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This Ontario family is ditching their house to live on a boat

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After more than a year of dealing with rolling lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions, Jennifer Goulden and her partner Chris Arnold are downsizing. They’re giving up the 3,500-square-foot house they rent in Kitchener, Ont., to move to a 38-foot cruiser yacht docked in Penetanguishene, Ont.

“A boat is basically like a huge RV on water. So you’ve got the best of all worlds,” Goulden tells Global News.

The 1988 boat was “less than the cost of a tiny house” and after that initial investment, she crunched the numbers and the financial impetus to make the move was clear.

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“For less than two months’ rent, we have seven months at the marina. So we’re saving tons of money by moving to the boat,” she says. “Marina fees are roughly $5,000 for the season as compared to $3,000 (monthly) for a house rental.”

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Goulden and her family are part of a growing national trend of new boating enthusiasts. After 14 months of travel restrictions and a fresh focus on outdoor activities during the pandemic, marine experts say interest in boating will be stronger this year than the unprecedented spike in demand for boats last year.

Goulden and Arnold purchased this 1988 cruiser yacht in May. They will be living onboard starting this week. Photo supplied.

This week, Goulden, 45, and Arnold, 50, are auctioning most of their belongings in the house because they can only take “two carloads’” worth of items on the boat. That’s minimal living for two adults, two dogs, two cats and two children who live with them part of the time and can do school online.

They still plan to make the two-hour drive into the city a couple of times a week for work and social activities, but Goulden and Arnold are able to work remotely full-time. She’s a marketing coach and he’s a vocal coach who also directs a capella groups, both self-described “digital nomads.”

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They’ve been testing the connectivity on the boat using mobile hot spots because Arnold describes the Wi-Fi at the marina as “very spotty.” He has already successfully conducted a two-hour meeting on board so they are feeling optimistic.

“We’re also looking at getting a hot spot hub to boost that as well,” Arnold said. “Learning to live with flexibility and change, and being more comfortable with that has definitely been our motto.”

The decision to downsize and move to a boat began as a joke. But within a month, the couple committed to the idea and bought the first boat they viewed, a 1988 yacht cruiser. Within days they had obtained their boating licences and begun lessons.

“I have never driven a boat in my life and I think I may have been on one or two boats as a child,” says Goulden.

Boating frenzy


According to Ian Gilson, the director of the Canadian Safe Boating Council (CSBC), there was an “absolute explosion” of interest in boating in 2020.

“The stay-at-home order delayed things a wee bit but we’re starting to see a ramp-up now. We’re expecting a lot more boaters in 2021 than in 2020,” he said.

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Gilson cites a dramatic increase in the number of boating licences obtained from Transport Canada and says the trend is across the country, from the waters of B.C. to Newfoundland. The CSBC estimates more than 16 million boaters, many of which are new additions during the pandemic, are taking to the water this year.

According to Transport Canada, the number of licences issued for recreational boats tripled in April compared with the same month the previous year and in May is nearly double the number issued in May 2020.

Gilson sees demand for all types of boats, whether for purchase or rent.

“In the marina that I’m at in Bobcaygeon, there’s also significant houseboat rental business. They are absolutely booked solid for the whole summer. And all the marina slips are booked,” he says.

He says the boating frenzy is reflected in increased truck and SUV sales as people purchase vehicles to tow their boats to the water.

With so many inexperienced boaters coming into the fold, Gilson warns against taking “unnecessary risks” like drinking and driving on the water, and allowing kids to dangle their feet off the edge of a boat.

“That small person can go overboard while your boat goes 50 feet. There’s not enough time to prevent a tragedy,” he cautions. “You can also be criminally charged with failing to safeguard the health and safety of your passengers.”

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Mason Guimond, 14, says he learned a lot when he recently passed his boating safety course. Callum Smith / Global News

Bucket list purchase

Over the coming months, Goulden and Arnold are winterizing a trailer, which serves as their cottage, near Grand Bend, Ont. The plan is to live there during the months when the water is frozen over.

Goulden inherited the small dwelling from her mother who died at age 65 after a battle with cancer. Her mother’s land purchase was on her “bucket list,” though she was only able to enjoy the place for a short time before her death.

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Jennifer Goulden and Chris Arnold are saying goodbye to their house in Kitchener. The couple is moving to a 1988 yacht cruiser in Penetanguishene, Ont. Photo supplied.

According to Goulden, the pandemic was the push she needed to make the boat purchase, which is something she can now strike off her own bucket list.

“Life is short and I don’t want to wait another 10 years and do things in ‘the proper order’ or whatever that means,” she says. “I’m a serial entrepreneur so I’m used to jumping off the cliff and building the plane on the way down.”

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