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Forget van life… What about boat life? If you’ve ever dreamed of sailing away to...

Forget van life… What about boat life? If you’ve ever dreamed of sailing away to a life of freedom, you may be wondering how much it costs to live on a sailboat full-time.

Source: Giphy.com

 

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with three people who’ve made the switch to boat life. And each person was kind enough to break down all their monthly expenses for me.

  • 🌊 From a minimalist boater who spends $820 a month on the low end…
  • 🌎 To a global nomad who sailed the world with friends for just ~$1,780 a month…
  • 👨‍👩‍👧 To a family of three that spends up to $8,840 a month on the high end…

Here’s how their budgets break down.

Shelagh Hogan: The Minimalist Boater

💼Occupation: Freelance copywriter and blogger at Life On A Lean.

💸Average cost to live on a boat: $820 to $1,320 per month.

Shelagh on her first solo sail from CT to VA, and her boat, Constance, at anchor | Source: Shelagh Hogan

What type of sailboat do you live on?

I live on a 1982 Slocum 43’.

How long have you been living boat life?

I have been living aboard full-time since September 2019.

What fun places have you sailed to?

The pandemic put a bit of a damper on my big international sail plans, but I’ve been to some really fun spots along the east coast of the U.S. Some of my favorites are Beaufort and Charleston, NC, and Gloucester, MA.

This past winter, I spent about three months in the Bahamas. Did some freediving, spearfishing, and surfing. (Well, my partner is the bigger surfer. So on big wave days, I took pictures of him.)  It was wonderful; the Abacos are amazing, and I love Eleuthera.

How much did your boat cost?

I bought my boat for $50,000. She was pretty much ready to sail/liveaboard when I bought her, and her previous owners had sailed her *almost* a full circumnavigation.

The bigger ticket refit item that needed to be addressed was the replacement of the chain plates on the rig — that came out to nearly $30,000 with yard fees. (Do the refits/install yourself, people!)

What’s your monthly cost of living on a sailboat?

Boat Maintenance

$40 per month.

Insurance

$175 per month.

Marina or Anchoring Costs

$0 to $500 per month.

Anchoring is free, so I am on anchor often from April to November. Lots of places have free public dinghy docks where you can leave your dinghy for the day. Although some charge a dinghy fee that can be anywhere from $5 to $20 per day.

Marina costs for my size of boat in NC (where I am, currently) are around $500 per month for a long-term rental, transient slip fees are about $2.50 per foot, per day. All include water, shore power, wifi, and usually laundry.

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Fuel (Diesel, Gas, Propane, etc.)

~$90 per month.

  • Diesel: $500 per year (I only motor when I have to).
  • Gas: $36 per month.
  • Propane: $30 per quarter.

Internet

$65 per month.

I’m still getting my boat rigged for offshore internet services. But GoogleFi costs me around $65 per month for talk, text, and 50GB of data. Mooching wifi ashore usually involves a cost of a couple coffees…

Entertainment Costs

$0 per month.

The lifestyle is the entertainment! I usually trade books with other cruisers, paddleboard, and surf. (Also, my partner has Amazon Prime so if we must watch a movie, he’s got that covered.)

Provisions

$450 per month.

Laundry

$0 per month.

When I’m at anchor I’m doing laundry manually with a bucket and hanging it on a line. Otherwise, it’s usually rolled into marina costs.

Miscellaneous

Varies.

Includes state taxes, registration fees for the sailboat and dinghy (not monthly, but still something I pay at least once a year).

Total: $820 to $1,320 per month.

How does the cost of sailing compare to the cost of living on land?

Your costs will increase with your desire for “convenience.” Now that I’ve learned how, I tackle all repairs and maintenance myself rather than hiring the work out, and it saves me tons of money.

I also prefer to anchor — it saves me money on marina fees, and it’s far more peaceful, in my opinion. My boat is rigged with solar and a watermaker, so it allows me to stay out for long periods of time without a need to come into a marina.

Max Loubser: The Global Nomad

💼Occupation: Director of NomadSxm.

💸Average cost to live on a boat: $1,250 to $1,780 per month.

Some of Max’s epic sailing adventures around the globe | Source: Max Loubser

What type of sailboat do you live on?

We lived for four years on our Beneteau Oceanis 523 monohull. She was a fantastic boat with an owner’s cabin up front, rather than the double berth. It was built in 2006 in France, and I actually helped the original owner deliver her to the Caribbean when she was first put in the water.

How long have you been living boat life?

Boat life started for me almost at the beginning. My parents left South Africa on a 30-foot boat when I was six months old. I turned two in South America and by age three we had made it to St. Maarten, where I grew up.

We lived on that boat and then a subsequent larger one until I was 17. I then moved into a professional career on super yachts. So all in all, I was never really based on land until 2022!

What fun places have you sailed to?

There are so many! I was very fortunate to do a circumnavigation back in 2013 when I originally bought the boat. I sailed with a few friends around the world for 2.5 years and saw countless beautiful places in many countries.

One of the places that stuck out for me was Papua New Guinea, where we were able to meet people living in traditional communities. They had a bartering economy, so we traded what we had for food and artwork. It was amazing to explore some of those far-flung places on the globe!

How much did you pay for your boat?

When I bought the boat, she was eight years old, so I paid $250,000. I believe she would’ve been about $450,000 brand new.

What’s your monthly cost of living on a sailboat?

Boat Maintenance

$500 per month.

I only spent about $500 a month for general maintenance. But I was very hands-on with most aspects of the boat, so I could keep the costs even lower at times.

(I own a company in St. Maarten that specializes in the electrical and maintenance of sailboats, so my hands-on knowledge has helped keep costs super cheap.)

Most expensive in the maintenance department was the annual haul out and bottom paint. This was $3,000 to $4,000 per year, and we did it every year to make sure the hull was always in perfect shape.

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Insurance

$330 per month.

We live in hurricane country, so unfortunately our insurance is expensive. This was about $4,000 a year.

Fun fact: we did a sailing trip to Greenland during the COVID-19 lockdown, and no one would give us insurance due to the “high risk factor.”

Marina or Anchoring Costs

Usually $0.

I almost spent all of our moored life at anchor. This was generally the more scenic option but also it is free (mostly).

Fuel (Diesel, Gas, Propane, etc.)

$270 per month.

We probably filled our diesel once every three months for $500, propane every two months for $40, and gas for the dinghy every week for $20.

Internet

$50 per month.

We only used 3G or 4G services for internet so we kept it around $50 a month. But now with Starlink satellite internet, things will get so much better!

Entertainment Costs

Varies.

Honestly, life onboard was very affordable because the boat provides the platform for meals, activities, and social events. So we kept that cost low most of the time.

I did spend more on toys — such as surfboards, kiteboards, scuba gear, fishing gear, hydrofoils, and so on. But unfortunately, I don’t have a number for this.

Provisions

$500 per month.

We cooked a lot so our provisions were about $500 a month. That said, when we were sailing long distances and catching fish, our costs were about half that.

Laundry

$130 per month.

This varied greatly but we probably averaged about $30 a week because we didn’t have a machine onboard.

Total: $1,250 to $1,780 per month.

How does the cost of sailing compare to the cost of living on land?

If you learn your boat well and teach yourself the basics of the mechanics, I believe it can be very affordable.

The costs climb drastically when you have to rely on contractors to fix issues that come up — and issues will come up constantly.

When we were sailing around the world, our budget per person per month was $250 for six people. That $1,250 covered all basic living expenses we had.

The hardest part is jumping in and setting sail for the first time, but when you do, you’ll never look back!

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner: The Family of 3

💼Occupation: Founder of Making Sense of Cents.

💸Average cost to live on a boat: $3,800 to $8,840 per month.

Michelle lives on a Lagoon 42 catamaran with her husband and daughter | Source: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

What type of sailboat do you live on?

We have a Lagoon 42 — a 42-foot-long sailing catamaran that is 25 feet wide and around 67 feet tall. It has three cabins (bedrooms) and three heads (bathrooms).

How long have you been living boat life?

We bought our boat in April 2018, so over four years now.

What fun places have you sailed to?

Our favorite place is the Bahamas. There are over 700 islands in the Bahamas and the water is crystal clear. There is amazing sea life in the Bahamas and the people are so friendly, too.

What’s your monthly cost of living on a sailboat?

Boat Maintenance

$830 per month.

Luckily, we do have a newish boat and my husband does most of the maintenance work on it. So, we save a lot of money and know that the work is done correctly. However, things do break on a boat a lot.

We probably spend at least $10,000 a year on maintenance, which includes things like replacing lines, servicing our engines and generators, cleaning the boat, replacing ACs and fridges (ours, for some reason, break all the time), painting the bottom, and other little odds and ends.

Insurance

$830 per month.

For us, this is around $10,000 per year as we typically stay in the hurricane box. It just keeps going up and up and up, and this is normal for most boaters. This is because there have been more claims in recent years (at least, that’s what the insurance companies are saying is the reason).

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It’s generally around 1.5% to 2% of your boat value. You can save money if you get out of the hurricane box. For example, when we sailed to the Chesapeake, our annual insurance dropped to around $5,000 per year.

Marina or Anchoring Costs

$1,000 to $5,000 per month.

Anchoring is typically free, after you pay for your anchor and anchor chain. Marinas can be anywhere from around $1,000 per month to over $5,000. When we are in a marina, we typically spend around $2,000 to $3,000 per month. When we are anchored, we typically spend $0. If we are on a mooring ball, that is usually around $300 per month.

Fuel (Diesel, Gas, Propane, etc.)

$40 to $80 per month.

We probably spend around $500 to $1,000 a year on diesel for our two fuel tanks (we have two engines on our boat) and generator. We typically are outside the U.S. when we fill up, and diesel is typically much more expensive. For example, diesel in the Bahamas is over $7 right now per gallon.

Internet

$100 per month.

We spend around $100 a month on getting a SIM card in whatever country we are in so that we can have unlimited internet (I still need to work).

Entertainment Costs

$0 per month.

We don’t typically spend a lot on entertainment when we are on our boat, as we typically do things like fishing, hiking, exploring, swimming, sailing, etc., which are already built into our normal boat costs.

Provisions

$1,000 to $2,000 per month.

We typically spend around $1,000 to $2,000 a month on food and going out to eat. Food in places such as the Bahamas tends to cost more than in the U.S. We do lobster fish, spearfish, and fish with a rod when we are in places such as the Bahamas, so that can bring down our grocery spending by a lot in certain months.

Laundry

$0 per month.

We have laundry onboard so we do not spend any money on laundry other than detergent and sometimes when we are in a marina that charges for water.

Water and Electric

Varies.

Water and electricity can add up quickly if you are in a marina in a foreign country, such as the Bahamas. For example, water per gallon in the Bahamas is typically around 50 cents per gallon. This is water coming out of the faucet — so it adds up quickly when you are taking showers, doing laundry, washing dishes, drinking water, and so on! We do typically make as much water as we can, though.

How does the cost of sailing compare to the cost of living on land?

The cost of living on a boat can be more expensive or even less expensive than living on land. It all depends on how you approach living on a boat.

After all, you can find a boat for $10,000, or you can find one for $1 million (or even $100 million if you have that kind of money to spend!). And, you can anchor out all the time to save money, or you can stay in pricey marinas every night.

Some marinas in south Florida want around $10,000 a month for a catamaran, so that can add up very quickly. Also, the handier you are, the more money you will save on a boat because things will break all the time.

Total: $3,800 to $8,840 per month.

Summary

The cost of living on a sailboat can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. The two biggest factors that’ll impact your bottom line are marina and maintenance costs.

If you embrace anchoring and do routine fix-ups yourself, the cost of living on a boat could be more affordable than you think.

*I want to give a huge shout-out to Shelagh, Max, and Michelle for taking the time to answer my questions about the cost of living on a sailboat. I truly appreciate you — and am blown away by the life you’ve built for yourself at sea! 🌊

Featured image: Giovanni Rinaldi/Shutterstock.com

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