The Key West Citizen reports that the country is mulling over three possible sites for a new mooring field in the Keys. For those of you unfamiliar with what a mooring field is, the concept is pretty simple. A mooring field is a set of anchored moorings set up in a protected area like a bay or harbor, and maintained by a government agency, in this case, Monroe County. The moorings are set so many feet apart to allow boats to tie off to without hitting one another. A mooring field gives a vessel the option of living on the hook in a relatively safe place, for a fee of course. But said fee will also include a few amenities, like a place to come ashore with your dinghy, a place on land for taking showers, laundry, garbage drop off, and sometimes even a parking space. It’s really not a bad set up if you want to live on the hook, and with the way things are going here in the Keys as fewer and fewer marinas allow year round live aboards, it appears to be the future of living on a boat if that is how you want to live in paradise.
Currently, there are two managed mooring fields of any appreciable size in the Keys. The first and most popular, and by far one of the best, is Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. It’s large, with almost 300 moorings, can take up to 60′ vessels, and has a nice dinghy dock which is a short bike ride to stores, shops, and other needy things in town. It’s well protected from the open sea and it’s affordable, around $300 a month.
The other is on the north side of Key West just west of Fleming Key. It has a few less moorings but costs around the same. The dinghy dock and shore amenities are in Garrison Bight on the causeway giving you a central location to everything on the island.
The three spots being considered for a new field are on Jewfish Creek in Key Largo near Gilbert’s Resort, Buttonwood Bay in Islamorada, and right around the corner from where I live in Boca Chita Bay. All three have good and bad about them as stated in the article.
While mooring fields are an inexpensive way to live aboard, there are some disadvantages. One, you need to truck in all your needs, and truck out all your waste. So that means needing a second boat, a dinghy. A dinghy can come in many forms for something as simple as a kayak or paddleboard to an expensive inflatable. Basically, anytime to you go ashore and return, you cannot do so empty handed. The biggest need will be fresh water, then food, etc. Garbage, the solid kind will need to come in, and you will need to set up with the pump out service, which is now free in the Keys. You will also have to be able to create your own electricity, usually by solar or wind, although some larger boats use generators, which also adds in the need for fuel.
Living on a mooring ball means some genuine privacy. Your closest neighbor will be at least the length of your boat or longer away from you. And you can also chose a ball a bit further away from everyone if the field isn’t too crowded so you have some peace and quiet. However, you also give up a lot of security. One of my biggest fears of living on the hook is going into shore for something and coming back to no boat, or only part of one. Thieves are everywhere and more than a few times boats have been cleaned out of anything that isn’t locked down, motors, electronics, and more. Even with my few possessions, right now I would prefer not to lose anything is possible.
The other problem with a mooring field is that even though you are in a relatively protected area, you are still out in the weather. I’ve seen Boot Key Harbor kick up pretty good on a windy day and trying to live on a bouncing boat may not be to some people’s liking. In the event of a real storm, there is also the chance your mooring could slide or the lines attaching your vessel to the mooring would break. So, the managed moorings are inspected regularly to make sure all is well with them.
There are trade offs to living on the hook compared to living in a marina. Do you want the cheaper rent vs the convenience of sitting in a nice cozy slip where you can step off the boat onto dry land? Do you prefer the privacy compared to living next door to a bunch of noisy, obnoxious neighbors? How much of a pain in the ass will it be to have to run your dinghy into shore to load up on water and supplies, especially on a windy or stormy day?
For some, living on the hook works out just fine for them. They have adjusted to such a lifestyle with no issues. For others, living in a marina is the only possible option. The security of being close to land with all the conveniences with the ability to sail out when one wishes too, or stay in a safe and comfy place when the winds blow.
For me, for now, the marina, or a marina is the only option. The Seacraft is in no shape to go on the hook. It needs way too much as I have stated in the past. As for the Spirit? I will have to live on it for a bit and see how things work out. It’s going to be a bit small for being on the hook in windy weather but it would be pretty easy to set it up for non marina living. Electric needs are few, I can grab a shower at the dinghy dock, and a porta potty will work fine. It’s just a question of what to use for a dinghy and how willing I am to put up with all the work of hauling food and water back and forth. Should nothing else work out and I were to be forced to leave my happy little slip, and given that I really would prefer to stay in Key West, going to the mooring field may be the only option I can come up with short of selling whatever boat I am on and going back to land living.
I will stay put for the moment and see how things go.