16 Months Out: The Cost Of Cruising

Before we left, I projected our rich new lifestyle would be had for less than the U.S. government’s poverty level for a family of four ($23,050 in 2012). I was wrong (so far).

January 15, 2013

Del Viento- Windy

Windy underway: cruising is much cheaper when you stay on the move. Settling into a marina means slip fees and all kinds of opportunities to spend. We’re all itching to get moving north at the end of this winter. Michael Robertson

Before we left, I projected our rich new lifestyle would be had for less than the U.S. government’s poverty level for a family of four ($23,050 in 2012). I was wrong (so far).

We moved aboard Del Viento the first day of September 2011, sixteen months ago. Since that date, we have been a family of four cruising full-time, and tracking every dime we spend. Not including refit costs, this lifestyle is costing us $2,980 per month, or $35,760 per year. We aim to bring that number down quite a bit. It shouldn’t be too hard once we are spending less time in marinas and we are back outside the U.S. and Canada. (Though we plan to spend nearly all of 2013 in the U.S. and Canada, so it may be 2014 before we see a big dip.)

But let’s look back on the past 16 months. The two biggest expenses for that period were refit costs and food.


Refit Costs
While I didn’t include the refit costs in our monthly average, I understand that these are not one-time costs; Del Viento will continue to need repairs and improvements. But I don’t anticipate another year or so where we spend as much money on the boat as we have over the past 16 months ($39,830—and this on the heels of the money we spent before moving aboard).

Following is the list of major things we spent our refit dollars on since September 2011:
• New outboard
• New dinghy
• New chainplates
• New water tanks
• New holding tank
• New instruments
• Haulout
• New injectors
• Turbocharger rebuild
• Stainless welding (stanchions, pulpit, anchor roller)
• New mainsail
• New foil-less furler and code zero
• New interior lights
• New hatches
• New mattress
• New radar and mount
• New mainsail cover

Not included in this list (nor in the refit cost since September 2011) are the refit items we paid for prior to moving aboard. This includes stuff like a haulout, bottom paint, portlights, batteries, standing rigging, and a solar panel. So really, since starting this endeavor, we’ve replaced nearly all the major systems. For this reason, I think that over the next few years, our cost to keep the old gal going will be minimal. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to look back over the next couple of years and see what we end up spending. (I know we have a leak where the rudder meets the post—when we haul out the rudder weeps for days. We plan to be in Mexico next year, where we’ll haul out, open up the rudder to investigate, dry out, and re-seal. This project should involve lots of our labor, but inexpensive materials.)


Food Costs
Food is our biggest monthly expense and reflected in our monthly average. In our case, the Food category includes everything involving eating and drinking: a coffee at Starbucks, dining out, alcohol, groceries, and tea at the Empress with my sister over the holidays. Over the past 16 months, we’ve spent an average of $983 per month on all things food. (In Mexico we ate out often and our food expense was reliably between $700 and $800 per month. In Victoria, we seldom eat out and our food costs are always over $1000 per month.)

So $2,980 per month; could a family of four cruise for less? Absolutely, far less, by reducing marina time and cutting back on discretionary spending.

• In Mexico we spent much more time in marinas than we wanted to simply because of the work we were doing on the boat. Slip fees in the U.S. and Canada are high. In the U.S., we chose to visit friends and family in places where anchoring out wasn’t an option. In Canada, we’ve chosen to winter over in a slip (and in an expensive city).


• Here in Victoria, we’ve spent money on gymnastics classes and climbing wall passes for Windy and the girls. We don’t eat out much, but we drink alcohol. And we’ve traveled: Windy went to Thailand for two weeks earlier this year with her brother’s family, Eleanor flew back to D.C. for a week, and Windy and Frances flew back to San Francisco from Mexico.

A last note about our cruising costs concerns constants and surprises. Health insurance is an annual constant for us (I wrote about our health insurance). We spend about $1,700 per year on a catastrophic policy for the family. The annual cost of our boat liability insurance is about $550 per year—though it doubled for our time in Victoria because the marina requested we double our coverage (I wrote about our thoughts on insuring our own boat). We spend roughly $25 per month on our mail costs (the box, mail scanning, mail forwarding) and usually about $50 per month on an Internet data plan.

Fortunately, the only surprise this year (besides the need to replace our water tanks) is about $800 we spent on medical care for an eye problem Frances had (this highlighted for us the cost difference in obtaining health care in Mexico and the U.S.—I wrote about this too).


So that is it in a nutshell—a good look at the cost for this cruising family of four during our first 16 months. It is not likely to be the same for your 16 months, but hopefully the information is helpful to those planning their own cruises. A comprehensive and detailed list of all our costs is on The Cost page, above.


NOTE: the writers at the Sail Far, Live Free blog recently posted a great rundown of cruising costs, citing other cruisers. Too, on our The Cost page, I list other sources of cruisers’ costs.

I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at


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