"Snowbirds" will winter in a warm southern climate, and live aboard during Pacific NW summers.

Absentee Boat Ownership

Cruising your own adventure in the Pacific NW doesn’t absolutely require year ‘round residence here. Depending upon the actual amount of anticipated boat use each year, there are several common methods employed by boaters who maintain a permanent residence elsewhere, but look forward to spending a portion of the year aboard their own boat in Pacific NW waters.

Some of the technically “absentee” owners will use a boat more days per year than most local residents. A growing number of “snowbird” retirees keep boats in the Pacific NW, but prefer to winter in Mexico, Arizona, or Hawaii. Snowbirds typically live aboard their boats from April or May through September, enjoying the most pleasant weather our climate has to offer, and avoiding the darker and rainier seasons.

Non-residents with an interest in owning a boat for occasional use in the Pacific NW, and not interested in living aboard during the summer months, will often turn to charter companies for assistance. Charter agencies traditionally prefer medium and larger size family cruising yachts, of reasonably recent vintage and in good condition. There is no charter market for “fixer uppers”. Absentee owners of boats in charter may find that charter income covers the expenses for moorage, maintenance, and insurance, as well as helps amortize a boat loan or provide a modest return on invested cash.

Charter boat owners simply ask the charter agency to reserve their personal use of the vessel on the charter schedule. Whether a week, two weeks, or a month of personal use is desired, charter boat owners can enjoy having their own boat without enduring all of the associated costs.

Absentee owners will want to make particular arrangements for storing a boat between uses. If a storm blows in, it isn’t practical for a boat owner wintering in Phoenix to “run down to the marina and double check the lines”. Upland, “dry storage” facilities may be a better option than mooring in a slip when a boat is going to be unused during the winter months. Dry storage is typically less expensive than slip moorage, and part of the savings can be used to winterize the boat. Shrink wrapping a boat stored “on the hard” for the winter will help maintain the exterior appearance.

If a boat is moored in a slip for the winter, it is important to have somebody available to keep an eye on it. A fender that flips out of place or a worn out dock line can be a prelude to a cosmetic (or worse) disaster. Batteries must remain charged to power bilge pumps. Most boaters leave a heater on a very low setting or a dehumidifier aboard to prevent freezing or reduce moisture during the winter months. Even when a boat is not being used, it must be checked periodically to assure that all is well.

Charter companies will typically keep a winter watch on vessels in their charter fleet. Snowbirds who do not put boats into charter will usually rely on friends who winter in the Pacific NW to monitor an unused boat, and there are several marine professionals offering similar services. For ultimate peace of mind, software and systems are available to electronically monitor vessel systems, capture real time video images, and transmit the results to a boat owner’s computer screen anywhere in the world.