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Living, Economy, Business

Since cruise ships already act as miniature cities, will they become the seasteads of the future?

Cruise ships will make excellent shipsteads in the near future, because they are already equipped with the technology that makes living at sea for extended periods comfortable. However, cruise ships are not modular, meaning it would be difficult to combine multiple cruise ships together to make larger cities. We are collaborating on engineering plans for novel seastead designs that will be modular, allowing cities to expand and residents to sail their sections elsewhere if they are dissatisfied with an enclave.

Who will live on a seastead?

Early seastead residents will be entrepreneurs, sailors, engineers, aquaculture farmers, resort employees and members of other professions related to the economy of seasteading. They will also be trailblazers and pioneers. Most early-adopters will live at sea part time, basing either their business life or vacation life there, but frequently returning to shore. As seasteading technology improves and the costs come down, living on a seastead will appeal to a wider audience. Some people might move to escape oppressive governments. Others may move to live in a community of like-minded individuals committed to values such as environmentalism and equality. Still others may move to take advantage of economic opportunities.

Will seasteads contribute to pollution and environmental destruction?

Most of the technologies seasteaders use will be much less polluting than those used on land. Resources will be more expensive, which means seasteaders will have to use less of them. Most of the industries emerging from seasteads will be knowledge- or service-oriented, so the net result is likely to be a reduction in externalities relative to territorial nations.

Seasteads will need to be accountable and their residents will need to behave like good world citizens. Gross pollution would likely provoke interference from traditional nations, so it will be in a seastead’s interest to be environmentally conscious. In the future, when sea-surface resources and property rights become delineated, legal mechanisms for resolving pollution disputes are likely to emerge. For example, if you want to dump sludge into your neighbor’s waters, you’ll be liable to pay damages. Currently the ocean is a classic “tragedy of the commons,” as evidenced by existing pollution and overfishing problems, but the solution is better laws and institutions, not staying off oceans all together.


How many people will live on seasteads?

Seastead populations will vary across seasteads and, more significantly, over time. In the near future, seasteads may only have a few dozen people living on them. Over time, as the barriers to entry decrease and technology advances, populations will grow exponentially, just like we’ve seen in humanity’s spread across territories. Keep in mind that—like in cities on land—people tend to cluster together. So, while you may find the occasional “rural” outpost, you are more likely to find lively clusters with their own economic gravity.

How much will seasteads cost?

The Seasteading Institute’s vision is two-fold:

  • In the short run, the most practical way to launch a seastead is to adapt a cruise ship for permanent or semi-permanent habitation. Cruise ships have already answered most of the challenges relating to seasteading (negotiating bad weather, avoiding interference from governments or pirates, providing accommodations, etc.) The cost of an existing cruise ship manufactured in 2000 and capable of hosting 400 people is under $7M. Factoring in retrofitting, the cost should be under $10M.
  • In the long run, platforms are more suitable than ships (see “Why not just buy a boat?”). The Seasteading Institute commissioned the marine engineering firm Marine Innovation & Technology to design Clubstead, a prototype seastead design. Clubstead has 368,200 ft2 of room space for 200 guests and staff quarters that can accommodate an additional 70 people. Clubstead’s total estimated price tag is $114,333,000. Their estimates suggest that Clubstead could be built at a cost of $311/ft2 of usable space, roughly comparable to real estate costs in places like San Francisco and New York City. With that said, the cost of platforms is likely to go down in the future as the technology improves and as economies of scale start to kick in.

What kind of jobs will be available on a seastead?

There are two broad categories of jobs on seasteads: external-facing jobs which produce goods and services for export, and internal jobs which provide goods and services primarily to the onboard seastead population. Among the external-facing jobs, the most likely to flourish in the near term will be those that can be done remotely via the Internet or phone (software development, e-learning, consulting etc.). Some companies will also take advantage of a seastead’s greater legal flexibility and location on the water to produce goods and services for export, such as medical tourism, aquaculture, and ocean-based theme parks. Other businesses—such as hair dressers, dentists, and machinists—will provide services to residents just like any land based city. (Also see ‘How can you make money on a seastead?’)

Will seasteads be comfortable?

Current seastead designs will have amenities similar to those aboard cruise ships, having everything from gyms to gardens. Additionally, since seasteads will be optimized for space and comfort rather than travel, residential and service-crew quarters will likely be larger than on cruise ships.
Early seasteads will also likely be located near the shore. This will allow residents to maintain proximity to their friends and family, as well as jobs, restaurants, and other amenities one can find in a coastal city. As more people start moving to seasteads, the amenities available on board will gradually improve to the point that they match, or even exceed, the amenities found on land.

How can you earn money on a seastead?

Seastead residents can earn money in a variety of ways. Just as in any land-based city, there will be demand for internal services—plumbers and hairdressers, schoolteachers and doctors. Other seasteaders will market goods to external markets. Here are just three examples of ways people could earn a living aboard a seastead:
Resorts—Many people go to Club Med and cruise ships with no real intention of ever leaving the facilities. A luxury seastead resort could be tailored to meet the needs of these people. Floating luxury resorts have been profitable for decades, as evidenced by the cruise ship industry. These ships produce nothing, import all their food, water, and fuel, and still turn a profit. About 10 million people a year take cruises, resulting in about $17B in revenue for the industry. This gives us good reason to expect that a floating resort could be a profitable business model as well. Although the number of people willing to spend a few weeks each year on a seastead is far greater than the number willing to drop everything and devote their lives to it, these seasonal opportunities may still open doors to more permanent industries and occupations.
Aquaculture—Farming fish in giant nets near a seastead holds considerable promise. Currently, aquaculture is more feasible nearer to shore. But with the advent of seastead platforms and associated technologies, many fish can be raised in the open ocean – which may more closely resemble their natural habitats.
Medical tourism—Government bureaucracy is a major barrier to medical and biotechnological advancement. The FDA has historically been slow to approve new medical treatments, and promising improvements in areas such as stem-cell research have been retarded by government policy. Seasteads would provide an excellent place for cutting-edge medical research and treatment.
As you can see, there are a variety of business possibilities for seasteads. These are just a few of the potential industries that are likely to form. As seasteads flourish, the number of industries and job opportunities will increase.

Who is going to move to the middle of nowhere?

We think this is a great question. We’ve often asked it ourselves. We believe two key answers are: incrementalism and timesharing.
Incrementalism – It is not necessary that we find 10,000 people willing to take the initial plunge. We only need to find the core of enthusiasts to start, say 10 people. Next come the 40 people who are willing to move now that there are 10 people. Then, we find the 100 people that will move because there are 40, and so on. Along with people, commercial opportunities will accumulate. The seastead begins to have its own gravity. It’s not that there is no one willing to be the first. It’s just that there aren’t very many. Thankfully, bootstrapping doesn’t require many.
Timesharing – Many early residents may be time-sharers or hotel guests. Letting people participate part-time will help the movement advance. Many more will be willing to visit at the onset, as there is a huge difference in the levels of commitment. This is especially valuable in converting skeptics who will have reasonable doubts about such an ambitious move. While there are 52 weeks in a year, one of early our anecdotal surveys suggested that the ratio of people willing to live in a new country full-time versus one week a year is at least 1,000:1, possibly even higher. Hence many initial residents will either be guests or support staff.
One version of the question points out the importance of network effects as a threat to the incremental approach. (A network effect is when something is valuable based on the number of interconnections–value that goes up as the square of the number of participants. In communications networks this is sometimes referred to as Metcalfe’s Law.) If network effects were truly incompatible with incrementalism, there networks in existence would have been able to start small. However, almost everything cited as an example of the importance of network effects started small (e.g., big cities, the Internet, land and cell-phone networks, and websites like Google), with network nodes connecting as they are added—like fungal spores that burgeon into a colony of mushrooms over time. The big, successful networks have both incremental properties, which allowed them to grow, and network properties, which make them increasingly useful as they grow. Like any new venture, however, seasteads will need to start out by appealing to niche under-served markets.

I want to seastead! How can I prepare?

This is a great question. Though it’s difficult to answer because it is unclear exactly how seasteading development will proceed. Here, we provide some general advice.
First, save money. It is going to be difficult to get a loan to build something as novel and unproven as a seastead, which means we’ll need to pay up front for our real estate. And while it would be nice if someone rich built a huge seastead and rented out rooms, it is much more likely that early founders will have to scrape to provide their own space, and won’t be able to afford much extra. This has the extra advantage that if you don’t end up going the seasteading route, your nest egg will still be useful.
Second, be active in the seasteading community, which is rapidly growing. To get more involved, you can join The Seasteading Institute’s membership program, conduct volunteer research, join our volunteer ambassador’s program, attend our international conference, meetups and other events, provide feedback on our ideas, read our blogs and our newsletters, and spread the vision of seasteading to people who might be interested. This is a grassroots movement–it’s up to you to spread the word!
Third, develop ideas for generating income aboard a seastead by providing local or exportable value. Examples of local value would be food production, mechanical expertise, massage, or entrepreneurship experience and ideas for seastead businesses. Exportable value might be marine research (and the ability to score grants), coaching or therapy by phone, or telecommuting work like freelance programming or web design. One of the toughest things about any small economy is finding ways to make money, and being able to work online seems like the most general solution.
Finally, become a seasteading entrepreneur. Any business that increases the economic incentives to be on the ocean will be very useful for seasteading in the long-run.

How will people feel about remaining aboard seasteads for extended periods of time?

Seasteaders will probably return to land and refresh their senses from time to time. However, the kinds of people who seastead initially will likely be comfortable in close quarters, and will seastead with like-minded people with whom they enjoy spending time.

Where will you build them?

Seasteads will be manufactured in shipyards around the world, just like ocean liners are today.

How many people will live on the first seastead?

The first seastead may have as few as 50 transitional residents. This will likely be a proof-of-concept shipstead that demonstrates seasteading is a practical and viable lifestyle.

Why would anyone accept the low level of comfort?

Pioneers have traded comfort for freedom many times in the past. Those who find this trade-off unattractive won’t participate, which is fine since we don’t need to appeal to everyone. Over time, comfort will increase as the market broadens. Providing a life of rugged individualism is not our goal, but we see it as the necessary first step. Focusing on luxurious cities at this stage would be like the early settlers of Manhattan trying to design the Empire State Building. Eventually, progress will be rapid, but it will still take some time to get over the initial humps.

Why is it so expensive?

There are a number of reasons:

The ocean is a brutal environment—this is why ships have been described as “A hole in the water you pour money into.” And we are not just creating ships or buildings; we are creating real estate, which must be durable.

We are aiming to spark the first-generation of seasteads. Just like with any other product, earlier runs are more expensive since they must be built by hand and do not benefit from economies of scale or mass production. Eventually, as volume increases, costs come down, and more people can participate. Seasteads are no different. The early adopters help pay the research costs—but stand to gain handsomely in the longer term if they are successful.

The costs we are talking about (say $300 – $400 / ft2 final cost to residents) are not out of line with first-world house prices in metropolitan areas. It’s not as cheap as Costa Rica, but it isn’t as expensive as Silicon Valley either. If these estimates are realistic, we can build brand-new sovereign territory for a cost similar to that of the housing of many upper-class Americans. To us, this seems incredibly encouraging! As a caveat, the cost to residents will be higher than a house of the same price, because seastead real estate will be harder to finance with low-interest bank mortgages like houses. But this stems from the unique nature of the project and will be impossible to avoid until seasteading is more firmly established.

We are not ignoring those with less money. We believe poor people will benefit from seasteading in the long run, like they have from cell phones. As with any technology, it takes a large initial investment to get the ball rolling, meaning the first seasteaders may be wealthier. For those looking to start more cheaply, Boatsteading or shipsteading is a viable option.

Futhermore, we think that effective breakwater technology will bring the prices down precipitously in the long run. Locating where there are fewer waves, such as the equator in the equatorial doldrums means fewer waves and lower cost (but reduced access to first world customers). Alternately, a sea like the Mediterranean or Baltic may offer smaller waves (thus low cost) and access to multiple first-world jurisdictions.

Why would anyone vacation on a seastead instead of a resort?

Seasteads would offer tourists a wholly unique experience they won’t be able to find at resorts. We imagine all manner of things seastead operators will offer—to reproduce a “beach” environment, to get tourists nearer to marine life, or to offer a unique vacation experience that may not be feasible on land.

What will people do on a seastead?

Our first response to this question is “the same things anyone else does,” but maybe we don’t get out enough. As long as seasteads have an Internet connection, it might take us a while to notice that we are on a small, isolated platform in the middle of the ocean. To be fair, not everyone plugs in this way.

Our the next-simplest response is to point out lifestyles similar to those found on land that would be compatible with life aboard a seastead. For example, vacationers will be able to do pretty much anything they can do on a cruise ship in addition to whatever unique activities might be offered aboard the seastead. Resort employees on a seastead will find it much like working on a cruise ship.

In terms of permanent residents, the seasteading experience will be more like that of people who live in isolated, rural areas, or live-aboard boaters. While such a life does not appeal to everyone, the people who like it rarely seem to be bored. Furthermore, permanent residents can always take a vacation on land if they crave a setting with more people. The closer a seastead is to land, the easier it becomes to visit to a nearby major city for a day or weekend. This opportunity makes seasteading even more like just living in the outback, and is one of many reasons a “coaststead” seems like a good place to start.

The key to success will be to leverage the uniqueness of seasteads. If that only appeals to a tiny fraction of the world, that’s still plenty of people. Seasteads and islands will each have their own kind of romance. Each will appeal to a different set of people–as long as we can find enough people who think seasteads are romantic, it doesn’t matter if some prefer islands. Niche markets are not necessarily a bad thing in business, particularly if they aren’t served well by other options have a large enough customer base.

Also, since modular seasteads will be able to float and move, “dynamic geography” will be possible. Our central thesis about why societies on the ocean will work better than those on land is that freedom of movement of individual modules allows for the separation and merging of seasteading clusters, creating a process of continual improvement.

Finally, political and social institutions matter. There is a reason that most people who can afford it choose to live in the first world, even though oceanfront property in the third world, where institutions suffer many problems, is both cheaper and more beautiful. If we can provide an innovative society with efficient government services, productive people will flock to it as a place to live and work.

Will food be grown, harvested or imported?

In the early years of seasteading, most food will be imported, although some items may be harvested or farmed from the ocean. Over time, as seasteads grow, they may become more independent and begin to develop and refine onboard farming techniques. Still, limited space will dictate the amount and kinds of food seasteaders will be able to grow. In order to satisfy the tastes of a complicated palette, most will still want to import foods, just like other nations do from regions all around the world.

Who is going to pay for seasteads to be built? How will you fund the project?

Many similar ventures failed because they expected billions of dollars to materialize out of thin air. Our ideas for seastead financing are far more realistic. The basic idea is to proceed in self-financing, incremental steps, beginning with small shipsteading businesses relatively close to shore, which then scale up to larger businesses as the profit opportunities increase. Eventually, communities will sprout up around the businesses and turn into full-fledged cities.

Posted on June 10, 2013 at 6:58 pm


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