Making the Leap

N. Atlantic in May

Long term cruising off shore - Mexico, Hawaii, Caribbean

The hardest part of any cruise is going to be untying the dock-lines. People are often so anxious about everything that might go wrong, that they put off the trip off until it’s too late to go.

Perhaps, the biggest anxiety for young people, is that there might be no job to return to. They worry that they might become out of touch with their industry, or become too old to hire.  People worry about medical coverage away from home. What happens if they get really sick, or have an accident?

If they own a home, they worry about rentals and repairs, and so on. I can’t say what you should do, but we sold everything and E. went without medical insurance. I was covered by my retirement plan.


Any age between 35 and 75 years seems to be normal for yachties who cruise full time. If you are really agile and can still see other boats from a distance, and you don’t require constant medical treatment, then you could sail until your eighties. I have met several old cruising people, and some who were disabled, and one who had to fly to Boston for radiation therapy several times a year. This didn’t stop them from cruising.

Now, as to the cost of cruising.

Habits have to be broken. You must stop spending money on things you think will make you happy. Whatever you buy from now on is just going to cause you to worry. First it takes away from the funds for eating out. And for going on side trips in the places you visit. And it affects the length of time you can stay cruising.

When I went on my first three year voyage, I managed to spend almost as much money cruising as it cost me to live in San Francisco. It took me a year to get the annual costs below $50,000 a year. But after two years I had got it down to $25,000 a year. On year three I was down to $1,500 a month. This for two people. After three years I had to go home and work again.

I met people who had been cruising for 15 years, and they seemed to live on next to nothing. An Englishman lived on his English pension of $200 a week. A Spaniard lived from doing sewing jobs on his boat for 15 years. An Austrian supported his wife by diving for food and entertaining visiting Germans by snorkling expeditions.  A Canadian built a steel boat with no engine to save costs and he and his dog sailing most of the world.

As I said somewhere else, the cost of buying and maintaning a boat is directly proportional to its weight. Well built boats cost $25 a lb if new. But the same boat that is thirty years old can be bought for $5 a lb. A well built fibreglass boat has a life expectancy of more than 50 years. You will probably die before the boat becomes unseaworthy.

As for maintenance: The biggest expense will be paint jobs because you must haul the boat out, and yards charge up to $100 an hour for labor. In the tropics you must do this every three years - that’s about $0.50 per lb of boat displacement. So a 10,000 lb boat will cost $5,000 each haul out. But a 30,000 lb boat may cost more than $10,000. Rigging has to be replaced if more than 25 years old (insurance requirement usually) and that is expensive too. It’s cheaper to do this work in Trinidad than St. Martin

Sails last forever.

Engine, Refrigeration, A/C may cost $1,000 a year to repair.

My engine average out to cost $250 a year and was replaced after 35 years. 

We don’t dock at a marina, we anchor, because a dock costs $200 - $1000 a month.

Dinghy and motors last three to five years in the tropics. That’s $4000 to replace a ten foot dinghy and 5HP motor.

Okay, it seems to cost us $15,000 a year to live minimalist on a 33 footer cruising. Plus occasional maintenance jobs that average out to $2500 a year. 

This for a very well built small boat that doesn’t have any failures, and requires minimum maintenance.

Flights home to see family average out to $5000 for every month you stay.

So if you can set aside $50,000 you can cruise for three years on a small boat. Or if you are olde enough for social security and have had two good jobs most of your working life in the USA (62 minimum) you can squeeze by on two incomes ($3600/month.) indefinitely - well at least until you are too dangerous to sail anymore. I have met people in the eighties who only at that age decided to go home.

If you go home you will probably need a job, unless you are retired on SS.

A rental in South Carolina upstate or in Florida can be less than $1000 a month and living expenses another $1000  a month if you are on Medicaire.

Cheaper to stay on the boat in a safe anchorage in South Carolina which allows full time live-aboards anchored out, even is some marinas allow it. We did this for ten years after we got back because we preferred to live on a boat, even though we were making a good income.

After 15 years we had saved enough to buy a big house, and kept the boat. By then we were too old to go voyaging (my wife says I am too old.)