How Much Does It Really Cost To Live On Board A Sailboat?

cost of living on a boat

How much does it cost to live on board a sailboat? Before we quit our jobs to move aboard a sailboat, the question we needed the answer to beyond any other question was how much does it REALLY cost to live on a sailboat. We scoured the internet for clues and got figures ranging from £500 a month to £2000-surely something had to wrong with one of those figures!

We decided that if some people could manage on an extremely small budget then so could we – we would have to if we wanted this dream to come true as neither of us had lots of savings or a stable way of bringing in an income. The trouble was, we didn’t really trust the figures that some people were putting out there. How could some people be living on huge budgets and others next to nothing? Who was fibbing?!

A girl on the bow of a sailboat wondering how much does it really cost to live on board a sailboat
How much does it really cost to live on a sailboat?

What Does Sailing In The Med Really Cost?

We have carefully recorded how much we spent on a monthly basis over one year of cruising, including some of the big ticket items we have had to buy for the boat. We are predicting that as time goes on the money we have to spend will lessen (a bit!) as we get the boat to the state we are happy with (we can already see that starting to happen), but we know from experience that boats cost serious money if you want them to be safe and enjoyable.

When we first set off on this adventure we thought we would have only £600 a month for living costs. Luckily we now have a little more than this due to Adam’s freelance work, but we are well aware that this could fall through at any moment and so although we have spent more than we originally planned, we try where possible to stick to the budget!

Food Costs When Sailing

Lots of food on board a sailboat
Provision up when you find cheap supermarkets

Now if you’re planning your adventure of a lifetime them you’re very lucky, because Adam isn’t your other half. This will make saving money SO much easier for you.

I have never met anyone who eats as much as Adam. It has been the source of many heated discussions (Adam read an article recently that said if your partner stops you from doing things and tries to control your money then they are abusive. He constantly reminds me of this when I tell him he shouldn’t eat three blocks of halloumi for dinner) but over time we’ve managed to find compromises. Rather than eating a whole block of cheese for a snack, Adam now snacks on carrots, or whatever we can find at the supermarket that is cheap. I like to think I’ve made him healthier, he just thinks I’m cruel. But seriously, start monitoring how much you spend a month on food and you’ll be amazed.

Back in the UK we started visiting the supermarkets only at reduction time, and grabbing as many bargains as we could. We were quite shocked to realise that eating cheap and healthily is extremely hard. Fresh fruit and veg is so expensive compared to crisps and biscuits. A pack of frozen burgers and chips was by far the cheapest way to buy a meal. Nuts and seeds became a hard no on our shopping list and fish fingers were the only source of fish we could afford.

All the delicious food that we took for granted was now substituted for less tasty alternatives. Rocket and baby spinach was replaced with iceburg lettuce, Peanut butter was replaced with plain old butter. It was hard to adjust, and eye opening to start to look at the figures more closely, but slowly we got used to shopping for food more smartly.

A couple eating birthday cake as a luxury treat on their sailboat adventure
BIRTHDAY CAKE

When we moved onto Hot Chocolate it was already part of our shopping routine. Now when we go to a new country, or even a new supermarket, we spend ten minutes sussing out what is cheap (it differs a lot from place to place, for example baked beans in England can cost around 30p, in Greece you can’t get them for under £1!). If we end up in a town with several supermarkets then we’ll check them all out before we decide where to do our main shop, and go to several shops if things are cheaper elsewhere.

If you can afford to, take advantage of ‘cheaper’ supermarkets when you find them and stock up on long term provisions. Because we heard that Greece was more expensive than Sicily, we filled our cupboards with dry and canned goods before we left. Food was more expensive that month but we could go several weeks without having to stock up if we couldn’t find a cheap supermarket somewhere in Greece.

Total Spend On Food

We have a budget of £200 for food each month that we have managed to stick to. This includes any hair care products and sun cream but doesn’t include alcohol which we class as a luxury item! Adam will tell you this budget is outrageous but we eat well, with plenty of more expensive fresh fruit and vegetables, and if we have to in the future this is a budget we can definitely cut down on.

How Much Do We Spend On Fuel Living On Board A Sailboat?

A dinghy floating in crystal clear waters without an outboard to save money
Row your dinghy to cut down costs (and get some exercise!)

We need several different types of fuel on the boat. We need diesel for the main engine, petrol for the outboard and gas to cook with.

It has been a lot harder than we thought it would be to sail everywhere and wind forecasts are very unreliable here. We have often set off on a 6 hour journey thinking we will be motoring for the first hour and then sailing the rest of the way, only to find there is no wind all day, or that we have 30 knots on the nose when we thought we’d have a lovely downwind sail.

Petrol for the dinghy has cost us much less than we thought at £5 a month, as we use it only for emergencies and row whenever possible.

We can make one of our small camping Gaz bottles last for two weeks, without being too strict. This means we have spent about £15 a month on gas. We are looking into ways we can use our solar to cook with so hopefully in the near future this cost will lower even more.

Total Cost On Fuel

In the last year we have spent £57.10 a month on fuel (this includes 5 months out of the water winter when we didn’t spend anything). Less than I used to spend on petrol for getting to and from work!

How Much Does Working On Board A Sailboat Cost?

Under work we have included our phone and internet bills and any big costs if something were to go wrong with laptops or phones (included in this three month budget is the cost of a new phone, as my phone which I have had for five years finally gave up). We need internet to work, so it’s a must have.

Total Cost Of Working Aboard

We have spent £69 a month on ‘work’, including £150 on a second hand phone that we hope we won’t need to replace for a while! Our monthly bills come to £57 a month, and if I’d had to I could have coped without a phone and shared Adam’s, but things will break and need to be replaced so it’s a good example of why it’s important to have some leeway in your budget.

What Do We Spend On Boat Necessities?

Sailing charts and a log book for sailing the world
You’ll need to include a budget for sailboat essentials

Under boat necessities we have included any water, electricity or marina fees, our subscription to Navionics that we use as our chart plotter most of the time, money for paper charts and pilot books, courtesy flags and all those essential things that you have to keep buying to keep moving.

We have tried incredibly hard not to use marinas or town quays that we have had to pay for. So far we’ve managed pretty well, as Greece has several free town quays that have water taps you don’t have to pay for. We have heard that some people continue to cruise Greece through the winter months, but with less experience we decided that it wasn’t worth getting out of our depth in winter storms and high winds. We had also made the decision to get our (new to us) boat out the water for the winter so we could do some much needed work. Because of this decision we ended spending £3000 on yard and haul out fees. We were a month longer in the yard than we hoped due to the lockdown measures, which cost us £500 more than we had hoped.

Our solar and inverter have been life savers as since we installed them we have not had to pay for any electricity or buy drinks in bars to find wifi (much to Adam’s distaste!) We were incredibly lucky (and extremely thankful) to have been given the charts we needed for the areas we have cruised in so far.

Cost Of Sailing Essentials

This year we have spent 10 euros on marinas, water and electricity. We bought a pilot book and courtesy flag for Greece, and subscription to Navionics. In total this came to £255 a month.

How Much Does Sailboat Maintenance Cost When You’re Living On Board?

A rusty old boat in an abandoned marina which is what happens when you don't have enough money to live on board a sailboat
This is what happens when you let maintenance slip!

When questioning how much does it really cost to live on board a sailboat you’ll need to think seriously about maintenance. This will massively depend on how much you spend on the boat in the first place (and how much of a good deal you manage to find!) We were aware that buying a cheap boat would mean lots of ongoing work and cost, but as we couldn’t afford the outgoing cost we were happy with the trade off.

Here we have included all the things we have had to do to the boat that we hadn’t accounted for after the survey. Some things have been essential, like replacing worn out lines or changing anodes and some things have been material, like oiling the teak or varnishing the hatches that we really didn’t have to do.

So far we have had one big ticket expense that we hadn’t accounted for. Our windlass broke just after we left the marina and replacing it has been expensive. We debated whether to include this as we spent more on the windlass than we could have, because after anchoring by hand for a month and having lots of problems doing so we wanted a windlass we could rely on and that we wouldn’t end up having to replace again in the near future.

Without an income, we would have sourced a second hand windlass or bought a manual one. Instead we spent £900 on one and don’t regret it for one minute!

During our time on the hard standing we asked a professional to help us check over the engine. We do as much maintenance as possible ourselves, but as it’s an old engine we wanted to make sure we did everything we could to look after it. We paid £400 to replace and service some worn parts and another £200 to replace the cutlass bearing, which needed to be cut out of the boat and re-fibre glassed in so that we didn’t have to pull the whole prop shaft and risk more expensive damage.

The final big item we bought this winter was a new, heavier anchor. We wanted a new generation anchor, but simply couldn’t afford one, so we upgraded to a heavier delta that was half the price and will hopefully give us more security at anchor.

We also spent money on things like paint, sanding disks, hoses and various other sundry items for boat maintenance work.

Total Cost On Sailboat Work

£375.46 per month (most of this was spent over winter!)

Our Budget For Luxuries When Living On Board A Sailboat

A black plate full of luxury mushroom risotto
A birthday treat

Here we have included any meals, entertaining guests or drinks in or out, and things we have bought just for fun (Namely our folding bikes that we got for free from the marina but spent £100 on maintenance to get them working again). We haven’t bought any make up or body care products (even though Adam doesn’t stop going on about how he needs a new mascara). We also haven’t splashed out on any goodies but we have a wish list for the months we manage to spend less! I’d love some fins and Adam wants a new lens for his camera (is it nearly Christmas yet?). We have bought very few things for ourselves other than food over the last few months and it has made me realise how little you really need.

We have spent £36.66 a month on luxuries, mostly on my birthday weekend (when we spent the 50 euro note we found on the floor, and a little extra because…cocktails!) and our amazing folding bikes! This is an area we could definitely cut down on, but part of the fun of cruising is meeting so many new people and sharing dinner or a drink with them. While we don’t have to, we don’t want to give that up! We saved a lot of money during our time in the yard, when we worked 24/7 for three months and barely left the yard!

Some Handy Tips For Keeping To Your Budget

Revolut-Our Little Lifesaver

A, pink revolut card
REVOLUT

For such a little card it has made a massive difference, not only to our bank balances but also to our financial organisation. Because of this card we pay no overseas fees when we spend money here!

You can spend up to £5000 a month with no overseas charges in 150 different countries and withdraw up to £200 a month from ATMs without being charged.

We love that it’s a top up card that you control from your phone. We transfer our £600 monthly budget onto the card at the beginning of the month and know immediately when we have hit that limit. You can set it up so that if you are running low on funds it will automatically top up with a certain amount, and you can even set budgets for how much you want to spend on groceries per month (which is perfect for keeping Adam’s cheese addiction under control!)

The app shows you what you are spending money on-for example at a hardware store, or at a restaurant, and it sends through a notification to your phone as soon as the transaction is made.

Normally you have to pay £4.99 for shipping, but if you use this link then the card is completely free (and we’ll get a little tip so you’ll be helping us out too!)

Buying An Old Boat-Hidden Costs

this rusty old boat was owned by someone who found out what it really costs to live on board a sailboat
Hopefully not this old though!

We haven’t included this in the monthly budget but we wanted to mention here that buying a boat requires a big outlay. Whether or not you buy a new boat or an old boat, it will need work doing. There will be lots of things you want to add or change to make your new boat right for you, and although they won’t form part of your monthly living costs they will come out of your bank account at an alarming rate!

I would say that the first year of owning a new to you boat will be an expensive one. You’ll be finding out what works for you as a liveaboard and kitting the boat out accordingly.

For every boat we went to look at we made a spreadsheet. We listed the cost of the boat, the cost of buying fees (survey etc) and the cost of the work we predicted we would have to do. This formed our boat buying budget and helped us work out whether or not we could afford each boat we saw. I will write a separate post about this process, as it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself in for! But we wanted to make it clear that the money we have spent over the last few months is not all the money we have spent on the boat!

The Grand Total – What It Really Costs Us To Live On Board A Sailboat!

Enjoying a cheap date night with the view of mountains and the sea
Cheap date night – sunset, olives and a can of beer!

So how much does it really cost to live on board a sailboat?

I think what we have discovered is that it depends on so many factors. Our biggest expenses by far have been upgrading and fixing the boat, and the space in the yard over winter. If you’re boat needed less work doing, or you were really determined, then you could live a lot more cheaply than we have managed.

To show you the difference I’ve included our figures from the first 3 months of sailing, before we did any real boat work and when we were living at anchor.

First Three Months Of Sailing

£625.79

The Cost Of One Year Sailing The Med

£993.22

I think the two figures are important for anyone who is dreaming of living this lifestyle but has a small budget. It shows that you most definitely can bring your budget in at under £600 a month when you have to. We wanted to be transparent and show that you will probably have some months that cost you more, because things on boats break at the worst possible times, but you will almost certainly have months where you can cut right back or where the work that needs doing can be done by you and very cheaply.

In Conclusion: How Much Does It Really Cost To Live On Board A Sailboat

It certainly is possible to sail the world on a very small budget. £300 per person per month is an incredibly small figure but if you’re disciplined and prepared to make sacrifices then I think we are proving that it’s enough.

But it’s also important to be realistic about the cost of maintaining a boat. When things break on a boat they are expensive to replace. A lot of the time things just need a part replacing, which doesn’t cost too much at all, but when something big completely fails and needs replacing then you will have to decide whether or not your budget allows it to be a necessity. Getting by without a windlass is possible (horrible, but possible). Spending a month without one proved that to us. But does it make our cruising experience far more enjoyable having one? Yes it does, and it was worth every precious penny!

galley equipment for sailboat cooking
getting the internet at sea when sailing
buying a sailboat