The Cost of Sailing Around the World: I've Done It
The idea of sailing around the world is beautiful, but it bears certain financial realities with it. To figure out how much money you will need to make the circumnavigation dream a reality, we have put together an article that explains how much it cost to sail around the world - with as much detail as possible.
So what is the cost of sailing around the world?
- Sailboat Purchase: $3,000 - infinity, with $50,000 being a good start
- Sailboat Refit: $0 - infinity, with $20,000 being a good start
- Sailboat Survey: around $1,000 for an average boat
- Food: $200 monthly
- Maintenance: $200 - $650 on average, with more for pricier boats
- Communications: $100 for a basic sat phone plan
- Insurance: $200 monthly for an average scenario
- Fuel: $50 - $100 monthly
- Administrative fees: $100 - $300 monthly
- Docking and mooring: $200 monthly
- Inland Exploration: $0 - $200 monthly on average
- Flying Home: $85 monthly
Total: $70,000 upfront cost + $1,500 monthly
The answer is of course quite complex and there are many variables to it - so to figure out your specific scenario, read on.
In this article:
Upfront Cost of Sailing Circumnavigation
When telling you how much it costs to sail around the world, I will have to talk about two categories - the upfront costs and the recurring costs. The upfront cost is what you need to get in the game and it is a one-time expense that shouldn't repeat unless you sink the boat and have no insurance.
Sailboat will cost $50,000
Unless you already have one, in which case skip this chapter, before you set sail, you will need a seaworthy boat. And right in the beginning, I have some imprecise figures for you - the spread here is huge. The figure you are looking for starts at around $3,000 and the sky's the limit.
The good news about me not giving you a more reasonable range is that whatever your budget, you can afford it.
The smallest and cheapest sailboat for circumnavigation
The cheapest seaworthy boat you can get is Hurley 22, which can be yours for $3,000 - and I'm not talking about a fixer-upper project, but a boat that, for this price, can be ready to sail. Here is our article where we praise this little fella.
A larger boat might be better
On the other side of the specter are sailboats larger and more comfortable than an average apartment. The choice is yours. But know that size is not a determining factor in seaworthiness. Not that large boats don't have many advantages, but they aren't a prerequisite. This article goes in-depth about how boat size influences your circumnavigating experience.
A good circumnavigator will cost $50,000
All that being said, if you insist, I'll give you a concrete figure - it's $50,000. If you are in the market for a circumnavigator, I recommend having at least this amount to spend. By no means I am saying it can't be done for way less, but if you want a relatively comfortable space for choosing, both in terms of model and condition, this is what I'd aim for.
A word of caution - when shopping for your boat, don't spend the whole budget on the purchase. Spend about 80% of it. After you get your boat, there will be additional expenses. And that brings us to the following category.
The total cost of sailboats
If you want to learn more about all the costs involved in purchasing and owning a sailboat, I highly recommend checking out this article, which provides a very detailed look at all the ownership costs of sailboats.
Refit will cost $10,000 - $20,000
Whether you have just bought a boat that needs a few repairs, or you want to make sure it is up to the task, you might want to spend some money on the refit.
There is no way of telling how much will that cost in your specific case since it depends on the state the boat will be in. But after you are done with the refit, make sure the condition is tip top. When on the road, you don't want to be forced to make more repairs than necessary.
But to be specific, as a rule of thumb, around 20% of what the purchasing cost of your sailboat was, you should have for this category. So for that hypothetical $50,000 boat mentioned above, $10,000 would be spent on upgrades.
For a detailed overview on refitting costs, make sure to check out our article on it.
There are many cruising essential items that will add to this
On top of that, you have the optionals that for many circumnavigators are must-haves. Just to give you an idea of the kind of features we're talking about, consider things like wind vane, an electricity-free autopilot, hydro generator and solar panels, good downwind sails, a watermaker, satphone, AIS… this sort of stuff, all of which can easily go up to $10,000 - $20,000.
We have a full equipment list of essential cruising gear, which you can read here.
Survey will cost $1,000
Many won't agree that boat surveys are necessary, but I feel that if you are getting a boat ready for circumnavigation, it is certainly worth it. So unless your boat is new or unless you yourself are a seasoned expert, consider getting your boat surveyed.
This will set you back some $20 - $30 per foot, so around $1,000 for an average boat. If that feels like money wasted, see it as walking into a used car lot with a mechanic by your side. He'll be able to spot various deficiencies that the seller would either choose to hide or not know about themselves - which is a great argument for knocking the buying price down. So in the end, a surveyor might make you money.
Monthly Costs of Sailing Circumnavigation
The second part of answering how much it costs to sail around the world is about the category of recurring costs. Things like insurance, food, fuel, clothing, all that jazz.
The reason this is divided into months is that the overall duration of your circumnavigation trip is up to you. If speed is what you are looking for, you can theoretically do it in about three months. If enjoyment and stopping at pretty places is your goal, then there is no limit to how long it will take you. Most people who do it with the latter in mind take between one and two years.
Of course, you can't know ahead of time how much time you will take, but you can have an idea. So decide and multiply the monthly costs below by the desired number of months.
Food will cost $200 per month
On average, expect to spend around $200 on food per month. This figure is to be expected if you eat out scarcely and pay some attention to how you shop - meaning if you find yourself in a region that charges silly amounts for specific food because of import taxes or whatnot, you won't buy it.
Should the funds need redirecting in a different way, this expense is quite easily diminishable. It can get to $50 per month if you go on the poor man's rice & beans diet and even less if you combine that with some fishing. In the other direction, it can also go to thousands if you wish it to.
But overall, without any extreme frugality but with mindfulness about your spendings, the $200 per month amount is the most realistic (and among sailors quite usual) sum.
It pays off to plan a bit when it comes to provisioning. When sailors undergo the classical Azores to Caribbean route during an Atlantic crossing, those who think a few steps ahead arrive at the destination with their food cabinets well-stocked. Food in the Caribbean is comparatively very expensive. The same can be said for French Polynesia, while the food in Southeast Asia tends to be cheap.
The moral of the story is that if you want to keep your food spendings down, aside from the obvious limiting of eating out, you should do a bit of research about whatever your next stop is likely to be and stock up if the local prices are high.
Boat maintenance will cost $200 - $650 per month
Boat maintenance is likely going to be among the largest, if not the largest item on your budget list. The total sum depends very much on what boat you bought in what condition, but if you go by the widely held estimate that with older boats, every year you will spend about fifteen percent of the boat's price on maintaining it, you get an approximate idea.
So for the aforementioned hypothetical $50,000 boat, its monthly upkeep price would be around $650. But it is important to mention that if you get a boat in great condition, the maintenance can very, very easily be a third of that, if not less.
And vice versa. That being said, even a brand new boat will need money to be put in her maintenance, so even if you are getting one straight from the shipyard, don't scratch the maintenance category off your budget.
Just as with food, there are ways to save money here. Firstly, a sizable part of the maintenance costs is labor, which you can do yourself if you have the skills and the know-how.
Second, it pays off to prepare the boat well before you set sail, even if it means replacing parts that still have some mileage in them. It is generally more expensive to buy spare parts and do repairs on the road, where you can't choose as much, have to have them delivered, and may be pressed for time - as opposed to having the time to do proper research and hunt for good deals.
But there are expenses that you just can't avoid and can't do yourself, such as hauling the boat out of the water every year or two for inspection, antifouling, and some possible repairs. While the boat is out, you'll have to live somewhere, which is yet another expense that is hard to avoid.
And last but not least, the maintenance costs don't come in nice monthly installments, but rather pennies here and there and then a larger expense at once. So the above monthly cost works only if taken as a monthly average over say a year or more.
Data and communication solutions will cost $100 per month
A long-range (SSB) radio can easily cost you around $6,000 to set up. It will come recommended by many, whether you actually need it is the question.
Personally, I'd instead go for a good satellite phone (Iridium GO seems to be a popular choice) paired with a good satellite phone plan. A basic one will set you back some $100 monthly. Although it is an internet connection, know that this is for some simple messaging, weather files, and such. A device capable of connection allowing proper browsing can cost north of $4,000 and thousands of dollars monthly for a plan.
Based on how you travel, you might find it the easiest to take advantage of local data providers when you are close to shore. That requires buying a sim card and setting up some sort of a plan or a prepaid deal, but buck for buck, this will be among the most effective solutions.
Insurance will cost you $0 - $200 per month
Ah, the divisive one. Many sailors out there don't believe in insurance and if you belong among them, you can skip this part as this category will amount to a nice round $0.
If you do want to get insured, expect this to be among the top regular expenses.
The cost here again depends on the kind of boat you have and the insurance plan you go for. But to stick with our hypothetical model of a $50,000 used sailboat, your insurance might cost somewhere around $200 monthly.
But if you sail a hundred-foot catamaran from Sunreef, you will pay that $200 every three hours or so.
As for the ways of saving money on this: you will have to get a pretty solid plan since circumnavigation dangers are certainly pricier to cover than coastal cruising. So not much to save there.
But comparing offers can save you quite a bit. Websites like InsuraMatch and similar can help you do the research to make sure you aren't paying premium money for non-premium insurance.
Your experience and courses will come into play here, the more experienced you are, the less you will have to pay.
The state your boat's safety equipment is in makes a difference too. The insurers might want to take a look at the state of your bilge pumps, fire extinguishers, high water alarms, and so on. Having an EPIRB can mean a significant deduction from what you'll have to pay.
A final thought regarding this - for those who don't like the idea of insurance, be aware that in many corners of the world it is becoming a requirement to have it if you want to enter. A third party liability of some sort will usually do.
Fuel will cost $100 per month
If you are so enthusiastic about sailing that you want to sail around the world, I will assume you are not the type to motor whenever the speed isn't up to your liking. As such, your monthly fuel bill won't likely exceed $100.
You can easily half this sum if you don't use the dinghy engine unless you must and don't mind getting to your destination a few days later than originally planned.
Administration fees will cost $100 - $300 per month
This category is among the most variable ones. On average, expect to pay from $100 to $300 per month. Why the wide spread?
Because the cost really depends on where you sail through. If you stick to international waters and circle the globe without stopping on shore, you won't pay anything. If on the other hand, you go through the most expensive locations, you can easily end up paying thousands of dollars overall.
As an example - going through the Panama canal will cost you anywhere from $800 for boats under 50 feet, to $3,200 for over 100 footers (plus around $300 for various permits, etc.). Going around Cape Horn is free. Similarly, I've read that checking in Ecuador is supposedly a $1,000 expense while doing the same in New Zealand is a matter of just a few dollars. And a cruising permit in Myanmar is supposedly so expensive that it isn't worth it for many.
Fortunately, all of these costs are transparent and easily researchable beforehand. So if you want to make sure you don't pay more than necessary, spend some time online to see the prices.
Dockings & moorings will cost $200 per month
As you probably have guessed, this category has quite a lot of variability to it too. On average, you should expect to pay around $200 per month for docking or moorings.
However, this means you will be at anchor when you can and will stay out of expensive marinas. If you do, the above sum is a realistic expectation. If you don't, as usual, the sky's the limit. In marinas, paying $0.5 per foot is quite common (double that for catamarans). Mooring fees can be around $10 per night. However, each country differs.
All in all, here it pays off to use any platform available to search for good anchorages and prices. Oftentimes, a difference between an expensive marina and a free anchorage can be half an hour of sailing. So when you are choosing your boat equipment, do spend money on a high-quality anchor.
Inland exploring will cost $200 per month
To add to all the previous ambiguity, I won't specify this category's expenses at all. Simply because how much (or whether) you will want to explore the land is entirely up to anybody.
But the truth is that even the most sea-loving circumnavigators go around the world to explore it on and off the boat, which means a taxi ride here and there, entrance fees to some places, train tickets, maybe accommodation for a few nights on land, generally whatever people do.
So although there is no way for me to predict how much this will cost you, know that it is an expense category that should be counted in. I'll throw the sum of $200 monthly out there, just because that seems to be the average among sailors, but take that as a rough estimate only.
Flying home will cost $85 per month
And last but not least - the oftentimes forgotten category of getting home expenses. You never know what might happen, a family member's wedding, an emergency you gotta oversee personally, or anything else, that calls for your presence means you'll have to get somewhere else in the world than where you will at that time be.
A good rule is to have some $1,000 per year saved somewhere for these occasions. Who knows, maybe you'll have to fly around the world, which means a plane ticket, plus expenses for docking your boat somewhere until you return and resume your adventure.
Have Some Wiggle Room
Fortunately, most of the expenses you will have during the course of your sailing can be predicted with quite a lot of certainty, so if you are well prepared, it's not like you have to plan for spending twice as much as your calculations. The margin of error isn't huge here.
But when after reading this article you arrived at a number, do have some space. Getting oneself to do a journey like this is tricky for many, it'd be a shame if you had to cut it short.
How To Sail Around The World For Free
If any of the above costs scare you or mean you wouldn't be able to make this thing happen, there are always ways to get around for little or no expenses.
The idea is to find a boat that goes from A to B, A being where you are, B being where you want to be. Such circumnavigation probably won't happen in one go and you might have to hitch multiple rides for various parts of your journey, but it's possible.
Social media groups dedicated to finding crew and sailboats, chatting up people from local sailing clubs, asking around the marinas… a bit of googling will get you a long way too.
You will have to pitch in with skills, whether those be sailing or cooking or cleaning ones - or anything else. Some skippers will ask you for a monetary involvement too, but even in that case, overall you will get to a much lower price than the sum of the above.
And if you have enough experience, you might even find a deal where you get paid.
The main message should be that circumnavigation is possible, and attainable for most. It's one of those adventures you will never forget and once done, it will serve as a hell of a story to tell.
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