but it rusts."
* Wood: "The most natural fiber, but it requires a lot of maintenance."
Type of engine:
* Gasoline: "Requires a lot of maintenance," but most reasonably adept people should manage. Be alert to the danger of a fuel explosion if proper care is not practiced.
* Diesel: "Costs about twice as much but requires practically no maintenance. When it does, you need a mechanic. If I had my druthers, I'd have a diesel." Diesel fuel is less volatile than gasoline.
When buying a used houseboat, Ehlen advises:
* Look for one at least 40 feet long for sufficient living space.
* Contact a broker, or buy it on your own after you have taken time to compare different designs.
* Expect to pay several hundred dollars for a survey or inspection of the boat's non-mechanical parts. You probably will want to have it hauled out of the water.
* Take a mechanic along for a sea trial. "Find out how--and how well--the boat works."
* Sign up for a safe boatsmanship course from the Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadron, Red Cross or state or local agency.
* Spend time aboard first to see if the life style suits you before committing your money.