How would you like to live on the high seas, in a community of fellow-minded travellers? The oceans are the last uninhabited and unexplored frontier on Earth, and for good reason — living on the seas is not easy, nor is it cheap!. However, recent decades have seen an explosion of cruise-based travel, and more and more people are spending more of their lives at sea. The time could soon be ripe for the colonization of the oceans.
The Seasteading Institute has recently published a report on the costs of living on the high seas. First, let’s look at what you would get on an ”entry-level” seastead with a capacity of about 300 people:
Your condo at sea
Residential unit: Fully-furnished 600 sq. ft. with the following features:
- Entry foyer with closet
- Galley-style kitchen with attached dining area
- Fridge with icemaker, stove & oven, stainless steel sink, microwave oven, built-in cabinets, pantry, etc…
- Open-air patio
- Living room
- Convertible sleeper sofa, 48″ HDTV, etc…
- Master bedroom with walk-in closet
- Full-size tub, linen closet, etc…
So, quite similar to a modern single-bedroom condo found in the downtown area of your typical city. The final costs would also include:
- Hull & deckhouse
- Accommodations support (HVAC, electrical, etc…)
- Mechanical systems
- Mooring, propulsion, and electrical generation
And then you have operating expenses:
- Maintenance & insurance
How much does it all cost?
So, how much would you pay for all of this?
Fixed cost: $379,000 per unit.
Operating cost: $16,000/year.
This most certainly is not cheap! However, it’s actually not as horrible as it seems. Let’s take a look at the costs for a typical 850 sq. ft single-bedroom condo in a downtown area (yes, I’m not exactly comparing apples to apples here, but living at sea has its own exclusivity and allure).
Fixed cost: $350,000 per unit.
Operating cost: $6,000 tax + $4,200 HOA fees + $2,500 insurance and utilities = $12,700/year.
Add it all up, and there isn’t that big of a price difference between your downtown condo and your seastead condo. If they can actually manufacture seasteads at this price level, it could be attractive for some members of the upper class with the capital to purchase a second home, and it can even be attractive for enterprising and adventurous entrepreneurs with some cash to spare (I assume that banks will probably not be providing cheap credit for these homes at the outset).
As time goes on, the expenditures will decrease through economies of scale and economies of lessons learned over time. As the industry moves past the early-adopter phase, access to credit should also become easier.
What are the benefits of living at sea?
- Experience more freedom. International law is lax compared to national laws and regulations. Prohibitions against murder, theft, and rape remain, of course, but “moral” laws such as prohibitions against gambling, etc…. are relaxed. This is why many cruise ships wait until they are 12 miles offshore before you are allowed to use the casino. At sea, you won’t need to worry about committing most victimless crimes.
- Live on the frontier. The oceans are the last unexplored and uncivilized frontier on the planet. The notion of a frontier is a romantic one to me, conveying images of pioneers and ancient settlers struggling against the elements and spreading civilization. As a bonus, unlike old frontiers such as the Wild West, there is nobody already inhabiting the oceans, so there is no need for the atrocities that occurred during these earlier expansions of one civilization contra another.
- Experiment with new societies and systems. On the ocean, everything is a blank slate ready to be written from scratch. Like the Americas did for Europeans centuries ago, looking to escape absolutism and tyrannical monarchies, the oceans can offer a huge space for experimentation for new legal systems and ideas.
- It’s expensive. This is relative, of course, considering how much of gross income is lost to taxes and fees in a modern Western democracy, but living at sea will not be cheap with all of that maintenance and fuel use. Although taxes are high on land, so are the opportunities to make income, and you receive at least some services for those taxes and fees. It’s a little more difficult to see how someone could acquire resources and make a living at sea unless they had a clear path to external trade with those on land. There would need to be a clear advantage to operating at sea, such as a medical services business or some sort of online business (assuming there’s a good satellite connection, of course!)
- It could be tiring. Watching an endless sea, day after day after day, could get tiring. Unlike a sea-side resort, there are no beaches nor are there any nice coral reefs or other interesting things to see. It would definitely not be a vacation in the same way as a cruise or a stay at a sea-side resort would be.
- It could be dangerous. Most parts of the sea are relatively safe, but there are hot spots like the Gulf of Aden that seasteads will want to steer far clear of. Also, irrespective of what is actually legally permitted on the high seas, seasteads will want to avoid antagonizing superpowers such as the US. Engaging in behavior such as setting up meth labs and exporting drugs may be profitable, but it’s also a sure route to a SWAT team intervention and possibly lives being lost.
Aside from the risk from other humans, there are also risks that come from Mother Nature herself, such as hurricanes and rogue waves.
Living on the high seas
We’re probably still some time away before the first seastead is built, but we are getting closer and the idea is exciting. Seasteading could provide opportunity to thousands of people around with world with new and novel business ideas, and provide a fertile ground for innovation and progress. As the most versatile species on the planet, it’s only a matter of time before humans tame the high seas.
At the same time, there are the environmental costs to consider. A few seasteads burning diesel fuel may be acceptable, but renewable energies will be preferable for lowered reliance on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels. The question is the cost — real estate is at a premium on a seastead, so energy sources will have to be dense and reliable. Some level of reliance on fossil fuels will probably be required.
Then there is the question of waste disposal and the proper management of ocean resources. Perhaps seasteading could provide a key to avoiding tragedy of the commons by creating property where none existed before.
Finally, with the vast amount of experimentation afforded by seasteads, some are bound to run afoul of some people’s set of sensibilities. Like the frontiers of old, this new frontier will also push the limits of our understanding of law, ethics, and morality. It will also greatly further our knowledge, technical understanding, and our civilization as a whole, and possibly even bring a new degree of freedom to this world.
So, reader, what do you think? Could you ever see yourself living at sea on a permanent or semi-permanent basis someday? A seastead of 250 people or less would be a tight-knit community, but would also be too small to offer many amenities. A larger seastead in the range of 5,000 and more would be more interesting and dynamic, like a small city, but likely further in the making. This could definitely be an interesting environment, especially if you could convince family or friends to go along with you.