Life at sea and at the edge of the law

Life aboard a boat offers affordability, but can cause environmental concerns

Shawn Green lives aboard a 30-foot boat which he’s restoring.

The ad on usedvictoria.com proclaimed a very affordable rental available for only $280 a month, and with an ocean view, no less. One line in the ad read the rental would best suit someone “with a sense of adventure.”

Another ad offered a chance to own a residence for only $9,000. It’s a 27-foot sailboat, built in 1974 and in need of a bit of “cosmetic work.”

In light of rental costs and the prices in Oak Bay’s real estate market, the option of very affordable live-aboard accommodations has become a lure to people of all ages and walks of life.

Shawn Green, 27, is one of those people. He’s lived on the water for three-and-a-half years and he says, it’s a lifestyle that suits him perfectly.

Green started out on a 25-foot plastic boat but soon moved up to a more spacious 30-foot boat in which he’s lived since. Green works at a local organic farm and, when he has time, he pursues a labour of love as he refurbishes his boat.

“She originally cost me $20,000, but I’ve sunk another $10,000 in since then; and it’ll likely cost me another $10,000 to get it to where I want it,” he said. He has already used his boat to circumnavigate Vancouver Island, and hopes to get it to the point where he can sail around the world.

In the meantime, he lives on the water and according to Green, there’s no life like it. “I’m 27-years-old and own my home in Victoria. Not too many people can say that,” he said.

Technically, what Green is doing violates Oak Bay municipal bylaw 5.1.1 (10) that states the surface of the sea under Oak Bay jurisdiction (approximately 500 metres offshore) cannot be occupied by “any moveable structure when such objects are used for sleeping or dwelling purposes.”

According to Mayor Nils Jensen, it’s not an acute problem for the community.

“We don’t wear tweed here as much as we did in the old days,” Jensen said with a laugh. “There’s a lot more spandex and bikes these days.” Jensen said that there are all kinds of good, responsible people who choose the live-aboard lifestyle, but was quick to state that some live-aboards can be problematic, particularly if the residents of the boats are irresponsible.

“There are some issues with discharges from boats, and it’s a problem when derelict boats break free and wash ashore, but again, it’s nothing near being an acute problem in our community.”

Oak Bay realtor Scott Piercy also acknowledges there are a lot of good boat owners out there. “I have a friend who lives aboard at the marina, so I don’t want to lump them all into the same category,” he said.

Piercy thinks some regulations need to be put into place to deal with permanently anchored, derelict boats. “It’s a bit of the Wild West out there (on the water) as far as live-aboards go,” he said. “We need some regulations that acknowledge the responsible live-aboards but deal with the guy with the derelict catamaran covered with a blue tarp. It’s not fair to a home owner in the Uplands, paying a lot of property taxes to have the boat with a blue tarp anchored off shore in front of his house.”

However enforcement is a problem. “It’s sometimes hard to prove that someone is living aboard,” said Ray Thomassen, director of building and planning for Oak Bay. “And sometimes, if we do start to check, they just move somewhere else.”

Thomassen acknowledged there are sensible boat owners but agreed that the derelict boats are not welcome. “Some are out there, just waiting to sink,” Thomassen said. “They lose their anchors in a storm and end up on the beach where we have to clean them up.”

When the derelict boats do wash up onto the beach, they are rarely claimed. “I’ve never had one claimed in 30 years,” said Phil Barnett, superintendent of public works. “It happens a few times every year. If the boat is worth something, the owners patch them up and get them off the beach pretty quickly. If they’re left there, they were never worth anything to start,” he said. “Then the municipality has to pay to have them removed. It can cost $3,000 or $4,000.”

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