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Sneakaboards: Too Much Government Regulation?

Where do boaters’ rights end and governmental mandates take charge when it comes to living on boats?

STATEWIDE — The term “sneakaboard” certainly garnered the attention of The Log’s readers. Coverage in our April 20-May 3 issue was an opening salvo, bringing the term “sneakaboard” to the head of the line to explore what it means and why it matters to boaters and harbor managers alike. People living aboard a boat without permission might not be a new topic.

The bigger question is to what extent living aboard one’s boat should be regulated in the first place, if at all. To date there appears to be no answers, let alone a cohesive direction as to how to manage those who seek to live aboard their boats. Is a contractual relationship between liveaboard and marina enough? Should harbors and marinas be more flexible with the mix of liveaboards they allow in light of what elected officials and the media identify as a widespread housing crisis in Southern California?

Readers provided interesting feedback of our coverage, all of them opposing regulation, in one form or another, of living arrangements aboard a vessel.

“With the housing shortage that we are experiencing in California, I am surprised that the ports/cities/marinas have not expanded the percentage of liveaboards allowed,” Lucinda Lilley said on a Facebook share of The Log’s article.

Lisa Barrick, who identifies as a liveaboard, wrote she found the term “sneakaboard” to be misleading.

“As a liveaboard I was expecting to hear about people actually sneaking in and onto other people’s boats, which has been known to happen. It’s the bigger issue, not the vessel owners who decide they want to liveaboard their own property,” Barrick wrote to The Log via Facebook.

Barrick raises fair and valid questions. Is it fair to identify someone who makes his or her boat a residence as a “sneakaboard” (versus someone who might come onto a recreational vessel without the owner’s permission)?

Jed Humphries, another liveaboard, said marinas and harbors should focus their respective efforts on cleaning up abandoned or derelict vessels, instead of cracking down on those seeking to use their boats as a home.

“As someone who has liveaboard, both as a sneakaboard and now as someone who holds a liveaboard permit for my vessel, I can tell you that the main issue is not the sneakaboards who try want to pay for the services that they are using, but the derelict people that buy floating piles of garbage from harbor masters and then further trash the boats, docks and surrounding areas,” Humphries wrote to The Log.

The liveaboard life is a lifestyle decision, according to reader Chris Winter, who also commented on The Log’s Facebook page.

“I am surprised by all the government interference with a chosen way of life,” Winter wrote. “If you are paying for services, space to occupy, utilities and have the ways and means to support it, what business is it of anyone whether you choose to live on your own property?

Boat owners should not be treated as squatters of their own property, according to Capt. Mike Thompson of Six Pac Marine Services.

“It does not surprise me though only in California do you constantly have people interfering and criminalizing otherwise law abiding citizens. To refer to someone as a sneakaboard who has paid and exorbitant amount for their vessel, plus insurance, and ridiculous slip fees, along with state and county property taxes is the most insulting and completely ridiculous accusation or attempt I have ever heard and to compare them to squatters is absolutely insane,” Thompson wrote to The Log.

“Perhaps the marinas, local and state governments should take a look at themselves and their services or lack of before making stupid claims and titles to people who have worked hard and deserve a fair opportunity to live the way they choose,” he continued.

What governments, harbors and marinas often do rely upon, however, is a confined set of laws limiting the rights of liveaboards (for better or worse).

David Weil, who authored The Log’s “Ask The Attorney” column series, regularly stated boat owners and renters had limited rights when it came to living aboard a recreational vessel.

“State and federal law assume that people who live aboard a boat do so as a matter of choice rather than necessity and, as such, liveaboards are not afforded the same protections as people who live in more traditional spaces,” Weil wrote in a 2011 column.

He echoed a similar position nearly four years later, in a column outlining his legal analysis of marina tenancies.

“The bottom line is that a marina tenant, even a liveaboard tenant, is not renting a home.  He or she is simply renting a parking space for a home that they already own,” Weil wrote in his November 2015 column.

But what protections should be afforded to boat owners who choose to live aboard their vessels? Should slips continue to be treated as parking spaces for the purposes of limiting boaters’ rights? Is there a happy medium where some level of basic regulation could co-exist with lifestyle choices of boat owners? What are harbor and marina managers doing to address other issues raised by The Log’s readers?


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6 thoughts on “Sneakaboards: Too Much Government Regulation?

  • wayne ford

    I totally agree with Parimol Rohit. I have had boats in several local marinas and, have always appreciated having some liveaboards in close proximity to help with security. As long as they don’t annoy others or start hanging out laundry or leave extraneous items on the dock, they are more than welcome in my book. One thing I would request though: A no smoking policy on the docks and in their boats. This is a serious problem for the other tenants which can be easily overcome by a simple rule, easily enforced.

    • Clay Chessmore

      I am a legal liveaboard. and my concern would be too many people packed together side by side. Most boats have a built in toilet but not many have a shower so the bathrooms at a harbor would be impacted by too many people. I also would like to see non smoking docks available

  • Bob Eberwine

    The term “sneakaboard” is a totally valid term to indicate individuals that live on a vessel outside the compliance of the marina’s rules and policies. I’ve been on waiting lists for the privilege of living on my boat, and paid liveaboard fees once permission was granted. Where is the fairness to individuals like myself when others break the rules and “sneak” aboard. Marinas should do a better job of policing the situation or just abolish the limitations and let everyone live on their boats if they want. Rules and policies are a waste if they are not enforced.

  • Randy Sysol

    Parimol, as you know, we have been liveaboards as well as full-time cruisers over the past several years. We have seen the disparity between regular homeowners and those who choose to live on their property on the water. It’s interesting that David Weil’s comment regarding renting a space does not apply to RV owners, imagine if only 10% of those folks could live in their vehicles. The RV industry would be up in arms. This is not a California issue either, the same archaic laws apply in other states as well.

    I would love to see someone take up this issue and challenge our government, especially in this time of impossible living costs here in CA.

  • Mary Longpre

    Consideration to where some ‘liveaboards’ try to live on their own boats is necessary in this discussion. Some mooring spots are right in front of Home owners homes. A home owner does not want to be seeing the ‘liveaboards’ on their boats right out in front living and caring on their life. Often ..not always some of these people pee in the bay, throw trash in the bay, and lead a noisy life style with little regard to the home owners who’s front yards they are living in. This is one other aspect of LIVE ABOARDS that happen around So. Calif.

  • Mark Kamerer

    The big complaint I remember hearing about too many live aboard was the effect on the environment. While this may have been true when people were dumping their sewage overboard that is not the case now.
    I do not think the people that live on their boats want to see our harbors decline anymore than anyone else. If anything they would be even more concerned about the ocean environment. The exception may be those that live on moorings away from a dock. its Harder for them to avail themselves to dockside facilities such as restrooms, trash receptacles or showers.



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Standing Watch/Take Action

In this section you will find resources and supplemental information on what you can do to Take Action. Submit additional information or tips on this issue to

Regulating liveaboard activities at our harbors and marinas is an evolving topic. The Log will continue to reach out for additional perspectives in future issues. Boaters, in the meantime, are encouraged to engage in a conversation with harbor/marina managers about what to do about “sneakaboards” at their local waterfronts.

Here is a partial list of local and regional officials – both appointed and elected – who influence public policy of harbors and waterfronts.

Recreational Boaters of California

John Marshall, President

Marine Recreation Association

Mark Sanders, President


Mark Sandoval, Vice President


City of San Diego

Mayor Kevin Faulconer

Francis Barraza


Twitter: @SDMayorsOffice

Port of San Diego

Commissioner Rafael Castellanos

Commissioner Ann Moore

Commissioner Robert “Dukie” Valderrama

Commissioner Marshall Merrifield

Commissioner Garry Bonelli

Commissioner Dan Malcolm

Commissioner Michael Zucchet

San Diego Harbor Police

Officer James Dreher


Orange County Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett (Dana Point)


Supervisor Michelle Steel (Newport Beach)


Newport Beach

Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield


Council member Brad Avery


Port of Los Angeles

Gene Seroka, Executive Director


Long Beach

Council member Suzie Price

Jack Cunningham,


Redondo Beach

Council member Nils Nehrenheim


424-374-7168 (cell)

Marina del Rey

Supervisor Janice Hahn


Twitter: @SupJaniceHahn

Ventura Port District

Commissioner Everard G. Ashworth

Commissioner Brian Brennan

Commissioner James J. Friedman

Commissioner Nikos T. Valance

Commissioner Chris Stephens

Ventura County Board of Supervisors

Supervisor John C. Zaragoza (Oxnard/Channel Islands Harbor)

Bill Gallaher,