Cruising Expenses

I recently took a quick look back at our trending expenses over the last 5 years.  I track every penny using Quicken and have graphs galore, but this summary is just a rough review.  This is a popular topic among cruisers and many are willing to give back some real-world financial perspective to those with similar goals.  

An obvious disclaimer is that what works for some may not for others.  There are plenty of extremes of living below your means out there.  We did just that when working to save enough to pursue our sailing goals, but our "means" were much higher then with regular paychecks.  

I'd venture to say that even now we live a similar lifestyle in that we haven't felt any sacrifices moving from a house to a boat.  That is, we have a watermaker, refrigeration and other conveniences that not all cruising boats might have. 

For context, Mark & I retired early from scientific careers to cruise and live full-time on a 40' catamaran.  We sold the house to pay off the boat and are now debt-free and living off of investment income.  

Our travel has ranged from the US East Coast, Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean, South & Central American Caribbean.   Our spending habits would probably be considered moderate to high by cruising standards; not extremely frugal, but we have to be somewhat savvy to make this work.

The bottom line is our anticipated budget needed to be adjusted up slightly to match to our actual spend, but has since been fairly consistent.  For this rough estimate, I broke spending into 3 big chunks:  

(1) Living costs (groceries, dining, clothes, travel, medical/dental, etc) 

(2) Insurance (health + boat premiums) 

(3) Boat costs (parts, fuel, maintenance, upgrades, marina, haulout & customs fees)

(1)  Living costs:  What I found most interesting was that our general spending has been very consistent over each of 5 years at ~$18-20k/year ($1500 - $1650/month), despite visiting more or less expensive areas.  

Variable expenses balanced out the relative differences in costs per location; for example, when a new computer was needed the year we were in the San Blas or more land-travel & hotel fees for site-seeing in Guatemala.

(2)  Insurance:  We choose to purchase both health and boat insurance to maintain the financial security of our investments against catastrophic events.  This is fixed annually and thus can be budgeted for, although we've hated to see our high deductible heath plan costs rise ~19% each year.

(3)  Boat Costs:  This is the most variable cost per year for us, ranging from $10k - $34k.  But believe it or not the 5 yr average annual boat costs have been ~8% of our boat value.  

I had read about a 10% of value boat expense approximation before we left ("Sell up & Sail") and used that for our initial budget.  It's amazing that this is holding true despite year to year variability.  

Some years were very low expenditures and some quite high for the year we were struck by lightning (that expense is included in the above, but was covered by Insurance after our deductible).  We've also done some major refits such as new generator, sails, outboard and watermaker over the years.  

So, as a starting point for anyone interested in full-time cruising along these same lines, you might estimate a ball-park annual budget as:  

Living costs (~$1500/mo) + Insurance + Boat costs (~10% boat value)

Many people can and do cruise on much more or much less!!  For some perspective, there are self-designated shoe-string   sailors that can live on $500/month total.  So remember your mileage may vary!

© M&M 2019