Picking a
home base
(in Florida)
for my sailboat

    Marina with no water in it     Contact me.

This page updated: March 2001

Picking A Home Base
House With A Dock (in Florida)

Warning: as of 2006, most towns in Florida has become much more hostile to people living on boats, and especially hostile to anchored boats. Costs of marinas and insurance have increased, marinas and boatyards have closed, and towns have passed laws restricting anchoring. Some of the information on this page may be out of date because of this.

Picking A Home Base

I sent this message to a number of people:
I'm planning to move to Florida, buy a sailboat and live on the boat anchored out in the Keys area. What area should I pick as my home base ?

I need to be reasonably close to:
  - sheltered anchorages
  - post office or mail-handling service
  - boatyards and marine stores
  - somewhere to park or store a car
  - maybe a self-storage facility
  - reasonably interesting sailing/snorkeling territory
  - library
  - web connection (library or cyber-cafe)
and there should be places to land a dinghy to get to these facilities.
Am I missing any factors ?

The areas that spring to mind are:
  - Biscayne Bay (don't know much about this area)
  - Key Largo
  - Islamorada (facilities seem a little limited)
  - Marathon
Farther north seems more congested and live-aboard-unfriendly, and farther south seems a little too isolated for starting out (just my impressions).

Although I've been to the Keys several times as a tourist, that was a while ago and I wasn't considering living there.

So I'd appreciate advice from anyone who is living in the Keys or familiar with the area. What area should I pick as my home base ?

A couple of people said "Why pick a base ? Wander around." But:
I need to have a "base" in the sense of that is where my PO Box is and my car is parked. And I know where to land the dinghy and how to get to the supermarket and so on. And where the good anchorages are nearby.

But as I get more and more comfortable with the boat and cruising, I will be ranging farther away from the base.

From Chip and Kathy Lucas:
Marathon ... Boot Key Harbor ... a rustic bar called the Dock Side Lounge can receive mail, telephone messages, parking of vehicles, dinghy slippage and showers. Not 4 star but it will work and the people are nice and a great place to have a 5 PM drink. The "Preacher" runs a water wagon (boat) and delivers fresh water to anchored vessels in the harbor. Marathon has everything else.

From Captain Al Pilvinis:
Anchor up in front of Dinner Cay (right in front of Coconut Grove, South Miami). There are a few hundred anchored there. Close to everything.

From William Pardee:
My Wife and I moved to the Keys from North Carolina about a year ago after sailing down here and making some of the same decisions you are anticipating. We moved to Key West and bought a home here as well as keep the boat here.

It sounds like you are not looking for a live-aboard marina but are planning to anchor out. If so, our experiences are the Biscayne Bay while delightful to visit is difficult. The anchorages we tried there are No Name Harbor and Hurricane Hole, both off Key Biscayne we did not find any public facilities there and to the contrary the locals make it difficult for cruisers to get to land. All private beach. There are marinas, Dinner Key looked very nice. I would consider it. The bay is quiet most of the time and nice to day sail and has good access to the Bahamas but I didn't find the type of protection I would want. At least while I was visiting (about 5 days).

There isn't much deep water around Key Largo. Very few sailboats in that area. Lots of fishing boats, sport fishing boats etc. What is your draft? That is a very important consideration.

Marathon is cruiser friendly and has protected anchorages (Boot Key Harbor) and lots of facilities such as boatyards etc. Everything is closer therefore more accessible on foot. Some amenities are more scarce in the Keys, large stores are few, there is a Home Depot in Marathon but no department stores that folks in civilization take for granted. The nearest Walmart is in Homestead, about 70 miles.

Our choice Key West, offers about the same marine facilities as Boot Key, good dinghy dock, walking access to most of your needs. More in the way of arts and culture. Less in the way of shopping. There is a public mooring field and several anchorages that while less protected than Boot Key Harbor, are adequate. We have parking garages and lots, monthly rates are available but I don't know what they are. Storage is available but expensive. In Key West anything that requires real estate (like storage) is expensive.

You aren't required to commit to an area so try several. The Coconut Grove area of Biscayne Bay, Boot Key in Marathon and Key West are three to consider. All with good water depth. Each offers something different. When you get to Key West get in touch.

From Lamar Miller:
Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, is a favorite place for live aboard. However, there is some pressure on the Boot Key Harbor community centered on such things as pollution, abandoned derelict boats, and other "stuff" that plagues the live aboard community. There are a few live aboard communities in the Key West area. My take is that anchoring out is falling out of favor in the Keys. Living aboard in a slip seems to create less conflict. There is a large live aboard community at Dinner Key Marina in Miami and at the Miami Beach Marina. The slips start at about $300 for 30 feet. But, you have the amenities and you are close to everything. I think you need to spend some time exploring the scene.

From Peter Hendrick:
Not really qualified to answer since we have done very little cruising in the Keys. If I were forced to choose, I would choose Marathon since it's a real hotbed of yachties and boating facilities are convenient, including West Marine. I suppose the further out on the Keys you get, the more difficult it is to find things you might need and also prices would logically rise the further you are from Miami.

Ideally, you would start out living on a sailboat and then get to know the Keys before settling on any real estate. From the standpoint of a cruiser who wants to stop in the Keys on the way North or South, Marathon seems like a winner. Of course, that has nothing to do with where one might want to live.

From Larry Nelson on WorldCruising mailing list:
You have described Marathon. Boot Key Harbor has good shelter, but because of that it is crowded. Everything else you mentioned is right there. You are in the middle of the Keys, and 40 minutes driving time to Duvall Street (Key West). Key West is okay but if you are on the hook, you will be moving your boat from one anchorage to another depending on which way the wind blows. It is also much more expensive. Keep in mind that the yuppies have pretty much taken over Key West. Marathon is the place for you.

From Tom York on WorldCruising mailing list:
I live in Key Largo, although not anchored out but I know the Keys rather well. Marathon has a large anchorage and is convenient to most of what you need but tends to attract some rather unseaworthy types of boats that stay in the anchorage forever, and since the anchorage can be seen from the town and the road they are starting to have troubles and may lose permanent anchoring rights sometime in the near future. Key Largo has limited anchorages but great marina facilities. Further south I would not choose Islamorada because of the limited facilities. If you wanted to go farther south try government cut in Key West. There is a rather large anchorage there that people love to stay in, you can land your dinghy at Conch Harbor marina for $40 a month, there is all the shopping you can walk to or bus to, and there are a couple of parking garages in the area that sell monthly permits for a decent price, plenty of hurricane holes and wonderful weather and people. Any other info that I can give you or anyone else just let me know. I love the Keys.

From Capt Rich Wittig :
... lived aboard off and on for about 4 years and still stay on-board about 4 to 5 months each year.

In the Keys: Marathon is by far the finest. Moderately protected harbor (best in Keys), two good bars (best one dockside), dinghy to West Marine, dive bottle fill-ups; bike ride to Publix, Kmart, public library, post office, a good boat yard or two with moderate prices, etc. Dockside will accept your mail and post any phone calls on the board. Cost for dinghy dockage, garbage disposal (very expensive in the Keys) is $50/mo. Marathon is getting less warm in its welcome and is planning a mooring field in the "near" future.

Key West now has a mooring field with buoy rental (I personally don't like Key West for more than a few days). Key West is much more expensive for everything contrasted to Marathon.

There are other anchorages in Stock Island area, Big Pine Key area but they are very exposed in bad weather and have limited shopping by bike or dinghy.

My second favorite below Marathon is Estero Island at Ft. Meyers Beach. A good anchorage, good access to shopping, free bus rides to West Marine and Winn-Dixie, a few "fair" bars and somewhat protected from the weather.

I must say that living aboard in the U.S. is getting much harder now than it was in the past. The West coast of Florida is just about the only place in Fl that it is possible without a great amount of hassle and sometimes legal challenges to your right to anchor where you want (if you don't block or endanger shipping or transit).

I live in Pensacola on the far north West (Panhandle) of Fl. The anchoring is great and unimpeded but the facilities for shopping are poor if you don't have a car.

From Capt. Len Susman on Yacht-L mailing list:
What you're proposing was once normal practice but is frowned upon now by the bureaucracy and powers to be.

Boot Key Harbor at Marathon is probably the only place left and there is a lot of pressure to eliminate it.

With all the Keys now a marine sanctuary you have the Feds not just the county to deal with.

Matanzas Pass anchorage in Ft. Myers Beach is similar and also under attack.

I would plan to either rent a slip or dock or consider buying a dockaminium unit.

Save a lot of hassle.


... several counties put stay limits on anchoring out.

The Hassles come from everything from the various marine patrols city county state and fed checking safety equipment, registration.


Pumpout is one big thing. I think at FMB they check to see if you have receipts showing regular pump out. [After living aboard 2 years, and spending 2 months at FMB, has never happened to me.] ...

From Capt Neal on alt.sailing.asa newsgroup:
Try anchoring just off the Mandalay on Key Largo Key in the area of Rock Harbor [on ocean side, SE edge of Key Largo; Bluefin Rock Harbor Marina; Rock Harbor Park == 97801 Overseas Hwy]. There are several boats anchored there and many of the amenities of which you speak. Plus there is a great bar with good folks.
From Keywestwym on alt.sailing.asa newsgroup:
... Neil told you rite ... Rock Harbor is a great harborage ... there's a Tiki bar there called the Mandalay (tell Kimmy the little blond barmaid Robin says hello) there's a landrymat there and there and a storage yard a block from the water ... AND great people there ... Sailors and landcrabs alike! Its rite off Rodreguise Key ... Make sure you give a wide berth to the north side of Rodgueise key ... the sand has shifted in the last few years with the last couple of storms ...

From Gary Elder :
Some people have been anchor-out live aboards for years in Marathon, however I believe that most long term live aboards end up at a dock. Yes many communities try to discourage it.

If I were going to be a full-time live aboard, I would sell my car and subscribe to a mail-forwarding service. Doing the mail-forwarding service and the occasional car rental or cab ride should be less expensive than car ownership and a P.O. box, and would leave me free to up anchor at any time to go to another location. This is common practice.

In Marathon, there is a dinghy 'landing' just a few yards from the post office, a large supermarket, and Boaters World. At the other end of the anchorage West Marine has a dinghy dock just steps from their door. Car rentals and taxi cabs seem to be everywhere.

From Michael Toledano :
There are any number of places you can anchor out in the keys although none of them are good hurricane holes. You have your choice of the ocean side or the bay side and which side you choose may depend on your draft. There are dozens of good anchorages; here are a few -

In key largo there is a liveaboard community at rock harbor (ocean side) which has some protection from the elements because of uninhabited rodriquez key. A friendly marina lets you tie your dinghy up and you can walk or bicycle to the shopping center.

Boot Key Harbor in Marathon is probably the most widely used anchorage in the keys. Almost completely surrounded by land and, at least at the moment, liveaboard friendly. The dockside inn (a real sailor hangout) provides dinghy tie up and some facilities at a very reasonable cost (i think its about $50 a month or so). The anchorage is surrounded by marathon where there is plenty of shopping, restaurants, shoreside activity, etc.

Key West has key west channel where there is also a large liveaboard community. Dinghy tie up is about $50 a month in the marina, or you can take your chances and tie up at the foot of simonton street for free. Either way there's plenty of shopping and activities and key west, even after the 'yuppification', is still a great place to hang out. When you get tired of people you can sail out to fort jefferson for a few days.

You can also sail to the west coast of Florida which is another nice place to gunkhole and anchor out. And when you get tired of all that there is always the Bahamas. Key Largo to Bimini is a nice overnight sail and will put you in day sail distance of every island in the Bahamas.

From Night Swimming on Cruising World message board:
Key West is a miserable anchorage when the wind blows. A strong tide and strong wind make it very uncomfortable and a little bit dangerous. It's also very deep.

I vote for Marathon - very protected, shallow, and a ton of services available (including a marina that will let you keep a car on the premises for a small monthly fee).

More from Gary Elder:
All the above [requirements] describes Marathon. I'm not sure about library and web connection, but a phone call to the Marathon Chamber of Commerce is easy enough to do. Also, it is impossible to foresee every issue; everyone misses some factors, but Marathon is probably the best compromise considering its proximity to the Seven Mile Bridge which gives immediate access to either the ocean side, or the gulf side.

Biscayne Bay: Too close to Miami and the 'Gold Chain Crowd'.
Key Largo: Too close to Miami.
Islamorada: Limited.
Marathon is THE place to start in the Keys.


I have purchased water from the "Preacher" at ten cents per gallon ... I have heard that he is no longer in business.


[Re: Dinner Cay being conveniently close to Miami:]
I don't even drive my own car to Miami.


Key West is a small, very congested tourist town with narrow streets. It can be a fun stop on a cruise, but I would not want to 'live' there. The anchorages sometimes get hammered by storms. If you want a 'same sex mate', it might be a good spot.


Key Largo gets a lot of Miami weekend visitors.


Marathon does have some live aboard boats in the Boot Key anchorage that have non-operational engines and heads. There is a movement afoot to convert the open anchorage into a controlled mooring field; I suspect it will take several years to make it happen, by then you will probably be cruising somewhere else.


[In reaction to Capt Rich Wittig's message:]
Ft Myers Beach is a very, very congested small tourist town, close to the city of Ft Myers. The anchorage is crowded with the typical permanent live aboard boats and cruisers who are just passing through. I will usually avoid anchoring there.


Most anchorages in the Keys are great for transients, but not for long term live aboards.


When the wind blows [in Key West], it's nasty. I would not want to be there in a storm.


Obviously, I vote for Marathon as the best compromise in the Keys. My second choice, for you, is Naples Fl. Great live aboard community, nice town, wonderful coastal cruising, south to the Ten Thousand Islands and the Keys, and north to marinas and anchorages. It is not, however an anchor-out live aboard community and slips are sometimes difficult to find.

More from Gary Elder:
Key Largo: Many transient boaters who pass thru Naples have told me that they go thru the Key Largo area as quickly as they can, and only stop because they must.

The last time we were there the real estate opportunities were limited, and the shopping was bad. They don't even have a Lowe's or Home Depot.

From Capt Bob on Latitudes and Attitudes Cruisers Forum:
Stay clear of Key West unless you have large sacks of money -- I'm doing exactly what you said you wanted to do -- I'm in Marathon -- A "base", even in Marathon still requires substantial funds -- I chose to purchase a houseboat (complete w/ dockage) as my base with a mooring buoy for my cruiser -- works great for me.


Boot Key harbor still offers free anchorage in well-protected harbor with numerous dinghy docks and access to most of marathon -- this situation is still somewhat volatile -- marathon just seceded from Monroe County with the future of Boot Key harbor up in the air until the new "politicians" make up their mind whose side they're on -- "live-aboards" in the keys have become synonymous with "leper colonies" -- Key West has just declared itself a "no-discharge" zone then immediately opened a new city owned Mooring Field -- approx $200 /mo w/ no facilities -- go figure -- seriously Cuba is looking really good to this old sailor.

From RyanN on Cruising World message board:
The Dinner Key anchorage, which is free, has many live aboards. It's off of Coconut Grove's Dinner Key marina on the west side of Biscayne Bay. Residents of the anchorage seem to span all socioeconomic levels with everything from an Amel to what can be politely called a floating shopping cart. The anchorage should be deep enough for a 7 foot draft. It is not protected from the North-East-South, but Biscayne Bay doesn't get too rough, so I don't know how uncomfortable it might get (choppy, but no surge). There are some nice cruising areas in the upper keys, and Bimini (my nearby cruising preference) is only 45 miles east.

Supermarket, post office are an easy bike ride away.

From Bill on Latitudes and Attitudes Cruisers Forum, 8/2000:
... most of Biscayne Bay is in Biscayne National Park which prohibits anchoring for more than two weeks (I don't think they enforce the two week rule if you are waiting on weather to cross the stream but if you appear to be setting up permanent housekeeping I'll bet you would, at some point, be asked to move on by a park ranger. Lots of folks anchored up north off Dinner Key Marina (it doesn't look very protected to me and I'm not sure if Dinner Key Marina would let you park your car, dinghy etc. but I'm guessing something could be worked out) ... supermarkets, west marine, etc. are in the area but not within walking distance. No Name Harbour is within a state park (anchor fees) and has no access to services. I'm sure the mansions along Key Biscayne's west side would not take kindly to your auto on their street or your dinghy on their beach.

In Key Largo, anchoring off the Mandalay bar is an option however there appears to be very little protection. There are a couple of anchorages on the bayside (shallow draft). Marathon does have a protected anchorage (boot key harbor), dockside bar has parking, dinghy dock, cold beer and showers etc. (nice folks). The post office and supermarket is a couple of blocks away and I think west marine even has a dinghy dock (behind the store in boot key harbor).

Key West has god-awful anchorages (constant rolling) and everything is VERY expensive. Forget it! If you just want to sail and get used to the boat and/or boating lifestyle (sail a little now and then ... enjoy the area ... sail a little) and have no job holding you down you might seriously consider the west coast of Florida ... Ft Myers, Charlotte Harbor or even The Abacos in the Bahamas. The anchorage at Marsh Harbor (Abaco) is protected, bars, restaurants, marine supplies, supermarkets, customs, post office are all within walking distance and the natives are friendly toward yachtie types (if you intend to work however, a Bahamas work permit would be next to impossible). If you decide to tie up in a marina ... We paid about $500 a month in Key Largo four years ago (40' boat) and I understand that has about doubled now ... Key West is far more expensive than that. Dockage on the west coast as well as the Bahamas is considerably less.

From Joseph Berta on the IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
[Re: Key West chartering in February:]

After cruising between the Keys and the Bahamas for a good number of years, here is my 2 cents worth:

The Keys are the greatest in the Continental US. The lobsters are plenty in shallow waters, unlimited opportunities for anchoring out Bayside and the people are laid back and decent, well for the most part anyway.

The anchorage in Key West proper is totally unacceptable however, unless you enjoy rolling your eyes out on a continuous basis, due to the swell and the myriad of large commercial traffic, not to mention the lack of a safe place to land a tender. There are good marinas though ...

But, if you're restricted by time limits you're taking a big chance. Cold fronts come through on a regular basis, especially in February, and you could end up spending your 2 weeks on Duval street in the tourist traps because on the Ocean it's blowing 30 knots, the seas are 6 to 8 feet inside the reef and 15 on the outside, and the temperature is 70, which is-cold-down-there, no matter where you flew in from.

See for yourself by going to Sombrero Reef Light buoy station and read what the conditions are in real time. (Sombrero Reef is Oceanside at Marathon, about 40 miles east of Key West. Last night at 21:00 the water temp was 84F, air temp was 71F, sustained winds were ENE 28 knots gusting to 33 and the seas were 12 feet.)

I love the Bahamas, however in the winter months you'll be in the same boat but on the other side of the Stream ... and it is bedder mon on the other side of the Stream.

We found that you need to go further east and south, and by around Mayaguana you begin to lose the cold fronts and you can actually count on your time being what you want it to be.

If I had only 2 weeks or so and wanted to be sure I got my money's worth, at this time of the year, I'd go to the Turks and Caicos and east ...

From Norm on the IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
[Re: Key West:] ... While it is true, if you anchor across from the main shore of town you will be waked by the many commercial and party fishing boat transiting that area, there are several other places nearby to anchor if you have a dinghy capable of decent speed. There are many boats anchored on the far side (the side away from Key West) Christmas Tree Island (called Wisteria Island on the chart) and there is a water taxi. We anchored about 2/3 of the way out along Flemming Key opposite the Navy SEAL training facility (looks like a motel with a tall building next to it) and were undisturbed (for the most part) because of the low traffic in that direction. We have a dinghy that can do 20 Kts.

While this anchoring spot at Flemming seems unprotected, the water toward the sea is wide but very thin so it blocks the swell. We had no problems with seas or swells there.

We did have one night in March when we were first anchored off the main town shore, when Jan and a friend could not get back aboard the boat because it was rolling too much in stormy weather. We had to stay ashore with friends.

We tied up our dingy at the dinghy dock at Key West Bight Marina for $45/month ($2.50/day, $15/week). They have laundry and showers there too (which we never used).

From Tom Foppiano on The Live-Aboard List 11/2000:
The city of Key West has recently began a mooring area for about 150 boats. The cost will be $150 per month the first year, $250 in year 2 and $325 in year 3. After that the price will rise based on the CPI. Transients will be charged $12 per day. For this price you get the mooring, dinghy dockage and 3 pump outs per month. Though this sounds good on its face, the down side is there will be no more liveaboard or anchorage in the sea plane basin which is now home to lots of boats and liveaboards for FREE!
From Norm on The Live-Aboard List 11/2000:
I have in front of me a copy of a letter from the Commander, Seventh Coast Guard District, to the City of Key West about a mooring field, which I presume to be this one, that states in part:

"Establishing the special anchorage zone places no obligation for mariners to anchor within it. Mariners are free to anchor anywhere in navigable waters where the act of anchoring is not specifically prohibited by federal regulation. Similarly, vessels anchoring within the anchorage zone will not be obligated to use the installed moorings. You may collect a fee from those who choose to use your moorings, but the mariner is entitled to use an anchor at no fee and stay in the anchorage zone an indefinite period. These federal anchorage rights preempt any state or local statutes or regulations which may conflict with them."

The letter is dated 21 Nov 1991, on USCG letterhead, and signed: R D Peterson, Captain, U.S. Coast Guard, Chief, Aids to Navigations and Waterways Management Branch, Seventh Coast Guard District, by direction of the District Commander.
From Barb Herzog on The Live-Aboard List 11/2000:
The article that was in the "Keynoter" (the Key West area paper) said that the city had approved a bill which would not allow any anchoring in the sea plane basin, which is the basin that has the new mooring field. There is still anchoring allowed in other areas of Key West, just not that basin. They also stated that liveaboards are allowed on the mooring field, and that those boats that are currently anchored in the basin will have first rights to the mooring field and they will give them extra time, if needed, to get their boats ready to move. The article also mentioned that so far the current residents of the basin had not been in any hurry to sign up for a mooring!

From Robert Eliason on the Morgan mailing list:
... Tampa Bay area: Check out the charts. The average wind blow 8 knots ... almost never becalmed and rarely over 20 knots. Annual average temp is 72 degrees. Fog is unusual. There is almost never a day without sunshine. There are more days of better sailing here than anywhere else on the planet (well, just about). There are hundreds of places to sail, and many interesting sailors to swap stories with. I just love it here.
From Pete Penichet on the Morgan mailing list:
Tampa Bay area is the best! Lots of hurricane holes. Lots of islands, and we consider ourselves lucky to be able to live in PARADISE!

From Captain Kev on Cruising World message board:
As a cruiser who ended the endless voyage in Clearwater, I can tell you that you will enjoy your stay. Clearwater Municipal Marina has a warm welcome waiting. It is about $20 a day for a 34' vessel. South of there is the Belleair Causeway and the docks and boat ramp on the north east corner of it is a perfect anchorage and only a block from a large grocery. I see many cruisers anchored there year round. Do not go to the Madeira City Marina. Bad news and rip offs there. ABC marina on the north west corner of the Tom Stewert causeway is a wonderful quiet marina I can recommend through experience.

From Gary Elder:
Of the three areas that we have been discussing, I would put Key Largo on the bottom of the list. The consensus of contributors to your web page seems to indicate Marathon as best, but I don't know if they understand your experience level, and your girlfriend's needs/wants.

If you look at your experience level and the first six months to one year that you will have your boat operational, but perhaps not 100% 'ready', my perception is Ft Myers (area), Naples, or Marco - hands down.

There are probably too many reasons to list, but a few are: The Atlantic can be extremely unforgiving, and the Atlantic side of the Keys can be very treacherous due to lots of BIG boat traffic combined with small spaces for maneuvering in marinas, etc. The bay side of the Keys can be very deceiving with its shoals, and in the lower Leys, remoteness.

You will have a great amount of learning to do. All the little details of learning and running your boat, and dealing with the issues that will come up can be quite overwhelming to newbies; and having the "rudder fall off", as an example, is easier to deal with in the south west gulf than in the Atlantic or in the Keys.

Also, your timing is such that you will be starting out near the beginning of the summer storm season. On the Gulf side, it's difficult to get more than 30 NM from good protection, either for hurricane or thunderstorm.

The southwest Gulf offers a more peaceful and predictable learning area, where you have services available, good easy destinations to sail to, good anchorages to practice in, good marinas, and lots of help, etc. When your boat and experience are up to it, you can do the overnight sail to the Dry Tortugas, where the water is very clear and the diving great.

For your girlfriend, starting on the Gulf side will help her decide that this is a good life. And the real estate opportunities are just about unbelievable. Today [1/2001], we visited Naples (errands), and drove to several parts of town that we seldom go to. The amount of new, still under construction, housing that is being built is unbelievable, with whatever pricing level you might want. This is really a nice town.

From Beverly Yelen of "Boating on Florida Waterways":
I am sorry that I am not well-acquainted with live aboard anchorages, but I can tell you what I do know.

There is a large live aboard community outside of the Dinner Key Marina in Miami. The community consists of people and families from all walks of life.

This is probably the best anchorage in the Miami area and I know that live aboards stay there. It is protected by a few small out islands and is within walking distance of the popular Coconut Grove Historic area. I believe that the anchorage is free, but you will have to check this out. Try contacting the Marina for information. If they don't have it, perhaps they can forward you to the correct dept. I do know that the City of Miami supports a Dinghy dock for live aboards. There is a very small one time fee for this, around $10. The anchorage also has excellent access to South Biscayne Bay (no bridges), an excellent cruising area. ...

I have also seen boats anchored near the Pelican Harbor Marina. See Miami-Dade Parks' Marinas. Scroll down to the fourth Marina. You can see boats anchored in the background of the picture. This is not as good a permanent location. If you wish to stay in a marina, Pelican Harbor is probably the most economical in the area.

From Gary Elder:
The last time I was in Marathon, the dinghy 'landing' was just a canal bank at a vacant lot that looked like it was being used as a crash place for the homeless: cardboard boxes that looked like people lived in them, old shopping carts with more cardboard in them, etc.

One of the reasons that I think the Naples area is better for you during the first year is that fewer big nasties happen to liveaboards in Naples. For the inexperienced, Marathon can be too much. Marathon seems to have an unusually high percentage of people who will do just about anything to pay for just one more day there.

Naples is probably better for real estate also.

House With A Dock (in Florida)

Suppose we bought a house with a dock, somewhere on the southwest coast of Florida ?

From Gary Elder:
... DIRECT ACCESS is a very important term to learn, it does not mean the same thing in every town out here. On Marco, direct access means that the lowest bridges are 55 ft mhw, although there are some houses with no bridges in the way. Some bridges are only about 6 ft mhw. One area of Cape Coral has direct access with a lock in the way. They also had, probably still do have, two lifts that move small boats from one canal to another.


One other term to learn is EXPOSURE (as in northern or southern exposure). In some towns exposure is relative to the front of a house, in others it is relative to the back.

On Marco exposure refers to the back of the house, which is where most lanais (patios), pools, and canals are. Snowbirds frequently want west exposure for the winter warmth, while many full-time residents want east exposure to put the lanai in the summer afternoon shade. It's a personal preference thing.


Another important issue in all Fla. waterfront communities is canal water depth. We found that in every town we looked at, there were realtors who either lied to us, or did not know the real water depth in the canals we were interested in. Actually, the water depth from your dock to the Gulf is what needs to be determined. As an example, 'our' canal is about ten feet deep, but where it joins the Marco River there is a small bar that we must cross. At a really low tide it gets down to about 5 1/2 ft.


> What is a "lift" to be added to a dock ?
Boat lifts are frequently added to private docks to literally lift a boat out of the water for storage. In Cape Coral there are some canals that don't go anywhere, they are 'deadends'. The City operates (or did) a couple of lifts that were designed to lift a boat out of a canal, over the seawall and bank, to another canal.


Quite a number of people use nav charts to help them decide where to settle. For example, the NOAA 11427 chart shows all the details and distances to get from south (that's where most of the sailboat access is) Cape Coral to the Gulf; an hour or two is common. It shows all of Pine Island Sound, power boat heaven for SW Florida. If you study it you will see that you won't do much sailing in there even though there are some great destinations. It also shows Boca Grande Pass, your main Gulf access if you live in Punta Gorda Isles (PGI is what the locals call it).

NOAA 11420, not sure of that number but the title is Havana to Tampa Bay, is a smaller scale chart that lots of people actually hang on their wall for quick reference. This one shows the names of all the passes you might use from Tampa to Key West, but not inshore depths. It also shows that if you live in PGI you won't go for a quickie day-sail in the Gulf; it's seventeen miles away. PGI is at the head of Charlotte Harbor (bay) which is ok for day-sailing if you like very light wind, although it can kick up if a front passes through. This chart also shows the relationship of the cities and the coastal cruising destinations. A glance at this chart will show that Marco Island is just about halfway between Tampa Bay and Key West. Go north from Marco Island and you will see lots of people and marinas, go south and you will see quiet anchorages and fewer people, until you get to Marathon. ...

House features to check out:
  • The usual: price, lot size, bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.
  • Access restrictions (locks, distance, canal depth, bridge heights, power cable heights) from dock to open water.
  • LOA and draft of boat that can be docked.
  • Protection of boat from wakes, waves, weather.
  • Travel time and distance to get to interesting sailing territory.

From Gary Elder:
... Marco Island has only two bridges that are sailboat friendly. Both are on the Marco River at 55ft mhw. Punta Gorda Isles has no sailboat friendly bridges. Cape Coral has several bridges that cross the Caloosahatchee River, the lowest is 55ft mhw. Keep in mind though, that if you plan to use the Okeechobee Waterway to cross the state, a 50ft mast is about max. Also, there is a drawbridge at Sanibel that you must pass through to get to Cape Coral, unless you come down the Intercoastal waterway from Boca Grande Pass. ...

[These are just to get an idea of prices; I've already been told that most of them are not sailboat-accessible because of low bridges, and direct-access houses would be more expensive.]
  • Marco Island:
    On Marco Island, the standard dock is 30'x 5', usually non-floating, side tie, with a maximum projection into the canal of 20' on the usual 100' canal width. That means that the total width of the dock, fenders, and boat cannot exceed 20'. There are some exceptions to those rules based on canal width and junction of two canals, etc. Many people are making them longer than 30' but they must stay within the side setback rules. It is OK for the boat to be longer than the dock.
    • Got this about MLS 200225 from the real estate agent:
      ... I received an e-mail from you asking the size of boat that can fit on the dock. Presently, the dock is 24'x4'. It does not have a lift. The average boat size here on Marco Island is between 24'-26' with a 10' beam. This home is in an indirect water area of the island. Indirect means that you must pass under a bridge to get to the Gulf of Mexico. My recommendation is for you to add a lift, and do some additional dock work which would cost approximately $10,000. ...
      The average size stated refers to the typical outboard motor powered boats that are used for fishing and general running around, and may not be accurate. There are many powerboats here in the 40' range, and some more than 60'. The typical sailboat here is 30'- 40'. The smallest in our club is 25' while the largest is 52'.

      Most powerboat oriented people don't realize that there are two 55' bridges here, and they CAN be an issue for sailboats. This particular property is on the wrong side of a low bridge for sailboat access.

      Sailboat lifts can be built, but are quite expensive. The one this agent refers to is for the typical 25' powerboat.

  • Punta Gorda Isles:

  • Cape Coral:
    From MiataDog on alt.sailing.asa newsgroup:
    Cape Coral is a pretty nice area ... lots of retirees, but the population expands by 10 in the winter months. You may have a tough time finding a live-aboard slip, as there are a lot of "municipal regulations" in that area. There are plenty of other towns to set up your home within a 30 minute drive though ...

    Sanibel is a short sail, and Longboat, the Keys, the Dry Tortugas, Tampa, etc. are within a day's reach. Be prepared for "light air" as a way of life.
    About jobs in the area, from MiataDog on alt.sailing.asa newsgroup:
    The area is exploding ... lots of new construction, etc. Basically. From Sarasota to Naples will be one big city in a few years ... almost there already !!

From Gary Elder:
... In the water-front category, don't trust ANY realtor to know about alongside water depth, approach depth, or access. I have had some 'interesting' experiences in this area.

Also, there are many water-front townhouses and condos available that do not have docking available for big boats. ...

From Howard Taggert:
[Near Marathon,] the Big Pine area is probably the best area to look for a reasonable priced house with dock. They run in the $200,000 + range Big Pine is about 20 Miles south of Marathon. And I'm told that this area has the best diving in the Keys.