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Old 10-14-1998
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Realistic Cruising Budgets

What does it really cost to go cruising? We’re happy to report that for us the news has been good.

Now that the paychecks have long stopped coming in, uncharacteristically, we have become very organized and keep track of every penny we spend while cruising. These numbers here are real, ascertained from on our recent experience cruising the East Coast of the United States.

Safari Cruising Expenses Average per month
Food and sundries$390
Fuel$62
Entertainment$42
Marinas and dockage$26
Repairs, maintenance, upgrades$61
Charts, nav aids$31
Phone$83
Health insurance$123
Boat insurance$179
Miscellaneous$126
Total monthly expense:$1,123
Total yearly expense:$13,476

So, you’re probably thinking, "My house payment is more than their entire monthly expense. How can they possibly do it?"

Remember, our life is simpler now. We’re free of all the extra expenses like operating two cars, buying clothes to wear to the office, having cable TV, etc. We don’t need to go on vacations—we are always on vacation. Here’s the run down on what we get today for our money.

Food and sundries: $390 per month
Fresh baked bread, Chinese dumplings, steak in wine, Indian curries, cheesecake, beer and wine with every dinner. Does it sound like we’re suffering? Not on your life. We’re probably eating better than we did at home since we have more time to cook, and are finding a great deal of pleasure in trying to recreate our favorite restaurant meals aboard Safari. This expense figure includes all food and beverages, paper products, cleaning materials, toiletries, and even food for our two cats. The only sacrifice we feel we’re making from our old lifestyle is drinking cheaper wine and beer. Even better news is that once you leave the United States, all the cruisers we meet agree that this figure goes down. In the US every time you go ashore there is a great temptation to buy things. In the islands, and in more remote countries, there’s not much to spend money on, and the savvy cruiser provisions ahead of time and shops shore-side only in countries where prices are low.

Fuel: $62 per month
Although we sail whenever we can, we’re not purists. When the wind goes light, we crank up the engine and motor, or motor-sail, as conditions warrant. Based on our recent trip from the Florida Keys, up the East Coast to the Canadian border, and back down to the Chesapeake (and on a diesel fuel price of around 90 cents per gallon), we averaged $62 per month. The slower you move and the less distance you cover, the lower the cost will be. And, of course, if you have the time and inclination to only move with the perfect wind conditions, your figure could be much lower.

Entertainment (shore-side eating and drinking): $42 per month
We know that all you working stiffs are going to find it difficult to believe that we can be happy with this small amount spent ashore each month, but we are. I admit that we surprised ourselves a bit with this figure, as years ago we could easily have spent that on a single bar bill in 1 night. Originally, we had budgeted $150 per month for shore-side entertainment, thinking that would be a challenge. But when you start looking at a beer that costs $3 in a bar, versus 10 beers you can drink on the boat for the same price, you start to lose some of the enjoyment of eating and drinking ashore. (And on Sunday night, that cheap beer tastes even sweeter when you know you don’t have to go into work Monday morning.)

But don’t feel sorry for us not having any fun in the entertainment department. Almost every cruising boat we come across in our travels is ready to get together once the hook is down for the night. We’ve spent many enjoyable evenings where everyone pitches in on the food preparation and brings their own beverages, so that nobody imposes on another’s budget. We’ve found this kind of entertainment much more rewarding than blowing our budget eating ashore in a waterfront tourist town.

Marinas and dockage: $26 per month
This was another big shocker of our budget. We had allowed for three nights per month in a marina, but have found this completely unnecessary. In seven months of cruising, we have only paid for two nights in a marina, plus a couple of moorings in Maine. There are many factors that will determine how often you will want to frequent marinas. How comfortable you are on the size of boat you're on, water capacity and showering facilities, and how well you are able to keep your battery bank charged without being plugged to shore power: These are a few of the main ones. In our case, we prefer the solitude and naturalness of the anchorages. We did, however, invest ahead of time in a wind generator and solar panels to help keep us charged up. These quickly paid for themselves with the savings realized on not needing to go to marinas to charge up.

Repairs, maintenance, and upgrades: $61 per month
The important thing to mention here is that our boat is only two years old. An older boat, as with an older car, is more of an unknown entity and we believe that you would need to have a much larger reserve in your budget for more major repairs. Smaller, simpler boats, without a lot of systems would have an advantage here. For instance, if you don’t have refrigeration on board, you don’t need to worry about your compressor going out on you. Also, the cruising destinations you choose will directly affect the required outlay of money for upgrades prior to departure.

A major cost saver for repairs and upgrades is to have the inclination and ability to do the work on board yourself, and only use professional services if all else fails. There is a great network of cruisers out here who will share their knowledge and time with you, as long as you’re willing to attempt it yourself. (Our figure does not reflect the cost of hauling and bottom painting, which most cruisers do every one to two years).

Charts, nav aids: $31 per month
We left the Florida Keys with the five BBA Chart Books needed to cover the East Coast (total cost of $450) and believe these are indispensable. We supplemented the chart books with more detailed approach charts for offshore sailing and added a few cruising guides. It’s these items purchased after the chart books that are reflected in our monthly expenses.

Phone: $83 per month
Unless you’ve got very accommodating friends and family who let you call collect, the whole expense of keeping in touch falls in your hands. We use prepaid phone cards and are finding rates of between 12 and 25 cents per minute for calls in North America. Although we have a cellular phone on board, it is strictly for emergencies or collecting our e-mail, if we haven’t been able to use a land line for a while. Approximately half our phone expenses are e-mail related.

Health and boat insurance: $302 per month
We carry both. Many cruisers out here don’t have either. This choice will be up to you as to what risks you are comfortable taking.

So, what will it cost you to go cruising? If you have the desire to cast off, there are many different ways to play the cruising game. We have met a cruising family of four who report that $500 per month is plenty when cruising remote islands. We know other sailors who treat themselves regularly to marinas and shore-side dinners and who are spending $2,500 to $3,000 per month. And then we have friends who are tired of all the "How -cheaply-you-can-sail" books and would like to write the guide on cruising in style. It seems, however, that the figure of $1,000 per month comes up more than any other when talking to fellow cruisers. Believe us when we avow that we have never met a happier, more content group of people.

Budget Busters and Budget Buddies

Here are some of the cost that we have found will blow away all your best-made plans:

  • Eating and drinking ashore
  • Staying at marinas
  • Cellular phones
  • Equipment failures
  • Having work done on your boat by professionals

Here, on the other hand, are ways to keep that budget in line:

  • Entertaining fellow cruisers on board
  • Fishing, crabbing and collecting other seafoods
  • Using book swaps and public libraries
  • Cutting each other's hair
  • Set your boat up ahead of time to be able to sustain your battery power. A generator, solar panels, wind generator, etc.
  • Sewing machine. Carry one aboard to make your own repairs and to fabricate awnings, weather clothes, and a multitude of other things.



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