Colette Gabriel's two-bedroom, 450-square-foot houseboat. Photo courtesy of Colette Gabriel

While it’s not for everyone, living on a houseboat has some serious advantages, like the lower cost of living and proximity to nature. For the past ten years, Colette Gabriel and her husband, Kevin Wright, have been living full-time in a two-bedroom, 450-square-foot houseboat in Chicago and documenting their experience on their YouTube channel, Water We Thinking

The couple’s boat has many amenities you’d find in an apartment: a full bathroom with a shower, hot water, and heaters for the frigid winters. Curious about what living on a houseboat is like, we sat down with Gabriel to discuss the challenges of houseboat living, what potential houseboaters should do before they make the leap, and the best part of living on the water. 

 What made you want to take up this lifestyle?

My husband and I spent some time in Europe and saw people living on houseboats, and we just thought it would be such a cool way to live. When we returned to Chicago and started researching, we got sidetracked and bought a house. Shortly after, we were looking at daunting renovation costs to renovate the 1890s house, and fortunately, a developer approached us with an offer. We then sold our home and lucked out by finding a boat in Chicago.

What are some of the benefits of living on a boat?

It forces you not to buy a bunch of stuff. Also, our boat slip is in an amazing neighborhood, allowing us to live in downtown Chicago for cheaper than renting an apartment or owning a condo would cost. We’re also much closer to our neighbors, and I feel much more of a sense of community living on a boat because we all have to help each other. 

Colette Gabriel and Kevin Wright. Photo courtesy of Colette Gabriel

What kind of person do you think would be successful living on a houseboat?

Americans are used to bigger spaces, so you have to be on board with a smaller living space. Also, if you’re going to live on a boat, you definitely need to be mechanically inclined because there will be repairs you’ll have to make. 

Do you miss anything about living on land? 

No, not really, but if I were to move back on land, I would live in an apartment with lots of amenities within the building, which is pretty common in Chicago right now. I would look for a space that isn’t necessarily big on private space but has amenities like a room with instruments and records to listen to, a crafting room with sewing machines, or a pool deck with fire pits. Communal aspects of living are very important to me. 

Has living on a houseboat helped you achieve any long-term financial goals? 

While we’ve been living on the houseboat, my husband has made a few different career changes. It’s allowed him to pursue a new dream and career without being so concerned that we can’t afford it because we have a certain amount of money going into rent. Living on a houseboat full-time has given us more career flexibility. 

Are there any practical tips for someone considering living on a houseboat full-time or part-time?

I would recommend trying vacationing on one for a few days to get a sense of what it would be like. We stayed on a boat in Amsterdam, but there are plenty of places in the United States where you can stay on a boat to try it out. 

Do you plan to continue living on your houseboat?

We have no end in sight for living on a boat.  Our long-term goals, at least right now, are to retire and live on a catamaran that we can sail between the Caribbean and Florida.  

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