Monday, January 2, 2012

How Much Does It Cost To Buy a Boat and Cruise?

Finally, someone was brave enough to ask the question.  "How much does it cost to buy and outfit a boat like yours so we can quit our crummy jobs and go cruising and play everyday like you do"?   Well, that wasn't the actual question to me, but for the past forty years of reading about cruising, it's the one I always wanted to ask.  So since very few people will actually answer that question, and since the point of this blog is to give you, our readers, a real sense of what it's like to live this lifestyle, I will. 

It depends.  There, how's that?

It all depends on your bravery.   And your comfort zone.  And your embarassment level.  And how handy you are.

I won't speak for others.  I understand that some people cruise on a shoe string, living aboard an old wreck of a sailboat and anchoring out every night.  Some are cruising on mega-yachts with a crew to deliver the boat from port to port.  I suspect that most of us are somewhere in the middle.

I lived a typical middle class lifestyle for many years.   The recession ended my business of twenty years in 2008, and I found myself living and working in Connecticut for Dutchman, a company that manufactures sail flaking systems, boom brakes, and track systems for sailboats.  

The cost of living is outrageously high in Fairfield County Connecticut.  The median selling price of a detached home there is almost $800,000 in 2009, down from a little over $1 million a couple of years before that.  We paid $1,400 a month rent for a tiny two bedroom apartment in Stamford.  I couldn't bring myself to pay more than that.

An opportunity came along to buy a 46' 1980 Cheoy Lee trawler that had very low hours on it, but had been sitting on the hard for 20 years, uncovered.  Pam and I went to look at it on a cold January day in 2010. We got on the boat, walked around, and got off.  Back in the car, I told her that there was no way we would buy it because needed way too much work.  As we discussed it, we realized that most of what we were looking at was clutter.   Sure, there was plenty wrong, especially the leaking decks, but much right with the boat.  So I got back on and took pictures.   Plenty and plenty of pictures. 

Back home, we looked everything over.  It was bad, but I've done many boat projects over the years and I thought I could handle it.  We went on and looked at other Cheoy Lees as well as comparable models from other manufacturers.   Other Cheoy Lee LRCs (Long Range Cruisers) we saw listed for $90,000 for one needing work to $200,000 for one in pristine condition.  We could buy this for $20,000.  Depending on what it needed, I figured we'd spend anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 to put it in shape if I did most of the work myself.

We knew we wanted to lower our monthly living expenses and we knew we wanted a boat.  This one didn't have sails though, and I always thought I'd cruise on a sailboat.  We didn't know if any of the important things worked, like the engines, generators, and and other expensive gear.  We knew we'd have to dump a ton of money into it as well as considerable work.   This is the point, dear reader, when each of us has to make a decision based not only on crunching numbers, but also on our gut feelings.   Your decision would probably have been different from ours, but our gut said to go for it.  So we did. 

Our faithful readers might recall that we named our boat Drift Away because we didn't know if anything worked, including the engines.   We might have to simply cast off our dock lines and drift away.

$20,000 poorer, the boat was launched and towed to Westport where we spent the summer and fall on my boss's private dock.  The boat was an awful sight so after getting the basic systems sorted out so we could live like human beings (this was mainly getting the water system working and replacing broken pipes and hoses) we focused on painting the worst of it.

I'll spare you all the details here and cut to the chase since this is a blog, not a novel.  This is how much we spent on the boat before we felt we were ready to cast off.

Petit Hydrocoat, two gallons, rollers etc.2150.00300.00
zincs, 4 @ $12.50 #167981412.5050.00
Taylor 10-1/2" x 30"fenders, four #137729458.31233.24
7/16" braided line167.5067.50
Boat Life polysulfide 189755144.6444.64
two Boat Life polysulfide 189755244.6489.28
one Interlux epoxy primekote 180570124.0424.04
Jabsco 29120-3000 toilet1166.37166.37
Boat Life polysulfide 189755244.6489.28
Interlux Perfection Snow White 6862361246.8593.70
Interlux Perfection Snow White 6862361246.8593.70
Taylor Steps1143.64143.64
25' 50A 125/250 cordset 6152SPP-25 #53039951291.14291.14
Heating Element with Gasket, 120 Volt, 1250 Watt (Bolt on Type), #WH1A128.7928.79
Diesel heater12200.002200.00
smoke CO detectors425.00100.00
Thompson's Adv. Form. Water Seal233.0066.00
racheting crimper171.7971.79
Ancor marine electrical connector kit1179.99179.99
Mini-bus bar28.5517.10
cover for bus bar b/o22.354.70
toggle switch33.8311.49
Racor 120R-RAC-01 filters (diesel heater) S3240 516.3781.85
Spin-On Series Fuel Filter/Water Separator - 120R155.8455.84
Lewmar Ocean hatch 601510.00510.00
Lewmar roller screen/trim kit194.7994.79
3/4" Dia. Dock Line, 25' Length, 19,400lb. Breaking Strength, White245.1490.28
3/4" Dia. Dock Line, 35' Length, 19,400lb. Breaking Strength, White255.23110.46
Manson 80 anchor 1658.79658.79
Pettit Zinc Coat Barnacle Barrier111.5811.58
PAR-Max 7gpm 12V Kit (Pump, Pumpguard Strainer, Adjustable Nozzle, 25' HoseCoil Hose, 35A Circuit Breaker)1271.95271.95
Maptech Chart kits regions 3 thru 10696.50579.00
Maptech Cruising Guides435.31141.24
Skipper Bob Cruising the Gulf Coast 113.7113.71
Skipper Bob Marinas Along the Intracoastal Waterway 112.8612.86
Grocco K-H marine head rebuild kit 501207168.2168.21
Throwable life ring141.5741.57
bilge oilsorbers 24.238.46
Deck Fill for Waste with Key, 3-1/2" Flange Diameter132.5232.52
Sea-Lect Diverter Valve, Surface Mount, 1-1/2" Hose Dia234.8469.68
20' SHIELDS RUBBER Series 101 No-Odor Super Head Hose203.1162.20
SeaVolt 12V deep cycle battery 550 MCA158.5658.56
battery box15.115.11
Origo electric stove Cutout Dimensions: 10 3/4"L x 20"W1420.39420.39
RS10 - DSC VHF RADIO1147.09147.09
Cape Cod Seat with Cushion1165.42165.42
StarTron Gasoline Additive, 16oz.111.4011.40
hypoid 90 wt gear oil for windlass15.535.53
BOD-11-56A STANDARD ROLLER ALUMINUM 1" X 6"413.9855.92
FIB-969 BIAXIAL CLOTH 17 OZ 38" X 25 YD 3/4OZ MAT BACKING3158.60475.80
WSY-INTERNET-105B WEST 105B EPOXY RESIN, .98 GAL 281.17162.34
BOD-11-56A STANDARD ROLLER ALUMINUM 1" X 6"413.9855.92
BOD-13-23A ECONO ROLLER ALUMINUM 1/2 X 3"46.9627.84
FIB-969 BIAXIAL CLOTH 17 OZ 38" X 25 YD 3/4OZ MAT BACKING3158.60475.80
WSY-206B WEST 206B SLOW HARDENER 0.86 QT 235.5071.00
Magma A10-225 LPG 10' gas grill connection kit155.0055.00
Magma A10-223 valve125.0025.00
10 5/8" x 12" Black Diamond Propeller195.0095.00
telescoping crab net to scoop cats up that fall overboard117.5017.50
8" Basic Brass Ship's Bell175.0075.00
COLE HERSEE 3 Position Sealed Ignition Switch 123.2323.23
Heavy-Duty Telescoping Boat Hook324.5073.50
Pure Oceans Hydraulic Steering Fluid - 32 oz.310.1130.33
Steiner Commander V 7x50 Binoculars with Compass 1875.00875.00
TRIDENT RUBBER Marine LPG Regulator152.3352.33
new bimini1850.00850.00
repair A/C1578.00578.00
Simrad Broadband 3G Radar11019.401019.40
Simrad GS15 GPS1202.40202.40
Simrad NSS8 MFD11707.001707.00
Simrad NSS12 MFD12397.002397.00
NAIS-300N Class-B AIS1929.40929.40
Autopilot Package with AC12 Computer, RC42 Rate Compass and RF300 Feedback, RPU 80 drive12021.402021.40
sim kit -1 (basic installation kit, need simnet cables)150.6050.60
simnet cable1134.50134.50
Taylor Made Comfort Zone Misting1250.00250
3/8" BBB chain2002.89578.00
teak panel149.9949.99
LED lights224.0048.00
replace glass in helm station1175.47175.47
Spare water pump, water deck fitting1179.16179.16
C&D Upholstery11430.291430.29
Dog life jackets217.8935.78
Interlux primer, quart425.11100.44
Interlux Perfection Snow White448.99195.96
Interlux Interdeck paint CREAM423.5894.32
Interlux 2333N thinner215.7231.44
Aqua Signal LED Series 43 135* stern light black housing1147.50147.50
Aqua Signal LED Series 43 masthead light black housing1147.50147.50
Morse MT-3 controls 1397.00397.00
Fiberglass decks, labor.2990.002610.00
Install Simrad Electroncs, labor- Boat Verk est.3695.003420.00

Sorry about the formatting.  It's a copy and paste from a spreadsheet and some of it's off, and I'm too lazy to fix it.

I'm sure I misssed a few items that didn't make it into my spreadsheet, but they were mainly small things.  But also add to that list what we've spent since we cast off- cleaning the fuel tanks, $5,500.  Two Filter Boss systems, $4,000.  Two alternators, $1,000.  New 25' 50 amp shore power cord and a 3,000 watt inverter for $1,000.  Repair reverse cycle A/C a second time for $1,500. That brings us to $43,500 or so.  I'm not counting the purchase of fuel or our transient marina fees.

Also consider that a year of living in our apartment would have cost about $24,000 for rent and utilities, while our boat cost us about $6,500 in marina fees (up until we cast off). What we saved paid for half our outfitting.

We're not done yet, not by a long shot.  We have to finish painting the boat, from the bottom of the keel to the flybridge.  We will probably have the bottom done by professionals because bottom paint is very toxic, and we'll most likely do the topsides ourselves unless we get an attractive quote to have someone else do it.  The last thing to do is the interior, replacing all the water damaged paneling.   I'll most likely do this myself using wainscoting, again unless I get a very attractive quote from a pro.

So we're sitting in a boat worth $100,000 with only a little under $65,000 in it so far, not a bad deal.  Once the topsides are painted and the interior paneling replaced, we'll have $90,000 in a boat worth $125,000 to $150,000.   This doesn't count our labor, of course, and that represents many hundreds of hours. But for you home owning dirt dwellers, how much time and money do you spend maintaining your own home? 

We could have spent more of our nest egg and purchased a nicer boat, for sure, but it would have put too big a dent in our savings and we wouldn't have been able to cast off the dock lines as soon as we did.  I also enjoy boat projects, and I now know our boat's systems well.

I'm probably safe in saying that most people wouldn't have gone through what we did, living on an old boat and fixing it up.   We also took a gamble that the really expensive things, the engines, transmissions, generators, Naiad stabilizers, windlass, and so on, would work.   We got lucky. They do.

If  anyone has any questions, leave them in the comment section below and I'll answer as promply as I can.

We're still in Annapolis, waiting for a weather window to head south.  Right now it's 41 degrees and the wind is blowing 17 MPH, gusting higher.   Tomorrow is more of the same.  And then the jet stream dips and cold artic air moves in and temps drop to below freezing.  We're living the dream.


  1. Excellent, David! Thanks for posting that. I sent the link to my brother and a friend. Both of whom are currently tempted to make the leap, but have not yet made the decision. Hopefully this will help.

    I would only add, that the experiences I've had with boat people over the years is that they are the finest people in the world. That enough is reason to cast of and go, in my opinion.



  2. Thank you very much for that Dave! So, the costs line up with what I was expecting.

    I suppose it's fairly true that should I wish to do less initial maintenance I could always pay more for an more up-to-date boat and the costs would possibly be roughly the same (though having done new construction duty on subs I can also say there is absolutely nothing as valuable as mucking around in the guts of your vessel to understand how it works).

    Okay, here's the next question for ya!

    In my conversation with you I said it would be about 8 years before I could cast off lines and do the same thing (for various reasons).

    Unfortunately, by that time I will not have accumulated much in the way of retirement funds, and I'd be far too young to break into those, or receive social security - another four or five years would have to pass before that could happen.

    I presume liveaboard communities are like any community. Is it possible to earn money providing services to my neighbors? For example, I imagine even live-aboard folks need to occasional lawyer, doctor or computer repair technician. I also imagine there's a lot of bartering that goes on that can be just as lucrative.

    The intent of my question here is to get a basic handle on what sort of residual income I would need to make this work. You've already mentioned the roughly $6000 in dock fees. Then there's food, insurance and so forth. It almost looks like a residual income of as little as $20,000/year, after the initial purchase of the boat, could be comfortable.

    Of course, there are other long term costs as well. Painting, as you mentioned, periodic overhauls which ever vessel needs and may be beyond the capability of the owner/operator.

    I'm a planner by temperament (and occasionally by trade) so I tend to over think these things. Sorry about that!


  3. @Tim- thanks, I hope your brother can find something worthwhile in there.

    @Lance- keep in mind that you can live aboard a boat for less money than living in a house. You couldn't do this in Gloversville, of course, and you'd have to move to salt water somewhere. You would live aboard and work, as Pam and I did. Our marina fees were less than rent on a small apartment, and much less than a mortgage and taxes in CT!

    If we get someplace that we both really like, we may put down roots and get jobs again. We have no income other than the mortgage I'm holding on my building in Gloversville, and that ain't much. I'm still too young for social security even. We're living on savings right now.

    I think that a budget of $20,000 is very doable if you live simply and anchor out often, which Pam and I will do once we get someplace warm and I can get our Boston Whaler running so we can take the dogs ashore.

    Consider my suggestion of buying a boat and sailing on the Great Sacandaga. It will give you valuable sailing experience and boat maintenance experience. You will also learn what you like and don't like about the boat and will serve you well when you look for the second boat. A powerboater friend from Stamford sold it and bought a $10,000 1974 Seafarer, a fine old boat. He spent a few thousand fixing it up and left for points south in November. He sailed it to Miami and is looking for a job.

    One thing I failed to mention is that if you buy an old fixer upper, don't expect to get financing and use it as collateral. Most people that buy old boats either have to pay cash or get a home equity line of credit.

    Should one squander retirement funds on an old boat? It works for me. I've always been of the opinion that life can end at any time, and I want to spend my days living life on my terms.

    Besides, I'm not really spending money. I'm investing in a boat, and maybe in eight or ten years I can sell it to a starry eyed couple from upstate New York who want to follow their own dreams.

  4. Great report...went to the heart of the issues..."costs" and very realistically presented. A "reality check" for sure.

  5. Outstanding post, thank you. I'm landlocked in Utah but considering a move to Florida to be nearer my family and do temporary 4-8 wk contract jobs on or near the eastern seaboard.

    Thinking about living aboard while i do this. I would receive a housing allowance that could be applied to marina fees but I'm not very clear on how much these fees would be. Could you provide some insight?

    What are pump out fees? are there separate fees for using shore power or is it included in slip fees. Are fees usually fixed or is there possibility to negotiate. Are there different rates for different lengths of stays? Any insight you could provide would be appreciated.

    I have really enjoyed your blog since I stumbled on it a few months ago and do think you have the makings of a book here.

  6. Dave

    Excellent job of posting particulars on $ costs which are hard to come by. We hope to be living aboard in a couple of years--have some houses to dispose of first. This is a well written, well documented expense report! Thanks for sharing.

  7. telescoping crab net to scoop cats up that fall overboard 1 17.50 17.50 A must have if ever there was one. lol

  8. Fabulous, realistic run down of expenses. I understand that costs will depend on how much you are willing to spend, but I have found very few places that aren't completely vague on costs. This was great. Thanks.

  9. This is the most comprehensive breakdown of expenses I saw when in comes to live aboard. Really interesting figures.