Unfortunately, sometimes we're not on the water . . . we're in the yard. Can you really live aboard and cook? Yep!

The Galley on the Hard

Is it possible to live aboard your boat when it’s hauled out?  The first time we hauled — just for a few days to paint the bottom — my inclination was to say no, just because I was terrified of ladders.  Heights didn’t bother me, ladders did.

However, once we started investigating motels within walking distance, I decided that I really didn’t want to spend $50 a night plus the expense of eating all our meals out.  I’d deal with the ladder.

The yard we were in (Marina del Palmar — aka Abaroa’s — in La Paz, Mexico) had a nice bathroom with tons of hot water for the showers, and a wonderful outdoor sink for dishes. The only bad thing was having to go down the ladder every time we needed the bathroom — even in the middle of the night!

I figured out a bunch of things in those few days.  Six months later we hauled for a total of four months on the hard as we did major work on the boat — replacing the teak decks with fiberglass, painting the boat, rigging upgrades and more — and we stayed aboard all but a few days when the boat was being painted.  That totally got me over my fear of ladders!

Tips for living aboard and cooking aboard while in a boatyard -- yes, it really can be done!Four months of living on the hard taught me a lot about the “galley issues” that arise when living on a boat up in the air.  A few tips (and please add any of your own in the comments below):

  • It’s not really a galley issue, but it’s much easier to go up and down the ladder multiple times a day if the ladder is the proper length and placed so that the top rung is right at the gunwale (because I took the photo from the ground, the photo doesn’t look like the ladder rung is at the same level as the top of the gunwale, but it is).  Not having to step up and over and not having the top step a few inches below the gunwale makes it a lot safer.  Of course, make sure that the ladder is securely tied to the boat at the top — and it’s best to tie both sides of the ladder so that it can’t twist or flip over if you lose your balance a tiny bit and put all your weight on one side.
  • Again, not really a “galley issue” except as you may be coming up the ladder with a load of provisions — as you step aboard from the ladder, don’t use the lifeline stanchions as grab bars (same as getting aboard from the dock or dinghy).  Constantly pulling on them can cause leaks.
  • We discovered several ways of getting provisions aboard, depending on what it was.  The easiest is to put things in a day pack and carry it up on your back, which leaves both hands free.  Don’t just sling the daypack over one shoulder, as it will swing as you go up the ladder and possibly throw you off balance.
  • With two of us, one would often go part way up and the one on the ground could hand lightweight items to the person on the ladder, who could then set them on deck.  But don’t try this with heavy items as they can throw you off balance and off the ladder!
  • For dirty/clean dishes to and from the washing sink, we’d put everything in a 5-gallon bucket and use a line to haul it up and lower it down.  For small heavy items, we’d do the same but use the block and tackle from the outboard crane (using an extender strap from the hook when necessary).
  • Okay, the good news — no need to conserve water when doing dishes at the yard sink!
  • We’d also use the bucket and our large dry bags to hold other items and either the line by itself or the crane . . . you can get pretty creative when you have to!
  • Power aboard was never a problem, as the yard provided a shore power connection.  We could use as much as we wanted, which meant we had refrigeration (you would not have refrigeration, however, if you only have engine-driven refrigeration — see my article on this).
  • Water was also not a problem, as we were able to fill our tanks whenever we wanted with exactly the same “good” water that was available on the dock.
  • But there was that issue of water drains . . . a few boats opted to use their drains as normal, with a 5-gallon bucket below which would catch most of it.  We never did that (for one thing, we didn’t want water on the keel as it was being prepped to paint and second because there was always a lot of water that missed the buckets — yuck!).  Instead, I kept a 5-gallon bucket in the galley and a dish tub in the sink.  Any spilled water just went into the tub, and I’d dump it into the 5-gallon bucket (along with the dirty dishes) to go down to the washing sink.  Any cooking water that I’d normally put down the drain just went into the 5-gallon bucket, too.  As long as you don’t let the bucket get over about half full of water, it’s not hard to lower on a rope without spilling.
  • Garbage and trash were exactly the same as when we were in the water, with the bonus that we had a convenient place to dump both whenever we wanted.  It’s a good idea to get rid of both (particularly garbage) as often as possible so that bugs don’t find any food source.
  • Cooking was the same as in the water, except that I didn’t have to deal with any movement of the boat.
  • If you like to grill, ask the yard first — many have policies against grilling on the hard, particularly if you use charcoal.
  • Be particularly vigilant in watching for “critters” — ants, cockroaches and mice.  Some yards are known for bad infestations and they’ll climb up the jackstands and ladders to get aboard.  If you spot any, take action immediately.
  • Another boat in the yard taught us a great way to avoid those middle-of-the-night trips down the ladder to the bathroom. We got a 5-gallon bucket with a lid and put it in the head as an overnight “pee bucket.” In the morning, we’d flush it down the toilet in the restroom.
While I’m not going to say that I just loved living on the hard, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated.  While quality of work and price are bigger considerations in choosing a yard, don’t totally overlook the facilities for living aboard (and there are some yards that prohibit it!).  A good shower facility and place to wash dishes can go a long ways in how you feel about your stay, as well as access to grocery stores, chandleries and even the “cruiser social scene” if you are going to be there more than just a few days.

  • Vicki Shumaker
    Posted at 04 January 2013 Reply

    thank you Carolyn . this subject has been looming heavily in my mind as we consider our first liveaboard haul out this next summer . I wasn’t even sure it was possible .

  • Jeanne W
    Posted at 10 January 2013 Reply

    We just went on the hard this morning, at Atalanta in La Paz. No hot showers or much in the way of facilities, but with a transmission issue, this one was right next to the marina! Tonights dinner dorado and spanish rice – left over rice with a box of salsa on top served on paper plates. A one pot meal for easy clean up! Eileen Quinn’s song, “Life on the hard” … is!

  • Georgina Moon
    Posted at 27 August 2013 Reply

    Interesting article. Reminds me of when we lived aboard our yacht Fandancer for 15 months out of the water in a yard after we bought her, for a total renovation. Had no floor in cockpit due to engine removal, and had planks in saloon to walk on while water tanks replaced. Also four inches of snow on deck and six inch icicles nagging fom the hull ….. happy days!

  • Linda Nagle
    Posted at 27 August 2013 Reply

    We always live aboard when on the hard. You just learn to adapt as you did.

  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 13 July 2014 Reply

    Not a fun time, but you covered it well.

  • Jan Alexander
    Posted at 13 July 2014 Reply

    We use a spare length of hose of a diameter that fits inside our galley sink drain and lead the hose into a bucket. We empty the bucket every day but it allows dish washing as normal, no muss no fuss. You could do the same with a head sink drain, but while we are on the hard, we just use the galley sink for everything. We splash tomorrow after a relatively painless two weeks out 🙂

  • Becky Croston
    Posted at 13 July 2014 Reply

    Beware of toxic fumes –my husband stayed aboard while fiberglassing and the fumes made him sooo ill!

  • Jan Alexander
    Posted at 13 July 2014 Reply

    If you can’t find the right diameter hose, wrap some duct tape several times around one end to make a smaller hose fatter.

  • CherylAnn Falconer
    Posted at 14 July 2014 Reply

    Hoo to know as we plan on it in the future !! All good tips . thanks for sharing !!

  • Ed Robinson
    Posted at 15 July 2015 Reply

    We spent six days living on the yard last year. Hated it!

  • Page Escallier
    Posted at 15 July 2015 Reply

    Just got back in the water 2 days ago after 5 on the hard. Strange experience…moving around the boat felt so different. We were very conscious of the different sounds compared to our marina. The bucket was our solution for the middle of the night as well. Glad to be back on the water…:D

  • Mary Dixon
    Posted at 10 May 2016 Reply

    We put a porta potty ($50 at Walmart) in our shower when in the boatyard. We store it with other stuff in a storage facility close to the boatyard when not using it. Easy to take it to the yard restroom for emptying. We use the yard showers when in the yard so giving up the shower space is ok.

  • Bill Dixon
    Posted at 10 May 2016 Reply

    We use a portapotty instead of a 5 gallon bucket. Used food and drink is securely contained with a nice handle.

  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 10 May 2016 Reply

    Good thoughts. We use a night bucket when on the hard, and usually eat out as the trade off for living at home and not having to pay hotel bills.

  • Liz
    Posted at 10 May 2016 Reply

    We’re in the hard in Trinidad right now. I am very thankful that one of our two toilets is a composting head, so no climbing down ladder for toilet issues. Also, we stuck a decently fitting hose into the hole on the outside of the boat where our sinks drain. This hose carries any sink drain water out away from the boat so it doesn’t dribble down the side of the hull or leave a big puddle beneath the boat. The hose doesn’t actually reach the ground, it just sticks straight out of the side of the hull about 2-3 feet, roughly parallel with the ground, and just happens to empty onto a gravel patch so avoids a big goopy puddle or wetness against hull we’re having worked on. I would have preferred a longer hose that went all the way to the ground and could be routed to a dedicated drainage area. But, instead of buying something expensive, we just found an old hunk of spare hose that happened to fit in the hole and worked “well enough.”

  • Jerri Miller
    Posted at 26 December 2017 Reply

    You are an inspiration.

  • Trailer Trawler Life
    Posted at 26 December 2017 Reply

    Yes, we’ve stayed in our boat several times while getting the bottom painted. Also, we use our trailerable boat, a Ranger Tug, as an RV,staying in RV parks, while driving cross country to new cruising grounds.


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