Unique Spaces: The Live-Aboards of Gangplank Marina

by Jennifer Sergent

With this weekend's DC houseboat tour a day away, UrbanTurf thought it only fitting to republish the article that we wrote last June about the Gangplank Marina, which gave readers a sense of what it is like to live on the water all year round.

The article (see below) was part of UrbanTurf's Unique Spaces series, where we take a look at properties that could be considered “one-of-a-kind” in the DC area. If you have a home that you think fits the bill, send an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). See all of our past Unique Spaces articles here.

Not all of DC’s residential communities are “on the hard.” That’s how residents of the 100 live-aboard boats at The Gangplank Marina in Southwest refer to buildings built into the earth. The homes of Gangplank Marina bob up and down with the daily tides – and the occasional motorboat that violates the no-wake zone.

The live-aboards (boats that serve as year-round residences) comprise about one-third of all the boat slips (the areas where boats are docked) available at the marina, making the Gangplank Marina the largest live-aboard community on the east coast, according to General Manager J. Nickerson. Nickerson told UrbanTurf that residents over the years have included members of Congress, agency heads, artists, and “just regular folk.”

“I think it makes the marina a really unique community,” he said. Gangplank surely is the only live-aboard marina across the street from a renowned theater (Arena Stage), and with a priceless view of national monuments.

Unique Spaces: The Live-Aboards of Gangplank Marina: Figure 1
A Live-Aboard Boat at The Gangplank Marina

“The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial are like my lawn ornaments,” says Julianne Waesche, a real estate agent with McEnearney Associates who lives on the end of I dock, which also provides her with sweeping, corner-lot views of the Potomac River and Hains Point.

Waesche and her neighbors are an exclusive group: As of three years ago, the marina put a cap on the 100 live-aboard slips, which meant the people who had been on a five-year waiting list were out of luck, unless a current resident sells his or her live-aboard-designated boat.

While living right on the water may sound like complete paradise, Gangplank Marina is not without its cons. Snowmaggedon may have crushed some landscaping and caused leaky roofs on land, but the heaping snow made one office barge in the marina fall on its side into the water, pulling part of the floating dock where it was moored down with it.

The other con is aircraft noise. Many residents of Georgetown and the Palisades regularly hear airplanes fly overhead toward Reagan National Airport, but it’s nothing like the sound of helicopters streaking down the river every few minutes, day and night. There is one bonus Waesche says: “When there’s three of them together, you know it’s the president.”

Unique Spaces: The Live-Aboards of Gangplank Marina: Figure 2
Julianne Waesche and her dog Bruno, in their “front yard” – the Potomac River and Hains Point.

However, everyday amenities and recreation are not out of reach. The big recent news for the marina neighborhood came when a gleaming new Safeway opened within walking distance, replacing the “armpit” that had previously been there.

“It was like a Wal-Mart opening in a small town,” Waesche says.

As for recreation, residents don’t have to go far. Waesche loads her dog Bruno onto a dinghy and rows over to Hains Point with her in-line skates, where they do three laps around the point – 10 miles total.

So how much does it cost to live in this little waterbound community? Well, years ago Waesche paid $30,000 for a very run-down boat that came with the slip, and put $30,000 in improvements into it. She pays between $800 and $900 per month in fees for the slip, its live-aboard status, and the privilege of “living on the T” – the end of the dock. Prices aren't that cheap anymore as a home recently went on the market for $178,000.

Aside from her front-row view of the July 4th fireworks and the cherry blossoms when they are in full force, Waesche appreciates her home for the relative calm that it offers.

“You never get the feeling that you’re living in the city.”

Former UrbanTurf contributor Jennifer Sergent is the brains behind the DC By Design blog, and is the marketing director of the Washington Design Center.

Here is a video of the Gangplank Marina and below are a series of photos of Waesche’s boat.

Unique Spaces: The Live-Aboards of Gangplank Marina: Figure 3
Living Room

Unique Spaces: The Live-Aboards of Gangplank Marina: Figure 4

Unique Spaces: The Live-Aboards of Gangplank Marina: Figure 5

Unique Spaces: The Live-Aboards of Gangplank Marina: Figure 6
Desk in Bedroom

See other articles related to: unique spaces, southwest waterfront, gangplank marina

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/unique_spaces_the_live_aboards_of_gangplank_marina/2154


  1. Edward said at 4:18 am on Thursday June 10, 2010:
    Ah, what a life! These folks are all extremely lucky.
  1. Swimming said at 2:52 pm on Thursday June 10, 2010:
    The summers would be amazing, but spending the whole winter on a boat would be tough.
  1. Nick said at 5:59 pm on Thursday June 10, 2010:
    Actually both are tough, in my opinion. I have a friend that lives down there (bought in 2008) and it gets hot as hell during the summer and cold as hell during the winter. Also, boat ownership is a real pain in the ass from what I can tell - everything seems to break every other day and it is expensive as hell to fix. That being said, if I could get one for a reasonable price with decent square footage I would do it in a heartbeat. It is just such an amazing lifestyle and that area is only going to get better. Thanks for the post, Jennifer!
  1. Janson said at 6:39 pm on Thursday June 10, 2010:
    I was tempted to live there instead of buying a box "on the hard" and talked at length to a colleague that had lived there for many years, looked at a few boat houses listed there and even got my name on the waiting list. The pros for living there were long and the cons short: I didn't think my carless friends would be willing or able to get there, the walkable neighborhood resources weren't very good and the I-495 bridge was too low to get a sailboat in an out of the Basin. Well, I blew it. The new bridge is much taller, Safeway was renovated, and the waterfront development will drive better mass transit. I like where I am, but boy, I'm sure the regret will continue to grow. As to living there in the winter: a well-insulated houseboat is a lot more comfortable and cheaper to heat (and cheaper to buy) than a drafty brownstone! Great feature, by the way!
  1. Brian said at 10:35 pm on Thursday June 10, 2010:
    Great story. I thought about doing this about 7 years ago. It sounds like it was much cheaper than. I was scared by the prospect of spending winter on a boat, but like the other commenters, I was just guessing what it would be like.
  1. Marilyn said at 2:19 am on Saturday June 12, 2010:
    I lived many years ago, right out of college at James Creek Marina, when it had liveaboards. Not so easy during winter, when the river was frozen and during low tide, you couldn't reach the dock. But, what an adventure it was!!
  1. Shannon Steele said at 6:05 pm on Monday June 14, 2010:
    In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say up front that my barge-style houseboat (one of the few remaining in the marina) is currently for sale, so perhaps I have a bias. However, I lived aboard in the Gangplank full time for seventeen years, until recently moving to Florida. I can say with certainty that marina life was the best living decision I ever made. In my opinion, what makes it so special is the live-aboard community itself. The marina enjoys an eclectic mix of individuals from all walks of life, at all stages in life, and with an easy, accepted diversity that is seldom seen anywhere. There's always a party going on if you want one, and a helping hand if you need one. It is a very special environment that you have to experience to really appreciate. On top of that, you can easily walk or bike to the Metro, Safeway, other shops, and even the Mall. Or, you can hop in your dingy and visit your neighbors by boat, cruise down to the Georgetown wall, take in a sunset or pick up some fresh seafood at the waterfront market. Plus, there are no leaves to rake, and no snow to shovel (OK, other than about 15 feet of finger pier leading to your boat). As far as heating and cooling goes, the barge-style boats are insulated and heated/air conditioned like houses, so they can easily be kept as hot or cold as you like, and typically at a lower cost. They have voluminous living spaces similar to an apartment, and there's no machinery to maintain. The drawback, of course, is that you can't take your "home" out for a cruise when the mood strikes, and they tend to be a little more expensive than "regular" boats. However, even with traditional boats, many experienced boaters insulate them in ways that make them quite comfortable in severe weather, so the choice is really yours. In summary, while living aboard may not be for everyone, most people I've known during my 17 years in the marina who gave it a try would agree with me that it is by far the best way to live in the city.
  1. Tammy Gordon said at 3:48 am on Tuesday June 15, 2010:
    I really wanted a liveaboard barge at Gangplank but the financing seemed daunting and the prospect of it being 'slip-less' during SW waterfront renovation scared me off. Was I too quick to dismiss? I'm still on the market so tell me if you have advice. I'd LOVE to do it!
  1. JP said at 9:03 am on Sunday January 23, 2011:
    I am relocating to Los Angeles, I have lived there before as I work in Hospital Leadership and have had the privledge in living in an upscale luxery apartment with doorman and beutiful people everywhere. As I conduct business and entertainment we visited the Long Beach Harbor for dinner and festivities often. I longed for what it would be like to live aboard a comfortable and roomy barge or yacht in the Long Beach Harbor. My wife and I have walked along the peers gazing at the boats, many are for sale, none for lease or for rent to live aboard, but the issue is getting a slip in Southern California, let alone a live aboard slip. The harbor master says it is nearly impossible for new leases for live aboards and very expensive. Any thoughts?
  1. layla said at 8:00 pm on Friday August 12, 2011:
    Gangplank community is frickin awesome. Some of the most down to earth folks I ever met - in DC of all places. And next door to the wharf. Ahhhhhh
  1. Matt Steele said at 6:50 pm on Thursday May 3, 2012:
    I'm interested in buying a live-aboard. Any publications to find such, in DC? Much appreciated.
  1. Mary said at 7:13 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    Dunno if there are specialized ones. Craigslist and MRIS seem to be listing one FSBO down at Gangplank right now, but I don't know how you'd go about looking in Alexandria, etc. http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/doc/reo/3039976241.html
  1. Mary Margaret Delaney said at 5:30 am on Tuesday January 15, 2013:
    How do I rent a houseboat in Washington DC to live aboard? I've lived on one before.
  1. melissa RW said at 8:47 pm on Monday April 29, 2013:
    Renting is not an option offered in the Marina. In order to Live there, a boat must be bought that has Liveaboard Status. The prices range from 30,000 to upwards of 450,000. Most boats up for sale are on Craiglist or you can contact Gangplank Marina office for more information. I am a current resident and Love it! There are few places anywhere you can honestly say " I know more than half of my neighbors". There are monthly parties given by the yacht club for memebers and friends. There is a Potluck every thursday. Movie nights will be starting soon and more. We watch out for each other and have each others backs. It is more than a community, it is a family.
  1. Annette Nielsen said at 2:51 am on Tuesday June 25, 2013:
    We live nearby in Tiber Island and are looking for a place at Gangplank with liveaboard status. Would love to know if there are any opportunities to purchase? annettenielsen@mac.com
  1. Kathleen said at 2:46 pm on Sunday June 30, 2013:
    Its just me now so I would love to live at Gangplank. Surely someone must be renting out their place? Please contact me.

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