To Sail or Not to Sail: The Economics of Living on a Boat

February 5, 2018 , In: Finance, Lifestyle tips , With: No Comments

It seems incredibly romantic: just you, the love of your life, and the open ocean. As long as the wind and waves are with you, you can follow your heart to the next greatest destination. You will explore the world on your floating home.

Indeed, living on a boat is unendingly thrilling, but as is always the case in travel, you need to consider the logistics before you sell all your belongings and sail into the sunset. This guide – courtesy of a few real-life boat-dwellers – should help you better understand the costs of the oceangoing lifestyle.

The Boat

Compared to all the ongoing expenses you face as a boat owner, your boat isn’t nearly the biggest cost, but it is the most immediate. Before you can even consider sailing around the world, you need to secure the appropriate vessel. The process of buying a boat isn’t terribly different from that of buying a car – including the fact that brand-new boats are incredibly expensive and depreciate fast. During the first year, the average vessel plummets in value by about 20 percent; the two years see another 10 percent loss per annum; and every year after that, you’ll lose about 5 percent to depreciation.

Instead of losing money on a new boat, you should consider investing in a used vessel. There are dozens of cheap boats for sale, including by charities that use the profits from the sales to improve your community. As long as the vessel has sufficient cabin space and is capable of traveling long distances, the fact that it is pre-owned shouldn’t impact your lifestyle.


If the boat is the most immediate expense, boat maintenance is the most important expense. Big or small, your boat needs regular attention, to include cleaning, waxing, changing oil, and inspecting various elements for damage. Ignoring these costs (and by extension these responsibilities) is like asking for your boat to sink – and when you live on your boat, sinking is beyond a serious issue. Maintenance costs usually amount to about 10 percent of the cost of the boat every year.

Another element of maintenance is your insurance, license, and registration. Though you might travel around the world, you need to show proof of your ability to handle your boat, and you need to register your boat with your home state. The requirements for licensing and the costs of registration will vary from state to state (and from boat to boat). Meanwhile, boat insurance typically costs about 1.5 percent of the boat’s insured value – but rates can be higher if you insure your boat in an area prone to hurricanes.

harbor fees

Harbor Fees

When you are out in open water, you aren’t beholden to anyone. However, whenever you need to return to land – to obtain supplies, stretch your land-legs, or see a new place in the world – you must station your boat in a harbor, port, or marina. Thus, you will incur fees.


The amount you can expect to pay for docking will vary from place to place. Some marinas charge a flat rate; some are dependent on the age of your vessel; and some are dependent on the size. It might be wise to research rates of harbors in the areas you plan to sail, so you can ensure yourself the best value in docking.


Most boats have some kind of engine to help them more accurately control their speed and direction. Though there are some sailboats that rely totally on wind power, you are more likely to buy (and need) a boat that has a small motor, at least.

Most boaters calculate their fuel needs in time: While you are anchors-up, you will likely need to refill your tank every two weeks. Using this rule of thumb, the size of your boat’s fuel tank, and the cost of fuel, you should have a good understanding of these costs.

Everything Else

Living on a boat doesn’t change the fundamental necessities of life. You still need to eat regularly, drink water, and clean yourself – and those activities cost money. You will still incur most of the small, everyday expenses, which means you must include them in your budget.

Still, when done right, living on a boat can be less expensive than living on land. Plus, you get the opportunity to see the world from your home, and for a traveler, there are hardly any expenses that reduce that allure.

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