CASCO BAY — When Matt Wilkinson decided after two years that the high cost of Portland’s efficiency apartments was ridiculous, he did the only thing that seemed sensible to a native Mainer: He bought a sailboat and planned to live aboard it, joining the ranks of Portland’s liveaboard community, which is made up of sailors who turn their boats into floating homes.

Then, when Wilkinson faced his first Christmas on his tiny new floating home, he did the only thing that made sense during these troubled times: He strung 200 yards of lights up the mast of his 34-foot sailboat to brighten his new neighborhood at DiMillo’s Marina.

“The power bill will probably hurt, but it’s worth a little bit of economic sacrifice for others’ joy,” said Wilkinson, 31. “I won’t say this was a perfect plan. I’m not quite sure of the economics. But there is the entertainment value to consider.”

Many sailors in Portland’s liveaboard community deck the halls – or decks as it were – with lights and wreaths and holiday balls this time of year. While space is at a premium when you’re living aboard a boat, many sailors give up precious elbow room for the sake of a line of nutcrackers, a set of stockings, even a Christmas tree.

“We can’t put on the electric fireplace if the tree lights are on, because there’s just one outlet,” said Frank Connelly, 58, who lives aboard the boat he shares with his partner, Susan Polans.

“But I love Christmas,” added Polans, 64, looking around their boat’s living space that looks like Santa’s workshop.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s most recent survey, Maine has a higher percentage of recreational boaters than any other state – with 48 percent of the 1.3 million population claiming to enjoy some kind of boating. All told, 58 million adults across the U.S. boated in 2012, according to the Coast Guard.

But these numbers don’t tell how many of these sailors also choose to live aboard their vessel.

The size of Maine’s liveaboard community is unknown. But it is widely believed Portland has at least a few dozen sailors who choose to scale down, live simply and embrace the dangers inherent in living on a boat docked in Casco Bay.

The reasons for choosing to live aboard a boat during a harsh Maine winter are many. For some, it comes down to economics. But not for all.

In 2010, Tim and Kathy Reilley decided they wanted to take one full year to appreciate life. So they bought their 40-foot sailboat, Carina, sold their Windham home and prepared to embark on a life as liveaboards with one goal in mind – to cruise the East Coast and live in the Bahamas on their boat for one full year. In May 2014, they had saved enough money, so they quit their jobs and set sail.

“Some do it for economic reasons or for a more Spartan lifestyle,” said Tim Reilley, 49, now an info-tech manager. “We did it because I got laid off from my job, which ended up a blessing, and some close family friends passed away. We decided the American dream to wait until you’re 65 to have fun wasn’t going to work for us. We wanted to do it now.”

After three holiday seasons spent living at DiMillo’s Marina, stringing lights on their shrink-wrapped sailboat, they spent last Christmas with no decorations and no fuss. They simply admired the lights on shore as they sailed toward the Bahamas.

“We pretty much followed Christmas all the way down the East Coast. We certainly appreciated the lights in St. Augustine,” said Kathy Reilley, 47, of the Florida city that becomes bedazzled with white lights in December.

This year, Tim and Kathy Reilley will again string lights on their boat, but it will be one of the last times, as they make plans to build their dream home in New Gloucester. They will miss living in the cramped space with their black Labrador, Juno. But they won’t forget the lifestyle that has helped define them.

“You can’t be too materialistic if you live like this. We like things simple,” Kathy Reilley said. “At Christmas, we tell our families, ‘Please don’t get us anything. There’s nothing we need.'”

For partners Connelly and Polans, their 52-foot-long, 15-foot-wide yacht Emma is transformed at Christmas. In their ninth year living aboard the spacious vessel, they once again have brought the holidays to life with lights on the stern, along the deck, and in the salon on a 7-foot Christmas tree.

Tall nutcrackers, porcelain Santas and a lobsterman statue dressed in elf attire fill the boat’s gathering room around the tree. It’s worth losing room to spread cheer, said Polans, 64, a lifelong sailor.

But the holidays do present challenges at sea, even for the most comfortable of liveaboard accommodations. Small kitchens and a lack of running water (they shower in the marina’s lockers) force New England ingenuity and the practice of making do.

“You can’t cook a whole turkey. So you do things in stages,” Polans said with a shrug. “This Christmas we’ll have a roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. And we’ll eat it on paper plates, because we don’t have water to wash dishes.”