Friday, May 21, 2010

Costs of Cruising

Money -- that topic no one likes to talk about. Someone needs to tell the truth.

Like many cruisers and sailors, I follow a number of online sailing groups. The question of how much it costs to cruise is frequently asked by those contemplating casting off the dock lines. It seems that most people think this can be done on a tight budget. And I guess it can if you don't mind living without any conveniences on a spartan boat and eating like you are in 1850 in the mountain backwoods. And not doing any land travel at those exotic destinations......which seems to us to negate the entire concept of sailing around to different countries. The old adage is that it will cost as much as you have to spend......which does seem to be true.

Bill and I do not live an extravagant lifestyle We did that back in our thirties and are SO over living in that manner. We live pretty simply on the boat. I enjoy cooking and baking, and Bill enjoys the dishes I create. But we also enjoy occasional treats at nice restaurants. Bill drinks 2 beers daily but I rarely drink alcohol We both enjoy a bottle of good wine with certain foods. We prefer a beautiful quiet anchorage over a marina most of the time; although it seems we have spent an inordinate amount of time in marinas in New Zealand, Australia and now Malaysia. We do try to make an annual trip back to the States to visit family and friends. That is a splurge for me, but Bill must make an annual trip home for medical visits to the VA hospital for check-ups. We wear the typical sailor clothing; gave up being clothes horses long ago.

That description should provide you with a good idea of our cruising lifestyle. Not extravagant but also definitely not basic. We do carry insurance on our boat since it is our home and does represent a substantial financial asset. And learning of all the boats lost in the South Pacific over the past couple of years has reinforced our decision to continue to carry full insurance on the boat. We do realize that if the boat is damaged then we are responsible for paying for the environmental damage that might result, especially from diesel carried in the main tank. The cost of that alone is enough to make us realize that in today's world boats definitely need to be insured.

Most people we have met out cruising only have a vague idea of how much they are spending to cruise. We haven't met anyone who truly tracks all costs.

We do.

I write down what we have spent every single time we return to the boat from an outing. This only takes a moment and quickly became a habit when we first moved aboard. After all, I did accounting for decades and was accustomed to keeping track of money. For example, Bill went for a walk this afternoon and brought back an ice cream for me. (I know; isn't he sweet!) The ice cream cost only 2.5 ringitt. I converted that to US dollars and recorded 77 cents in my 'budget' book. At the end of each month I tally everything spent and transfer the data to an Excel workbook. I have done this since the first day we moved aboard. If you track every penny spent, it adds up to more than one might guess.

Before we started cruising, we had hoped to do this minimal lifestyle for $35,000 per year. People in the online sailing groups thought that was way too high. But I knew it actually was less than realistic and would require cutting corners as tight as possible. I figured a more realistic figure would be in the neighborhood of 50 to 60k annually. Another old adage is that once you have compiled a cruising budget; double it; and that will be about what you will actually spend.

We recently celebrated our 4th anniversary of living aboard full-time. Today I decided to compare the percentages of where our money has been spent during that time. Blogger does not allow me to upload an Excel spreadsheet, so I have uploaded a screen shot of the totals. Click on the image for a larger view. Haul-outs are not included in the percentages of annual expenditures of each category. We prefer to look at the percentages of monthly expenditures and keep haul-outs separate because we plan to do haul-out bi-annually in the future. The grand totals include our haul-outs. That explains why the total spent is 110.4%. The negative amount shown in year 4 for charts, etc., comes from the sale of used guides when we finished the Pacific. We did make a trip home in Year Three, but the cost was not separated from the Tours and Sightseeing that year. I decided it was not worth my time to dig back and separate those costs since both involve air/land travel.

Others might be able to cruise on less money, but we are pretty careful and these have been our true costs. The Entertainment category includes all restaurant and bar visits. Customs and Fees was the category that surprised us. We had no idea before we started this venture that it would cost so much for clearance fees. And we handle clearances ourselves in all countries that do not require the services of an agent. If we used agents at every country then those costs would be considerably higher. The category of Boat Supplies and Maintenance includes every last dime spent to maintain the boat. This includes filters, boat soap, wax......every little expense.....not just the replacement parts that most sailors consider maintenance costs. Those water filters and that little bottle of polish to keep the stainless steel gleaming are just as much costs of boat maintenance as replacement pumps or a new radio.

And, when you gasp at the total spent for routine maintenance..........remember..........this is for an excellent Amel Super Maramu 2000 yacht in perfect condition that was built and left the factory in January 2003. And Bill does all the work himself except for the occasional wash and wax in lower cost labor areas such as Malaysia. Maintenance on an older boat or different quality construction boat will likely cost more. Or if you must pay professionals for their labor instead of acting as your own mechanic, refrigeration specialist, electrician, rigger, plumber, computer consultant, etc.

If you are going to be a cruiser, you must be prepared to wear a lot of hats!


  1. Hi Judy and Bill,
    Still reading and enjoying your blog immensely.
    Find your breakdown of cost of particular interest - thank you for sharing.

    We are still waiting to finish our boat (sigh) but hope to set out after you some time.

    fair winds,

  2. Found your blog searching for Airwego - we also have a Macintosh (Mcintosh) 47. What hit me in your expenses was 2 items: your haulout costs and your boat maintenance. We haul our boat every other year for a bottom, and spend $2-2.5K. What was so expensive about your haulouts?

    On your misc. boat expenses, that has been about 1/5 of your total expenses. Just curious as to what that involved.

    Great reading,

    S/V Merlin

  3. Greetings to Bill s/v Merlin,

    Thanks for your interest and your message. We posted what our expenses are without a lot of detail...I know it is hard to believe, but I find those who say they do it the same way we do and do it for less, hard to believe. Can it be done for less, most certainly. For instance I know people who haulout every 4 years and when they haul, they have no anti fouling left..they paint the bottom with some hocus pokus stuff with red pepper added at $120/gallon. I also know people that fix things when they break and perform very little maintenance. I hope I never buy one of their boats. And, I know people who spend a lot more than we do and have no idea what they spend in a year.

    So let me try to explain:
    BeBe is 53 feet LOA. We use Micron 66 - 5 gallons at $250-$350 or more a gallon (depends where you are in the world). We polish the entire boat at haulout. We hire people to sand, paint and polish. The figure includes electricity, hard-stand storage, in/out fees, masking tape and trash removal...we track every single penny. Normally we replace the Amel Drive wear bushing and seals and replace bearing and seal in the bow thruster when we haul. On our last haulout we replaced the epoxy coating on the lead portion of the keel at a cost of $1,025 (recommended maintenance every 5 years). If you do it right, it ads up.

    Misc Boat Exp, - These are all of the boat exp except for haulouts and fuel. This includes everything we have bought for the boat...water maker membranes to macerator pumps...we have on-hand over 15k in spares...some from Amel and some bought else where.

    I hope this helps.


  4. To: Bill, S/V Merlin

    Just a little follow-up on haul out prices. I was just quoted for Micron 66 Black – YBA473 Singapore $570.00 / Gal. That converts to $406USD/gal. That would be over $2,000 just for paint for the haulout.

    Costs depend on where you are.


  5. Bill,

    Wow. Hadn't thought about paint costs in that part of the world. Micron 66 is $220 a gallon now. We use Ultra, which is $180, and lasts 2-2.5 years here.


  6. Hi Judy and Bill,

    We have crossed paths somehwere abouts... but I don't think we have really met.

    Thanks so much for having the guts to put up the expenses sheet.
    So many people researching read those stupid forum posts saying crusing can be done on $500 per month, or $1,000 per month.
    Heaven knows what happens when they leave home!

    We are on a low end of what can be acheived, but its still $2k per month.

    Anyway, we did the Gulf of Aden this year and are in the Med now and heading to the Caribbean by the end of the year.

    All the best :)

    Sea Life

  7. Mark,

    Checked your website at

    Have you joined the Yahoo Group Circumnavigation - it is just getting started at and could certainly use your experience.

    Judy and I are behind you guys and would love to get any advice. Our plans are to leave Thailand in Dec 2010 - Jan 2011. Email us directly at crew"at"



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