Blue Turtle Cruising

The costs of living aboard a boat

I’ve been asked by a few people on the blog about what it costs to live aboard a boat. The numbers below represent roughly what we pay but can vary depending on many variables and personal situations.

haul outs are part of costs of living aboard
Blue Turtle hauled out for the survey, May 2012. We’ve come a long way since then!

Overall, our month-to-month expenses add up to what it would cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment. Gone are the days of paying thousands on the mortgage and all the stuff that goes with owning a house like electric, water, sewage, property taxes, HOA fees, cable TV and WiFi. We no longer feel like we’re in a rat race trying to keep up with the Joneses. It’s definitely a lot simpler way of life and we’ve really streamlined our budget. Since moving aboard, we’ve both been able to pay off our credit cards and I finally paid off my car (Randy has a company truck). Without all the bills from mortgage and car payments, we are finally out of debt and saving money. I should also note that Randy and I bought Blue Turtle outright. When researching boats, we looked into loans so we could purchase a more expensive boat but it was very difficult to find anyone who would lend to us. That, and most loan companies will only lend on terms of 10 year payoffs (not 30 like you would get with a house). We decided to go with a less expensive boat we could afford to pay cash for. This has saved us—not having to pay a monthly mortgage on a boat has given us the extra money to pay off debt and save for maintenance and repairs.

Don’t let me deceive you though, we’ve spent thousands in boat maintenance and repairs. Our trawler is old (built in 1974) and we’ve had to do a lot of repairs to it to get it into live-aboard and cruising condition. We spent roughly $18,000 (not including the sea trial and survey) in the first year we owned her on engine work, having her hauled out and painted, thru-hole replacement, holding tank installation (ours didn’t have one), windless replacement and the list goes on. You can read the long list of repairs we did in this recap of our first year living aboard.

We’ve been told by many folks that it really doesn’t matter the age the boat, you always have repair and maintenance costs. It’s part of living aboard and as soon as you wrap your head around this concept and prepare for it, the better.

Our costs of living aboard other considerations

Boat Insurance

Currently, we pay roughly $2,000 per year through Boat US insurance. We’ve been meaning to shop around for better rates since we’ve been with them from the beginning, but haven’t done it yet. This cost will change depending on the type of boat you purchase as well as the year and manufacturer. We actually shopped for insurance at the same time as shopping for our boat. We found that some manufacturers of boats were a lot more to insure because of the difficulty to repair them. Definitely check insurance rates on the boat you are looking at before buying.

Marina Fees
  • Slip fee – $800-900 per month
  • Live aboard fees – $75 per month ($50 for 1 person, $25 for each after)
  • Metered electric – $35-130 (ranging from winter to summer)

These fees will vary from marina to marina as well as what’s included in them. At our marina, Snook Bight, the costs include free wifi, weekly pump outs, use of laundry facilities, and the use of amenities such as pool and social rec room.  Some marina’s include electric but most will meter it. Just like in a house, our electric varies on the season. In the winter, we hardly use the AC so we’ve had electric bills as low as $15. In the summer, however, we run both AC units to battle the brutal summer temps and can have electric costs as high as $130. Most marinas will also charge a live-aboard fee, which is a per person fee. Usually it is one price for the first person and a lower price for each additional person who will be living on the boat. When calling marinas for pricing, ask about all the costs for full-time live aboards and what’s included and not included.

Maintenance & Repair costs

Maintenance and repair costs are a big factor in living aboard and can be quite unpredictable. Just like living in a house, you have costs associated with the upkeep of various systems to ensure they continue working. With a boat, however, these systems are exposed to more brutal conditions like sun exposure and salt water. When purchasing a boat it’s a good idea to factor in some money spending that first year on maintenance and repairs. If you are lucky, the previous owner took good care of it and those costs are minimal. Our boat was actually well cared for with routine maintenance but it wasn’t up to the standards of someone living aboard full time on it. It was in great condition for a weekend boat or a once a year cruise but needed a lot of additional work to get it shape for 3 people to live full time on it. After the first year or two, our repair costs have gone way down. We finally have her in pretty good shape and it helps that Randy can do most the repairs and maintenance on the boat which saves us a lot of money from hiring people to do it.

Other than repairing things that routinely break (happens more then you can imagine), there is routine maintenance that needs to be done to keep a boat in ship-shape.  Some of things include:

  • Hauling the boat out every 3 years to have the bottom painted (roughly $3,000)
  • Routine engine/generator work – oil changes, change oil filters, belts, transmission fluid, etc.
  • Varnish wood railings and other top-side wood once a year to protect it
  • Hiring a diver to dive your boat once a month to clean the barnacles off, if you live in salt water ($50-80/month)
  • Repair canvas and ising glas
  • Flush AC lines with muriatic acid
  • Recommission water tanks
  • Cleaning AC strainers
  • Replacing impellers

I’m sure there is more to add to this list, but you get the idea. Many of these items can be done yourself if you take the time to learn how. The more you do yourself, the more you save. Things like hauling out the boat, however, are things you just need to budget for.

Living aboard isn’t for everyone. The maintenance and repair is enough to scare many folks away. You just have to have the right mindset and be ok with the trade offs. Sure, it’s a lot of work sometimes, but we always have an amazing view (like the one below as I’m writing this post), great neighbors and awesome cruising trips to look forward to.

Beautiful Keeywaydin Island on Easter weekend
Beautiful Keeywaydin Island on Easter weekend

15 thoughts on “The costs of living aboard a boat”

  1. Hey guys, we enjoyed reading this Blog very much! I’m certain that this information will be helpful to a lot of people!
    Good job!
    Don’t forget to post some wedding pics!!

    Reply
  2. I have moved to the area but am not settled. I have a houseboat 16’x 78′. I am checking into transporting it to the area but I am having a hard time finding a marina with a slip to fit the boat. Currently in a marina in Tennessee and it has two walkways one on each side if the boat, allows to board at the stern or at the side.
    Do you have any suggestions for marinas with this length of slips??

    Reply
    • Hello, I just saw your post and I am thinking of purchasing a boat in TN and having it shipped down to FL. Did you find anyone to transport your boat? How much for a boat your size? Thanks

      Reply
      • Hi Patricia,

        We didn’t need to transport our boat. We bought it in Longboat Key, near Sarasota, so it was a 2 day trip to drive Blue Turtle home.

        Kim

        Reply
  3. Dear Sir; I am just about totally blind. I see shapes and shadows. I am a service vet of several services, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. I was medically retired at 19 years, 8 months, and 17 days. Guess they could wait to get out of paying me retired pay. I am very interested in a live aboard life. At 70 years old, I just found my true love in P I. I am currently living in a mobile park of single and double wides, In Margate, Florida. Have been searching for a boat for several years. I can’t drive a car and neither can she yet. I have to live close to everything, groceries, cafes, with cable tv, cell phone access. Would welcome good conversations with you. Please disrequard spelling and grammer errors it took two days to write this. Not real good at it Respectfully,

    Reply
  4. Kim
    Thank you for the post. My lovely bride and I were just in Fort Myers last week for the specific purpose of looking at live-aboard marina’s. We visited Snook Bite and liked it. Our concern was the traffic getting on and off the island if you needed to go anywhere. We also looked at several other marina’s in the area and were pleased with the fees quoted.
    We own an ’86 Chris Craft 426 Catalina. Currently boating on Lake Michigan, but looking forward to the not too distant day of tossing the lines and cruising south.

    Reply
    • Hi Mike,

      Glad you liked the area. Look us up if/when you guys toss the lines and head south. Beach traffic isn’t that bad most of the year. During our season (Jan – April) it can get quite backed up on the Northern end of the island. If we need to leave the island during this time we head south toward Bonita to run any errands or do any shopping. It’s not that far and best to avoid the traffic.

      Kim

      Reply
    • Hi Ron,

      Moisture getting into books and clothing isn’t really a problem in the summertime since we run the AC. In the winter, it is usually dryer and not too bad either. We do have to clean frequently to keep mildew and mold away and there is the occasional humid day in the winter where you can see the effects of humidity on paper in the cabin. We haven’t had any issues with mildew or humidity in our clothing since mostly it is drawers or closets and covered. If you clean frequently enough the areas that tend to trap moisture on your boat, it really isn’t much of an issue. This is all from the perspective of living in a marina in the summer running air conditioning. I’m sure circumstances might be different if you are living on hook with no air in the humid summer months.

      Reply
  5. Hi there,
    I’m a landlubber about 90% certain I am going to buy a boat and live aboard full time. After doing so much research, as I’m starting from knowing nothing, I do have one question. Every resource I’ve looked at or watched talks about a boat being a money pit, and get ready for repairs, etc. If I buy a new boat or say a 3 year old boat, should I be expecting it to start falling to pieces immediately? Would I not get ANY time to enjoy it before I start having to fix this or that or the other thing?

    Everyone sure makes it sound that way. What’s the real story? Assuming the owner has taken good care of the vessel, how new of a boat should I be looking at before I’m “guaranteed” an onslaught of repairs?

    Thanks,

    Reply
    • Hi Ross,

      Even a brand new boat will need repairs here and there. There is no guarantee in repairs and maintenance on boats. Obviously, if you get a boat that has been taken good care of, you may have fewer repairs but still you will need to do regular maintenance and that is determined by how much you cruise. The best advice I can give anyone is to get to know your engines inside and out. Learn to make the repairs yourself. Not only does it save you money, it also frees you from ruining a trip or keeping you docked if things break down. You need to look at cruising on a boat as not if things will break down but when they will. New or old, you can expect an engine will need something fixed along the way. Our boat is over 45 years old. Same original engine and generator. She was taken good care of with regular maintenance, but my husband has spent a good deal of time in the engine rooms. In 8 years we’ve only had to hire a mechanic once and that was because we didn’t have the necessary tools to fix the issue. Randy learning to take care of our engines has been the best thing he could have done.

      Reply

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