Photo by Anna Erickson
Like many who have been drawn to the water, Irene and Dan Hopkins have made their 42-foot Discovery sailboat in Shilshole Bay Marina their full-time home for seven years.

Liveaboards staying afloat Ballard’s rise in rent rates

By Anna Erickson

When the housing market started to decline in 2008, Irene and Dan Hopkins sold their house and saw another kind of lifestyle on the horizon.

At first, Irene Hopkins was opposed to her husband’s idea to settle aboard their 42-foot Discovery sailboat. But it wasn’t long before she found that their move was both a good financial solution and life improvement decision.

With 40 percent of Ballard’s population paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent, the 2014 Ballard Existing Conditions Report, a document produced by the City of Seattle, doesn’t consider the neighborhood as affordable as it was before 2009.

For a 50-foot slip in Shilshole Bay Marina, the monthly moorage is $680. Of course, there are other costs: electricity, sewage pump, “liveaboard” membership fees, and the mortgage for the actual boat if that hasn’t already been paid off.

But compared to the $1,750 median rental rate that Zillow reports for a two-bedroom home in Ballard, moving to the marina can be attractive.

More than financial motivations, the Hopkins family found that the community on their dock in Shilshole Bay Marina made living aboard one of the greatest incentives.

“Just the fact that we’ve all chosen to live like this gives us this commonality I think that underscores the sense of community that we all feel down here,” said Irene Hopkins.

Living on the water does come with its trials, though. Space is tight and there’s not a lot of extra room to store anything nonessential. Being flexible and accepting that things may not always work is something Hopkins says are qualities needed to succeed in living aboard.

Maintenance of a boat is a routine chore, and if needed often, can become an expensive side of the living situation.

Dan Hopkins loves the diversity of personalities in the marina community, and has met many interesting people he wouldn’t have encountered living in the city.   

John Weller, a classical violinist and Assistant Concertmaster in the Seattle Symphony, is one of the many unlikely members of this alternative culture. The pressures of his profession might seem at odds with life on a sailboat, but he feels that life aboard has been a haven from his work.

“Everything that I like in life seems to come together on a boat: the food tastes better, the friends down the dock are wonderful and that view is more than I can afford anywhere else,” said Weller as he pointed to the mountains.

The support in the liveaboard community is also unique in the way that neighbors care for each other’s homes like they would for their own. Dan Hopkins recalls times when their neighbors’ boats have had lines break away from docks and members rushing over to fix it before the owner even came home.

All of the liveaboards appreciate the peace and quiet that the marina community fosters and how respectful people are of each other’s space.

A common joke in the community, says Dan Hopkins, is that if you don’t like your neighbors, you can always move away at any moment.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.