June 4, 2009

Condo Cruise Ship Challenges

Thanks to a connection of Wayne’s, he & I got to talk to a long-time ResidenSea resident this afternoon, and I now know enormously more about the challenges of operating a condo cruise ship. Fascinating!

The challenges are daunting. ResidenSea, where the condo fees are like $200K/unit/year for the smaller units, is barely able to handle the logistical issues of traveling constantly, all over the world. Having to deal with resupply and customs and immigration and port fees and staffing and bringing in timeshare guests when you only spend a few days in each port and don’t come back for years is just a nightmare. Think of the difference between a cruise ship on a fixed loop, which gets its food in the exact same US port every 1-2 weeks, probably a central distributor for the cruise company that owns it, vs. a ship that resupplies in a different city in a different country every week! (If you are hungry for more details, I will eventually be publicly posting the bizplan/research document I am developing, which will include them).

The issues reminded me of Jim Rogers’ book Adventure Capitalist, which James & I were recently given – he faced many similar logistical issues in his 2-year trip by car around the world.

On the plus side, the challenges do not apply to seastead cities which stay in a fairly fixed location, and there are ways to mitigate them for a condo cruise ship, although they make it less appealing to residents. Specifically, if we travel in fixed loops, even fairly large ones (like spending half the year in northern hemisphere & half the year in southern), so that we deal with the same 10-20 ports every year, we can build up local relationships and knowledge that will significantly reduce these problems. Or we can use a different strategy than “residential ship traveling the world” – like following a small loop (SoCal -> Mexico), or simply sitting offshore, as Carl Palsson and Wayne have suggested.

Lots more research to be done before we can recommend or price out a strategy, but this has been a big leap forward in my knowledge!

14 Comments on “Condo Cruise Ship Challenges

June 5, 2009 at 4:57 am

I believe that our first SeaStead should be a small, humble (but reliable) used cruise ship that spends most of its time inching along at sea – just outside of the territories of the US and the Bahamas. This strategy would offer the advantages of limiting fuel consumption, providing maximum sovereignty, and avoiding immigration/docking hassles.

It would be best if the ship were accessible by helicopter if not only by shuttle (seaboat?). If it were to travel along the east coast (but outside of any territory) in an annual cycle (NY to the Bahamas), it would be accessible to individuals nearest that point for that time of year. Timeshares could be distributed accordingly, because the annual route would be known in advance.

If the price of the vessel is low enough, TSI could purchase it with commitments from aficionados alone, who could sublet thier cabins. TSI could assist them in placing a multitude of interested parties who each wish to secure a cabin or two for one or more weekly segments. In doing so, TSI would itself have sufficient commitments at all levels to secure the vessel.

Also, as I understand SOLAS, it does not apply to a condo or timeshare that is not used commercially, so costly SOLAS refurbishments would not be necessary. Thus, a cheaper noncompliant cruise ship could be purchased instead. Cruise ships are commercial, timeshares are not.

June 5, 2009 at 3:14 pm


Hello everyone,
I have a confession to make. I’m a LURKER! I’ve been lurking around here for months, but this topic and ResidenSea…stead: Ships Revisited brought me out of the closet=)
Sooo, what I am trying to figure out here is where is TSI going? I understand the need for a ship and I will come back to that in a moment. What I am trying to figure out is how do we go from an immobile sea stead platform to roaming the seven seas with a cruise ship. I thought this was about sustainability, building a better place, in one place possibly moving when it becomes necessary? Staying in one place would be good for any aquaponics/aquaculture business or any business for that matter that has goods to sell, if they wanted to be able to create a relationship with mainland buyers.
 Now when it comes to operating a cruise ship, you need to have a licensed crew. The same would happen on a freighter, but the crew needs are much smaller. Whether you have a cruise ship or freighter isn’t going to matter once you start taking on passengers. When you hit a certain number of passengers on a freighter (and I believe it is 20) you fall under the rules for cruise ships… now ResidenSea may not be classified as a cruise ship because it’s cabins are owned by the occupants(If I understand the concept correctly. This really needs to be looked into by a maritime lawyer.)
Personally, I would say go with the freighter and look to the past for construction ideas, specifically the wedding cake superstucture. Modern day cruise ships are top heavy and only ride at around 25ft of draft as opposed to the older liners like the Norway, which had a 28ft draft. May not sound like much, but it makes all the difference in the world for stability and smooth ride.
Follow this link to see a large bulk freighter that would make a good candidate. I know this is very large but, it would fit the needs of a group of 500 living and working onboard in various industries…and the price is right
Add 3 more decks in the wedding cake style onto the main beck and rebuild the cargo holds (which should yield 4 more levels at least) and you have one large space with multiple levels. Figure you are looking at a deck space of 650ft by 130ft per deck at the first 4 decks, that size with the addition of the proper lighting on the lowest deck, would make the perfect aquaponics set up, using the weight of the fish tanks as ballast. I don’t believe a cruise ship could provide the same space with out a major overhaul that would be harder to accomplish because of all the fittings already installed for hotel services. Also the wedding cake style superstucture adds room for solar and plantings on those decks as well as keeps the weight centered. The addition of a set of positioning thrusters would alleviate the need for a mooring system. Add on the required safety devices (I recommend building out to the latest SOLAS requirements) and a launch system for a couple of small utility boats to be used in aquaculture and as launches/dive boats. Drop in a high tech satellite system and you’ve got a Sea Stead.
Has a freighter to cruise ship conversion ever been done? Yes, two prime examples still in service are Costa Allegra and Marina. Both built in 1968 and converted for Costa in 1990 and 1992 respectively…. for sale the last time I checked and over priced.
Someone mentioned the use of an overnight ferry with its overnight accommodations and car decks for growing spaces/work areas. This might work if you could find one that was All Oceans Classed as most are not meant for open oceans. That would still make me want a professional opinion on the stability of the ship regardless, as should be done before any ship is purchased to make sure it can stand up to the riggers of being in the open ocean.
Frank Shipbrokers and Ship Sales International are two of the best brokers listed, but there are many more out there to choose from.
Costs: Professional crew and fuel are the biggest. With any ship you need to look at the economics. Larger is better in this case as the scale increases costs decrease. Again, freighters would be my choice over a cruise ship as most cruise ships are designed for 20kt speeds or higher as are the modern freighters, but find a freighter out of the 1980’s and it’s slower speeds of 10 or 12kts will save considerable fuel. Also, you want diesel engines, not boilers or gas turbines for ease of running and repairs as well as economy of fuel.
In the end I think the first thing that should be done is sit down with a maritime lawyer and find out all the specifics/legalities of owning a freighter or cruise ship and about passenger carriage/condo/timeshares to find out if it would even be worth while or too many head aches to pursuit and which flag of convenience they would recommend for this project.
On that note. Let me know exactly what size/type/price ship you want and I’ll look around and tell you where to find it.
June 6, 2009 at 6:25 am

Any idea of the itemized costs to convert said cargo vessel to said specs? How many occupants will the vessel accommodate at one time in its current configuration? How seaworthy is it now? How large a crew would be required for maximum occupancy in its current configuration? How spartan are the living quarters?

June 6, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Hi Katzpaw! Good to have you here, and very glad you decided to speak up :)

Do you happen to have any pointers to conversion or running costs for these ships? I spent a while looking, but found nothing concrete, and I think that’s an important first step for the cost model (from which one could then pick a size/price).

I’ve been imagining that cargo hold or car deck conversions would be manageable, but I hadn’t considered the idea of adding extra decks on top of an existing hull. Again, do you have any example costs for such things? Am I correct in imagining that they’d be significantly more expensive than interior refits of cargo space?


June 7, 2009 at 1:49 am

 To answer the questions posed by JLMadrigal and dichro, here is a limited cost estimation and other supporting rambling:)

How seaworthy is it? It is classed by BV and passed its SS/DD in 2007 and it was designed to sail around the tip of South Africa and South America, some of the harshest seas in the world as it is too large for the Panama or Suez canals. Like with buying a used car, you need to check thoroughly into the vessels past, especially for any recorded incidences (aka, groundings. I see a lot of the cruise ships on the market that I have seen in the news in the past that have been grounded. Maritimematters.com is a good source of cruise ship news). You would also want to get copies of the ships most recent classification inspections as well as any recent surveys. Might even be a good idea to have a survey done prior to purchase, best timed to when the ship is out of the water in a dry dock for best results.
The current minimum crew requirements right now are 7 Officers and 8 Able Body Seaman with the norm being 9 and 14. So the guess on the max number of professional crew needed would be 23. How spartan are the living quarters, of which there is probably only 4 to 6 extra cabins in present configuration, well the best answer is to send you to this link: www.freighterworld.com   From here you can see the standard cabin sizes and appointments. So on that note, most likely the total occupant for the ship before conversion would be 12, plus the crew for 23 or reduce the crew to minimum (which I suggest) and use the bunk spaces for more Sea Steaders.
 As for any ideas on the itemized costs to convert the vessel, none at this time besides a guess. The only concrete numbers I have are from a US Navy conversion of tankers to hospital ships http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/tah-19-history.htm , and the information posted at Maritime Matters on the conversion of the SS Norway by adding two complete decks. Both of these where done back in the 1980’s and basically the hospital ship is more geared towards our needs although it was designed for 2000 patients and the hospital staff/crew. But the cost of $250 mil USD each is unacceptable. (This conversion was done by a shipyard, like most major yards in the US, that works mostly on government ships. In other words, no efficiency or concern to be cost competitive in the commercial market) The Norway refit cost $30 million in comparison, but this is comparing apples to oranges. http://www.mcqservices.com/pdf/VLOC.pdf details a cost of converting a VLCC to a VLOC, in other words oil tanker to ore carrier, at a cost of $25 million. Again, not the type of info we are looking for, but it gives you an idea that this will not be cheap.
What I will do though is float a bid package out into the internet and see what comes back. Basically, the work would have to be done in a shipyard that knows how to construct cruise ship type structures (which are mostly modular and can be built in sections then added to the ship…..interesting idea there….just add 100ft sections at a time to save costs, if this is possible within the ship’s original stability/design limits)
The fitting of the holds is another story. That would have to be done by hand I would think as this is not a new build and wasn’t originally planned for. Which could be done at any reliable shipyard and since this specific ship is trading in Asia, it might be worth looking at China or the Philippines to do the work. And the real question is how are the holds to be fitted. As I stated for this specific ship you would probably be able to add 4 decks with a height of 12 ft each in the hold area. Figure more like 10ft after bracing and fittings. Good enough for growing areas for aquaponics (fish tanks on lowest level), dwarf fruit trees, a nice grazing deck for small animals, plus you need the packing and Refrigeration/Freezing areas for the fish and plant products produced (with that amount of space on just the one deck you can grow a lot of fish for market J), and spaces for a small 1 MW OTEC plant. (As I believe the commercial uses of the OTEC idea, outweighs the lack of experience in constructing/operating one and with the US NAVY moving forward with their Guam OTEC project, I feel more convinced it is the right way to go. One avenue to consider is OTEC Research, getting funding to build the unit and document real world uses/problems/solutions from a platform at sea) Basically, you would need to sit down with one of the many companies out there that do naval conversion designing and ask, is this possible and what will it cost? Once you have that information you could work out the details of a business plan. How much fish and food could the aquaponics system produce? How much and what type of products could be produced with the cold sea water from an OTEC system? Working with what is popular in your region is best from a business stand point I think. Lobster in the Atlantic, Tuna in the Pacific just to name a few.
As can be seen from the preceding links, an OTEC plant could offer much in the way of building a sustainable and profitable Sea Stead. I can’t find the article again, but I believe the original plan for a 1.4 MW OTEC system was to cost 5-6 million USD and there is a company in the Carolina’s that believes they can do it even better and cheaper, but still haven’t produced a working prototype in the 100+ Kw range.
I used the idea of converting a cargo ship or tanker for my idea because of the lower costs involved compared to a new build and the thought that they can’t use sigle hulled tankers after the year 2015. The amount of new builds perplexed me until I relized what these companies where doing. You build a cheaper single hulled tanker and use it until 2015, then convert it to an ore carrier. Damn good thinking in my book from a cost/usage stand point. Just goes to show that someone is looking ahead for the long term. I looked at the large end of the scale to ships over 100’ in width do to stability issues in heavy seas. Even looking at new build oil rig platforms the costs go into the hundreds of millions and used is not much better. This too I find unacceptable and the space they provide is in inadequate for a sustainable community that would want to raise its own food and have enough to profit from. The Sea Stead should be able to pay for itself over the period of 20 years. Another thought that came to mind was the use of ocean going barges. The possibility of conversion or even a new build is cheaper in the short run, but lacks mobility if needed and possibly stability to ride out a hurricane or typhoon. I also used the number of 500 Sea Steaders/Passengers as a ball park number to think about. A ship this size with 500 people living and working on it would provide the necessary space for living/recreation/work areas and a good amount of personal space/freedom. Basically, I’m not interested in being a sardine, just growing them If you look at a cruise ship brochure, you can see that the 3 added decks on top(even with the wedding cake format) could be built out to hold everything needed to live comfortably for 500 people.
As for operational costs, your costs are fuel, professional crew, stores, and maintainence costs(remember a ship is a hole in the water you through money in) Crew costs can be gained from Maritime associations, fuel usage can be calculated by what amount is posted in the sales listing as in port consumption and at sea….these numbers are generally expressed in tons per day and like all things, the more you buy the cheaper it gets. Maintainence is tricky, it depends on the people onboard and the professional crew as well as using off the shelf components in reconstruction verse custom built. Best bet is to use a fixed amount per year of the overall costs of the conversion of 1-3%. So if the costs of purchase and conversion run at $100 million, figure 1-3 million a year in mainteneace costs(this would assume that this would be done in a ship yard, obviously, with the exception of major items like hauling for a bottom paint job you could probably do at sea. We did it at sea in the Navy….ever hung over the side and painted to look down a see a shark? Good motivator to finish faster:)
That is all I have for the moment. I will continue to look into the conversion and costs, as well as post my idea for how this could work. I would love to know if there are designers and naval architects that could put a design sketch together showing the different levels as well as an overview of the ship. Even better would be any enginering people that could say if the project is structurally feasable or not. Please feel free to ask questions/critisize this idea and the facts presented.
June 7, 2009 at 7:52 am

This is really, really interesting .The thing that grabs me about this ship is that there’s a hectare of deck space on top. I’d be very, very curious to know the dimensions of the holds. If they give another two hectares when converted to 12ft floors, you could have 500 people resident with 40m2 below decks per person – or, more likely, 80m2 per couple. That’s not too bad by modern apartment standards, and it leaves the whole top deck free as a communal area.

Actually, what I find most exciting about this is that anything built in the holds doesn’t need to be seaworthy. It needs to be structurally sound instead, and that’s a *much* easier problem – one that’s probably accessible to non-specialists. If you deal with ventilation (maybe by ducting through the sides of the hold?) you could roll the hatch covers closed in weather and never expose the essential infrastructure to the waves.

Not meaning to tweak the noses of the high-road/low-road people, but this strikes me as a fantastic point midway between the two. It’s reliable infrastructure to protect people from the elements, freedom to build living areas to taste, whether by hand or not, and a huge amount of space for crazy sea-colonization experiments on top.


June 7, 2009 at 4:00 pm

What is most appealing is the ability to convert such a freighter into a SeaStead in sections. This would allow incremental development, and provide multiple opportunities for categorized investments. The vessel could be leased out by TSI in segments, and the developers could be given a great deal of latitude regarding design, use, and governance. Such an approach might even make a barge-based FreedomShip (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_Ship) doable under the same modular master lease.

And the more shipyard functions that could be brought aboard and accomplished at sea, the greater and sooner independence can be achieved.

June 7, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Constructing the added on decks in sections should be entirely feasable and a cost reduction in initial costs. Norwegian Dream and Wind both had 110 ft sections added into the center of the ships. It’s a good way to increase length while still using the same main propulsion and power systems with out needing to upgrade, and still keep near the same speeds as prior to the retrofit. This is what gave me the idea of adding superstructure in increaments. They could be built on land and just craned onto the ship and fitted out. Although this would mean needing to go into a port to have this done.

As for building fitting out the holds ourselves, I just feel that is better left to the shipyards that have the eqiupment and knowledge of how to do it right the first time. When I need something done, I hire a specialist. This would be one of those times. It doesn’t mean we couldn’t do some of the work, I just think the structural changes should be done in a credible shipyard under the supervision of a maritime project management company.  Also, somewheres in my reading of the forums, someone mentioned the ability of not have to fit a ship to SOLAS standards do to it not being a cruise ship. I think that is a mistake. Being ex-Navy, I can tell you some of the first things you learn in boot camp is basic damage control and basic fire fighting. Before I stepped on my assigned ship I was sent for advance damage control and advanced fire fighting classes. If you want to live on the sea, these are two things I think every Sea Stead should have at least basic training in as well as a group of volunteer specialist, not unlike the volunteer fire fighters in our home towns on land that can be called in a moments notice….because at sea, you have no place to go, and 911 is not going to be helpful.

One of my thoughts is having a barge or small floating dock moored outboard as a building/ testing area for ideas presented in these forums. Real conditions at an actual Sea Stead site, which could also be part of a floating marina/boat repair station.



June 9, 2009 at 5:39 am

I don’t know enough to agree or disagree with the idea but I think the idea of ‘doing it ourselves’ comes from the fact that the interior holds of these cargo ships were designed for supporting the weight of anything you decide to put in there. Therefore, you could build structures inside using traditional land-based methods as long as they support their own weight and are designed for more strict fireproofing guidelines. I imagine a shipyard would build out of welded steel plates and sealable bulkheads, in addition to charging the prices that anyone called ‘expert’ can command.

There are other factors to consider, such as much greater movement in the supports than mere foundation settling in a new house on land. These cargo ships are desiged with the same capacity not to sink, so it would be similar to transporting prefabricated houses from one port to another, except more elaborate and well secured. It wouldn’t be as efficient as building a cruise ship from scratch but as a used vessel at reduced cost, it’s efficient for the conditions at hand.

I guess my concern with what has been said so far is that the cost and occupancy seems to be similar to that of the ClubStead design, except for the added conversion costs, maintenance costs, and the fact that it’s a retrofit of a ship instead of a purpose-built design. Being able to delay the costs with an incremental build-out helps, but the added upkeep expenses could actually end up delaying later stages of the refit as the money starts flowing down that hole in the ocean.

David Walen
June 10, 2009 at 3:43 am

I actually called their main office in Miami when the "World" was in Charleston, to get on board, or to talk to the folks about it, but, didn’t get to talk to them… I think they would do an on phone..  But, I had a nice chance to photograph "The World" when she was in port.

David Walen

Attempting to Leave Living Footprints


David Walen
June 10, 2009 at 4:13 am

Hello Katzpaw and all! 

I too have been a lurker for months!  i actually had an account get erased too!
First off, I don’t want to sabotage this thread, but, I just can’t resist tying it into the subject of my current studies: Salvaging ships as a raft, moving from the rafted form, into a on-sea dry dock system, into a fabricated network of specialized floating islands!

Basically, I have been researching the James River "Ghost Fleet" and have been dreaming and scheming along the lines of how and what to do with such large amounts of metal and concrete (and asbestos, mercury, pcbs, etc).

This has gotten me interviewed by the AIA (American Institute of Architects) for their "Futurism" issue in 2008.
Last week I met with a Capt Jim, that used to salvage some of these very ships!  And he liked my idea.

I will be adding much more soon!

My first question for you all is: Rafting Ships together, and forming floating networks within, and around these: What ya’ think?

David Walen

Attempting to Leave Living Footprints


June 10, 2009 at 7:41 am

Hello David and welcome!

That’s an interesting idea you have brought to light. Out of curiosity I pulled up PMARS to see what was still left in the current fleet at James River.


I was thinking that you would need ships of similar build and vintage to make this work, and low and behold there is a whole string of Cimmeron Class Replenishment Oilers in mothballs awaiting disposal. While this is a good idea in my opinion, it would not work for a group that wants out from under the American Flag as the US Military and Coast Guard can board US Flagged vessels, anytime, anywhere. Unless those ships are donated to a Foreign Country by Congress, they can not leave the US Flag, unfortunately. There are several ships in the Suisun Bay fleet that would be perfect for Sea Stead conversion, if it were not for the re-flagging issue. Personally, I’ve wondered if it would be possible to take 2 hulls like that and mate them into a catamaran design and add superstructure in the center….Now that would turn some heads.



June 11, 2009 at 3:42 am

I guess my concern with what has been said so far is that the cost and occupancy seems to be similar to that of the ClubStead design, except for the added conversion costs, maintenance costs

I will be terribly disappointed if this turns out to be true. Unfortunately, we have little in the way of hard numbers. The only thing that’s obvious is that we can have raw steel deck, exposed to the elements, on a sea-worthy and structurally sound vessel, for $60-$65 per square foot. That’s ignoring the holds altogether. I don’t recall what the final Clubstead price was – $300-$400 per square foot including all costs? – but there’s a lot of cost headroom there to build things.

But, frankly, I’m still optimistic that it should be easier and cheaper to build inside the holds anyway, although I’m open to suggestions as to how one might go about determining a price range.

June 12, 2009 at 6:26 pm

When I was working on my prefab home venture, these guys priced the custom buildout of two 40 x 9 containers  with bedrooms, a kitchen, and living space.  There qoute was around $70,000.  That’s $97 psf.  ($70,000 / (2 x 40 x 9)).  This includes mechanical and electrical


As the website shows, most of their work is for offshore oil and gas facilities.

And, they were very open and enthusiastic about my quirky project.  Good folks.

Hope this is useful.


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