Registration and Taxes
Registration fees vary wildly from state to state, based on everything from boat type and length to hull material. In Connecticut, our 30-foot fiberglass sailboat would cost $135.00 per year, whereas a wooden sailboat of a similar age would only cost $33.75. Registration costs typically increase with length, and some states require bi-annual renewal.
If you’re registering a boat for the first time, you’ll need to pay taxes on it too, usually 4-10% of the purchase price. In most states, registration fees for a medium-sized sailboat aren’t likely to exceed a couple hundred dollars. That being said, it’s still essential to find out beforehand. Be sure to consider your boat’s hull material, length, and displacement when calculating the expense.
For our 30-foot sailboat, we’ll assume the annual registration cost is $135.0. With a 6.25% tax on our $7,500 purchase price rounding out to $469, the total first-time registration cost is $604.
Everything needs insurance these days. But seriously, it’s vital to insure your boat. Watercraft can cause severe damage to docks, other boats, and people under the right conditions, so you don’t want to be on the hook when an accident happens. Not to mention, a stray hurricane or hailstorm can turn your floating dream into a financial nightmare. Boat insurance premiums vary based on an innumerable host of factors.
Additionally, premiums can vary widely from state to state. In Florida, boat owners pay an average annual premium of $611, while boaters in Alabama pay only $282. Larger and newer boats generally cost more to insure. As with auto insurance, it’s essential to shop around to get the most coverage for the least amount of money. Fortunately, insurance premiums for older, medium-sized sailboats aren’t too frightening.
For our 30-foot sailboat, we’ll assume the annual insurance premium is $400.00.
The most obvious source of upkeep costs for sailboats are slip fees. Assuming you don’t own a large amount of land, you’re going to need a place to put your boat. Most homeowner’s associations don’t take kindly to a large trailered sailboat on a lawn, and that’s only possible if your boat fits on a trailer to begin with.
There aren’t many places to safely dock a boat for free. While you can anchor, you’ll be forced to remain with the boat most of the time. For liveaboards, that may not be an issue; but you’ll still need a way to get onto land. Unless you’re an avid saltwater swimmer, you’ll need another boat. Plus, life in the marina offers a multitude of great benefits! Access to bars, outdoor social areas, hot tubs, showers, and parking are all common. The marina community adds a whole host of benefits to the sailing experience.
In much of the United States, slips at marinas are leased seasonally. Depending on your location, slip fees usually run between $500 to $5,000 every six months. For boats with an overall length of less than 30 feet, it’s often less expensive. Generally speaking, the bigger the boat, the higher the fees. While you can interpret slip fees as a month-to-month expense, keep in mind that some marinas don’t offer monthly payment plans. Instead many require between 25-50% upfront, so prepare pay up at least a quarter of your seasonal fees. Some marinas offer cheaper slips in less desirable areas, often without access to amenities like power and water. If you’re willing to lose the perks, ask around and see if a more economical docking option exists.
For our 30-foot sailboat, we’ll assume the six-month slip fee is $1,250, so our annual docking cost is $2,500.
Routine Maintenance and Repair
A wise man once said,
“A boat is a hole in the water surrounded by wood, into which one throws money.”
While the old sarcastic adage sounds outlandish, it’s not entirely untrue. Upkeep and maintenance costs vary widely between boats, based on many factors. How well the boat was built, and how well it was previously maintained are the biggest contributors to cost. Simply put, the best way to avoid outrageous maintenance costs is to avoid purchasing a dilapidated boat. The initial cost savings might be appealing, but poorly maintained boats will cost you many times more down the line.
Assuming your boat isn’t in dire need of a massive overhaul, your yearly maintenance expenses should remain stable. The most common sources of maintenance expenses are hull and engine repair. If your boat uses an inboard motor, you can expect to pay more for upkeep. Marine engines are typically made of iron and subjected to corrosive conditions, so clogged and rusted cooling systems are often cause for concern. Outboard motors are easier to maintain because they can be stored in dry conditions when not in use. However, they don’t last as long as inboard units. While you can always avoid inboard maintenance by using an outboard, it’s never a good idea to let a dead engine sit in your boat.
Contrary to popular belief, sails don’t actually need to be replaced that often. A new set of sails can cost thousands of dollars, so it’s best to store it properly when not in use. Sail covers cost around $200 and can save thousands down the line, so add that to your expense sheet. For an average-sized sailboat, expect to pay around $1,000-2,500 for a new set of sails.
New rigging can cost a fortune if neglected, but it’s not that difficult to maintain. Re-rigging a sailboat costs about $100 per foot, so expenses can add up quickly. Pulleys, winches, and deck components can fail, which adds several hundred dollars to the price tag. Luckily, these failures can be prevented for years with proper care upfront.
Overall, you can expect to pay between $2,000-5,000 per year to maintain a cruising sailboat. Expenses will increase exponentially when a boat is neglected, so regular care will pay off big time. The specific cost varies based on the age, condition, and build quality of your sailboat. If you can do the work yourself, you can save lots of money. DIY boat repairs (if done properly) last just as long as professional work. If you do it yourself, you’ll only need to pay for parts and hauling out. One more thing—it costs money to have your boat lifted in or out of the water. In many places, it only costs about $20 to haul-out an average sized sailboat.
If you live in a colder climate, you should consider hauling-out and storing your boat for the winter. Fiberglass boat hulls can be susceptible to cold weather, and overexposure can cause cracks in the hull. Winter storage costs average out around $200 monthly, but can be lower than $20 or higher than $500. Keep in mind that boats made of hardwood (like oak) generally should not be stored on land except for maintenance. Traditional wooden boats are caulked with cotton, relying on the swelling of the planks to seal itself up. When the boat dries out, the planks shrink and often necessitate re-caulking.
For our 30-foot sailboat, we’ll assume the yearly cost of maintenance is $2,000, plus a dry storage fee of $400 for the winter.
Total Sailboat Upkeep Cost
Throughout this article, we’ve used a reasonably maintained 30-foot fiberglass sailboat as an example. Here we’ll tally up the cost to give you an idea of what to expect. Your individual boat could cost more or less than our example, but the same rules still apply.
· Registration: $619
· Insurance: $400
· Slip Fees: $2,500
· Routine Maintenance: $2,000
· Winter Storage: $400
· TOTAL UPKEEP COST: $5,519
· UPKEEP PLUS PURCHASE PRICE: $13,419
As you can see, the total purchase price of the boat (including first-year upkeep cost) is almost twice the listed price of the boat. With these factors in mind, you can better prepare for the expenses you’ll face as a boat owner. As you work out the kinks in your boat and find the best deals, your expenses will gradually decrease with time. Now that you’re aware of the hidden costs, you can rest easy and enjoy a sailing experience within your means.