Estimating The Cost of Maintaining a Cruising Boat

How much does it cost to maintain a voyaging boat once you finally have one?

It's a hard question to answer because there are just so many variables; however, over the years, Phyllis and I have kept pretty good records of our expenditures on Morgan's Cloud, so I have come at the problem from an empirical angle and constructed a simple spreadsheet that uses our experience and then extrapolates from that for boats that are larger or smaller.

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Martin

We have a Moody 376 10,000kg displacement, and spent EUR 15,544 over the last four years on maintenace. We sailed 17,585nm in those 4 years, so it works out at EUR0.88/nm or $1.19. That said, we did a EUR 35,500 refit during that period which, being human, included items that we had delayed doing as regular maintainance. The difference between the $1.19 and the $1.65 from the spreadsheet is about EUR 6000 over the period, which is not a huge portion of the refit expenditure. On balance therefore I would say the number from the spreadsheet is about right for our boat. This year our maintenance costs look to be coming out at about EUR 3,800 for an estimated 6700nm, but I put that lower cost down to the initial benefit of lower maintenance after the refit.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

One question, is the factor for “Regular Maintenance” 1 on the calculations sheet supposed to be positive? In general, it was very interesting to see what you decided upon for your constants.

I don’t think that our usage strictly suits the target of the spreadsheet very well but using our own numbers, we only come in about 30% off which seems very reasonable. We also tend to be towards the extreme of the DIY crowd which means that over half of our yearly budget gets tied up in winter storage, insurance and our mooring so we focus on those costs a lot as they are the ones that we can really make changes with. Regardless, this is a great way for someone to get a realistic, ballpark idea of budgeting before starting out as I think most people can’t even imagine the things that they will end up spending money on.

Eric

Brandon Reese

If I had to guess, I would say yes, because if you forgo all maintenance it will end up costing you (a LOT) more in the end when your engine freezes up and your mast falls off.

Eric Klem

Hi Brandon,

I know what you mean and that is what got me to ask. For coastal sailing, some people seem to get by with very little maintenance and don’t too large of a hit when they sell the boat. I suspect that voyaging would be much less forgiving and I could see an argument being made that unless the boat was built like an absolute tank from the beginning, it could get really expensive to repair. It is always interesting to me how the used market prices boats. I look at it as what will be my cost to own the boat including the purchase price for a boat that does what I want. When comparing that to the market, it makes some boats look like decent deals and others look astronomically expensive even though the purchase price alone would not suggest it. A lot of it has to do with value versus replacement cost I think.

Eric

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Thanks for verifying that. I hope to never find out whether you are right or not.

Eric

Matt

Learning to recognize false economy is important.

I don’t buy cheap tools anymore, for example. Either I need it, will continue to need it, and will therefore pay for the quality I really need – or else I didn’t really need it in the first place (or can borrow it for a few hours).

Preventive maintenance is another area where it’s easy to be misled by false economies. Back when I was in radiotherapy research, we’d book a “PMI day” for each treatment machine every three months, during which the technical team would open up all the hidden compartments and run tests on every component that could potentially bring down the system. Disruptive and expensive, yes – but not nearly as disruptive or expensive as having the thing fail unexpectedly while patients were waiting. Shipboard systems behave much the same way; the cost and risk of a sudden failure is huge compared to the cost of proper maintenance. After all, engines only seize up in Force 7 or greater, and only within a half-mile of rocky lee shores.

David

Very cool spread sheet. I played around a bit and tested your 1.05 scaling factor. I took pricing from a few easily checked items such as Rocna anchors, Lewmar winches, and sheets. I used the manufacturers recommended size for different displacements. Then took the prices and figured out the “manufacturer scaling factor”. You’ll be saddened to know that it’s 1.1 not 1.05 — bummer. My guess would be that maintaining a 50,000 lb displacement yacht might be more than your spread sheet indicates. (It’s never good news is it?)

David

Good point on paint. I think you’re right. In fact, it should scale at less the 1.0 because the surface area scales a rate much less than volume. 1x1x1 cube scaled to 2x2x2 has 8 times the volume but only 4 times the surface area!

Matt

There comes a point, probably somewhere around 20-30 tonnes displacement, where it’s just not feasible for two people to maintain the boat DIY and still have a life outside the engine room. I suspect that if you adjust John’s how-you-use-it factors to reflect the amount of paid help you’ll really end up wanting on a bigger boat, you’ll come pretty close to the so-called “big boat penalty”.

Dick Stevenson

Dear John,
I will look more closely at your data, but on first blush, I would say you have done a good service for those wishing to think realistically about boat ownership costs. Over the years, when people hear that we live aboard full time, they frequently ask about costs, sometimes more gracefully than others. My eventual answer (and I believe it to be accurate) is that, in general: if they spend too much in their land based life, they will do so on the water; if they are successful at living within a budget on land, they will figure out how to do so on the water as well. In other words, they take their character with them wherever they are.
Another source, possibly superseded by now, we used when collecting data 15 years ago now, was in Beth Leonard’s cruiser’s handbook (forget the name now), where she gives estimates of live-aboard costs for “budget, average and luxury” levels of living. If memory serves, she addresses the maintenance end of things as well.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

It’s the “Voyager’s Handbook”, Dick, and that, some Calder and some Gerr are the books I’m keeping in analog form when we finally push off, as it’s a pretty lucid and, more importantly in my view, realistic assessment of the generalities of travelling on a sailboat.

As I alluded to in the “how to afford a boat” post, if you live parsimoniouslly without a boat, it’s not going to change up much as a liveaboard. After we “front-end load” the boat with sufficient gear to both anchor out and to be comfortable and “shoreside independent” doing so, cruising gets considerably cheaper. My estimate, yet to be tested by reality, mind you, project that a cruising budget (provisions, fun and maintenance/spares replenishment) of $25K Cdn./year should ballpark two adults and a teen anywhere but Europe and the States and certain French islands in the Pacific. This is broadly in line with John’s “real-life” spreadsheet. So we’ll see. We don’t intend to sail to places only to cower on deck in the roadstead watching our rice rations roll about our begging bowls, but we do not intend to “have to” tie up to docks or to eat at Western-style restaurants as so many do…and fair enough to them. After a certain realistic baseline of expenditures to maintain the safety and functionality of the boat, and after judicious acquisition of fuel, the spendy bits of living aboard become largely voluntary, I feel, and optional. As I said, we’ll see.

C. Dan

My rule of thumb is 5-10% of replacement cost of the boat. Replacement cost, not market value.

I have also found, using data mined from yachtworld.com, that this is roughly equivalent to the rate at which value deteriorates in the market.

Dick Stevenson

Dear John,
I have had a chance to go over your spreadsheet on maintenance expenses and find that it covers the bases and has what may be called, face validity. It certainly promotes thinking clearly and realistically about the subject. In comparing what I would predict from your calculations sheet for Alchemy with our actual figures, I believe I have spent a bit more than your estimates would predict. I am not sure why that is: perhaps the vagaries of record keeping and what gets put into each category.
I do know that when I have opted to have work jobbed out, I have had it done in the more expensive areas (engine replacement, new sails and rigging for ex. were done in the UK) rather than areas we have spent time where the work could have been done for a lot less money. This was a choice of timing in part, but also my observation that a significant number of horror stories emerge when attempting to save money. (There are also many times things go well.) I was also willing to pay a premium for working in my own language as I am involved in every step of projects like these. I am also willing to pay to have it less likely to encounter a horror story. So far so good.
I congratulate you. Any time one attempts this kind of prediction and comes within 10-20% of accuracy is a success in my mind.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

A good point about communication, John, that has bitten many a cruiser trying to get work done in places like Turkey or Thailand, where they might know boats, but the opportunities for misunderstanding is great. I suspect that’s the basis for the cruising repair hotspot of New Zealand: they seem to work for 60% of the labour cost and it’s not unheard of for cruisers to bring in cans of specialty paints and have the work done six months later in NZ.

Dick Stevenson

Dear Matt,
I agree with your arguments, however there may be one area where inexpensive tools may have a place: for seldom needed, maybe never, repairs in non- critical areas. I have a very modest ethernet system. When installing I used high quality pre-made cables, but one cable needed to be made up. After looking at good crimper prices I did as you suggest- borrowed from a friend, but I did not like the idea of not having a crimper myself. I saw one for sale at Maplin’s (UK Radio Shack equivalent) and bought it. It will likely do just fine for a handful of crimps if needed.
Another area might be as a learner set. Decades ago I bought a tap & die set from Freighters?? (I am sure all tool people know what I mean). I taught myself using that set and, to this day, with the addition of only a few higher quality items, I am still using that set 3 or 4 times a year.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Erik de Jong

Hi John,

Great spreadsheet. I have a detailed list of costs of our maintenance schedule as well, and filled out your sheet to see if it comes roughly tot the same numbers.
I found that your number is actually very low. That might be because of the fact that we use our boat as a high-latitude boat. That puts quite a lot more strain on a boat and requires more maintenance. On the other hand, sailing in the tropics requires more gear replacements due to UV degradation.

I think you might want to add a factor for where one is sailing, as sailing in moderate climates reduces maintenance compared to high latitude or tropics.
It also makes a difference if one is sailing 5000 miles along the coast taking a full year, or sailing 5000 miles in just 3 months a year. The latter is more likely to push the boat much harder and wearing it down faster. While the first will stay in port when the weather is not favorable.
I think these can make big differences in what a boat actually costs in the long run.

Paul

I think I just worked out that I can buy a Boreal 44 (I have 3 children so the A40 is out) and maintain it for a lower total cost of ownership than my house.

Just have to think about insurance & depreciation.

I’m starting to run out of excuses.

Joris

Hi John,

Just wanted to comment my benchmark from my previous round the Atlantic trip is very close to your model outcome. Afterwards we recorded about 56 euro of maintenance / day at sea for that trip. Your model gave me 0.62 dollar cents / mile which translates to about 58 euro / day for our boat. Quite impressive!

Joris

By the way, maybe it’s a nice idea to collect some real life data from your readers and analyse / publish that in a nice overview?

Myles Powers

If I could somehow get to that point of new or complete refit first, then maybe. It must be the one assumption that changes my data. Then there is difficulty in cutting the cord (I’m still in a marina most days of the year). Until get through all the repairs and updates to a 30 year old boat, we are probably off by one order of magnitude.

It’s still worth it.

Anthony Mercurio

Thank you very much for this spreadsheet and blog string. I am in the process of buying a new boat. Boreal 52. And need to put together a 1 and 5 year budget for maintenance/operation. The first year we plan to cruise full time in the med…then make our way to the east coast of the US. Years 2 through 5 will we will probably just cruise the east coast. Head to the Bahamas/Caribean in the winter and then back up the Rhode Island in the summer. What I am looking for is a spreadsheet with the actual expense of someone with a newer boat that is doing the north/south annual runs along the east coast. I’d like to see real life expenses for food, haul outs, repairs, dockage, flights, entertainment, engine maintenance etc. It is easier for me to look at someone’s actual costs for a year or two of north/south cruising and then judge for my self if the costs they incurred would be greater or less than what I envision. Anyone with a similar plan willing to share expense details?