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10 Best Cities for Boat Owners to Retire

You’re preparing to leave the working world and embark on your retirement — and just maybe you’ve been thinking about selling the house and buying a boat for retirement. Once you’ve got the boat, the next decision is where to go — where are the best boating towns for retirement? Luckily for you, the answers are scattered across the United States.

Whether you’re considering making your boat your home, or are just eager to find a place known for being a boater’s paradise for your retirement, we have a list of 10 cities that are sure to be a hit. From coast to coast, these are our top picks for the best boating destinations to retire.

1. Destin, Fla.

Boatng in Destin, Florida

This panhandle town sits along the Gulf of Mexico and has humble beginnings as a small fishing village, so obviously, we couldn’t resist including Destin at the top of our list of best boating towns for retirement. This place is said to be home to more fishing boats than anywhere else in the state of Florida. While we couldn’t find any official documentation to back it up, we’re sure there’s a good chance it’s true. Here you’ll find lick-tackle fishing, trolling, deep sea bottom fishing, parasailing, snorkeling and scuba diving.

The bay and Intracoastal Waterway are both friendly for beginner boaters — more advanced boaters looking for adventure will find one in the east pass into the Gulf of Mexico, with plenty of active cross-currents and waves. If you’re traveling by boat, you’ll be happy to know marinas dot the coastline near Destin, with Sandestin’s Baytowne Marina welcoming guests with boats up to 140 feet.

2. Seattle, Wash.

If you like to have access to both freshwater and seawater, consider retirement in the largest city in the Pacific Northwest — Seattle, which is located right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean’s Puget Sound and freshwater Lake Washington. Here, boating is such a big part of the local tradition that you’ll find an official celebration of the opening day of boating season, complete with regatta and boat parade — something they’ve been doing since 1895.

The main harbor here, Elliott Bay, is an inlet of Puget Sound. It serves as a sendoff point for many who sail to the San Juan Islands or Alaska — so, naturally, it’s a magnet for salmon anglers and cruising boaters. We’re sure you’ll discover the culture in this city matches the boater lifestyle — a temperate climate, healthy appetite and a love of outdoor activities are three things many residents have in common.

3. Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi, Texas boating

This city has one of the highest square miles of open water of any city in the United States. It makes our list as an up-and-coming destination that may not be on everyone’s radar just yet. The waterfront areas here haven’t always been as busy and bustling as many others on this list. However, in recent years, shopping, restaurants and nightlife have started appearing — while the overall pricing in the area remains affordable. This sweet spot might not last for long.

In addition to fostering a boater’s atmosphere, local laws in Corpus Christi are very favorable for liveaboard boaters. Marinas located along this section of Texas’ Gulf Coast have earned a reputation for being transparent and upfront with rates and regulations, posting them for boaters to see before committing to slips or rentals. Some marinas will give you the opportunity to pay for your slip annually, saving you money over paying monthly.

4. Hampton Roads, Va.

The reason for Hampton Roads making our list comes down to two influential factors — access to the Chesapeake Bay and low boat taxes. This city shares its name with the body of water that surrounds the city, so obviously, boating is a staple here. Due to the city’s location near the Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean and James River, there are several waterfront options. Fishing is a big part of what the locals love to do — and it’s easy to see why when you have options for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Did we mention diving gets rave reviews, and watersports are also popular?

Now let’s talk logistics. As a city in Virginia, Hampton Roads is not only a destination for boaters, but is also very affordable when it comes to boat taxes. The city has the eighth-lowest boat tax in the United States, with a boat sales tax rate of 2 percent, capped at $2,000. Many areas of the Chesapeake Bay offer year-round living in harbors and marinas, due to the protection against harsh weather — and laws in Virginia are also favorable to boat living.

5. Traverse City, Mich.

Traverse City, Michigan tourism

Grand Traverse Bay has an east and west arm, both accessible from Traverse City — Boardman River runs through it. With water playing such a big role in the landscape, it’s easy to imagine why this place makes our list. This place combines big-city amenities and the charm of a tourist town. You’ll find both private and township marinas around both bays with launch ramps and slips — simple launch-and-park options are available at public boating sites.

Wander outside the city to the Traverse City region, and you’ll find about 180 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and 149 lakes with 10 acres or more to explore. While there may be snow in the winter, the climate in this part of the country is ideal for anyone who wants to avoid oppressive heat.

6. Columbia, S.C.

Columbia makes our list because it has one of the lowest costs of living in the United States and is located just 18 miles from Lake Murray, which is called “the water playground for the South Carolina Midlands.” It gets its reputation from residents’ love of water skiing, wakeboarding, cruising and swimming. To accommodate the hundreds and thousands of boats, dozens of marinas line the outer rim. You’ll also find upscale home communities along the rim, so you can choose between living aboard in one of the marinas, in an upscale home on the waterfront or just a short drive away in the city of Columbia.

The history of Lake Murray is worth mentioning — according to Boating magazine, it was formed in 1930 by the Dreher Shoals Dam on the Saluda River. This 41-mile long lake produces electrical energy and is used as the main source of drinking water for Columbia. Yes, it’s a power-producing reservoir, but water level changes are not a big deal — they fluctuate about four feet between a normal summer high and a normal winter low.

7. Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.

Boating on the Lake of the Ozarks

If even the thought of a four-foot fluctuation is enough to scare you away from Lake Murray, perhaps Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri would be a better fit. According to Boating magazine, this lake covers 55,000 acres and measures 90 miles in length. It’s the largest manmade lake that wasn’t built for flood control, so you can be sure water levels will be stable.

In addition to the usual water activities for boaters, you’ll find an aquatic trail that’s almost 10 miles long to lead you on an exploration of several natural communities. You’ll find houseboats are popular here, so if you’re considering living aboard, you’ll be among many others who have chosen to do the same. Not considering giving up your dryland home in retirement? Don’t worry — there are plenty of homes on the lake.

8. San Diego, Calif.

Warm temperatures for boating in San Diego

Anyone who has ever been to Southern California can understand why it’s such an excellent place for boating — that California climate is tough to beat. The area experiences plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures almost every day of the year — without much humidity and the unbearable heat that comes with it. Laws and regulations in this city are favorable to those who are interested in living aboard — and if you’re lucky enough to get a permanent spot in one of the marinas, you’ll enjoy clean and safe marinas.

What’s the catch? The reason San Diego isn’t higher on our list is its cost of living. Whether you’re looking for a place to store your boat or a place to live, prices are higher in San Diego. The price of a slip to accommodate a boat used for living may still beat rent or mortgage prices on land, but it’s sure to be quite a bit more than rent and mortgages in other parts of the country. Consider your finances before deciding on this California destination.

9. Tampa Bay, Fla.

boating sales tax in Tampa Bay

Should you decide to embrace life aboard, Tampa Bay — and nearby St. Petersburg — are welcoming communities to call home. Bonus: Financial planning website WalletHub ranked Tampa one of their best places to retire in Florida last year.

These waterfronts are packed with restaurants, shopping and plenty of recreational activities. Yes, you’d be living on a boat, but you won’t want to spend every moment on your boat — or have to travel miles from the marina to get something to eat, window shop or find something fun to do. Here, you won’t have to do either. Even if you decide you prefer a home on land, having a bustling waterfront nearby is a plus for any boater.

Sales taxes on boats in Florida are somewhat complicated, but they’re also low, which is another perk for this location. We won’t get into the tax details here, but just know that while they make take some studying to learn, they are affordable. Of course, the warm year-round climate doesn’t hurt, either.

10. Chattanooga, Tenn.

Chattanooga won three national awards for outstanding livability due to its $120 million “21st Century Waterfront Plan.” Whether you prefer a river’s moving water or a quiet lake, you’re sure to find a boating paradise in Chickamauga Lake. Though this 60-mile “lake” is actually an impoundment of the Tennessee River, it’s a favorite among boaters, particularly the south end, nearest to Chattanooga. You’ll find plenty of boat launches in Booker T. Washington State Park, right on the lake.

You can also explore the Tennessee River Blueway, which goes for 45 miles, passing through Chattanooga. All along the blueway, you’ll find launch sites to assist you as you plan to explore. Whatever you choose, the two different boating experiences — river and lake — are sure to keep boaters from getting bored.

Tips for Buying a Boat for Retirement

Many decide to retire and travel the United States in their RV, or downsize to a tiny house in their favorite location — so it’s no surprise many others choose to live aboard a boat. Many of the same reasons drive retirees to make all three of these living adjustments in retirement: cost, travel and flexibility.

Those who have spent time boating, or have a love of the water, see the perfect combination of all of these factors in living aboard — and for many, it works well. If you’re considering a life aboard, consider these tips for buying a boat for retirement.

Gid rid of stuff when moving onto a boat

Understand what it truly means to scale down. If you’ve lived in a traditional single-family home for 30 to 40 years, you probably have a lot of stuff. Deciding to live aboard means you have one of two options — paying to put possessions in storage or downsizing significantly. If you’re going by the 10 percent rule, you may be looking at downsizing from 3,000 square feet to 300 square feet. Yes, you can do it, but it’s not easy — and one of the first things you have to come to terms with is getting rid of a lot of your stuff.

Don’t underestimate tight quarters. Yes, smaller is cheaper, but that doesn’t always mean smaller is better. The last thing you want to do is wake up weeks after buying a boat for retirement and realize you constantly feel claustrophobic. You need to figure out the amount of space you and your spouse can live in comfortably.

Consider a long-term charter before you buy. To ensure you know exactly what size boat you need to live comfortably, consider chartering a comparable boat for a trip before buying a boat for retirement. If you’re a boater with experience, go straight for a charter with a longer trip to get a feel for what it would be like to live in that space for weeks at a time. If you’re new to boating, consider beginning with a short charter to see if living on a boat might be feasible for you.

Research every single cost. Chances are your boat will cost less than your house — however, that’s not the only cost to consider. Don’t forget to research the annual maintenance that will need to go into your boat, including insurance, marina fees, applicable taxes, depreciation and dining out, among others. It’s essential to make sure you have established an estimated budget — without overlooking anything — before you decide to live aboard for retirement.

Educate yourself on marinas, mooring balls and anchors. While many may assume living aboard means docking at a marina, that’s not always the case. In fact, in many marinas, there isn’t much space dedicated to liveaboards, which means waiting lists can get lengthy. If you can do without power, cable and gas — and aren’t afraid of wavy conditions — you may consider a mooring ball or anchoring instead.

Do not buy a boat until you know where you’re going to keep it. Making decisions about the boat you’re going to purchase is only a part of the process — often the easier part. The hard part is finding a place to keep it. Once you’ve decided on a location — one of our top 10 destinations, perhaps? — look into the liveaboard licensing requirements and marina, mooring or anchoring availability.

Pros of Living Aboard a Boat

If you take our tips for buying a boat for retirement into consideration and are thorough in your assessment of whether or not living aboard is for you, we’re sure you’re going to love the perks of living on a boat. While it is a complete lifestyle change and doesn’t come without its challenges, here are just a few of the perks of living aboard a boat.

Save money. While there are a lot of costs to consider, living aboard a boat is almost always cheaper once you do the math. The upfront cost of a boat is often less than a home, and the cost of living that comes with it — specifically, utility bills — is almost always cheaper because you’re using less on a boat.

travel more when living on a boat

Travel more. Being able to pick up and go has never been as easy as it is when you live aboard. When you live on a boat, you can be spontaneous and travel anytime you want. Whether you decide on a weekend getaway or want to spend a season in another part of the country, living aboard gives you the ability to do it — often at a reduced cost, since traveling in your boat mostly covers your travel and accommodations. Perhaps the best part is that you get to take your home with you.

Get to know your neighbors. Sure, you always get to know your neighbors to some extent, regardless of where you live. But when you live on a boat, your relationship with them becomes a little more unique — you have a group of people who have chosen the same lifestyle as you, which gives you quite a bit in common. You’re sure to find like-minded people who share in your joys and struggles of living aboard and see them frequently, whether you’re spending a day on the deck or running errands in the community near where you keep your boat.

see amazing views from your boat

See the views. The views that come with living aboard are priceless. You’re closer to nature and can sense that often, but especially during a picturesque sunrise or sunset. While this isn’t a reason to leap into living on a boat, it’s an undeniable perk. We believe those views come with more of a relaxed lifestyle — one that can be an unmatched benefit to those who are ready to escape the working world and embark on retirement.

Buying a Boat for Retirement

Regardless whether you’re considering a life of living aboard, or just searching for a boat to enhance your retirement, there are a lot of factors to consider.

At Formula Boats, we believe in a foundation of excellence, but we also know boaters have different preferences. If you’re buying a boat for retirement, you want a boat that is customized to your wants and needs. Through Formula Boats, you can have it. We give our customers the ability to create their dream boat.

Regardless of your boat customization, you can count on our customer-first approach and our ability to solve problems at local dealerships, official service centers or the technicians who are based at our manufacturing facility. We have a network here to support you.

You can get started by building your boat with our online boat builder — here, you’ll be able to choose from a variety of customizations and see an estimated price for your dream boat. Once you know what you want, you can find one of our dealers to see what’s available or to coordinate the building and delivery of your new boat.

If you have questions about a particular model or feature at any point in your process, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help you as you start this new chapter.