How much does it cost to live on a boat? It is a question that fills page upon page of Google search results with answers that usually begin with on average and it depends on you. My friend Matt and I lived aboard our 40 foot catamaran for the past 14 months and since we were splitting every expense, each was recorded in detail. I would like to share the real-world cost of buying and living aboard a catamaran in the hopes that others may also find that their dreams are more affordable than they think.
We purchased a 2011 Lagoon 400 catamaran in Lefkada, Greece in June of 2019. We paid $275,146 for the boat and had $41,000 in boat-related expenses over the following 14 months before selling the boat in Florida. Of the $41,000 in expenses since purchase, $20,000 were annually recurring expenses like fuel, marina fees, maintenance, insurance, customs and immigration while $21,000 were one-time expenses like solar panel upgrade, wire transfer fees, survey fees, secondary anchor, US import taxes and a satellite phone. Both Matt and I were working remotely during our year aboard so we were spending more than was required on the boat. If we were on a tighter budget we could have spent less than the figures below. After reviewing the expenses line by line I believe we could spend as little as $15,000 annually including $4,000 of insurance and $6,000 of maintenance.
Our route took us from the Ionian Sea in the west of Greece north to Montenegro and Croatia then west to Italy, south to Malta before heading back northwest to Sicily and Sardinia. Then we went further across the Med to Mallorca, Ibiza, and then mainland Spain. Next we spent some time in Gibraltar preparing the boat for the Atlantic crossing which saw us sailing 5 days from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands, then 7 days to the Cape Verde Islands, followed by a 13 day journey due west across the Atlantic to Saint Lucia. Once in the Caribbean we sailed south to St Vincent and the Grenadines then the island of Carriacou in Grenada. Next we made our way north to Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Martin, Anguilla, the BVI, Puerto Rico and the Spanish Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, the Out Islands of the Bahamas, and then to the Florida Keys with a final destination of Tampa Bay, Florida where we put the boat up for sale on Facebook Marketplace.
In those 14 months we spent $41,165 on boat-related expenses made up of the following:
$3,398 in Marina/Mooring Ball Fees
- $900 of this was in Croatia alone, we spent $95 a night to anchor near Dubrovnik and another $215 for one night in amarina near Dubrovnik. Croatia is very expensive for visiting sailors.
- $1,550 of this was spent at the Municipal Marina in Saint Petersburg Florida. We were in this area for 2 1/2 months while the boat was for sale. The marina fee for our 40 foot catamaran was $315 per week and we spent about half the time on anchor just inside the breakwall but outside the marina.
- A typical marina fee for the 40 foot long, 23 foot wide catamaran is $80 per night, the low end was La Linea Spain for $25 per night and the high end was $215 per night in Dubrovnik Croatia. We didn’t find the need to go into marinas very often. Mooring balls were typically $20-$30 per night. We could have had zero marina/mooring ball fees, there was always a place to anchor.
$963 on Sail Repair
- We ripped our spinnaker twice, our Code 0 sail once, and had seams repaired on our genoa. Two of those tears were completely due to inexperience but you can bet your lighter foresails will find reasons to tear on you. It’s just what they do when you’re slapping the miles on them.
$823 on Fishing Equipment
- We usually trolled with two poles. Highly recommend the Shimano TLD25 reel for $175. This amount is for three reels and rods and plenty of lures, line, and weights. Do not depart for your Atlantic crossing without stainless steel leader. The monsters of the deep will bite through your line until you have no lures left, at least that is how it went for us. No more fishing 4 days into our 13 day ocean crossing!
$1,225 on Customs and Immigration Fees
- Fees paid to various countries upon entry and exit. Most of Europe has no fees. Greece cost $30 per month. Croatia cost a whopping $470 for one month. Most of the Caribbean islands cost $20 to $50 to check-in. We often referenced www.noonsite.com for immigration requirements prior to entering a new country.
$1,400 on Satellite Phone purchase and service
- We purchased the Iridium Go for our Atlantic crossing. We fumbled the monthly subscription sign-up and ended up spending more than necessary. Iridium Go is the cream of the crop of satellite phones. For approximately $130 per month you get unlimited texting and enough bandwidth to download weather files for any location in the world. You won’t have enough bandwidth to access the web or send email. You will be able to make regular phone calls for $1 per minute. The Garmin InReach is the more affordable option at about $400 for the device and monthly plans in the $25 range.
$4,530 on Fuel
- 1,089 gallons (4,137 liters) of diesel with prices ranging from $5.75 per gallon (Greece and Turks and Caicos were the most expensive) down to $2.25 per gallon in Florida. Many countries will sell you tax-free fuel if you are fueling up after you have checked out of the country. This is a great way to save 20–30% on fuel.
$5,391 on US Import Tax
- $4,641 import tax + $750 broker fees
- If you want to sell your boat in the USA to a US citizen and your boat was built abroad then you need to pay an import tax of 1.5% plus fees to US Customs. Unfortunately they use an electronic system for filing import taxes and only licensed customs brokers can enter this system so you need to hire a customs broker to pay this fee.
$3,646 on Administrative Expenses
- $1,172 in wire transfer fees to pay for the boat in Greece in Euros with US Dollars. We highly recommend TransferWise, don’t get screwed by your bank with their $30 wire fee and a terrible exchange rate that equates to an additional 2% fee.
- $2,000 of pre-purchase boat surveys including the survey of a second Lagoon 400 in Croatia that turned out to be in terrible condition. The survey in Greece cost about $800 for the surveyor plus $500 to the boatyard to put the boat into the water from dry storage.
$4,786 on Insurance
- We ended up getting three different policies over the past 14 months. The insurer in the Med wouldn’t cover us in the Caribbean so we had to switch then the insurer in the Caribbean wouldn’t cover us in the US so we switched again. We always insured for $275,000 of coverage. On an annual basis this coverage cost $2,770 in the Med, $4,504 in the Caribbean, and $6,904 in the US during hurricane season.
$5,868 on New Equipment
- $2,362 for solar install of 600 watts of SunPower flexible panels with Victron charge controller, $617 for 2 personal AIS transponders, $562 secondary Mantus anchor that we never used, $551 for a new trampoline, $428 for a Samsung tablet for Navionics navigation, $200 for an AC power inverter, $250 for bow speakers, amplifier, and new head unit, propane tanks, handheld VHF, floating dock lines, pressure cleaner, etc.
$9,135 on Maintenance
- $2,557 for service to our transmissions which required a haul out, $468 life raft re-certification in Greece, $1,335 for three 195Ah AGM house batteries in Gibraltar, $370 for regular service on both diesel’s, $250 for a technician to patch a leak in the dinghy that we couldn’t find, $210 to have the dinghy outboard serviced in the Grenadines, and plenty more hundred dollar trips to boat stores for lines, shackles, cleaning supplies, pumps, etc.
Catamarans sell for a discount in the eastern Med as compared to the same vessel on the east coast of the US and much of the Caribbean. If you find the right one in Europe, the westerly sail across the Med and then the trade-wind route across the Atlantic is a wonderful ride. Once you’re in the Caribbean you can enjoy your boat for years, your only issue will be avoiding hurricane season.
A word on boat brokers, do not use them, they take a 10% commission which on our boat would have been about $30,000. If you are a buyer you are still paying this $30,000 in one way or another as it is unlikely that the seller would be willing to reduce their net sale price by so much. It is fairly easy for buyers and sellers to familiarize themselves with these Lagoons and other mass-produced catamarans. The days of needing a broker who knows of the one boat for sale on that one island are over. The internet has democratized the whole thing. I look forward to the day when a boat transaction doesn’t involve an intermediary making twenty or thirty thousand dollars. The key to a successful purchase is a thorough survey. It doesn’t have to be performed by a guy with a ton of acronyms after his name. Your surveyor should be someone that the local boating community recommends and someone who you trust. Many of the things the surveyor points out to a would-be buyer are going to be the surveyor’s opinion and you won’t have the time or the knowledge to second guess the surveyor so find someone whose word you will take on the first go around. We bought our catamaran without a broker and sold without a broker. Facebook Marketplace is frequented by many prospective catamaran buyers and listing is free. The closing documents you will need to properly sell your boat are readily available online for no cost.
Lastly, food and drink expenses; I didn’t include them in this summary of boat expenses as I find them to be an irrelevant cost. You’re going to be feeding yourself ashore or at sea. Whether you’re going to be drinking six packs at home for $8 or paying $6 for an IPA at the pub is totally up to you. There isn’t much difference between the cost of food and drink when you’re sailing versus when you’re living on land. If you want to spend $200 a month on food and drink for you and your buddy then you can do that, spaghetti and oatmeal will do you well. If you want to hit the beach bar and spend $50 on a couple pina coladas and some chicken fingers then please go ahead.
Have a great time on the water and know that there is never a perfect time to buy a boat so just go for it.
Hans from SV Asante, a newfound landlubber with grand plans for a return to the sea.