I've been involved in boating my whole life from fishing with my dad in a 12 foot aluminum boat, building a hydroplane (and destroying my father's outboard in the process), owning my own first boat - an 18 foot runabout my wife and I attempted to camp in, a 24 foot cuddy that didn't quite work as a stay-aboard (especially in Georgia summers), and finally a 32 foot cruiser that finally satisfied our needs.
Our first attempt at staying overnight on a boat was with the 18 foot bow rider. I procured a full set of canvases for it (some of which were custom made) and we setup shop in the cockpit with sleeping intended to split between the rear bench seat and the isle running to the forward bow. We quickly came to the conclusion that this would not work and resorted to camping in public parks instead.
Out taste for overnighting on a boat had been wetted, and 10 years later, we decided to get a boat that was intended for overnighting. We originally were going to get a 24 foot cruiser but it was too heavy for my truck to tow and had to settle for a 24 foot cuddy cabin.
It came with a sizable cooler (poorly insulated), a decent sized sleeping area and a portable toilet. We soon determined that three things needed to change - the cooler needed better insulation, we needed fans to keep cool in the cabin at night, and we needed a toilet with a holding tank to make it through the weekend (I got tired of carrying it half-way through the weekend to a pumpout station at a campground).
So the cuddy forced me into the first foray of boat modifications/upgrades. I designed and installed a pumpout toilet under one of the seats of the cabin along with the required pluming and holding tank. I then built a shell around the existing cooler and blew in insulation into the cavity which allowed a block of ice to survive the weekend. The last change was the installation of 1 fan, then 2 fans, and finally 3 fans to keep the cabin cool at night (it wasn't enough - we ended up taking a dip in the water to cool off half-way through a summer night).
I did consider two options for cooling the cabin but I never implemented either. One was to use a setup that chills coolant in a cooler full of ice and then sends it through a small radiator with a fan on it. The second is a variation of the above except rather than a cooler, a water line is dropped into the water 30 feet deep or more to get at cooler water.
In addition to the required changes, I put in a couple of recreational changes. Much to my wife's chagrin, I installed a new audio system with 4 speakers and a powered 12" subwoofer (requiring a substantial hole in the cockpit). This required me to install twin batteries with a battery switch after the first time we were stranded after playing the audio all day.
The second change was installation of a wakeboard tower. Yes, I had gotten into wakeboarding with the runabout and I was not going to give it up with the Cuddy. This required reinforcement of the hull for the tower supports consisting of blocks cased in fiberglass to hold the through bolts in place.
After overnighting in the cuddy for 4 years, my wife (and I) decided that we need a REAL overnighter. We went to a local boat show and she saw what she determined to be the perfect boat for us - A Four Winns 32 foot express cruiser. One look at the price and I told her it would never happen - even if hell froze over! I whimsically indicated that if she found a used one, I would consider it. She found a used one…
It turned out to be a bit of a project boat. The electrical system had been compromised by several years on salt water, all of the hoses on the vacuum side of the toilet had collapsed, the generator leaked oil like a sieve, the starboard engine had been overheated to the point where there was very little compression on 4 of the 8 cylinders, and the water system had never been serviced so mold had pretty much taken over.
Needless to say, my experience level in boat repair increased a huge notch with the repairs taking almost 6 months. And yes, I had to upgrade the audio system again!
Well, that was 15 years ago and we have been enjoying anchoring out almost every weekend of the boating season. We now have a real refrigerator, air conditioning, a toilet with a sizeable holding tank, running hot/cold water, and AC power.
Yes, there have been additional repairs and upgrades, many of which I will cover in the FAQ and How-To's sections of this site. Some of the projects where replacing the windlass (requiring all new wiring), replacing the generator, soundproofing the generator, HVAC unit, and water pump, and installing a raw-water wash-down on the back swim platform.
I hope the information I provide will be a benefit to those of you wanting to experience overnighting in your boat!