The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Boat Maintenance—Don’t Go Broke Saving Money

Question: What is the most important resource in the battle to keep the costs of owning a voyaging boat under control?

Answer: Your time.

Hold that thought for a moment.

Cruiser Fixation

Almost every time we write a post about buying or maintaining gear on voyaging boats, one or more people will comment to point out that there is a cheaper way to do or buy whatever it is we are burbling on about.

And very often they are right and we appreciate it and learn a better way.

The Dark Side

But having said that, there is a dark side to this understandable fixation on saving every dime that many of us cruisers have: Thinking that way can cost you a lot of money.

At this point I’m sure you are thinking “John has dropped the spinnaker pole on his head one too many times”. But hear me out, this tip will save you big money, I promise.

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Clarence Mayo

Hi John,
Great list. Our decision list includes one other question. How many of these (fill in the blank) can I break or need reworked, doing the work myself, before it’s cheaper to have a knowledgeable and reputable professional do the job once? Of course that opens the can of worms in regards to “knowledgeable and reputable” professionals.

Wim Vandenbossche

When I read your list, my first thought was: This is my list to a tee.

Usually, deciding what I want takes relatively little time (well, I will have researched the matter for a while and make the final decision when funds become available).

I do seem to spend somewhat longer researching the cheapest possible source to buy whatever I have decided upon.

Richard s (s/v lakota)

so if alternative ‘a’ meets or exceeds the first two considerations on the list of priorities, but alt ‘b’ wins out with the others, which would you select ? cheers…richard in Tampa bay

pat synge

So much depends on your practical skills and knowledge. And the thickness of your wallet.

When building my boat I was able to make all blocks and many deck fittings from what would otherwise have been ‘scrap metal’ and many of these fittings could be welded directly to the deck (eg turning block cheeks, bollards etc). A considerable saving and not one has failed over 30 years.

In contrast some of the purchased blocks (which were supposedly amply dimensioned for the size of boat) simply broke after a few years when subjected to unexpected loads (ie bad gybe).

It really takes very little research time nowadays to find out which plastics are susceptible to which solvents and use the appropriate lubricants. All these products have their relevant details available online and are are often identical in composition to the ripoff prices charged by some manufacturers for their proprietary brands (which may simply be repackaged with a different name).

Many lubricants are universal and can be used throughout the vessel without having to have special lubricants for seacocks, another for sheaves, another for sail tracks, hiking boots etc. Not only far less expensive but far more convenient.


Hence to phrase ” penny wise pound foolish”
I have a pretty good grasp on how long thing should last and I’d rather replace something when it’s convenient for me than wait till it breaks and deal with it than.

Eric Klem

This is an interesting way to look at it and I like the selection criteria.

We break our season down into 4 very distinct phases and choose different paths depending on which phase we are in. The first phase is the 5 month sailing season where we try to do very little work on the boat beyond normal maintenance stuff. If anything breaks in this phase, I will be more inclined to throw money at solving it although I have still never had to break down and pay someone. The second phase is fall layup. This is where we tackle projects where I am worried they could get held up time wise as there is no real time pressure. In the third winter phase, we work on some projects that we can take home from the boat and then carefully plan the other projects we need to do, often for the following fall. I don’t mind spending large amounts of time on this research and planning as it is a good break from skiing and fixing our house but would never do this mid-season. Finally, there are about 4 weeks of outfitting where we get the boat ready and then pick away at the nice to do projects list rather than the essentials list which was hopefully largely completed in the fall unless it is a yearly spring outfitting item.

One interesting thing is how you value your time. Trying to put a dollar number on it would be impossible for us because both of us work full time but would never take another job if we had extra time so the oppurtunity cost in terms of earnings is 0 although in terms of fun it is certainly not 0. This is probably why we don’t mind doing so much research over the winter but then push hard to use the boat rather than work on it in the summer.

As John points out, you need to keep the big picture in mind. Whenever I get frustrated and get into a case of analysis paralysis, I try to remember that we all managed to sail before internet forums and that I must figure out what is good enough not what is perfect.


Miami Phillips

This is going to be a challenge to write.

The choice was start something new or go. We went.

At 58 and finding ourselves caught in a losing financial battle in a business we were lucky to get out with just enough to afford a 30 year old boat that was selling 25,000 below market for a reason.

So unless we want to go back to work – which we don’t – we almost always have to go least expensive best alternative – simply because we have no choice. Basically we keep kicking some cans down the road just so we can keep going although I know I will be revisiting it someday,

One of the ways I can live with this is the learning curve is steep and hard but extremely rewarding. I can do things to engines, outboards, generators, refrigeration, AC, sails, fiberglass and paint that only comes from having to “make-do”.

Do I like it? Hell no. Would I love an Adventure 40 instead of an 30 year old Irwin 41? Hell yes!

But I can afford the Irwin.

And we are still out here.

Until something better, more fun, more exciting comes along!

(or maybe I become one of those A40 people who help preview new boats for prospects!)


Drew Frye

The propane example (I have 2 steel tanks):

a. It depends on what you can do. With a cup brush on an angle grinder, and sandpaper on a multi-tool, prep will take 15 minutes, maybe each, possibly both. Painting with Rustoleum spray, about 5 minutes x 2 coats. Including in and out and transport, lets say an hour for both.
b. It depends on the value of time. Say I saved $350 over 10 years. It took me 3 hours. That is $116/hour. I think very few sailors and fewer cruisers make $116/hr after taxes. Even in your example, the savings was $500/12 = $42/hr after taxes, or about $130K/year before taxes. All things considered, that is excellent use of my time.

Similarly, you mentioned bottom painting in a different post. My cost vs the yard is very low, in part because my dad paid for his college painting houses and taught me the craft. I am a very fast, workmanlike, and efficient painter. I work faster and better than the yard, and they charge plenty for an idiot.

I think the key is knowing what you can do well, working at a workman like pace, not poking around. It also depends on your tools and work space.

Drew Frye

I do contract out the few things I’m no good at. Machine sewing and canvas work (I’m fine with a palm). In fact, that is it.

I agree with the rebuild/replace math in many cases, though. So often ALL the parts are worn, not just what is in the kit. The classic case is the Jabsco marine heads. The kit is $70, and the whole pump is $100.


As a marine engineer I’m of the mind that the only limitation to marine technologies is your internet access.
30 years ago to learn a skill or understand a technology you probably had to at the very least take a course at the local community college or high school. Today if you’re at all good with your hand and of average intelligence you can manage most repairs and maintenance yourself.
The internet provides not only access to most any repair your boat will ever need, you’ll have the sage advice and opinions of thousands of mariners.
When upgrading or purchasing replacements I’ll usually default to caution. For example propane tanks. Resorting to die grinding and painting a pressure vessel without regard to its integrity is dangerous.
There are other options to the aluminium propane tanks for example. Viking produces great product that is even lighter than aluminium and is impervious to the marine environment. Plus they’re about half the price. They do have one drawback in that they have a 15 year limited life expectancy.

Rene Blei

Hi John,
Many boat owners face electrical problems when things are switched on and……….nothing happens. In my case the 15KW Bow thruster switched it self on, while I was at home 750 miles from the boat. Got a call from on marina friend with the message the bow thruster had been going for 4-5 minutes, eventually it stopped. Told him how to get inside the boat and after explaining a few things to him, he told me the control breaker was in in the off position.
Told him to switch it on and move the joy-stick. He did and the breaker tripped and I thought the thruster had overheated it self after running for the minutes he stated. Drove down to the marina the next day. Looked at all the relays involved, nothing looked burnt, however, I have no sense of smell. Switched on the contol breaker, moved the joy-stick to port and the thruster worked okay, but there seemed to be a short split second delay in activation. Moved the stick to SB and breaker tripped. Thats all I wanted to know, went down to ER and pulled the (massive)fuse. The electrician came by later. Did not find anything major, but suspected the relays and will investigate later. Drove back home the next day, with the fuse removed.
I think the relays, overtime , the points have burned in, enough to make contact, maybe due moisture, but also know, a little knowledge can be dangerous.
Look forward to read your comments.
Thank you,

Rene Blei

Hi John,
Thanks for your comments, much appreciated.
Agree with mounting a disconnect .
Yes, the relays are suspect. In fact 4 relays are mounted in the box and it looks like 2 each are mounted parallel for Port and SB, as if to share the load??
The boat was build in Holland, but the thruster was placed here in Seattle and the relays are locally made.
We do keep the heater thermostat at around 10´C and heat is provided by 4 x 240V. electric build-in units. Lake Union, Seattle is fresh water and hasnt frozen over according to the locals and it doesnt appear to get that cold. I know, because a few years ago, I slipped off the boarding steps, fell in between boat and dock, luckily didnt hit my head on dock and cleat. Not many people around in January and it was quite a job to get myself back on the dock, with the help of some pieces of 2×4 , I had put there the day before. But what surprised me, the water didnt feel that cold. Was exhausted and laid on the concrete docks for a while, but was not even shivering. Maybe there is a scientific explanation.
Sorry for getting of track.
Thanks again,