Liveaboard Sailboat Budget: A Complete Guide

Liveaboard Sailboat Budget: A Complete Guide | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Living aboard a sailboat can be a cost-effective lifestyle, but only if you budget smart, predict expenses, and plan ahead.

In this article, we'll go over the basics of budgeting and what to consider when planning your finances as a liveaboard. We'll also cover the most common expenses that are unique to sailboats, along with how to save money and budget accordingly.

As a liveaboard, you'll need to budget for slip fees, fuel, maintenance, utilities, repairs, and supplies. You'll also need to factor in registration fees and mandatory safety equipment that has a limited service life.

We sourced the information for this article from marinas, maintenance records, and from our experience with sailors who live aboard their boats. Other information was sourced from financial experts experienced in budgeting.


Table of contents

Budgeting Basics

Budgeting is one of the simplest and most important aspects of money management. They don't teach it in schools, but it can be the difference between living well and falling behind. This is especially true on a sailboat because a well-budgeted liveaboard can enjoy a level of financial independence unrivaled by traditional housing.

Before we dive into the specifics of budgeting on a sailboat, we will cover some of the basic rules of managing money. This will make it easier to manage your finances in the unique liveaboard environment.

Managing Income, Savings, and Expenses

One of the most important rules of budgeting is to be aware of what's going on in your personal finances. You need to figure out how much money you're making, how much money you have, and how much money you're spending.

One way to get a handle on your finances is to audit your bank statements. Figure out how much you're taking home, when your bills are due, how much they cost, and what you have leftover. This includes things such as credit card bills, loan payments, utility expenses, rent, and other recurring expenses.

Once you have a handle on your finances, keep track of them regularly and look for ways to save. This is how you can safely determine how much you can afford to spend.

Emergency Fund

Everyone, especially liveaboards, should have an emergency fund if they can afford it. An emergency fund is a chunk of change that you don't touch unless you absolutely need to. For most people, $10,000 is the ideal emergency fund balance. It can cover everything from emergency medical bills to job loss, and it can also cover expensive sailboat repairs.

Budgeting on a Sailboat

Many people choose the liveaboard lifestyle because they believe it saves money. That's said, poor financial management can make living aboard cost more than living in an apartment or house. Proper budgeting and regular upkeep are essential to keep your liveaboard lifestyle affordable and comfortable.

Budgeting on a sailboat follows the same basic principles as any other kind of budgeting. However, the specifics are different, as a sailboat is a floating vehicle that has unique maintenance and living requirements.

Boat Payments

Many people make payments on their boats. Financing a liveaboard sailboat is common practice, and you should budget these payments the same way you'd budget a car payment or even the mortgage. Be sure to factor in boat payments when making your budget, as it should be a top priority when cash is tight.


Boat Insurance, while not mandatory in most places, can actually make your budget more secure despite the recurring expense. Sailboat insurance is generally inexpensive and rarely costs more than a few hundred dollars per year.

It provides peace of mind and protection from accidents that can easily cost thousands. Part of budgeting is preparing for unexpected costs, and boat insurance can eliminate one of the largest emergency boat expenses.

Cruising vs. Permanent Mooring

How do you plan on using your sailboat? A moored sailboat has vastly different requirements than a cruising sailboat. Cruising, whether short or far, requires several additional resources that you'll need to budget for. Remember, these requirements are in addition to regular maintenance, which will cover later in this article.


Up-to-date navigational equipment is essential if you plan to cruise on your sailboat. In the 21st century, people rely primarily on digital navigation systems when setting sail. The old tools and methods are important but less expensive to acquire, so we'll focus on Modern systems.

The most basic modern GPS chart systems cost between $250 and $1,000. These systems become obsolete somewhat quickly, so you should plan to update them once every five or ten years. More advanced navigation instruments, such as radar, last longer but cost significantly more. If you intend to use radar, plan to spend between $1,500 and $3,000 for the system and occasional maintenance.


Another consideration for cruising sailboats is rigging. In this case, we'll also include items such as sails, furling systems, winches, and other working hardware that's necessary for sailing.

Plan for regular maintenance and occasional replacement, as the consequences of rigging failure can be catastrophic. Be sure to budget for replacement canvas, tools, stays, lines, and other items that need attention before (or after) getting underway.

Dockside Liveaboard Budgeting

If you plan on spending most of your time at the dock, you don't have to worry as much about rigging and operational expenses. Instead, your expenses will likely resemble those of living in an apartment or a house.

Docking Fees

Docking fees, or slip fees, are the expenses paid to dock your boat at a marina or yacht club. Docking fees vary widely between states, cities, and establishments. Usually, docking and slip fees are calculated by an overall boat length. Additional expenses may apply to unusually wide boats, such as catamarans and trimarans.

You should budget slip fees the same way you budget a rent payment or a mortgage. Similarly, if you fail to pay your dock or slip fees, your vessel could be evicted from its mooring. Slip fees should be a top priority on your liveaboard sailboat budget.


Utilities include everything from electricity to freshwater. These connections are available only on the dock, though sailboats can generate their own electricity using their engine, solar panels, wind turbines, and other sources. Liveaboards typically connect to shore power, water, and sewage, as it requires virtually no initial expense.

Budgeting for utilities is typically fairly easy for liveaboards. This is because shore connections are often included in the price of mooring. If they're not included, you can talk to the marina and get an idea of how much you'll spend.


Fuel expenses are also a factor for liveaboards, even if they rarely move the boat. This is because fuel includes both gasoline or diesel for the engine (which should always be operational) and also propane or kerosene for heating and cooking.

Some boat stoves and heaters use mineral spirits (alcohol), so that should also be considered. There are no hookups for cooking and heating fuel at marinas, so it must be hauled in manually.

If you live aboard in an area with cold weather, such as the Pacific Northwest or the Northeast, you should allocate a considerable amount of your budget to heating fuel. Additionally, consider converting your appliances to run on the same fuel. For example, if you have a kerosene stove, consider installing a kerosene heater as well. This can simplify the budgeting process as only one fuel type has to be acquired.


Apart from slip fees, maintenance is likely the largest expense you'll need to budget for. It is also incomparable to home maintenance, as very few of the same tasks apply. Regular maintenance is essential and will prevent costly repairs down the line.

Safety Equipment

The U.S. Coast Guard requires several pieces of safety equipment to be aboard your boat at all times, whether moored at a marina or out at sea. Many of these items have a limited service life and must be checked and replaced regularly. These items include fire extinguishers, life jackets, flares, among others.


Engines are the source of some of the highest maintenance expenses aboard a sailboat. This is especially true for inboard motors, which must be maintained in tight spaces. It's essential to keep your engine running well. Oil changes, cooling system inspections, repairs, and filter replacements must occur regularly.


The hull of a sailboat is a magnet for undesirable sea life, such as barnacles, muscles, and other growth. Though the hull itself is quite resilient, marine growth can weigh down the boat, immobilize the propeller, damage the rudder, and cause other issues, especially while underway. The hull must be scraped and painted periodically, which can be considerably expensive. This should be included in the budget once every year or two.

Additionally, oxidation occurs on fiberglass hulls which need to be addressed periodically. This process can be done about the waterline and does not always require hauling out. Refinishing kits are available, and you can do it yourself to reduce the cost.


The deck is another source of maintenance costs that are often overlooked. The cost time required to maintain your deck depends on what kind of deck you have. A teak deck, for example, can be maintained yourself, but it's more labor-intensive than a fiberglass deck. Be sure to factor in the cost of chemicals and tools when budgeting for deck maintenance.


Wiring typically doesn't require maintenance in the traditional sense, though it will need to be serviced periodically. Marine electrical systems required fuses, bulbs, and other items that deteriorate faster in a saltwater-rich environment than they do on land. Factor in a few hundred dollars per year for miscellaneous electrical parts.

Hauling Out

Hauling out is an essential part of hull maintenance that's costly enough to include as a separate category. Your vessel will need to be hauled out once every couple of years to scrape and paint the bottom, along with performing any repairs that can't be done in the water. Hauling out is an extensive process that can cost several thousand dollars, but it isn't required very often.


Chemicals are surprisingly expensive and must be budgeted accordingly. Items such as fiberglass and resin, which are essential aboard any sailboat, can cost upwards of $100 per gallon. Several gallons could be required to complete a repair job.

Other compounds, such as paint, spar varnish, and cleaning supplies, should also be factored in. In most cases, $1,000 per year or so should cover most chemical expenses. Storing chemicals properly helps preserve them and reduce costs over time.


Most liveaboards agree that you should have a few grand tucked away for repairs each year. Things break on a sailboat, and this is especially inconvenient if the vessel doubles as your home. We've already covered chemicals for fiberglass repair, so let's go over some of the other sources of surprise repair costs.

Pipes and Plumbing

Plumbing issues are common on sailboats. Leaky showerheads, clogged toilets, and tank issues happen occasionally and must be repaired. Luckily these issues are usually not particularly expensive or complex to fix.


Sailboats must furnish their own water pressure and include systems the pump out the bilge. Potable water pumps and bilge pumps are electric and have a limited service life, which means you'll need to replace them eventually.


Cabinets, doors, gimbals, and other interior furnishings break from time to time. Budget a few hundred dollars each year for wood, stain, hinges, screws, and other miscellaneous hardware to repair interior fixtures if they break.


Leaks occur on sailboats; it's just part of life. Leaks are also the most annoying problems to fix and can be very costly and urgent. It's best to factor in some of your savings to repair leaks in the hull and the deck. Don't ignore leaks around portlights and vents, as water ingress can cause mold and quietly weaken the fiberglass structure of your vessel.

Mechanical Systems

Mechanical and electromechanical systems such as the engine, blowers, and hydraulics sometimes fail and need repair. These systems are the most costly to repair on a sailboat. They can eat up a considerable amount of your maintenance budget in a short period of time. Regular inspection and maintenance are key to preventing unwelcome mechanical issues.


Experienced sailors often already have all the tools they need to maintain and repair their boat. But if you're new to the liveaboard lifestyle, you're going to need to equip yourself with all the required implements for maintaining your vessel.

Along with basic tools, such as screwdrivers, a power drill, and wrenches, you'll also need tools to work with fiberglass, wiring, and plumbing. Most of these tools are available for discounted prices at yard sales, pawnshops, and local marketplaces.


Transportation is an important factor to consider when living aboard a sailboat. Some sailors choose to keep a car, especially if they continue to work a traditional job in a city. This poses unique challenges in that it adds car payments, insurance payments, and fuel to the equation. Additionally, some marinas don't allow parking for free.

Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are an alternative, but this adds up quickly. Some sailors choose to take public transportation or ride a bicycle, which can reduce the long-term load on your budget.

Sample Liveaboard Budget

Now that we've covered the basic expenses to expect when living aboard, we'll put together a sample liveaboard budget. The figures are based on someone making a monthly income of $4,000 docking a 30-foot sailboat at a reasonably priced marina.

Monthly Expense Type Cost Remaining
Slip Fees Boat $166 $3,834
Utilities (Electricity and Water) Boat $50 $3,784
Boat Insurance Boat $20 $3,764
Maintenance and Cleaning Boat $100 $3,664
Fuel Boat $100 $3,564
Food Personal $250 $3,314
Personal Supplies Personal $100 $3,214
Transportation Transport $200 $3,014
Internet and Phone Utilities $70 $2,944
Health Insurance Bills $400 $2,544
Totals: $1,436 $2,544

As you can see, a well-proportioned budget leaves plenty of wiggle room for personal expenses, saving, and stashing money away for larger unexpected expenses. These prices may not reflect your individual situation, but the point remains the same. A balanced budget can make living aboard a sailboat affordable and enjoyable.

Liveaboard Sailboat Budget: A Complete Guide
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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