Salim Lewis floats to his Lake Union office building, also home to kayak outfitter Northwest Outdoor Center.

With his orange and yellow kayak tucked under his arm, Eastlake civil defense lawyer Salim Lewis descends a few blocks to Lake Union for one of the best commutes in Seattle. Life jacket over his work clothes, he paddles toward his office on Westlake, trading a brisk, windy passage for the misery of inching through the Mercer Mess. “It takes about 10 minutes, plus five to get to the water, the same as 15 minutes to drive,” he says, but he still can’t do it every day: “Some days I have to wear a suit.”

Perhaps no other American city has such extensive access to the waterfront, but we’re also crunched for space (and it’s not like we’re burdened with extra free time, either). So we find creative ways to cram a boating life into our urban rhythms.

Those houseboats and floating homes? Not solely reserved for the Tom Hankses among us. For Boeing engineer Jeffrey Caroots, a boat life was as simple as renting a liveaboard houseboat. Sure, it couldn’t actually leave the dock, but when things broke—things always break on boats—he had the benefit of not being the owner. “I just called my sealord. And if I fixed it myself, he took it out of my rent.” It allowed him to live the marine dream, at least for a couple years.

Salim Lewis on his kayak commute.

We do what it takes. At a dinner party, a Beacon Hill woman recalls how a few years ago her group of friends ended up purchasing an 18-foot bayliner: “Three of us were sharing a joint one night, and that made it seem like a really good idea to share a boat, too.” After three years of splitting the cost of dry dock storage and fixing broken bits—some of them over and over and over again—the collective sold their boat with a collective sigh of relief.

Clearly, there’s truth to the axiom that the best day of owning a boat is the day you sell it—yet I still really want one, even though (or because) I live in 526 square feet on the third floor of a Capitol Hill walk-up. A slip at a Seattle marina? Imagine the cost of a downtown parking spot, times a hundred (and with a waitlist years long). So, like most of Seattle, I make do—my contribution to the Northwest fleet is a collapsible seacraft, an inflatable paddleboard that can be crunched into the back of a Subaru hatchback.

There are a dozen more ways to be a boat person in Seattle, from rentals to schemes like Seattle Boat Share, which sells season passes for use of an 14-craft fleet. Even in a town of megayachts and million-dollar water toys, the lakes and bays are still equally open to everybody. And, no matter your craft, sunsets over the Olympics look equally magnificent when viewed from the middle of Elliott Bay.

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