How Much Does It Cost?

By Derek On September 23, 2011 Under Post

Before we get to anything else, let me start off by answering the burning question most asked by sailors, non-sailors, friends, family and the curious: How much does it cost?? There are various ways to respond but I like this Zen answer the best: as much as you’ve got!

There are as many ways to cruise and live on your boat as there are boats out there. How much does it cost to live where you live now? Hong Kong is way more expensive than Ojai, California. Ojai, California is way more expensive than Rio Dulce, Guatemala. I know; I have lived in all three. I have been happy in all three, too.

Once you buy your boat your expenses can drop dramatically. Of course, if you buy a fixer-upper like I first did, (and did again with my second boat, slow learner that I am) then your expenses are just beginning. We’ll get to that later. For now, if you have a decent boat (what kind? yeah, we’ll have to get to that later, too!), you will find you can live extremely cheaply on board.

In fact, aside from begging on the streets – not my idea of a good time – you can live cheaper aboard than any other way of living I know of. If you cruise the US or Europe, your day to day living costs will be much higher than if you go to the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia or Africa. Most of us start out in high cost areas, as that is where we live and as we gain experience cruise lower cost areas, as that is where the most fun for the least dollars is to be had.

I have friends who have been cruising for decades, yes decades, on just a couple of hundred dollars a month. A 35 foot Canadian yacht I know has been, to use their words:

“…on the world’s slowest circumnavigation. We left Canada 30 years ago and are now in the Indian Ocean, just about half way round.”

They live carefully and minimize costs by never staying in marinas and always anchoring out. They also don’t eat out at restaurants but cook on board, make their own bread, and even their own beer. This is a happy, healthy couple approaching 70! How do they finance everything? The boat is paid for and Ron, the captain, has a small pension. His wife has no income stream.

Other good friends of ours from Europe have a gorgeous 80 foot (25m) aluminum superyacht with a carbon fiber mast. Their beautiful boat has two generators, multiple air conditioners, entertainment systems, hydraulics, etc. They like to eat out when they can and do a lot of travel ashore when they reach land.

This couple has circumnavigated two and half times and is obviously at the other end of the cost spectrum than our first example above. They spend around $200,000 a year. However, this isn’t blown on caviar and champagne. Mind you, a lot of that is boat maintenance. The bigger the boat, the bigger the maintenance bill, especially if you have a lot of systems to keep going. But their boat is slick, let me tell you.

Basic rule of thumb:

A basic rule of thumb is boat maintenance will cost you 5-15% a year the value of your boat. If you figure on spending 10% a year of what you paid for the vessel you will be in good shape. Also, usually that doesn’t really kick in until the second or third year out because most of us leave with the boat in good condition.

So now you have a range of between “a couple of hundred dollars a month” to “around $200,000 a year.” I would guess that your current on land living costs probably fall somewhere in between and your cruising costs will as well. Again, the factors that affect this most are where you cruise and what size boat you have.

If you have an 80 footer and decide to save a few pennies by not eating in restaurants, well, that isn’t going to make much of a dent in the unavoidable (and expensive) maintenance budget. But if you are living on a 24 footer, eating out or not eating out will make a very big difference to your overall budget indeed.

The other thing I have noticed is that you spend money when you move. Moving means using fuel and oil and sailing will mean breaking things. You will have visa fees and clearance fees and sometimes agent fees when you enter a new country. Sitting on the hook is usually free (unless you are in Florida) and gives you time to get into the local rhythms.

You can learn where the best markets are, what the locals pay, where to get stuff done cheaply. In fact, the longer you stay put the cheaper living there probably gets.

Other costs include insurance, which I talk about here. This is optional for some but figure on 1% the value of your boat per year you insure.

Communication used to be a big cost item but with email and cheap cell phones those costs have, thankfully, plunged to pretty low levels. It is useful to have a laptop on board and a wifi antenna. Then you don’t need to walk to (and pay for) internet cafes.

Don’t count on fishing to supplement the diet. Fishing is hard and you will starve. It seems you catch fish when you don’t need them but they stay away when you do. Kind of like dating.

Also, you don’t need a car. Sell it. There go your car and insurance payments. You aren’t paying rent, either. And you don’t have utilities bills to think about.

In conclusion, you can see cruising on a boat costs what you want it to cost. If you are willing to get a smaller and simpler boat without a lot of equipment and go slow, staying for long periods of time at anchor, then you hardly need any money at all.

If you like your creature comforts, that option isn’t for you and you must budget accordingly. You decide.

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