The Cost of Living on a Sailboat Full-Time (with Examples)

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What is the cost of living on a sailboat full-time? And can such a lifestyle be affordable? Yes! Absolutely it can.

It’s a dream for many to leave the land behind with its 9 to 5s, crowded cities, and traffic and take to the sea. To live aboard a sailboat for an extended period, maybe even indefinitely.

However, before casting off and setting sail into the sunset, one of the first questions, and perhaps the first hurdle to living this sailing lifestyle, is knowing how much such an adventure will cost.

Contrary to popular belief, boat life isn’t exclusively for wealthy people. In fact, living on a sailboat can be very affordable. Of course, a lot depends on where you’re planning to sail and what kind of lifestyle you want. Regardless of your budget, there are a number of common costs associated with living on a boat full-time that all sailboat owners should consider.

*All example costs given in $ USD

The Cost of Buying a Boat

Sailing boats moored in a row in a marina. Buying a boat is a significant cost of living on a sailboat full-time
Buying a boat is usually the most significant cost of living on a sailboat full-time.

One of the most obvious, and certainly the biggest, costs associated with the liveaboard life is the initial cost of purchasing a vessel to live on.

The cost of a boat will depend on your budget and criteria.

Realistically, a safe and seaworthy boat equipped for living aboard and with enough space for an individual or couple starts somewhere around $20,000. This will buy an older boat around thirty feet, but one that is sound and hopefully well maintained. There is no known upper limit for what you can spend on a boat, however, at the pointy end of the cruiser market, newer 50-foot monohulls cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and brand-new catamarans can cost over a million dollars.

To get an idea of how much a boat suitable for you and your crew’s needs will cost in your region head to Yacht World and plug in your criteria.

Other costs associated with purchasing a sailing vessel include:

  • Pre-purchase survey reports – These are generally charged per foot and can cost between $10 – $25 per foot depending on the region your boat is in. Boat build material may also factor into the cost with wooden boats attracting higher inspection fees.
  • Insurance – Liveaboard sailboat insurance, including third-party insurance which is almost universally mandatory, will vary substantially based on region, insurer, and boat value. On average an annual insurance policy should fall between $500 and $1,500 annually. Boat insurance is generally cheaper than home or vehicle insurance.
  • Registration costs, once again will vary from region to region and based on the size of your boat and onboard motor. Registration itself usually costs several hundred dollars for a liveaboard-sized boat. It may be a one-time payment or an annual payment. Be aware, that there may be other costs associated with boat registration, for example, some authorities might require used boats to be hauled and inspected and any issues rectified which can quickly increase the cost of registering your boat.

Costs of Maintaining a Boat

Once you’ve bought a boat, the endless work and expense of maintenance begin immediately.

The old ‘rule of thumb’ is that maintenance costs for a boat will be around 10% of the purchase cost.

Older boats will require more maintenance more frequently and owners should err on the side of caution and may need to budget for more maintenance depending on the age and condition of their boat. There is a lot of equipment on a boat and ‘nautical’ products always seem to attract an inexplicable but hefty premium.

Engine, electrical systems, kitchen, safety equipment, ropes, anchors, sails, rigging, navigation, dinghy, outboard, the hull itself, the list of systems that may require spot repair or total overhaul at any given time goes on and on.

Being able to predict a potential range of maintenance costs will require having an accurate assessment of your maintenance needs. You can do this by keeping careful inventory and monitoring your systems.

Start with the recurring annual costs. For example:

  • Inboard engine service
  • Haul out, clean, and paint
  • Outboard engine service

Next, consider which systems haven’t been updated or are starting to show signs of wear and anticipate potential maintenance or replacement costs. Try to stay on top of these issues as they arise to keep maintenance costs stable. For example:

  • Sail Service (or Replacement)
  • Worn out Rigging
  • Electrical systems
  • Electronic equipment such as sounders, navigation equipment or VHF radio
  • Expiring safety equipment like flares, life jackets, EPIRB, and safety raft

Finally set aside some contingency funds, say 10% of the boat’s value to address the unexpected issues that will invariably arise. For example:

  • Damaged rigging and equipment
  • Plumbing issues
  • Engine Issues
  • Hull damage

For an in-depth look at some average costs for common boat maintenance tasks check out this article by Improve Sailing.

Costs of Mooring a Boat

Boats in a marina in Kotor Montenegro. Marina and moorings represent a significant cost of living on a sailboat full time
A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for

No matter how ‘off grid’ you plan to get, at one point or another, you will need to moor your boat.

Like everything else, mooring and docking costs are wildly variable. The amount you will spend will depend largely on the size of your boat, how you plan to use it, and where you plan to sail it.

Boat size is perhaps the most significant variable when it comes to mooring. Prices are usually calculated per square meter. The longer and wider your boat is, the more expensive the mooring. For this reason, catamarans are generally the most costly sailboats to moor.

How you use it will also affect the amount of money you spend on mooring fees.

  • Will you stay in one area year-round? And thus be able to get a much cheaper annual marina berth, rather than transient nightly berths which are much more expensive.
  • If you plan on sailing your boat far and wide, do you want to spend a lot of time off your boat enjoying new places, attractions, and restaurants on the land?
  • Are you a novice sailor not comfortable sleeping at anchor or sailing in bad weather
  • Do you have a smaller boat without amenities like large water tanks, a water maker, or a large solar electrical system to comfortably sustain long periods away from the port?

These questions will help you understand how regularly you might want to moor the boat. However, you probably won’t know for sure until you begin sailing.

The costs of mooring are also very much dependent on where you plan to dock. Even within the same country or region, one place very popular for sailing with many amenities and attractions may be much more expensive than a nearby marina in a less popular area. You can easily research prices for marinas in a particular area to get an accurate idea of prices. If you are planning to remain mostly in one area, consider that long-term leases can offer far cheaper rates than transient mooring prices.

Marinas are the most obvious places to more but also the most expensive. Many regions have mooring buoys or public wharves that might be free to use or be far cheaper than a marina but lack facilities.

To summarise the cost of mooring your boat is highly variable but you can easily calculate a potential range of costs based on your specific situation.

If you have a small monohull and plan to spend the majority of your time on the anchor, only coming into a marina a few times a month in very bad weather or to resupply, and you choose your marinas carefully, you’re mooring costs could conceivably be kept under $100 a month.

If you have a larger catamaran, enjoy the safety and convenience of mooring in marinas, and plan to visit the most beautiful and famous sailing grounds in the world marina fees could easily exceed $2000 a month.

For most, it will be somewhere in between based on personal preference and budget.

Personally, currently sailing in Greece, we spend about $450 a month on marina fees. We have a small boat, a 29-foot monohull but we usually spend two nights in a marina each week, sometimes even more if there is poor weather.

Winter Marina Berth Costs

Sailors in areas with challenging winter conditions may choose to spend the summer months sailing from place to place spending time on anchor and in transient berths, and over winter continue living on their boats but permanently moored inside a marina. These semi-annual marina berths often cost less than berths in the summertime as many boats will be dry-docked and there is no demand for transient berths. Certain marinas have winter communities that return each year to wait out the winter in comfortable marinas with like-minded liveaboards.

Dry Docking

Some seasonal liveaboards may live on their sailboat only for the warmer months, and haul it out each winter for cheap storage. In areas that experience disadvantageous weather in the off-season dry docking your boat for the winter can be a cost-effective solution. Dry docking involves pulling the boat from the water and storing it on the land for the winter. Storing the boat on land is far cheaper than mooring your boat in a marina. Dry docking also provides an opportunity to perform maintenance on the hull.

Costs of Sailing a Boat

The wonderful thing about a sailboat is that the wind is free. Ostensibly you could liveaboard without any costs for traveling save for the costs of maintaining sails and rigging. In reality, if you plan to travel with your boat you may end up using your motor more than you thought. That being said, fuel costs for a moderately sized liveaboard boat (30 – 40 feet) should be negligible especially compared to transport costs on land.

We travel very slowly, we work during the week and do most of our sailing on the weekend. Often we travel less than 50 nautical miles a week. Say we sail half of that time that is 25 nautical miles a week to motor (basically nothing). Our boat tops out at a little over 5 kn. This means we might motor for about 5 hours at top speed we are burning about 2 to 3 liters of diesel an hour. Our fuel consumption is a paltry 10 – 15 liters per week! In 2022 marine diesel costs $2 a liter which puts our fuel costs at $20 – $30 a week.

Some weeks we have to travel more, and some less, sometimes there is more wind, sometimes less but overall fuel costs on our little sailboat are very manageable

Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum, a 50 foot Catamaran that has to cover a lot of ground sailing in a region without much reliable wind, but a lot of swell. Say this boat needs to travel 100 NM a week using only the motor and burns fuel at a rate of 12 liters an hour. With a faster top speed of 8 kn the larger boat might use 150 liters of fuel each week which in the current climate would cost around $300 per week.

Costs of Living on a Sailboat

Everyday living expenses on the boat should be similar to what you spend on land

The day-to-day cost of living on a sailboat will likely be similar to your day-to-day cost of living on land. We have included our budget here as an example of our weekly costs of sailing in the Mediterranean.

Food

This hasn’t changed much for us. We still cook most meals onboard and go out to eat when we are in a marina.

We spend about $80 a week on groceries and another $70 on eating out. However, your own personal grocery budget on land is a pretty good indicator of what you might spend living on a boat.

We spend another $50 a week buying wine and beer and budget a further $50 for going to the bar. We set aside $12 for coffee from a cafe on the weekend.

Phone and Internet

This one comes as a bit of a surprise to most people but our total phone and internet costs are less than $500 per annum. We have one entry-level smartphone that cost $250. We use data-only sims in the places we sail and are currently using a $50 Cosmote Three Month Unlimited Data sim in Greece. When in a marina we can often access marina wifi.

Using this single phone and single prepaid data sim we are both able to work using video conferencing as well as stream television and upload our own movies and photos to social media. The limitations of relying on a smartphone are that you usually need to be in sight of a cellular tower. As we are sailing in Europe and stay close to shore this is not a problem for us. But this might be too limiting for some.

Other phone and internet gear that full-time sailors might consider are mast-mounted wi-fi hot spot which provides a dedicated hot spot 24/7 and greater range than a smartphone thanks to their powerful antennae and positioning. Antenna boosters for wifi and cellular data are also cost-effective ways of increasing your range.

The truth is that cellular data is so cheap and so readily available along the coasts of most major sailing destinations that a modern smartphone is all most sailors will need these days. However, for those intrepid explorers planning long passages far from shore, another solution may be required.

Satellite internet is the only option to stay connected if you plan to sail offshore. The cost of satellite internet has been prohibitively expensive for most for a long time. Startup costs of purchasing entry-level marine satellite dishes cost thousands of dollars and very basic plans with a small amount of data and slow speeds cost thousands more each year. Large amounts of high-speed internet at sea and the infrastructure to deliver it can easily cost 10’s of thousands of dollars.

Hopefully, as satellite internet becomes more widely adopted, the prices of satellite internet comes down giving off shore cruisers an affordable way to access high speed internet.

Entertainment

Boat life is rarely boring. We spend weekends sailing, anchoring in new bays and beaches, swimming fishing, and cooking.

When we reach a new town or city we will often spend a night in a marina, once or twice a week. This gives us the opportunity to leave the boat to explore a new area.

In total our entertainment spend boils down to

  • Netflix – Free using mum’s login details
  • Spotify – $12 per month
  • Bars – $50 per week
  • Restaurants – $80 per week

Final Thoughts About the Costs of Living on a Boat

An aerial photo of a boat anchored in a small bay in Croatia
The cost of living on a sailboat full-time needn’t be high but the rewards can be priceless

Of course, the cost of living on a sailboat full-time will be different for everyone. The biggest factors will be the boat you buy, how you use it, and where you intend to sail.

Sailing can be bare bones, basic, and frugal, it can be reasonably comfortable and moderately priced or it can be luxurious and mind-bogglingly expensive and everything in between.

Whatever your budget and whatever your sailing style, you are really only limited by your imagination.

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Hopefully, we have given you a starting point to think about the cost of living on a sailboat full-time. But if you have any questions or comments please let us know below!


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