Episode 31 of The Sailing Podcast is an interview with Bill and Judy Rouse who sailed on their yacht SV BeBe for over the past 6 years and methodically tracked their costs of cruising.
To listen to their interview and view their spreadsheet on The Costs of Cruising please visit The Sailing Podcast at www.thesailingpodcast.com/costsofcruising
The original costs of cruising article by Paul Shard of Distant Shores TV first appeared on Searoom in Dec 2005 and still contains some valuable information for the cruising sailor and is one of our most popular pages:
The Costs of Sailboat Cruising Today
One of the biggest concerns people have while planning an extended cruise is:
“What will it really cost to head off sailing?”
Well, at the seminars we give across North America, we are asked this question more than any other and I thought it might be interesting to look at the cost of cruising today. One thing that has changed over the past 20 years is that more people are cruising in larger and better equipped boats, making use of many of the fantastic developments in our sport. For instance..
- Radar (formerly less than ¼ had it – now over 50 percent of long-term cruisers)
- SSB (formerly 20-30 percent had it now 70-80 percent)
- Computer (now almost all boats have at LEAST one)
- Refrigeration (we cruised for 3 years without it)
- Built-in Autopilot – now many cruisers have one – especially since many need it to handle the larger boats
- Chartplotter – almost all boats have some form of electronic charting – but in many cases this has actually cut costs since you don’tneed to buy as many paper charts.
- Electric windlass – still on my list but there are very few cruisers in the Med who don’t have one
- Generator, watermaker, scuba compressor, air conditioning, diesel cabin heater etc…
- Insurance – it is being required in most marinas to have at least third-party insurance but most cruisers also have hull insurance –as boats get more expensive it is getting harder to risk losing it all!
All seem a good deal and many people feel they couldn’t go cruising without almost all of this list. But we left on our first transatlantic crossing with just one of the above list – the SSB radio. So its not surprising that costs have risen and some cruising budgets are MUCH higher than they might once have been.
So what does it really cost the modern cruiser today?
Well, how about a different take on this. Meet three typical cruising couples who cruise in VERY different styles.
Sue & John have a 33 foot trimaran they bought used a couple of years ago. The boat isn’t up to major passages although they have made a few overnights. Future plans include some glass repairs to the deteriorating plywood but this will wait. For now they are happy to slowly visit various Caribbean and Bahamian islands – more or less moving on when the seasons dictate. They fix everything themselves and although not a great mechanic, John has learned enough about diesel engines to repair his own – and make a little money fixing other boats in the anchorages they’re in. Once a week they go out for happy hour to a beach bar for a beer. Total monthly expenses in restaurants is less than $40. Groceries are kept simple and treats like steak are very rare (no pun intended ;-). The last time they stayed in a marina was 1 year ago when they stayed 2 nights after completing a haulout. They redid the bottom themselves and they buy most boat items used. These are the most frugal people we have met and although they won’t offer you a Heinekin when you come to visit, they may serve you a fabulous fresh-caught fish dinner. You can be rich in other ways than with money!
Total monthly expenses of $800.
Paul & Sheryl Shard on Two-Step – Our monthly budget has crept up from an average of just over $1000 US in the early 1990s to recent numbers closer to $2,500. Having added refrigeration, a computer, electronics, radar etc. means we seem to spend more on repairs – and besides, Two-Step is getting older so costs are bound to go up. Still, we do all mechanical work on the boat ourselves. This year there will be a budget item to have the bottom epoxied – $2000 – something I would have done myself if I weren’t trying to find the time to make a television series about sailing at the same time! (see links to “Distant Shores” below and consider buying our excellent cruising DVDs – you can help our budget and get some sailing inspiration at the same time
An increasing and unpredictable portion of the budget comes from dockage. In the Med – you can spend quite a bit on dockage. In Italy we were faced with fees of over 2 dollars a foot to tie up in some ports. And in many ports docking fees are based on beam times length. So our narrow 37-footer can be paying less than half the rate of our friends on their beamy 55 footer (see below). Another larger item these days is eating out at cafes and restaurants. From Greek Tavernas wafting the smell of calamari, to Pizzerias in their native Italy – and the inexpensive delights of Turkish cuisine – I am glad we could increase the budget to extend to regularly eating out!! Who would want to miss it? Anyway our restaurant budget has sky-rocketed from a low point of $50-80 per month in the Caribbean and Bahamas to a startling height of almost $500/month in the last year. But BOY was it worth it!!
Dave & Joan – cruising on a new European 55 footer – they are living the life! Sailing next to them last year we needed to wear sunglasses for the glare from all the perfectly polished stainless steel. But better neighbours you couldn’t ask for! Stuck in a small Greek harbour with no electricity they were kind enough to allow us to plug in and charge our batteries from their generator – since they needed to run the air conditioning anyway! Sampling the local cuisine regularly adds to the budget even more than us. They spent over $10,000 in one year just on meals out but then the next year just $2,000. The bigger boat cost more to run as well. And as Dave says – keeping it in top condition is a priority even if it means they spend more than they planned. Total boat repairs and upgrades (including hull insurance) is almost $2,000 per month. but even so they do most of the work themselves. Says Dave “We do not do bottom painting, fiberglass repair and sail repair, but we do just about everything else including maintaining the engine and genset, repair of all electrical & electronics parts including nav equipment, computers, water makers, etc.”.
Their budget for slip fees vary per year – but for a 55 footer they are always going to be higher in general. Last year was $5000 but the previous year was $11,000. It depends so much on where you cruise and what kind of a deal you can find for a winter slip if you intend to spend a few months staying put as most people do in the Mediterranean. But this budget has lots of room for some great extras – like some inland touring,
So there you are – from a low of $800 to a high of 8-times that. It is possible to cruise quite inexpensively in some areas. Anchoring as much as possible, doing your own repairs and keeping an eye on the big expenses like slip-fees, restaurants and new boat-bits will help keep the budget reasonable. But depending on where you cruise it could make sense to budget more if you can afford it. Do you really want to walk past that wood-fired Italian pizzeria to save $15. Or come home WITHOUT the pictures from that new digital camera. Or miss the scenic ruins at Ephesus to save a $60 car rental? (don’t mention this one to Sheryl – its a sore point
The style of cruising will obviously affect the cost. Two people who repair their own boat, don’t eat out much and prefer to anchor could keep to a budget of less than $1500/month. If we try for this number we can occasionally splurge on other things though. We use laundry services, rent a car once in a while and never stint on buying food.
Quite a number of cruising boats today cruise on much less. For roughly $800, the cost-conscious couple can cruise, but not likely on a boat larger than 35 feet. Certainly above 40 feet the costs of any boat related item (dockage, fuel, repair, replacement parts etc) go up dramatically. Out of $800 (only $26 per day), much goes to groceries, with boat parts and even clothes having to be carefully planned for.
Reducing Cruising Expenses
At the core of the successful cruising philosophy is “self-sufficiency”. Sailing and wandering the world’s oceans by definition takes us far from the services and conveniences of home. And what is a sailboat but a tiny perfect self-contained system – harnessing the wind to take us across oceans, then anchoring in a new country – our homes incorporating most of the best of the land-based equivalent with the addition of a changeable view and backyard! Cruisers who can keep that self-sufficiency are the most free to travel and live months or years without depleting the bank account.
There is a tremendous satisfaction to keeping the systems onboard up and running. Checking over the rigging to eliminate a source of chafe, fixing a leak in the water system, changing the oil – all these things help achieve self-sufficiency. Don’t worry if you can’t strip down and rebuild a diesel engine – a rare enough occurrence for which you can plan a contingency fund for major repairs – but it is the rare cruiser who doesn’t have at least a minimal level of comfort with normal shipboard repairs. Of course this all relates to the cruising budget! A competent mechanic not only saves on his repair budget, but also can usually depend on regular free drinks/dinners just for offering a hand to other cruisers!
Some more hints to reduce the cruising budget
- Get comfortable with basic repair techniques for the major ship’s systems. Get tools for these repairs if you don’t already have them. The boat repair end of the budget could get quite out of hand during extended cruising if even basic jobs are left to tradesmen along the way.
- Prepare to anchor a lot. Marinas are fine for occasional visits, or carefully planned longer term stays, but at more than $1.50US per foot per night for transient visits, the whole $1500 monthly budget could disappear just on that. Examine your ground tackle and consider upgrading if you don’t totally trust it. The basic light tackle carried by weekend sailors, especially weight-conscious racers will look woefully undersized in the middle of an anchorage of cruisers. Most cruisers have more than 2 anchors – and the main one being slightly oversized for the boat. Usually this main anchor is on an all-chain rode with a windlass to raise and lower it.
- Plan a food and restaurant budget. If you like to eat out a lot this could become a major budget item. Of course it’s an interesting part of traveling to sample the local cuisine and if you are used to dining out often you can budget this in. But eating on board and cooking local meals can be fun, too. One of the most often heard pieces of advice from contented on-board chefs is to take along your nice cooking gear from home. It’s not fun to camp on board when the boat becomes home – not just a weekend retreat. Replacing the plastic plates and cups with real ones, taking quality stainless cookware and even real wineglasses can help make a boat a home.
- Expenses such as insurance (health, boat, and life) will all be extra. Many cruisers keep a nest egg to cover themselves in the event of needing medical attention or something expensive such as a new engine. This can substantially reduce insurance premiums if you are willing to bear some risk yourself in this way.
Another item that can blow a budget is communications – especially cell-phones, satellite phones and internet access. Decide what you are willing to spend and budget it in. If you really want to live the old-time cruising life of keeping in touch by postcards and the occasional land line call home it is still possible. But we find more and more people want to budget to keep in touch from onboard.
Finally, as the car brochures say, “your mileage may vary”! There is a wide variety of both cruising styles and budgets out there. And that’s the main point – TO BE OUT THERE!! See you on the water!
Paul and Sheryl’s own WebSite may be found at www.distantshores.ca
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