The Cost of Sailing (Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is)

net and masts in a marina

We often get asked what it costs to sail full-time. In fact if you go on any sailing forum you’ll see pages and pages of threads dedicated to this very topic. Several fellow sailing bloggers have written great posts about this and the general consensus is:

It costs as much as you want it to cost.

I know that’s a disappointing answer because people want specifics, but that’s the simple truth. I will say for us, we spend more than I thought we would before we moved onto our boat, but I’m learning a lot and know a lot of things we could cut back on. I won’t say we’ve made mistakes per se, but we have been less than frugal with certain things, and one of my goals is to be more cost-conscious.

For example, I am the money nazi… until I want something, usually pertaining to food (because I swear I starved to death in a former life so it’s all I ever want), then I can totally find a way to justify it. Here’s what a conversation on our boat might sound like:

 “Honey, I know we said we were going to cook every night this week but I’m really craving crabcakes and we’ve worked really hard this week… we totally deserve it. I’ll buy!”

We don’t do this often, but I would definitely say that eating out is our biggest unnecessary expense. It’s not that we don’t like to cook because we actually love cooking at home, but when you travel around from place to place, it’s nice to go into town and find out where the locals hang. We’ve met a lot of really cool people just by going to a restaurant and sitting at the bar, talking to the other patrons or the bartender. Lately we’ve changed our tactic a bit. We still go out once or twice a week but when we do, we order water to drink (because alcohol will totally rack up your bill), we order an appetizer, and we share an entree. We have found that by doing this, we walk away totally full and our bill is half what we used to spend. We then go back to the boat and enjoy a beer or glass of wine that we bought for a fraction of the price. I would estimate that we spend about $300 on dining out / entertainment, but that’s a totally wild guess. It could be less.

Grocery shopping is another big expense of ours, mainly because we are really conscious about what we eat. Aside from the occasional condiment and very rare treat of Totino’s Pizza Rolls, we don’t buy anything processed and we buy organic as much as possible, which, as you know, costs a little more than the non-organic counterpart. We figure the additional expense is a small price to pay when it comes to our health. If eating clean and healthy food keeps us from getting sick, that’s fewer medical bills in the long run, smaller insurance premiums, etc. It all balances out and at the end of the day, we don’t feel like crap. We probably spend about $400-500 on groceries a month but are looking at better ways to do our shopping.

Another expense is marinas. Oh boy – even though we have a shower on our boat, it is so nice to be able to go and stand under a hot (or cool) shower for as long as you want. Oh and what was that? You have a pool? Why, it’s 95 degrees outside and I’m sweating like a stuck pig… don’t mind if I do!  Free coffee?  So I don’t have to fire up the propane stove in this 95 degree weather to make my own?  Get the picture? Marinas are expensive because they are so convenient, especially when you pay a nightly transient rate, which can vary anywhere from $1.00 per foot/night to $2.50 per foot/night. We have a 35′ boat, so you can do the math.

Although we’ve been cruising the Chesapeake Bay down to Florida, repairs, friends and freelance work have kept us in some places for longer than others. If we’re in a place for any length of time, we definitely stay in a marina. We have our dog with us so his bathroom breaks require a dinghy ride to shore, plus we don’t yet have a wind generator or sufficient solar panels to anchor out for more than a couple of nights without running the engine to charge the batteries. If we’re staying for more than a couple of weeks, we always ask for a monthly rate (rather than pay a daily or weekly transient rate). The monthly cost varies depending on the area as well as the marina. Our average dockage rate so far between the places we’ve stayed for a month or more has been about $600/mo. Hopefully one day in the near future, we’ll be able to get rid of the marina fees, but until we make a few upgrades, we’ll have to suffer that expense.

Other than that, we really don’t spend a lot on ourselves – most of it goes towards the boat. This is where your expenses can really vary. You see, when we bought the boat, we had two options. Get a boat that was ready for cruising and thus a lot more expensive and may require a partial loan OR pay cash for a boat that needed some upgrades and spend the first couple of years traveling, getting to know her, and fixing her as we go. We opted for the latter.  We are slowly but surely adding elements, taking some out, replacing this part or that, changing this, etc. I do know that we’ve put at least $15,000 into her in the past year, probably more.

I tried tallying up all of our receipts for our first year of doing this (we moved aboard in May 2012) and after realizing that we had a lot of receipts, but we didn’t keep all of them, I didn’t think it was worth the trouble to tally them all for a number that wouldn’t be accurate. I do know that we haven’t really changed our spending habits too much from our life on land.  We are spending less in many aspects, but the money we put into the boat evens it all out. My goal is to cut our everyday costs as much as possible so that we can sink more into the boat – that way, even though the boat’s work is never done, if we have the major things done, we just have to make sure to do the upkeep.  Everything left over goes into savings, or “the kitty”.

I estimate that our monthly spending (including marina fees, entertainment, boat work, food, wifi, phone, laundry, etc.) is somewhere around $2000, sometimes more, sometimes less. But let me be the first to tell you, you CAN do it on a lot less, and you can also spend a lot more. I would love to cut our spending considerably, but to be honest, as long as we’re stateside, we’re going to spend more than we would if we were in say, Grenada,  Dominican Republic or Panama. For now we’re still in plan-making mode and as always, plans can change.

My advice for anyone who is looking to do this is to estimate that you’ll spend close to what you spend on land, but substitute mortgage costs with marina fees (if you are getting rid of your house and plan on staying in marinas), and don’t forget to take into account costs like storage (to store what possessions you do keep but that aren’t going on the boat), cell service, wifi, towing insurance and/or boat insurance, entry fees (if traveling outside the US), entertainment expenses, etc.

These are only my experiences – everyone will be different. Do any of you live aboard a boat and/or traveling around like a gypsy? How do your spending habits compare?  Please share, and as always, I’m open to ideas and ways others have made a nomadic lifestyle work for them!


  1. says

    Awesome read, thanks for sharing. I used to think I wanted to buy a sailboat and do the liveaboard lifestyle when I early retired. Then we had a bunch of kids and I realized I am totally clueless about sailing, and there is way more to learn before I could ever even think about living on a sailboat!


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