One of the options I have, and have only talked about very briefly, is living on the hook. For reasons that will be discussed below, this is a sorta, kinda, last chance option. One that I could do, but would prefer not to.
Living on the hook is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Dropping anchor someplace, away from land, no hook ups to power/water/sewer, and truly living on your own and off the main grid. It’s a popular option for many down here, and also not entirely legal, depending on how and where you drop said anchor.
For this post I am going to keep the idea of living on the hook to that where the vessel will stay in one place for a long period of time, weeks, months, years. This is not to be confused with the cruising lifestyle which is very different. Nope, I’m going to be talking about moving the boat someplace away from land and having a floating home that you commute back and forth from. It has it’s good and bad points, so let’s get into it.
There are basically three ways of living on the hook:
First. Anchor off someplace. Simply find a nice little cove, a gunkhole, or anchorage, sail out, drop your anchor, and done. It all sounds easy enough but, the laws are a changin’ and dropping your big heavy hook just any place you damn well please is becoming more and more of an against the law sort of thing. Many boating communities, like Marathon, have designated anchorages for short term stays, just outside Boot Key Harbor, but for the most part, unless you are there to enjoy a night or two, or just visiting, chances are you will be ordered to move your vessel before too long. You also need to be careful about dropping anchor on protected areas like coral heads or grassy areas. You could incur a fine for any damage you may cause.
B. Set up your own mooring. Many people have done this back when the doing was good. Ran out, drop something really heavy onto the bottom, tied a mooring ball to it, and then tied the boat to the mooring ball. If you want to see a good example of this practice, go to Mallory Square and look to the north west around Wisteria north to Xmas Island. All those boats in there are tied up to personal moorings. Such moorings are semi legal. The Coast Guard may come by and inspect them, make you move them, or remove them. For now, it seems to be a live and let live with those who are set up over in that area. As long as the boats are seaworthy, legal, and nobody is dumping crap over the side, they are safe. But eventually, somebody is going to bitch, moan, whine, and snivel, and they will have to move.
3. Mooring fields. This is the future of living on the hook. Communities like Key West and Marathon both have large designated mooring fields. The Key West mooring field is located between Fleming Key and Sigsbee. The Marathon field takes up most of Boot Key Harbor. In a mooring field like this, the moorings are placed by the city and maintained by them Everything is lined up nice and neat and of course, you pay to use a mooring and abide by their rules.
So what is the good and bad about living on the hook? Let’s start with the good.
The big thing is cost. Anchoring off is free. Other than the cost of setting a mooring, living on your own mooring is also free. The city run mooring fields run around $300 a month. With that you also get dinghy dock privileges with showers and toilets on shore, a parking space, and depending on who is running the field, maybe some other shore based amenities. Compared to $600 and up for a marina slip, living on the hook is very attractive money wise.
Out on the hook, you are alone, nice and quiet. Neighbors are spaced sufficiently apart so you shouldn’t have to listen to all their noise. You have no utility bills, no property taxes, and other than the city, no landlord. There is no lease either so you can hoist anchor and leave anytime you want. If you want some independence, living on the hook may be what you are seeking.
But there are downsides.
You are not hooked to land. Everything you need, you will need to bring on board or produce yourself. Electricity will need to be generated. Fresh water will need to be toted on board. Waste will need to be removed, legally. To accomplish all this, you will need a way to get back and forth from your vessel to land. So, you will need a dinghy of some sorts. A small boat/kayak/raft to get you into shore. Not a big deal unless the weather is bad. You may have a mile or more to get to shore, and if you are fighting strong winds, cold, or bouncing seas, it makes for a rough ride. And while dinghy privileges are included with a city run mooring field, they are not with a private mooring. So you will have to pay to dock your dinghy someplace. I believe the Key West City Marina charges around $150 a month which includes water/shower/bathroom/and maybe a laundry. So any time you need to go into shore for something, you have to either row, paddle, or use an engine to propel you in. And when you come back out, you can never come back out empty handed. Ice, water, food, and whatever else you need, will all be transported by dinghy.
There is no security. One of the things that concerns me is going on the hook, even at a mooring field, going into shore, and coming back to no boat, or maybe only part of a boat. Pirates do exist, and they will steal anything not bolted down. Engines, fittings, rigging, whatever looks ripe for the picking. And sometimes, they may not wait until you are gone. It can be dangerous, especially if you are living alone.
Law Enforcement will be stopping by regularly. Coast Guard, FWC, and others will likely pay you a visit frequently, sometimes in the early hours. It used to be a common practice for law enforcement to do a sweep through a boating community in the wee hours of the morning. Boarding boats, inspecting for legal and illegal stuff. There is nothing you can do about it except cooperate. The rules for searches are quite different on the water than they are on land. You’ll need to have all necessary legal equipment in working order, updated and current registration, proof that you are getting your crap pumped out legally, and legal lights that are required while at anchor. If you don’t like interacting with law enforcement, you are going to hate living on the hook.
You are exposed to the weather. Even up at Boot Key, you are out in the wind if you are in the mooring field. The boats turn with the wind but I’ve seen days where strong winds bounce boats around all over the place. You need to make sure your mooring is strong enough to hold your boat and that your lines holding your boat are ok. Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to find out your mooring line broke and you are drifting through all the other expensive boats in the field. And if a hurricane comes through, there is no guarantee by the city that your mooring will hold.
As it stands now, as I said, I do have the option of the city mooring field, but I also have been offered use of a private mooring. But if I go that route I will need to do a lot to the boat. Get the electrics squared away, get a motor, get a bigger waste tank, hook up the water, and get a dinghy. I could get by with a kayak. Cheap, no registration, just a lot of paddling, so it’s all possible.
But I am getting to the point where I’m not totally sure I want to live like that. Maybe it’s age, or whatever, but I would really prefer to find someplace where I don’t have the constant worry of keeping the boat afloat and in one place.
On the other hand, the cost savings are extremely attractive. I could easily drop my monthly expenses well below $1000. Something to consider.
The cats would be fine, since they don’t go out anyways. But still, it’s a pretty rough way to live right now and I am not sure I am up to the challenge, mentally or physically. I know there will be days where the last thing I will want to do is crawl into a dinghy and fight 3 foot seas to get to shore so I can get something to eat. Ac and refrigeration will be gone. I would be hauling bags of ice and jugs of water every couple of days,
On electrons, living on the hook sounds pretty cool, and were I a bit younger and more foolish, (If that were possible), I might consider it. But I am not. I will leave it open as a last option, if nothing else were to work out, at least for a short term solution, but permanently, I would prefer a slip like I have now.