Photo credit: Fabian Blank
Asking “What does a boat cost to own?” is a lot like asking “What does it cost to have kids?”. It depends. Where do you live? What tastes do you have? Do you use store-bought or moss diapers? Robin’s parents, believe it or not, used the latter.
Unlike moss, boats will absorb as much money as you throw at them, helipad anyone? On the cheap end we’ve heard of people getting a boat for $1.5K or even free (it’s not uncommon for sellers to give away old boats they can’t sell), storing it in on a trailer in their yard, and spending as little as $50 a month in maintenance. By asking yourself a few important questions you can quickly get a rough estimate of cost. Below is a list of considerations to help you suss out how much it’s going to cost to buy and own your first boat. We’ve also included a free sample budget in excel at the bottom of this post that you can download to help with your decision making.
What size sailboat are you buying?
The purchase price, moorage, and maintenance you pay is all directly tied to the length of your boat. A bigger boat requires a bigger engine, bigger winches, bigger sails, etc. Another consideration with a bigger boat is moorage.
Where will you store your sailboat?
The number one cost of boat ownership is moorage. Moorage is often quoted in dollars per foot. So if moorage costs $14/foot/month a 28 Ft boat will cost you $4.7K per year, while a 40 ft boat will be $6.7K a year – that’s a $2K difference!. If you have the luxury of a big yard or driveway, you might want to consider a trailerable boat which you can park for free at home. For those interested in catamarans and trimarans, note moorage costs often double as you take up two slips because of your wide beam.
Will you be doing regular maintenance or making major repairs and upgrades?
Some estimate that regular maintenance should cost approximately 10% of your boat’s purchase price every year. This cost includes things like painting the bottom of your boat every second season, changing your zincs, rebedding deck fittings, antifreeze for the engine, replacing worn out lines, cleaning, waxing and buffing. In our experience this 10% rule seems fairly accurate if you’re buying a boat that is in good condition at the outset. If your boat requires major upgrades your costs will be a lot higher. Projects like upgrading your chart plotter ($1K), overhauling the engine ($5K), adding solar panels ($2K), replacing sails ($6K), standing rigging ($9K) or canvas ($6K) can add up pretty quickly even if you’re doing the work yourself.
When we bought our 35 footer, which required major upgrades in pretty well every department, we drastically underestimated what it would cost to fix her up. We didn’t take into account how marine products all cost far more than their non-marine equivalents. For example a steel screw might cost 5 cents, whereas a stainless steel marine screw would cost 35 cents. The reason for this is that the marine environment is so harsh, a regular screw would quickly rust out in the moist salt environment. It might not seem like a lot of money when it comes to screws but the same 3-5x markup applies to pretty well every marine product (e.g. resins, rope, paint, electronics, hardware, etc.). Most of the time you can’t cut corners and get the non-marine equivalent because the salt-water will destroy it in short order.
What kind of insurance do you need?
Boat insurance costs will vary depending on the size of your boat, what kind of sailing you plan on doing, and the value of your boat (as determined by the boat survey). We’ve paid as little as $300 a year for run of the mill cruising insurance and up to $3K a year for offshore insurance. You may even find that your boat is insurable under your home insurance. Your best bet is to contact a broker for an estimate.
The cost of owning a sailboat is going to vary on what you decide to do. Spend some time researching the costs that are applicable in your area and for the boat you’re interested in and go from there. Run your budget by someone who’s owned their own boat before and they’ll be able to help you assess how reasonable your estimates are. Hopefully after all that research, you’ll find a boat and a budget that works for you.Cost of owning a sailboat - budget template