Calculating the Cost of Cruising - SailNet Community
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Calculating the Cost of Cruising

Finances are likely to go further in a scheduled anchorage than they will in a marina downtown.
A key issue when planning a cruise is calculating what it will cost. Over the last 11 years, Paul and I have been cruising internationally aboard our Classic 37, Two-Step, quite comfortably on an average annual budget of about $12,000, or $1,000 a month. But calculating the cost of a cruise for the first time can be tricky due to the number of variables and unknowns involved in the equation. Do you prefer marinas versus anchoring, cooking on board versus eating in restaurants, coastal cruising versus passagemaking? These are but some of the choices you'll face in finding a budget right for you.

The size of your boat and whether you can handle repairs yourself can also make a huge difference to a cruising budget. Costs can be double for a 45-foot sailboat compared to a 32-footer.

The other types of activities you participate in while cruising can affect your budget too. Entrance fees to museums, art galleries, and historical sites add up, as do organized sightseeing or scuba diving expeditions. The cost of living in the cruising grounds you're visiting has a dramatic influence on the cost of a trip too. Food, spares, and repairs are notoriously expensive in the islands since so many things have to be imported. And how good are you are at keeping a budget? This plays a big part too! Nonetheless, the bottom line is that the cost of cruising will probably be less than you think.

Assuming that your boat is paid for and fully equipped for cruising, your basic expenses while traveling will be groceries, water (yes, even if you have a desalinator, those filters are expensive), fuel, boat maintenance, marina fees, and entertainment. At sea and at anchor there is no rent to pay, you require few services on a regular basis such as telephone and cable TV, you won't have the regular cost of running a car, and since it will be more of an effort to get to the stores, you probably won't go shopping as often. Since you're not living a nine-to-five existence anymore, your wardrobe will be casual and no longer needs to be extensive or expensive. Like us, you'll probably find that your needs and pleasures become more simple when living aboard, yet your experiences and quality of life become richer than you ever imagined.

While the wind is free, the sails that harness it are a bit of an investment, and keeping systems in seaworthy condition and up to the task of handling Mother Nature's mood swings will consume time and money.
Still, everyone has a different cruising style and their own expectations for comfort when traveling by sailboat. The $12,000-per-year, or $1,000-a-month budget that Paul and I cruise on (this does not include insurance, major repairs, or airfare for trips back to our home base) seems to be common among the long-term cruisers we meet living aboard boats in the 35 to 42-foot range. What's our cruising life like on this amount of money, you ask? Blissful.

We anchor most of the time since we enjoy quiet surroundings, fresh air, and wilderness, so we have few marina costs. We do stay in marinas, however, when we're planning to provision, if bad weather makes anchorages untenable, or if we feel the anchorages are too crowded for safety. Also, if we're going to leave the boat for a while to do some exploring inland, we feel more secure leaving the boat tied to a dock than at anchor. But the cost and quality of marinas around the world vary greatly. In the high summer season (2000) in Spain's Balearic Islands, for example, we paid 7,000 pesetas, about $50 a night for our 37-foot sailboat in both Mallorca and Ibiza for a basic slip subject to surge or ferry wash—and this didn't include water or power! In the Portuguese Islands of the Azores, we paid $8 to 10 a night (in 1998) including water and electricity for good, secure slips on modern floating docks.

Paul and I built our boat, so both of us are handy, and do all our own repairs. This is a huge savings and has allowed us to maintain a consistent cruising budget over the years even though our boat is growing older. During our 11 years of cruising, we have only twice hired someone to do a repair on Two-Step and in both cases it was for an engine diagnosis that cost us less than $100. Learning to do your own repairs gives you a sense of control as well and saves you money, especially if you break down in a country where you don't speak the language. We carry lots of tools and an extensive stock of spare parts so are rarely held up trying to find, or order-in, parts in a foreign port.

Upgrades, routine maintenance, and breakdowns are sure to enter the fiscal picture.  Who does the work, whether it's you or someone you pay, will have a big effect on how far the budget goes.
When it comes to the cost of food, we both love to cook and entertain on board. We savor the foods and fun of shopping in foreign markets, so we generally don't eat out too often. As Sue and Larry mention in their article, Realistic Cruising Budgets, eating in restaurants can be a real "budget buster." However, as a treat, we do enjoy eating out occasionally and sampling the local cuisine when we reach a new destination. To keep costs down, our meals out tend to be cafe breakfasts or snack-style lunches (called tapas in Spain) or, the ever-popular-with-cruisers, happy-hour buffets.

But where food is reasonable we eat out often. On the island of Menorca this summer (2000) we discovered the "Menu del Dia" or daily special offered in most local restaurants is a terrific deal. For 900 to 1,200 pesetas, or about $6 to $8, we got a full-course meal with a starter such as stuffed peppers or cold meats and olives, bread, soup or a salad, a main meal with meat or fish, rice or potatoes and a vegetable, plus dessert, and for a beverage, your choice of water, wine, beer, tea, or coffee! Why would we cook on board in the heat when we could get that kind of value? (Not to mention the social and cultural experiences we gained from frequenting local restaurants and cafes.) This is an example of how the cost of living in the cruising ground you're visiting can really influence your budget.

While cruising we like to get out and explore as much as we can and to do this, our favorite additional activities are hiking, fishing, and snorkelling. These activities cost virtually nothing, keep us fit, and have led us to some fascinating places. From time to time, we rent cars in the countries where it is affordable. Last fall (2000) in Menorca we rented an Opel Corsa which cost us a mere 11,000 pesetas or $65 for three days. On Isla Formentera we had a blast touring around on a scooter for about $10 a day. But if car rentals are expensive, we just walk or rely on public transportation—both great ways to meet the locals.

The best things in life are free.  Cruising opens a variety of related activities, like snorkeling and hiking, that involve minimal costs and offer quality experiences.
We're not really strict about our budget, alloting a certain amount of money for food, transportation, boat repairs, etc. For us, cruising is about freedom and we find that restrictive. However, we're realistic in that we know it could all come to an end if we don't watch our finances and do some kind of budgeting! So we just try not to spend more than $1,000 a month.  One month we'll spend more on one thing, the next month on another. If, by the middle of the month we realize we're going through our monthly $1,000 pretty fast, we just pull back a little and hang out at anchor for a while or opt for more low-cost activities until we're back on track. If you really need to curb your spending, there's nothing like being at sea for a few weeks to avoid temptation!

Some cruisers we know live on as little as $500 or less a month, but this is bare bones cruising and only possible in remote out-of-the-way places where they can anchor and live on simple diets like rice and the fish they catch. They never go to marinas or eat in restaurants, they don't rent cars or scuba equipment, or go to museums, and rarely phone home. Yet they live peaceful contented lives and enjoy freedom that others only dream of. But it's not for everyone.

And then there's the other extreme—cruisers with huge boats that stay in marinas every night and have hired crew on board to cook and manage the boat. Well, you get the picture. There is no upper limit on the cost of cruising!

The Sliding Scale

The best way to estimate the cost of a cruise, we've found, is to talk to someone who's been there with a similar-sized boat and cruises in a style like yours. These folks are easily found at your local yacht club, boat show seminars, through the Internet, or anchored right beside you! In fact, the information exchanges that occur between cruising sailors over dinners on board or drinks at dockside cafes are one of the things Paul and I really enjoy about cruising.

As research for our book, Sail Away! A Guide to Outfitting and Provisioning for Cruising, Paul and I interviewed a lot of cruisers to determine what the average monthly cruising budget is and the lifestyle that a typical budgets allows. The following chart, updated for the year 2000, shows a range of budgets for boats in the 30 to 40-foot range.

Under $6,000 per Year    The budget for food in this range, less than $500 a month, is either merely restrained or only beans and rice! Treats such as meat or alcoholic beverages are very carefully budgeted (unless cruising in Europe where acceptable table wine can be had for less than $1 a bottle!). The low-budget cruiser maintains his own boat—sail repair, engine, and electrical system, etc. A major purchase such as an anchor will have to be planned well in advance. If the boat needs a new sail it must be second-hand. It will be difficult to sustain this budget for long especially if the yacht needs much maintenance. Almost any repairs will push expenses over $500 a month.

$8,000 per Year    At this level, about $700 a month, the food budget is less restrained. You might spend a a couple of nights in marinas, if necessary. Cruisers on this scale shop around carefully for inexpensive haul-out facilities and still do all their own repairs. A major repair will still be difficult to afford.

"We find that first-time cruisers tend to over-equip and therefore greatly reduce the amount of funds they then have for the actual cruise."

$12,000 per Year    This is the level that many cruisers travel on. A new anchor, some replacement rope, or a rebuild kit for the water pump is not such a strain on the budget. A couple of rolls of film a month, a couple of dinners out, a few visits to the pub, and a night in a marina every two weeks to do laundry are within reason.

$24,000 per Year    The money needed to rent a car and go off sightseeing for a few days won't be too hard to find at this level. If the dinghy wears out, you can afford a new one, if you live cheaply for a while afterward. Where phone calls are expensive, you can still afford to call home whenever you want but not on the cell phone if you want to say more than "Hi!" A family we met this summer were cruising for the first time and using their cell phone as if they were at home. They just found out that their bill for the summer was $4,000! Those roaming fees can kill your cruising kitty.)

$30,000 per Year    Luxury cruising begins here! You can have treats like a flight home or a new sail once in a while. Heck, buy a video camera! Call home for someone's birthday on the cell phone. If you want, you could afford to stay in a marina every night but at $45 X 30 nights, or $1,350 a month, that would be over half your monthly budget.

No matter what your plans, boat size or budget, there's one thing we can't stress enough: It's very important to honor the comforts you need for happiness and to maintain the standard of living you (and your mate!) enjoy when cruising. If you discover through your initial research that your cruise is going to cost more than you thought, it's better to plan a shorter cruise and travel the way you want to. If you're in the early stage of planning, you may be able to significantly reduce your budget by simplifying your equipment list. We find that first-time cruisers tend to over-equip and therefore greatly reduce the amount of funds they then have for the actual cruise. If your boat is already outfitted or if you discover en route that the voyage is costing way more than you thought, just shorten the cruise and travel in the style that makes you happy. Of course, you'll probably find ways to reduce your spending but if you have to cut costs drastically to keep cruising, you'll just be miserable. You'll just end up feeling constrained by finances and that won't be fun. After all, cruising is for pleasure!

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