Terysa Vanderloo looks at the real cost of liveaboard cruising, and shares some tips on how to budget
Two years ago my partner Nick and I set off from the UK to fulfill our dream of sailing around the world. We had spent many years planning for this moment, and had dedicated a huge amount of thought to all aspects of our cruise, including, of course, the biggest consideration of all: cost.
We had extensively researched how much it would cost us to sail around the world and, to our mild alarm, had not come up with any firm figure. Some costs were easy to estimate, such as the expense of the boat itself, insurance, as well as all the obvious equipment that must be included on a trip such as ours. However, it was our ongoing monthly costs that were the real mystery, and this continued to be the case until the day we set off.
We originally budgeted for a total of £2,500 per month. This would include all expenses except for the occasional large and unexpected outgoing, which would come out of a separate slush fund. Our budget was simply based on our projected take-home income from our rental properties, rather than any evidence that this amount would be correct, or even sufficient. We really had no idea how much we’d be spending on fuel, groceries, repairs and maintenance – only time and experience would provide us with that information.
While in the BVIs we met a couple who had an incredibly beautiful 55ft brand-new, semi-customised catamaran. Unfortunately, after 18 months of cruising, they had run out of money and were now forced to go back to work. We were a little baffled: why didn’t they buy a slightly less expensive boat, and use those savings to fund an extended cruise? It became evident to us that they had vastly underestimated their monthly expenses and the running costs of such a large, valuable yacht. Their insurance alone made my eyes water.
The yacht purchase itself is obviously going to be the biggest expense for anyone planning to go cruising, and this couple’s experiences highlighted the importance of buying a boat that you can afford to run, and not spending so much that you’re subsequently limited by an uncomfortably small monthly budget.
Our monthly expenses have been relatively stable since setting off two years ago. We have sailed the UK, the Atlantic coast of Europe, Morocco, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and the USA. It has been our experience that where you might make some savings in one respect, another cost will end up escalating.
In Europe, for example, provisioning was a joy not only because of the ready availability of fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat, but also because the cost of food was so reasonable. As such we ate a varied and healthy diet, washed down with local and inexpensive wines and beers. Our monthly costs for provisioning were low, but due to the lack of plentiful anchorages, we spent almost all our time in marinas. Conversely, in the Caribbean and the Bahamas we rarely had to enter a marina and anchoring was almost always free (and far more pleasant). However, provisions were costly. Almost everything is imported and eating out was rarely an option due to the extremely high prices (it was often cheaper to go out for a meal in central London).
We’re planning to head to the South Pacific next year and have been warned about the high costs associated with sailing in that area. Our friend Behan Gifford (www.sailingtotem.com) shared her advice. She, her husband Jamie, and their three children have sailed across the Pacific, spent time in Australia and Asia before transiting the Indian Ocean and cruising Africa. They then crossed the Atlantic before continuing their journey towards the Caribbean and the USA. They offer a consultation service for clients who are interested in living aboard and Behan says that budget is one of the most important facets of the cruising lifestyle that she advises on.
She breaks costs into three sectors: the bigger fixed annual costs (such as boat insurance and health insurance), variable monthly costs (such as groceries, marina/mooring fees, cruising permits, and fuel) and discretionary spending (dining out, entertainment and excursions).
Fixed costs, for example, will be similar for each cruiser, although it sometimes depends on your boat size and value, such as boat insurance (which is generally between 1.5% and 3% of the boat’s value). Variable monthly costs can be adjusted to suit budget and will depend on a number of factors: some cruisers sail everywhere no matter how light the winds, others will happily turn on the engine and burn diesel to get to their destination a bit faster. Everyone has different habits when it comes to things like buying alcohol, eating local versus imported food, and internet data usage.
Finally, discretionary spending is clearly optional, depending on budget and personal preference. Based on seven years sailing around the world, Behan believes that for most people £1500-£2500 per month is realistic (and, of course, anywhere upwards of that).
Behan and her family have experienced significant variation in costs from one region to another. Australia, for example, is one of the most expensive countries for cruisers due to high provisioning and labour costs; Asia on the other hand is almost ludicrously cheap with a few exceptions such as Singapore (which she describes as a “costly but fun splurge”).
However, despite this, for most cruisers the actual cost per month remains very similar: instead, it is lifestyle and spending habits that change depending on region, rather than money actually spent. For example, in Thailand Behan and her family often ate out, went on excursions and had boat work done due to the low labour costs. This relative extravagance drove their cruising costs up. In the South Pacific however, they were very careful with provisioning, rarely entered marinas and refrained from going on costly dives or inland tours. Consequently, they were able to stick to their budget, despite the high local prices.
This is where forward planning can help enormously with keeping your costs low. While in the USA, Behan and her family stocked up with consumer goods that are cheaper in the States. They chose to do boat work and maintenance in Mexico and Asia where it was relatively affordable, rather than areas like Australia where such costs are high. They provisioned for their season in the Pacific while still in Mexico and therefore needed only to top up with fresh food in the islands.
There is no definitive answer to the question ‘How much does it cost to sail around the world?’. A better question to ask yourself is what kind of lifestyle you’d be happy with? Or what sacrifices and compromises you’d be willing to make?
Nick and I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle. However, we like eating out once or twice a week, treating ourselves to the occasional stay in a marina, and once in a while we’ll pay for an excursion or hire a car. We also knew from the beginning that we’d need to fly home once a year to see family, so boat storage costs and flights are two of our biggest expenses. Every cruising family or couple will have their own different priorities.
One thing is for certain, Nick and I – and almost every other cruiser we’ve met in the past two years – agree that the compromises to are entirely worth it. And another thing to keep in mind: no matter the difference in budget between the 32-footer living on a shoestring, and the multi-million dollar yacht next door, we all swim in the same gin-clear water, and have the same view of the golden sunset.
Tips for keeping costs down
Behan and I agree that a budget of £1500-£2500 per month is realistic for most bluewater sailors, but there are many cruisers living far more modestly. Holly and Simon are sailing around the Caribbean with their one-year-old daughter and dog. They get by perfectly well on a budget of £570 per month, which includes everything apart from major repairs. To stick to this budget, they are very careful with their provisioning, spend all their time at anchor, limit the amount of fresh water they use, and do all servicing and repairs themselves.
“We very rarely eat out [in restaurants] and when we do it’s a disappointment anyway,” says Holly. “You can find amazingly cheap, local food from little shacks around the Caribbean for a fraction of the price of the restaurants.” Staying put also keeps their costs down. Moving from one island or country to another always incurs fees and charges. This is even more pertinent when traveling with a pet, which often requires expensive checks, vet visits and paperwork when clearing in and out.
Asked what the main sacrifices she has had to make are, she immediately answers, “Wine!” Another thing they can’t do on their budget is entertain guests. “Cruising is often about meeting like-minded people, and inviting them over for sundowners and dinner. I’d love to be able to put on a decent spread, especially when someone has done that for us.”
Holly acknowledges that her lifestyle and budgetary constraints are not for everyone. “You have to be very organised, track your outgoings and plan your spending. Sometimes when you have to make sacrifices or unforeseen costs crop up it can really get you down; but on the other hand it feels very rewarding being self-sufficient and not wasteful.”
Getting kitted out
Our biggest costs, after the boat, were the many items of equipment we bought specifically to make offshore and ocean passages safer and more enjoyable: the hydrovane, hydrogenerator, SSB radio, parasailor, a comprehensive first aid kit, a Redbox router, satellite phone and air time, and a Yellowbrick tracker are some of the costlier items we have on our boat.
We estimate the total cost of fitting our boat out for offshore passage-making to be no less than £20,000. Needless to say, if buying a used boat with the intention of offshore cruising, it’s recommended that you look for boats that already have some of this equipment in place.
Saving approximately 20% of the cost of your boat for running repairs is sensible. For example, Ruby Rose haul out, inspect and antifoul annually at $1,000 per year, will replace batteries every five years at $1000, and regularly make engine and autopilot repairs that can cost $1000-2000.
If you plan to return home, budget for storage. For Ruby Rose, storage costs $12 per foot per month ($480) plus haul-out costs ($400) and hurricane tie downs ($500 one-off charge).
Terysa Vanderloo and her partner Nick are in their third year of sailing around the world on their Southerly 38 Ruby Rose.
They regularly blog and post videos about life as liveaboard cruisers.