01/13/2013 04:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

South Floridians Live Out Dreams And Avoid Property Taxes By Living On Boats

When visiting Harry Powell's home, where does one knock? There's no doorbell, no front door.

A visitor has to carefully climb a short wooden ladder, maneuver around ropes and hatches to finally land on his teak deck. Then just call out his name.

For Powell and his fellow seafaring South Florida neighbors, home is where they hang their life jackets.

They are liveaboards, people who live on boats, enjoying the "Jimmy Buffett lifestyle." And winter is their high season, when local marinas get a wave of aquatic transplants dropping anchor for the warmer weather. Many of them are out-of-town regulars who become members of floating neighborhoods of old salts, divorced men, couples and families. Others are locals who head to the water to save money, or live out a dream.

At Marina Bay in Fort Lauderdale, there are about 20 annual liveaboards and about 15 new ones this winter. Their vessels average 30 to 50 feet, said Jason Taplin, the marina's general manager.

It's not a lifestyle just for anyone, he said. Some cabins are big enough for a double bed. Closet space is limited, so clothes are stored in cubby holes or in parked cars at the marina. Liveaboards must squeeze into small bathrooms and showers in their vessels, or head to the marina to freshen up.

But seasoned and novice liveaboards don't sweat the small stuff.

"This is why," said Sande Strong, pointing across the Intracoastal Waterway, under the sun-filled sky at City Marina in Delray Beach. More than half of the slips here are occupied by liveaboards, and there's a waiting list. Slips are typically on a first-come, first-serve basis. Some marinas also have boat-size restrictions.

Strong, 69, and husband James sat in recliners on the deck of their 52-foot cruiser, "Miss Sande," on a recent morning.

"Isn't it beautiful back here?" she said. "As we got older, we wanted to live on a boat."

"Before we got too old," added James Strong, 73, a retired restaurateur whose daughter runs the family business, Sande's in Delray.

Aboard their vessel, the couple have all the amenities of city living: a washer and dryer, dishwasher, fireplace and DirecTV. They pay $900 a month in rent to the marina. They park a few feet away from their slip. They have a Shih Tzu named Emma and cat named Louie.

"You don't have a basement. You don't have an attic, but you don't take a lot of stuff with you," Sande Strong said.

The couple said they also save on property taxes by living on the water. "All you do is pay rent," said Sande Strong.

In Dania Beach, first-time liveaboards Jocelyne Chretien and Jean Denis Boucher are also enjoying their aquatic lifestyle.

"It's just a different way of living," said Chretien as she and her husband relaxed in the back of their 36-foot, blue-and-white sailboat, the "Bourdoux," which represents an old family name.

They docked at the Royale Palm Yacht Basin in November, after leaving Lake Champlain in September. The couple live just outside Montreal and have been traveling down the coast, making stops in Atlantic City and Norfolk before arriving in Broward County.

"The backyard is my universe," said Chretien, a retired notary who has been sharing the couple's adventures -- including close-ups with colossal cruise ships in Port Everglades -- with family and friends on their website,

"The view always changes. You don't have a street or a garage in front of you all the time. Today, it's this view," she said, pointing to the bobbing boats in the basin. "Tomorrow, it's a dolphin on the side of your boat or a sea turtle."

"You don't rely on anybody but yourself," added her first mate, a labor relations lawyer, propping open the berth's hidden compartments filled with bottled water, soda, chips, canned foods, coffee and fruits.

When the couple need some space, he sits on the bow of the boat to play games on his iPad, while she reads books in the back.

"I won't see him and if there's a plane, I won't hear him," said Chretien, jokingly. "We don't have to speak to each other."

Of the 60 boat slips here, 20 belong to liveaboards. Marina manager Ron Marone sees about a 20 percent increase in liveaboards during the winter months. Average monthly rent here is $700 to $800, which includes parking, restrooms and showers. Electricity is metered. Boaters are charged per foot of their vessel depending on the length of stay: $20 a foot per month for a boat up to 60 feet during season.

"This is the season. We get travelers from Canada, all over the West Coast and the New York area," said Marone, whose office overlooks a floating neighborhood. Boat names reflect the liveaboard lifestyle: "No Horizon," "Travelin' Man" and "Escape."

Harry Powell's floating flat is "Hatches," a 44-foot-long, wine- and white-hued sailboat, so named because it has seven hatches.

"I had never seen a boat with so many hatches," said Powell, 76.

As he prepared his morning coffee one recent morning, Powell explained the story behind his move to the water 19 years ago: a divorce from his wife in Bermuda.

"It was a dream to go sailing and I figured, let me try it for a year. It was so nice," said Powell, a retired electronics businessman.

"You can be anchored or you can be sailing," he said. "It's freedom." or 954-356-4939 ___