Free Minds & Free Markets

First Seastead in International Waters Now Occupied, Thanks to Bitcoin Wealth

Two libertarians now have a private home off the coast of Thailand—proof of concept for a world of more competitive governance and greater ocean environmental health.

Seasteading was conceived more than a decade ago out of libertarian enthusiasm for the possibilities of improving governance through an explosive proliferation of new polities. Building modular floating "land" on the high seas, its advocates argue, would increase our ability to escape the depredations of existing governments.

Ocean BuildersOcean Builders

In a short video documentary that debuted last night—part one of a four-part series that will be rolled out over the next week—Seasteading Institute president Joe Quirk (co-author of the book Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians) tells the story of the first functional one-family seastead, which now exists 12 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket, Thailand.

Its inhabitants are Chad Elwartowski and Nadia Summergirl. In a chat-window interview before the video premiered on YouTube last night, Elwartowski told me that his "main motivation has been finding true liberty in this lifetime. I have participated in several other projects that promised that but never delivered," including the "​Free State Project, Libertarian Party elections, Ron Paul campaign, other seastead projects."

Now he's living in a private seastead in international waters along with Thai native Summergirl, who says in the video that she was tired after 10 years of seeing seasteading remain just talk: "I just want to get seasteading happen for real. I want to make it happen here in Thailand." The team surrounding the project were early adopters of bitcoin, and with wealth acquired that way it has spent around $150,000 on the project, Elwartowski says. That's about $30,000 more than they anticipated—"as it is experimental we ended up adding and adding and adding," he tells me. (I wrote speculatively about bitcoin wealth funding libertarian projects last year, before this project was public.)

The seastead has been floating since February 2. "We've been about a week on, week off as we take care of things on land," Elwartowski tells me via email. "This past week we bought a sail boat and we're having the bottom painted so we have a commuter boat. After that we should be there full time. Except for going to visit the many islands around us."

Though the seastead is a mere 6-meter-wide, two-story octagon, Elwartowski says: "Tightness has never been an issue for us. We lived in a small bungalow in Tahiti. I lived in a small box for 2 years in Afghanistan. There is plenty of room. Nadia likes to fish while I'm either working on the seastead down below or on the computer in the bedroom."

Their octagon sits atop a floating spar ballasted with concrete and sand, 20 meters long, 2 meters in diameter, and 14mm thick. According to the website of the venture that builds and places it, going under the name Ocean Builders (which used mostly local Thai labor), "The seastead is able to withstand 5 meter waves but will be sitting in the Andaman Sea where the average wave height is half a meter."

They have not bothered trying to make deals with the government of Thailand, Elwartowski says: "We have been keeping under the radar so far but we follow all the laws of Thailand so it's as if we're just living on a boat in the water as far as they're concerned....All we expect from the Thai government is that they follow international law. We will be doing the same. But Nadia and I aren't doing anything we can't do on land."

The Seasteading Institute is not directly involved in Elwartowski and Summergirl's seastead, aside from Quirk documenting and spreading its story in his role as "seavangelist." But Quirk tells me he's more than thrilled to see an actual seastead in existence. The concept's last big hurrah was an agreement with French Polynesia to build a seastead, a project that for now at least is dormant.

Elwartowski and Summergirl had been "living on the atoll" there where they hoped they'd built the first seastead. When that project halted, they moved to Thailand to do it themselves.

"It seems like the Seasteading global movement has become robust, anti-fragile," Quirk says. "Every time [the concept] takes a hit, it goes faster! We felt we were being audacious" with their claim in the French Polynesia deal that "we'd get the first seastead built by 2020. But because of the setback in French Polynesia, which I hope is temporary, Chad and Nadia got a seastead in 2019."

The world of people interesting in making seasteads is still small. When Quirk learned of Ocean Builders' plans, mere months ago, and came out to Thailand to check it out with a camera crew, he found a dozen volunteers helping out who he already knew from his years of promoting the idea.

He's wonderfully surprised to learn that seasteaders' fears that going straight to international waters might be too expensive, or require something as built out as an oil rig, seem to have been wrong. He's also impressed that an angle he pushed in his book—the idea that seasteads can be meaningful nexuses of oceatic environmental health—is being furthered by Elwartowski and his team, who are experimenting with growing edible seaweed and encouraging the growth of coral around their seastead spar.

"The idea of seasteading being environmentally restorative and increasing the amount of life in the world" will start with this very first seastead, Quirk believes. On Ocean Builders blog, Elwartowski writes that "fish have really taken to hanging out around the seastead. They love it. Previously we would visit the site to do some surveys of various things at that location and we hardly saw any fish out there. Now it like a fish sanctuary. We see dolphins and tuna around our seastead all the time. It is my theory that this small place is the only place the vast amount of Thai fishing boats cannot go to so they thrive here as opposed to in the open water where the fishing nets may sweep them up."

The documentary's first installment is mostly dedicated to some of the political ideas that animate the inhabitants and other seasteading-world volunteers, plus some hints of the physical challenges of setting their spar in place at sea, which will be explored further as the video series continues over the next week. More details can also be found on the website of Ocean Builders, which is trying to sell seasteads to others to form an active seasteader community around Chad and Nadia. Their ocean home wound up being cheaper than most houses in the United States.

Part one of Quirk's video documentary, Facing the Storm, is embedded below. The next three parts, rolling out over the next week, will be titled Raising the Spar, Lifting the 'Stead, and Living the Life. Chad and Nadia and their team will be running training courses in seasteading techniques in the spring.

Photo Credit: Ocean Builders

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  • WC Varones||

    That's not a seastead. It's two people on a raft.

  • NashTiger||

    How much can Seastedders make?

  • Elwar||

    It is the exact definition of a seastead. A "permanent dwelling at sea in international waters".

    It is only 2 of us for now but we are preparing the next phase now that the prototype has proven the concept. We will be building 20 more that are twice as deep with much more living space.

  • piolenc||

    A darn sight more comfortable than a raft.
    A spar buoy, aside from a noticeable heave (straight up and down motion) in heavy seas, is stable, which is why the offshore oil industry took an interest. There is also no limit to how big these can be built - this couple used the steel pipes that were available, and built something that could be easily (?) launched from land. If they were assembled on the water (on a barge, say) they could be built to any size.
    My calculations assumed they would be built from reinforced concrete or ferrocement, which is the logical material if you are interested in a long maintenance-free life. This couple is either protecting their rig using a small electrical current, or they have a sacrificial electrode in the water.
    Looking forward to the say I can launch one of these from here (central Philippines). For now, I'm building a conventional house on dry land.

  • Elwar||

    We were all surprised that there is no heave whatsoever. Even in the worst waves we've had so far. No up and down motion at all. Even our scale models had some bouncing up and down.

    Though there is some side to side motion when the waves hit. And we were getting some jerking motions due to the anchor rope but we worked that out. The production version will have less surface area for the waves to hit and the sides will be rounded for the wind.

    Most of the time it is stable but the rough weather it is like being on a very large boat in mild waves. Production version will be twice as deep adding to the stability.

    We are using sacrificial anodes for now but plan on passing a current to build coral on the spar.

  • $park¥ is the Worst||

    Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. But, it's their money and their lives so whatever floats their seastead.

  • ||

    Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. But, it's their money and their lives so whatever floats their seastead.

    Yeah, it pretty much sounds like the only reason they haven't been killed by pirates and had their stuff stolen is because pirates have better living conditions.

  • BYODB||

    I'm sure there's a reason they aren't off the coast of Somalia, but now we all know where we can go to legally steal millions don't we? Or is their wealth in a bank being taxed? Also, where do they get food, water, and power? Guessing at least one or two of those comes from 'somewhere else'.

  • piolenc||

    You really think their wealth is stored on the spar buoy?

  • Elwar||

    No fear of pirates in this area. We are surrounded by fishing boats day and night. What are they going to steal? Our laptops? Our clothes? There are fishing boats full of fish...better to steal a bag of fish than try to figure out how to climb 2 meters up with no ladder from the ocean (as we watch them easily from the deck, waiting patiently as they get off of their boat, get into their dinghy and slowly make their way over to us).

    They might not want to find out what we have waiting for them when they finally reach the door (no gun laws here).

  • leninsmummy||

    Awesome. I admire your adventurous spirit!

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Good for them! I hope it works out.

  • Tu­lpa||

    You know what won't work out? Your plan to import child rapists.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Well if demand exceeds supply, shouldn't we import them?

  • JesseAz||

    Dont you mean legal sexual attraction handicapped? We have a media literally applauding the sexualization of 7 year olds in drag. Wont be long until they are a protected class.

  • Moo Cow||

    We got plenty of them here. They're called the Border Patrol.

  • Joe M||

    Just off the coast of Phuket. Too perfect.

  • ThomasD||

    I'm not super familiar with the weather in the Gulf of Thailand, but that seems more like the place to be. Especially if this one is being done as a sort of proof of concept.

    Show that the structures can last and be actually liveable, then gets some investors and build a few more as a exotic sort of resort getaway or for easy access to dive reefs.

  • ThomasD||

    Something you probably would not want to do on the northern end of the strait of Malacca. When it's just the two of you you aren't worth the time or effort, but a bunch of wealthy tourists undefended in international waters will attract unwanted visitors.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    True, but who says that they're undefended?

  • Bubba Jones||

    People who got lucky with bitcoin think they got rich because they are smarter than everyone else.

    Isolate themselves 12 miles from the coast.

    This should go well.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I hope it works out for them but there is a big reason that most people don't live on the water.

    Humans can drown in just a little bit of water.

  • Bubba Jones||

    They will sprout gills. Haven't you seen Waterworld?

  • Nuwanda||

    I'm grateful for the Waterworld reference. Frankly, that movie has been unfairly maligned over the years. Sure, it's Mad Max on water, but it's worth watching. Costner's done worse. And Jeanne Tripplehorn is as tasty as hell.

  • loveconstitution1789||


  • vek||

    Right? I watched it a few years back. It's definitely not the greatest movie ever, but it's not the worst either. It was okay.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Lol. Watched the video. Lol.

    Perhaps they should have considered homeschooling their kids on 100 acres in Texas. Fewer pirates. Those dudes will be paying US taxes anyway, by the sound of their accents.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Sad the lengths people have to go to, to be left alone.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    He's wonderfully surprised to learn that seasteaders' fears that going straight to international waters might be too expensive, or require something as built out as an oil rig, seem to have been wrong.

    They'll find out in the first major storm they don't live through.

  • IceTrey||

    Why would they stay there during a life threatening storm?

  • BYODB||

    Depends on how fast their boat is, but the ocean isn't known for it's safety or predictability. They'd be better off under the sea than on it. Living on the ocean is not a long term plan.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||


    Unless your seastead is durable (i.e., oil platform), large and mobile, or submersible, you could run out of options for survival quickly. I like the idea of seasteading, but what they're doing is living on a raft in a fixed location.

    Deactivated oil rigs sound appealing. Room for a number of people and supplies, can hold up to severe weather, and act as an underwater reef for fishing.

  • IceTrey||

    Having worked in the Gulf I can assure you that oil rigs are evacuated for hurricanes. They have a nasty habit of disappearing.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    There you go, something I didn't know. I would imagine most rigs get through hurricanes unharmed and can be returned to.

    They're claiming this thing can handle up to 5 meter waves. That's not hurricane strength. That's probably not even open ocean on a normal day strength.

  • Elwar||

    No hurricanes in the Andaman Sea.
    People keep asking us if we can build these in the US. These first seasteads are not built for waters off the US.
    Better to start in ideal waters than build for the worst conditions.

  • piolenc||

    Oil rigs require a huge amount of maintenance, and they are not invulnerable. One advantage to a floating home (rather than one anchored to the seabed), is that in a pinch they can release their anchorage and just go with the flow. Much lower forces on the habitat in that case. My guess, though, is that when they get a severe storm warning (which they will get - unexpected large-scale storms don't exist any more) they will lock up, get into their sailboat and go to the nearest safe harbor. It's what I would do.

  • IceTrey||

    Weather forecasts exist you know?

  • Elwar||

    A few weeks ago we had 25 knot winds in middle of the night. We were a little worried because it's a new structure, a prototype. We listened to every little noise until we could identify everything. Then fell asleep. We woke to no damage whatsoever. The seastead is pretty solid. The spar design is a good one and we picked a very calm area to build. The highest waves we should see throughout the year are 2 meters. The spar can handle 5 meter waves.

  • JWatts||

    ""It seems like the Seasteading global movement has become robust, anti-fragile," Quirk says. ""

    That is delusional idiocy.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "Do you really think a piece of paper is going to protect you?"

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    we follow all the laws of Thailand

    Seems like not quite what is advertised.

  • IceTrey||

    Kinda defeats the purpose.

  • Elwar||

    While Nadia and I have no need to do anything that is not already legal in Thailand, we are free to do as we choose.
    When I was in Iraq I was not allowed to drink alcohol which upset me until I was given a small bottle of whiskey. I let it sit in my room satisfied that if I wanted some I could have some. But never really had the urge to drink it. Just knowing that I am now free to do what I want is quite satisfying. If I want to open a casino or do medical research I can. If I want to call a transgender person him or her I can. If I want to tell people that there are blueprints for making guns online I can.

  • mtrueman||

    " If I want to tell people that there are blueprints for making guns online I can."

    Careful what you say about the king.

  • EscherEnigma||

    So other then not having a berth with some country, how is this different from just having a big boat and living on that?

  • BYODB||

    A darn good question E.

  • ThomasD||

    Operating expenses should be much lower, but otherwise not much. And when you add back the expense of their 'commuter' vessel then there probably isn't any real difference.

  • Elwar||

    Good question. The key to our seastead is sovereignty. On a boat you are either sitting in some country's jurisdiction under their laws or if you are outside of their territorial waters you have to keep moving because boats do not perform well at all just sitting in big waves.

    As for our commuter boat. We bought a $15k steel hulled sailboat that is 12 meters long. Great for getting to all of the surrounding islands.

  • JesseAz||

    Didnt scientology already do this shit?

  • Nuwanda||

    FYI, Phuket is pronounced Fuckit.

  • piolenc||

    I got a laugh out of seasteading being conceived "more than a decade ago." We were talking about this in Libertarian Party conferences in the Seventies, and projects had been tried since the 1960s. I had focused on spar-buoy habitats for open-ocean seasteading since before some clever marketing type coined that term. Started doing serious calculations in the Eighties, before I found out that the offshore oil industry had got there far earlier.
    Well, it's good to see one go up. One of the problems that the engineering types noted early on is that finding an area outside of territorial waters where the depth is still shallow enough for anchorage is a problem. If in addition you want safety from extreme weather, it gets even more complicated. These folk seem to have found a solution - twelve miles out puts them in international waters (though the Economic Exclusion Zone is a complication, because nobody has really determined what that entitles the claiming nation to), yet they're in sheltered waters with ready access to land.
    Best of luck to them!

  • Elwar||

    Thank you. The location is a great place to get these started. I think as we develop further and this area becomes a central hub for seastead tech we can progress to less calm seas.
    Phuket is where most of the westerners live so they have everything you would want (biggest mall in Thailand). It has an international airport with flights from LA for around $500. We have beautiful islands surrounding us, the closest being from the movie "The Beach".
    Good to have engineers that can appreciate what it took to get this thing going.

  • Elwar||

    What about the waves?!? What about pirates (yarr)!?!

    We answer those common questions here:

  • vek||

    Hi Elwar! First, I wish you the best of luck!

    I've always liked the idea. I suppose my biggest thing though is this: Unless and until "the man" decides to start allowing people to create their own citizenship for these new "nations," and all that entails... It's really just achieving "out of sight, out of mind!"

    As long as you're a citizen of some established nation, they ultimately have some hold over you, even while in international waters.

    NOW, that said, if one found a single nation that was willing to give people globally citizenship, and be totally chill with things and even go to bat for you if anything crazy came up... That is probably the best realistic solution.

    Saaay Lichtenstein or Tuvalu or whatever kicks out citizenship papers, lets you have bank accounts there, etc in exchange for a 1 time special fee or something... Something along those lines is probably as free as anybody is going to get anytime soon. But I do hope this all progresses, because even without the full on sovereignty larger things like this could be a cool thing just for the minor skirting of laws that can be achieved as citizens of bigger countries.


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