Turns out that owning a boat is pretty affordable. OK, it isn't cheap, but it can absolutely be done on a budget. In this article, I'll show you what to expect.
Sure, superyachts are expensive, but so is everything super (except for maybe supermarkets). But a modest, used sailboat can be as cheap as $1,500 and an additional $1,400 per year.
How much does the average sailboat cost? The price of a new 26' sailboat is roughly $80,000. A used one costs on average $20,000. The price of a new 36' cruiser is about $150,000. A used one costs roughly $40,000. The annual maintenance cost is between $2,000 - $3,000 for most boats, but the actual total annual cost is $3,000 to $7,000.
Of course the price of a sailboat depends on many factors, like the size for example, and your choices determine whether sailing is a rich man's game, or actually a very good holiday investment (which beats driving around to bungalow parks for sure - both in cost and in fun).
It may come as a surprise that you can get a decent sailboat for as little as $1,500 on Craigslist.
If you plan to buy a cheap boat, be sure you know about boats, or bring someone along that does. Some boats are cheap because their owners are done with them, others have expensive missing parts, damages, or other hidden costs.
This will be a long article because there are so many aspects to cover. I'd like to spend some time exploring the costs of actually buying the boat. Then I want to go into recurring costs, like mooring, maintenance, and insurance.
But a boat doesn't just cost money: she can actually make you some if you want. I'll discuss a couple of ideas at the end of the post. There, you'll also find some really detailed figures on price per feet and so on.
But first, to get a good sense of the ballpark amounts, I'll give some real-life price examples, like:
- what does it cost if you want to keep your boat in good shape and have a good sailing experience? - aka: most people
- what does it cost if you ONLY spend the absolute minimum amount to keep her floating?
- if I want to sail the world on a budget, what's the absolute minimum?
- if sailing is more of a status thing to you, how much money COULD you spend?
In this article:
Examples of Popular Sailboats, and How Much They Cost
|boat||price class||one-time cost||monthly cost|
|Island Packet 26'||medium||$25,000||$470|
|Catalina 22'||low budget||$2,500||$115|
|Ocean cruiser 35'||low budget||$38,000||$450|
|Luxury yacht 40'||expensive||$166,000||$1,300|
There are a lot of great boats out there for a good price and there are also some boats that are so expensive (or so cheap), it's not even fun to look at them.
But one thing's for sure: there are plenty of boats available, and even if you're on a very tight budget, you could absolutely still make it work. Sailing is in and of itself actually not that expensive: wind is free, water is free, boats can be cheap - if you're willing to look around a bit. It's all the little extras that add up quickly.
Listed below are 4 boats that make great beginner boats. Since more than 80% of all boats that are bought are second-hand, I'll use the prices of used boats I found on Craigslist.
If you want to know exactly where the numbers come from, don't worry, I'll explain them after the 4 examples.
1. Island Packet 26' for stressless weekends on the lake
- The one-time costs are $24,860
- Your total recurring costs are $5,650 per year, or $471 per month
Let's say you're like me and most other people and just want a nice boat without too much hassle. So you pay people for complex maintenance. You do the required maintenance and save up for future repairs. You do a little yourself, which saves you a couple of hundred of bucks a year. You also join a (cheap) sailing club to learn how to not trash the boat. You get the right trailer, and you save up some money for future repairs. You don't want to buy a bad boat, so you pay a fair purchase price
|Price of boat||$20,000|
|Registration at $10/ft||$260|
|Taxes at 5%||$1,600|
|Total one-time cost||$23,860|
|Mooring at $15/ft||$400|
|Total cost per year||$5,650|
2. Extreme Low Budget Catalina 22'
Ok, I'm very interested in how cheap you could actually go (in theory). Is it do-able to buy a very cheap sailboat and just keep her afloat, never change sails, and only pay for maintenance that is absolutely necessary to not sink?
In this scenario, I don't care about speed, so I don't change sails. I certainly won't join a sailing club, and I try to save some money on the marina by boondocking. I also happen to live in a cheap state registration and tax-wise.
Docking costs can get out of hand
For an average sailboat, depending on your area and wishes, up to $5,000/year.
Read everything about docking costs
I try to pay as little as possible for the boat itself (and I've actually found a Catalina 22 for $2,250 on Craigslist today!). I don't save up for rigging and hardware (tomorrows' worries). I try to get an extra 2 years out of my bottom paint and I only do the essential repairs, and I do them myself. But because I saved so much on the purchase, this little boat needs a lot of maintenance.
Luckily, I have time on my hands and know my way around engines and rigging, so I do all of it myself (with the help of YouTube).
I don't bother with winterizing my boat, I'll just sail somewhere warm. Oh, and I'll use the engine as little as possible to save on gas.
Will your boat be happy? Definitely not, but your wallet will be (for now). Can it be done? It's optimistic, but yes, I think it can be done. But you have to be mechanically inclined, and pretty creative.
- The one-time costs are $2,428
- Your total recurring costs are $1,380 per year, or $115 per month
|Price of boat||$2,250|
|Registration at $5/ft||$110|
|Taxes at 3%||$68|
|Total one-time cost||$2,428|
|Mooring at $5/ft||$130|
|Total cost per year||$1,380|
3. Low Budget 35' Ocean Cruiser for traveling the world
If you dream of crossing oceans, you need a comfortable ride. Usually, most sailors pick a boat that's between 32' - 50' for two person ocean cruising. Anything under 32' gets pretty uncomfortable in high waves, although it can be done.
But this is also the range that gets expensive - quickly. So if we're on a tight budget, but also need a good and reliable boat: how much will it cost?
The boat will cost you $35,000. For this price, I've seen a beautiful 1983 wooden cutter (by Robert Tucker), multiple Beneteau Oceanis from '88 - '89, multiple Bavarias ... plenty of solid choices on the second-hand market here.
In this example, you don't join any sailing clubs (I assume you're pretty experienced if you want to cross oceans). You also don't winterize (you're sailing the Caribbean by now). No trailer, as you won't haul it out of the water any time soon.
You do pay a fair price for the boat because you don't want any surprises during your Tour du Monde. In need of a lot of bottom paint, since you're in saltwater most of the time. It's also a good idea to invest in at least SOME navigation equipment, so for $500 I've added a simple but capable GPS chartplotter and compass.
You can get a cheap but reliable chartplotter and compass for less than $500 - in total. If you want to learn more, head over to the recommended gear section.
- The one-time costs are $37,590
- Your total recurring costs are $5,425 per year, or $452 per month
|Price of boat||$35,000|
|Registration at $10/ft||$340|
|Taxes at 5%||$1,750|
|GPS & compass||$500|
|Total one-time cost||$37,590|
|Mooring at $15/ft||$800|
|Total cost per year||$5,425|
4. Powerful 40' Yacht (and everything that goes with it)
Let's say you're in the game for the fame. What does it cost me to own a grande yacht with all luxuries (and costs) that go with it?
I join an expensive sailing club, hire pros that maintain the thing beautifully, and I also pay for winterization, the best trailer I can find. I replace my sails and running rigging every 5 years - since speed matters to me. Because she's my pride, I paint her every year. I spend an additional 500 bucks a year on special soaps and waxes.
I want a prime mooring location, so I pay a premium. I also get a small boat to hang from the large boat, to get to shore more quickly.
- The one-time costs are $166,400
- Your total recurring costs are $15,150 per year, or $1,263 per month
|Price of boat||$150,000|
|Price of small boat||$1,500|
|Total one-time cost||$166,400|
|Mooring at $50/ft||$2,000|
|Total cost per year||$15,150|
What Does it Cost to Buy a Sailboat?
There are a couple of important factors that determine how much money you end up spending.
- Size - length determines mooring costs, insurance, amount of paint on your hull, literally everything gets more expensive with every foot of length
- New vs. used - of course, it makes all the difference whether you buy new or used. Typically, the price of a 25-year old used sailboat vs. a comparable new one is 3-4 times lower ($60,000 vs $200,000).
You can actually sail a large sailboat alone
But what's the largest boat one person can operate? Hint: it's bigger than you'd expect).
Read all about the largest one-person sailboat
With used sailboats, I find that the price generally increases rapidly from 30 feet onwards
It's the same with new sailboats - or actually, it keeps increasing with every extra couple of feet. The reason is that as the boat gets bigger, it also gets more luxurious (upholstery, finishing, equipment).
The average price of a new sailboat per foot in USD:
- under 30 ft: $2,500 per ft
- 30 - 50 ft: $2,800 - $4,700 per ft
- over 50 ft: $11,000 - $50,000 per ft
On average, second-hand sailboats go at 1/3 - 1/4 of the cost of a new boat:
- under 30 ft: $735 per ft
- 30 - 50 ft: $800 - $1,350 per ft
- over 50 ft: $3,200 - $14,300 per ft
If this is too much for you, you could always rent a boat instead. I recommend chartering. You can get great sailboats at great prices. Check out my charter recommendation here.
Price of New Sailboats
I've looked at the prices of thousands of yachts (really) on one of the largest yacht marketplaces in the world (- not manually, don't worry: with the help of their search function). This is what I came up with:
|Length||Price Low||Price Average||Price High|
- Source: Yachtworld, prices as of January 7th, 2019
I've used these numbers to calculate the following list:
Here's the detailed price per foot for all lengths from 20 to 100 feet:
- 20 - 25 ft: $1,400 per ft
- 25 - 30 ft: $2,600 per ft
- 35 - 40 ft: $3,000 per ft
- 30 - 35 ft: $5,000 per ft
- 40 - 50 ft: $6,400 per ft
- 35 - 40 ft: $6,400 per ft
- 50 - 60 ft: $11,000 per ft
- 60 - 80 ft: $32,000 per ft
- 80 - 100 ft: $50,000 per ft
Price of Used Sailboats on Craigslist
The price of used sailboats ranges from roughly $250-1,000 per foot.
To get an average of the price of a used sailboat, I went over to Craigslist. I took the first 10 relevant search results for sailboats under, and over 30 feet.
Of course, the averages here are very speculative, as prices vary from day to day. But it gives a broad range of what to expect.
Over 50 feet, listings become meagre. I believe people tend to not place their 80-ft yacht on Craigslist, but sell it through a broker instead. So I've kept used yachts over 50 feet out of the picture for now.
This is what I found on Craigslist under 30 feet:
Here's what I found for 30 feet and up:
I've calculated the median price, not the average. The median is the price that's most common within the price range. This way the highest and lowest prices don't have as much impact.
The average Craigslist price-per-foot of a used sailboat:
- under 30 ft: $162 per ft
- 30 - 50 ft: $637 per ft
- over 50 ft: $2,500 per ft
What Does it Cost to Own a Sailboat?
So let's take a quick look at the costs for owning a sailboat.
- Registration: costs of registration differ per state, but usually run anywhere from $3 - $10 per foot.
- Taxes: differs per state and country. Most governments want you to pay property tax and sales tax. Sales tax is usually about 5%. Property tax varies and is more complex, so I'll leave that up to you to figure out.
- Trailer: $1,000
- Sailing club initiation fee: $1,500 - $4,000
- Mooring: $10-15 per foot per year (can be much higher for prime locations)
- Insurance: typically 1.5% of the total value of the boat. So a $50,000 26' cruiser will cost 750 bucks.
- Maintenance: a good rule of thumb is 10% of the boat value. Expect to spend anywhere between $500 - $2,500 per year for small to mid-sized boats.
- Fuel: depends on how much you use the boat and the engine, but on average something between $100 - $150. - Find out how much fuel a sailboat uses in my article here (opens in new tab).
- International License: if you want to sail on international waters, you have to get your ICC (International Certificate of Competence). Plan on spending anywhere between 400 to 500 dollars.
- Safety equipment: plan on spending anywhere between 150 to 600 bucks for lifejackets, first aid kit, and distress signals.
- Winterize boat: $2,000
- Sailing club: $800 - $1,500
|Standing rigging||10 years||$4,000|
|Running rigging||5-10 years||$5,000|
|Sails||5-10 years||$2,000 - $5,000|
|Safety equipment||10 years||$500|
|Deck hardware||20-30 years||$1,500|
|Bottom paint||2 years||$500|
|Avg. cost per year||$1,730|
Your average maintenance cost will be roughly $144 dollars per month for boats under 30', or just under $2,000 per year.
Maintainance involves a lot of hidden costs
We took an in-depth look at everything. The result is a comprehensive article that lays it all out for new boat owners.
Read all about maintenance costs
Gas engines run for about 1,500 hours, diesel engines run for 5,000. After that, you'll need to change them out.
Most engines will last you about 20 years.
A standard 15HP or 20HP outboard gas engine will cost you about $5,000 - $6,000 and needs replacing every 20 years or so. If you do the work yourself, it's more something like $1,000 - $1,500.
A smaller engine uses less fuel, reducing your total cost
You can actually use a pretty small engine for most sailboats. To learn how small (and efficient) you can go, I've written a guide on how to calculate it yourself.
Read all about outboard engine size
Replacing the sails and rigging
Most people that own a sailboat will have to replace the sails and rigging at least once in their lifetime. Replacing the mast is uncommon, but if you're unlucky and get demasted, it will need to be fixed. So I've added it to the "be aware this might happen" list - but won't add it to the monthly recurring costs.
If you need to replace the mast and boom, prepare to spend anywhere between $15,000 - $25,000.
I won't go into detail, but I have written a long article about the cost of new sails (opens in new tab). It's a really helpful post (with a formula) if you want to know what to expect.
Good quality cruising sails will need to be replaced every 10 years or so.
The cost of new sails is on average:
- 26' Bermuda Sloop rig will cost you about $1,000 - $2,500.
- 34' Bermuda Sloop rig will cost you about $3,000 - $5,000.
The cost of the new rigging is on average:
- Standing rigging - every 10 years at $4,000
- Running rigging - every 5-10 years at $5,000
Your boat will need bottom paint roughly every 2 years (could be longer, but to be safe, let's keep it at two). It's also called antifouling paint because it helps to protect your hull from weeds, barnacles, and so on. Barnacles can slice through your boat's bellow! So you don't want them on there.
On average, it costs about $15 to $20 per foot to get your sailboat hull painted professionally.
For a 26' sailboat, that's just 500 bucks. Money well spent.
Replacing safety equipment
USCG safety regulations require you to replace safety gear regularly.
- Lifejackets have to be replaced every 10 years.
- Flares have to be replaced every 42 months. You could consider buying a LED electric distress light instead, which will last you a lifetime.
- If you carry a life-raft you'll need to replace that every 12 years as well.
Adhering to the minimum safety requirements shouldn't cost you more than 150 - 250 dollars every 5 years. But if you want the good stuff, need more fire extinguishers, plan on spending more like $600. If you want a life raft, that's another $1,500.
To avoid you have to go cheap on your safety gear, I've put it in the budget for $500.
If you want to know exactly what the USCG safety requirements are, including checklists, definitely check out my article here.
Winterizing your boat
Winterization is an often overlooked cost, but it can be one of the largest expenses each year. If you're like me, and not so lucky to live in Florida, you need to winterize your boat.
Failing to winterize it will increase your maintenance cost over time, as the engine wears out more quickly, and your plumbing and equipment will fall apart. Winter storms and ice can damage the hull and mast as well. Learn all about the dangers of failing to winterize here.
It's the best way to protect your boat in wintertime, period.
It consists of two parts:
- Winterizing - costs $500 to $1000 - This is the preparation for winter storage. You flush the cooling system with anti-freeze, and the boat gets wrapped in a shrink wrap cover.
- Winter storage - costs $50 per ft on average
Some other maintenance costs:
- Batteries: deep cycle batteries need replacing every 4-6 years at $600
- Deck hardware: every 20-30 years (bullseyes, tiller, eye straps) at $1,500
Joining a Sailing Club
If you're new to sailing, you might want to consider joining a sailboat club. This might help you to get tips, make friends, and learn in a safe environment. Most clubs also organize races, which are a great way to quickly improve your sailing skills.
But it comes at a cost. Sailing clubs are very expensive.
Initiation fees range anywhere between $1,000 - $4,000. But that's not all.
Then there's an annual fee of $500 - $1,000 per year. And lot's of additional fees: for dining, lockers, etc.
If you're willing to skip Christmas, go for it.
Make or Save Some Money
How about making up for some of those losses? There's just no better feeling than earning back all that cash with the same thing that you've spent it on in the first place.
There are lot's of ways to earn a little extra with your boat - if you're willing to put in the effort. Here are a few ideas:
- hire yourself out as the captain of a personalized cruise (for families, newly-weds, groups of colleagues)
- take people to go fishing
- hire your boat out to yacht charter companies
- teach someone to sail
- take photographers, film crews, and artists on tours
- organize dolphin and whale watching tours
- delivery of cargo - some places just can't be reached by car, for example, the city center of Giethoorn (Dutch Venice). So you have a competitive edge here!
Some ideas to save money:
- install solar panels (no more dock power)
- buy a and cheap small boat (kayak or someting) to get to offshore anchorage (which are cheaper)
- shop around for insurance
- get gas at the gas station, not the marina
- do your own maintenance as much as possible
- find a friend with water access to avoid mooring
- use it a lot (prevents stuff from breaking)
- fix things that are broken immediately
- keep your sails out of the sun
- do your own upgrades
For example, convert your winches to self-tailing yourself. I was really surprised by how cheaply this can be done yourself. Read my article on how to do it here (opens in new tab).
How much does it cost to paint a boat hull? Painting a boat hull with antifouling paint will usually cost between $15 - $20 per feet. For example, a 25-foot sailboat will cost roughly $500. A 35-foot sailboat will cost $800 to repaint. You can get premium paints and services, which can quadruple the cost. Typically, a boat needs to be repainted every two years.
Why are used sailboats so cheap? Sailboats require a lot of skill and patience. They can be quite expensive to maintain and to keep in slip. Some people find they can't afford the marina rent, upkeep, and other costs; sometimes they simply don't want to; others don't want to sail anymore. In some cases, expensive and important parts are missing.
How much does it cost to charter a sailboat? The price of a charter depends on location, size of the vessel, crew or bareboat chartering, and so on. However, on average, a bareboat yacht charter will cost anywhere from $5,000 - $10,000 per week. Crewed charters cost anywhere between $10,000 - $15,000 per week. Superyachts may cost up to $150,000 per week.
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