How much does it take?  All of it!  

One of the most frequently asked questions concerning cruising is:  "How much does it cost to cruise around on a sailboat"?  Granted most of these type  questions pop up on sailing/cruising forums because, for the most part, people realize that is a pretty personal question to ask someone.  As a person who dreamed about cruising for years before getting a sampling of it in 2006, I had often wondered the same thing and I searched high and low for answers.  I finally found the answer….. "As much as you have".

This is not far from the truth.  If you have 'mo money', you will spend 'mo money'.  The same thing is true for landlubbers.  You would be shocked to see just how little you could live on….if you had to (we all waste much more money that we realize).  

This is probably one of the most discussed topics on cruiser's forums and blogs throughout the cruising community.  The comments and input are as varied as the posters themselves.  There are so many variables in the cruising lifestyle, and these variables will drastically affect the monthly expenditures of a cruiser.  We will try and discuss these variables in order to understand the wide range of cruising budgets out there today.

I will say that a crew of two, on a small (32-36 footer), safe, reasonably equipped monohull COULD cruise on an annual budget of $15k-$18k.  Another couple on a larger (48-50 footer), safe, well-equiped, monohull COULD spend $60k-$70k a year or more.  Needless to say, these couples would have very differing lifestyles and probably very different opinions of what "comfort" and "fun" is.  Everything is a series of compromises.       

After researching this topic for years, and after cruising in the Bahamas for 6 months, we think we have a pretty good idea what it will take for us to cruise long-term.  

We will be posting a series of blog entries concerning the costs of cruising.  Once they are posted on the main blog we will also put them on this page so they will be in a consolidated location for easier reference.

For the sake of simplicity we have broken down the budget expenses into 3 main categories with sub-categories under each.  The main categories are your LIVING EXPENSESBOAT EXPENSES, and DISCRETIONARY EXPENSES.  Of these categories the biggest expense (after purchase and refitting the cruising yacht) is the LIVING EXPENSES, followed by the BOAT EXPENSES, and the smallest expense category is the DISCRETIONARY EXPENSES.  

Within each of these categories there are some items that you have more control over than others, depending on your desires for level of comfort, eating habits, condition of your boat, etc.  What shape was your boat in when you started cursing?  How often do you stay in marinas vs. anchoring out?  How often do you eat ashore vs. cooking on the boat?  How often do you take inland trips in the countries you visit that incur lodging and transportation costs?  Do you sail as much as possible vs. cranking the engine that requires fuel?  Do you carry insurance on your boat?

We will try to identify and discuss some of these items and help you determine where you stack up as far as cruising budgets are concerned.  This is basically an aid for those who are thinking about cruising, but are not sure it is within their economic means.  It also good for those who are already out there cruising to compare what they are spending vs. the budget that is presented here.  As always, comments are welcome.  What are your cruising expenses annually?               



No, this is not our boat.  :-)

If you missed part one of this series you might want to go back and read it, before beginning this blog post.  Before we get started on the cruising budget, let's talk about the big initial investment …... "the boat".  Much of your cruising budget will be dependent upon this initial investment.

When referring to cruising boats throughout this post, I am referring to a boat that a couple would typically be cruising on…..not a boat for a single-hander (someone who sails alone); and certainly not a boat for a family of five.  Even if we do narrow the field to boats for a cruising couple, you will still have a very wide range of prices.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to the pricing of a boat.  A few are: size, age, condition, equipment, etc.  

The larger the boat the more expensive the maintenance costs, marina fees, and equipment will be.  There are lots of costs regarding boats that are based purely on the size of the boat…marina slips, bottom jobs, haulouts, yard storage, sails, etc.  Where boat expenses is concerned, size does matter.  :-)  Bigger boat = bigger money…both initially, and over the long haul.

Bahamas in 2006 on our former boat sv INTO THE LIGHT. 

The average size of the cruising monohull 6-8 years ago was in the 44' to 45' range.  I think because there are now more younger couples cruising in smaller boats, the average size has dropped a bit.  My SWAG on the average size now is in the 42' to 43' range.  On average, the smaller cruiser is 33' to 34' , with the bigger boats being 47' to 48' .  Again, there are exceptions on both ends of the spectrum.  The key word here being "exceptions".

The better condition your boat is in (or the more money you spend on a repairs/refit before leaving) the more your initial costs.  But, if you buy a boat that is ill-equipped and in poor condition, and begin cruising with it that way, you can bet that your annual maintenance cost will drive the BOAT EXPENSE part of your budget through the roof.  And, you will end up spending much more money over the long haul.  It's a 'pay me now, or pay me a lot more later' type situation.

Our former boat, INTO THE LIGHT, at anchor at Norman's Cay 2006

Let's talk equipment for a moment.  While there are those who have sailed around the world on a boat without refrigeration, with sophisticated electronics, without a propane stove, without a head (toilet, for you landlubbers), etc., these people are the exception.  They have gotten to see things and enjoy things that most of the world will never experience.  I salute them, I admire them, but, I wouldn't want to have been them.  

Under ideal circumstances, the cruising life still forces you to give up some of the luxuries of land-based life.  You will always have less room, you will always be at the mercy of the weather, you will always be maintaining your boat, and things will not be nearly as convenient for you while cruising as they are for you on land.  Buying groceries, laundry, communicating, etc., will all be much more difficult and much more time consuming.  With those trade-offs already established, there is no need to make life more difficult than necessary.

I am firmly in the camp of people who, while they enjoy sailing and traveling, do not want to continuously 'camp out' on the water for 3-10 years or longer.  The following is equipment that we will ultimately have on board, and that we think makes cruising comfortable for us.  Remember, everyone has different budgets and everyone has different definitions of comfort.  It's all about compromise.

INTO THE LIGIHT back in South Carolina 2006

For the purpose of this article, I will relay what most cruising boats ultimately (I use the word 'ultimately' because a few start cruising without some of this equipment, but add it later) have where equipment is concerned:

  • A built in stove, oven
  • A built in refrigerator/freezer
  • At least on head (bathroom)
  • A dinghy with an outboard motor as a 'car'
  • trusty anchor with good anchoring gear
  • Some type of chart plotter for navigation
  • An electric anchor windlass to save the back
  • *Solar panels to charge the boat batteries
  • *A watermaker to create freshwater from seawater
  • *A grill in the cockpit to enjoy grilling out

Some folks would contend that the last 3 items (*) on the list are not essential, and I would agree, but they do make life much, much more convenient and much more comfortable.

So, whether you are buying a 34' boat for $75k or a 48' yacht for $275k, you will have to determine for yourself what level of comfort you desire; and what trade-offs you can live with to get yourself out there cruising, and stay within your individual cruising budget.

The bottom line…... you don't have to have a new, 54' sailing yacht to be a happy, fulfilled cruiser.  You do have to get a boat that is safe, and meets YOUR needs for comfort and ease of operation.  Everyone will have a different definitions and standards for their safety, their comfort, and their ease of operation.

As always, YMMV.



LIVING EXPENSES…. Two of these bad boys per month?   

If you missed part one or part two of this series you can go back and read them by clicking the links.  

As previously discussed, we have divided the cruising budget into 3 main categories: LIVING EXPENSES, BOAT EXPENSES, NON-ESSENTIAL EXPENSES.  The sub-categories within these categories are arbitrary and some of the items could be classified under a different category.  Don't let that wrap you around the axle.  If you think marina costs and moorings should be boat expenses instead of living expenses then, so be it…..make it that way on your budget.  

Let's take a more in depth look at the LIVING EXPENSES.  We will take a look a what is included in each of the sub-categories, and then give you the monthly budget amount for that sub-category. 

You must keep in mind that there are so many variables in cruising styles, cruising locations, and what personal comforts are acceptable, that YMMV (your mileage may vary).  What we have written is based on both our research and our experience.    

Included in this category are: 
  • Food (both provisioning and eating out)
  • Marina/Mooring Fees 
  • Communication/Postage
  • Charts/Cruising Guides/Navigation Software
  • Customs Fees/Cruising Permits
  • Personal Gear/Clothing
  • Other

In our budget we have included both eating out and our provisioning costs (both food and drink) in this budget item.  We do realize that eating out could be considered entertainment, but in the end…food is food.  Also included here will be those household items that are needed like: toilet paper, paper towels, soaps, toothpaste, etc……anything that you would normally buy at the local grocery store back home.     

When we were cruising the Bahamas, we were able to reduce our food costs tremendously by hunting and fishing along the way.  If we had owned a portable freezer, we could have reduced our costs even more.  There were several occasions that we had to give fish and/or lobsters away because we did not have the storage space in our small built-in freezer.  

We also took a huge amount of food with us from the States when we crossed over to the Bahamas (in hindsight, we took more than we needed to take).
In some cases the local fruits, vegetables, and meats were relatively inexpensive (comparable to the U.S.), but everything else was much more expensive since it has to be imported.  If you can adapt your eating style to include more of what the locals consume, you will spend less money.

The more developed the area is, the more we will spend on food; it is harder not to eat out when you are cruising the east coast of the U.S. versus island hopping the remote islands while spearfishing daily.   

When we leave again, we will leave with our freezer full of frozen meats and hope to again supplement our food stores with freshly caught/speared fish and lobsters.  Our food budget is $6750 per year, or $565/month.  In certain areas, we can do much better than this.

After we actually cast off the dock lines and begin cruising, we will spend very few days in a marina.  I think that during the entire time we were gone (from Charleston, to Coconut Grove in Biscayne Bay, to the Bahamas, and back) we spent one day in a marina.  We were at Coconut Grove, and docked in the marina so the new mainsail could be installed without having to dinghy it, and the sailmaker, to the boat in the anchorage where we stayed.

We did spend a few nights on a mooring ball in Warderick Wells in the Exumas both going south and returning north, but at $15 per night, the mooring costs were minimal.

If you are traveling up or down the U.S. east coast, you will probably spend more in marinas than you would if you were in the Bahamas, but we still try anchor out every time we possibly can.  We enjoy an anchorage much more than we do a marina slip (most of the time).  

We have budgeted $875 per year or $73/month for marinas and mooring fees.  That would equate to about once a month in a slip.  We believe will do much better than this, and if we do, that is just more money to spend on fun stuff.

This sub-category will include the cost of packages/
mail sent to us from the U.S., and any and all communications expenses such as satellite phone minutes/usage, cell phone usage, Sailmail (if we decide to go that route), etc.  

We do plan to have a sat phone on board for any necessary or emergency communication needs.  We also have a couple of unlocked cell phones that we can just buy sim cards for, if we are going to be somewhere that we think that would be worthwhile. (maybe Pueto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, etc.)  

This is a little bit of a wildcard budget area, but utilizing free wifi and Winlink for emails as much as possible will keep our commo expenses down fairly low.  If we can have visitors occasionally bring us parts or items we need from the U.S., we will cut down on postage and shipping costs.

We have budgeted $1250/year, or $104 per month.  

We have two Furuno chartplotters onboard; one uses the C-Map formatted cards for nav charts, and the other uses the Navionics formatted cards.  

I already have the Navionics card for the Southeastern Coast of the U.S. and the Bahamas, along with the Explorer cruising guides for the Bahamas from our previous cruising experience.  Yes, I know they are not up to date, but these will be the backup.

I just purchased the C-Map card for the Florida Coast and the Bahamas that will be the primary navigation source.  It is up-to-date and I also purchased the Navionics iPad app which has the current charts on it.  

We will also use paper charts as a backup to the backup… never know about electronic equipment.  If it does fail, it is always at the most inopportune moment.  

Anyway, we have budgeted $500 per year, or about $42/month for these items.  This is a sub-category that will probably cost us more after we have been cruising a few years than it will our first couple of years out.  We will probably not spend more than $150 per year, at most, for the first couple of years then the expense will increase as we explore new cruising grounds.  

With the limited amount of onshore activities, we only need an equally limited wardrobe.  East coat U.S. will be more wardrobe demanding, but still that is predominately shorts and T-shirts.  While in the Bahamas we spent 90% of our time in bathing suits.  We see little necessity for spending money on clothing and such that we don't need and we have precious little room to store.  Dahleen will welcome the opportunity for me to wear out the hundred or so T-shirts I have collected over the years.  

This sub-category also includes other gear like snorkel masks, fins, wetsuits, shoes, etc.  Again, at this point we are currently well-stocked on all these items and we don't see ourselves being near the allocated budget numbers.  

For this sub-category we have budgeted $1250/year, or $105 per month.

It cost us $300 to clear into the Bahamas, and obtain a 180-day cruising permit……. which is expensive compared to most Caribbean countries.  Some charge almost nothing, while others will charge $75-$200 dollars.  

We plan to spend the first two winters in the Bahamas, then move south from there.  We will spend some time around Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands (both U.S. so, no fees) BVI, and St. Martin before moving to the Eastern Caribbean Islands.  

With the exception of the Bahamas, our customs fees should be low for the first couple of years.  Panama and the canal crossing will make up for that if/when we decide to circumnavigate.  

We have budgeted $750/year, or $62.50 per month for customs fees.   

This is our miscellaneous sub-category…..anything that is deemed necessary, and that we can't plug into one of the previously discussed LIVING EXPENSE sub-categories goes here.
One of the items that will fall into this category will be any health related expenses.  We have found that outside the U.S. health care costs are fractions of what we normally pay.  

Unless we are in Panama, or Columbia where there are an abundance of U.S. trained doctors, we will plan our annual doctor/dentist appointments for the one time a year we come back to the U.S. to visit family.  Any other non-serious issues will be self treated or we will seek local treatment and pay out of pocket.  

Our health insurance costs, whatever level we decide to go with, will be budgeted under the NON-ESSENTIAL EXPENSE category.

While we are both very healthy, this is one category we might be a little under-budgted on……..we have budgeted $1600/year, or $133 per month for OTHER/ MISC items.


We will need one of these and………..

 ….one of these for our budgeted LIVING EXPENSES per month while cruising.

  $13,000/year or $1100 per month (rounded up slightly).

Remember, we still have two more categories to cover in future "HOW MUCH DOES IT COST" blog post series; we still have the Boat Expense and the Non-Essential Expense categories.  Stay tuned, we will try our best update the blog budget monthly once we begin cruising.

Thoughts are welcome, comment below.




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