How much does a dream cost: one couple's calculations

During the past two years of sailing around Australia aboard our catamaran we have both asked and been asked many times about how much it costs to live on a boat.

The anecdotal evidence I have gathered, usually during sundowners, has produced a range of figures. However, the biggest variance of all I noticed is the list of items people call costs.

From our experience, I put together a list of cost items we think should be carefully considered when putting together a cruising sailing budget. Time spent doing research to compare or to find the most accurate figures could also be the key to making a budget successful.

People costs

The best place to start the budget plan is with existing costs for the crew.

Food and drink: our experience shows that while we probably eat more, we do eat less expensively while living on a boat. For example access to shops to buy lunch each day is limited, as is the ability to keep a lot of fresh perishables.

Catching fish is more of a saving for some more than others. For us, what we save by catching the odd fish is offset by our spending at the tackle shop.

For our budget we allow the same as we used to spend on food and groceries as we did when we were landlubbers, $220 a week is our budget for the two of us. As cruising sailing can be as social as you would like it, a slight increase in the drinks budget is a worthy consideration. We have got a strict allowance of $50, but that is with the author being teetotal.

Next thing to consider is medical requirements. Again our various prescriptions, pills and potions that keep us going are still costing the same as they would if we were living at home. We have a bit more added for sunscreens and incidentals like sandfly treatment. Our per person budget is $25 per week.

Keeping oneself amused is also an important consideration. We have a budget heading for this titled ‘Entertainment’. This covers things like our Spotify music account and for the download of books or movies.

We also do not see the point of sailing to somewhere if you are not going to have a look around when you get there. So our entertainment allowance covers land-based excursions, the odd hire car and activities like the rum factory tour in Bundaberg. Our entertainment figure is $150 per week.

In regard to purchasing items while on a tour, it would be taken from other accounts. For example buying rum on the Bundaberg tour would come out of the drinks budget.

In case it all goes wrong personal insurance is a worthy consideration. Our boat insurance policy includes some basic personal ‘situation’ insurance, but we recommend you also consider things like hospital, ambulance, trauma and accident insurance for your budget. We pay personal insurance including trauma cover at $25 per week, then basic hospital and ambulance cover is $45 per week.

Family and friends are absolutely important to keep connections with so telephone plans, internet connection and associated costs are vital items for cruising sailors. Our phone plans cost $20 per week for phone, internet is $110 per month for 15gb and $7.50 per week for the other.

You can bet that as soon as you arrive at Great Keppell, or some other brilliant destination, some relative or other will have the audacity to get married or have a baby, or some other reason which will see you catching a plane from the nearest airport. So travel is a consideration that really should be included.

As the majority of our family live in Perth, we allow one flight home each per budget. We have a credit card that gives us two-for-one flights but, by the time we allow for accommodation, meals, taxis etc., it is $2000 per year.

If you downsized from a house to a boat but could not bear to part with your stuff, you will have to consider storage fees. We do not have this expense, but I believe it can cost $50 per week for a basic internal storage unit.

For those, like us, who are renting their house out while sailing over the horizon, there are a plethora of costs. Landlord insurance, agents fees, inspections, repairs, rates and rubbish as well as water and even post redirection fees can be factored in to get the true picture of your rental income. Then of course there are repairs when you least expect them.

All this adds up in our instance to $150 a week coming out of our rent income.

Boat expenses

Now, we get to the boat.

Insurance, for us, is the most important but hopefully, the least often called upon. The most important because we need to protect our asset but the least often used as it is only called on when things have gone pear-shaped. Insurance on our catamaran agreed value of $380,000 is $3000 per year.

Regulations, while not a major part of the budget allowing for these means that they do not have to be found elsewhere.

Boat registration is a given, but how about drivers licenses, skipper’s tickets and fishing licenses as required in some states. We allow $7.50 per week.

The purchase or replacement of safety items is a hidden cost. Things like EPIRBS, flares and life rafts all have dates where they need to be serviced or replaced. Therefore costs associated have to be factored in, $7.50 a week seems to cover these.

Maintenance and servicing of the boat is a major expense. From annual antifoul to oil and filter changes of the engines all the way to zinc anodes, there is a myriad of great ways to get rid of hard-earned dollars in this column.

Consider carefully who, how where and when your boat maintenance will be done and research costs carefully. We have to allow $100 per week for basic maintenance of our catamaran.

Repairs are the great unknown quantity. It is hard to know how many shackles are going to be lost, or ropes are going to fray, or how many times you say “…whoops” when you drop an important widget into the water.

We draw a line here and say half of what we spend on maintenance we will spend on repairs. Therefore we allow $50 per week.

Replacement and modification was something I had never thought of before we left on our sailing adventure. We have spent money on things like repositioning the barbecue so that the wind did not keep blowing out the flame. I am sure that most people we have met along our journey have spent money changing or replacing something on their boat.

Some examples range from upgrading their dinghy motor, or adding more rod holders. Our number in this column matches our repairs number at $50 per week.

OK, so now we get to think about using the boat.

Fuel: yes I know we are a sailboat. We thought we would sail a lot more than motor.

Since leaving Mandurah in Western Australia, sailing across Great Australian Bight, Bass Strait, then north to the Whitsundays and back down to Brisbane, we calculated that we have had at least one motor running for at least 2/3rds of the journey. This is due to a lack of wind or wind in the wrong direction. So fuel is an important consideration.

At an average use of 2.5 litres per hour, we allow $75 per week for diesel.

Coupled to the main engine fuel, we have a Honda generator. We have plenty of solar panels on the boat to maintain our batteries, but still seem to need to use the Honda every three days or so, for four or five hours. This fuel has a cost, as does the dinghy motor fuel, which we use to get from boat to shore and for exploring our surroundings. $30per week covers our use of these fuels.

Gas is a nice commodity to have, especially when we want to cook. It is a small expense for us, but still an expense. $5 per week is enough for us.

Berthing: you need to consider where you will berth the boat. If it is to be it in a marina berth, even occasionally, this is another big cost item.

We have paid marina berth fees for our catamaran from $35 in Robe South Australia to $115 per night at Hamilton Island. Because of the expense, we try to make it only one night a fortnight in a marina. However, in lieu of bad weather, this can easily blow out to a week at a time.

One benefit we do find is, when we are in a marina, we do not use fuel. We allow $100 per week for marina fees.

While in marinas there is washing to do. This was an oversight in our original budget but with two years experience we find that we could spend around $40 per time on washing and drying clothes, towels sheets etc., since then we have fitted a washing machine. It came out of our repair/modification budget but will pay for itself in a year and a bit. We used to allow $20 per week so now that has topped up our boat repair/mods account.

Finally, we have a little heading called ‘Sundries’. This is an allowance for things that do not quite fit anywhere else. In the last couple of months we have used this heading for some new clothes, postage, anti-slip matting, birthday presents for family and other purchases that we had to have. $100 per week is the figure we put on Sundries.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Also if it is not written down it is worth the paper it is written on. Using a considered complete budget plan will save you pain and heartache during your cruising sailing adventures.


Now comes the good bit. Once you have added up all the costs, now is the time to consider your income.

Of course the whole purpose of doing a comprehensive and accurate budget is to make sure you have enough income to pay your expenses. If you do not, you have two choices: decrease your expenses or, top up your income.

So now, when I am asked about how much it costs to live on a boat while circumnavigating Australia, I can use the list I have put together over the past two years of living the dream.

If the list was the same for all, we may be able to find the answer to the question of how much does it cost to live while cruising around Australia.

Race Yachts