The Cost (and Joys) of Owning a Boat

By: Sailboats

It’s been said the two best days in a boat owner’s life are the day they buy the boat and the day they sell the boat. While that may be true for some, let’s explore the value of the overlooked days in between.

Owning a boat might be the best thing you ever do.   

Owning a boat involves significant expenses, from the initial purchase to ongoing maintenance. But for those fortunate enough to have the means, there’s something extraordinary about having a boat that few other possessions can match.

My family has grown up on a sailboat. While we don’t live on our boat, we have utilized the boat on most weekends and, in typical years, for a minimum of five weeks during the summer. For the last 20 years, a sailboat has been part of our lifestyle. We didn’t attend the team parties after little league baseball games, instead, we drove to the ocean. Science fair projects included collecting trash in the marina and testing handheld GPS units while drifting in Santa Monica Bay. Fourth of July at the dock and New Year’s Day sailing in California sunshine are traditions we hold dear to our hearts.

You cannot put a price on those experiences.

Experiences come at a cost, but it is essential to understand that just as everything has a cost and a price associated with it, it also has a value-added benefit.

The Cost of Owning a Boat

The benefits of owning a boat vs. the cost of owning a boat. If you are considering a boat purchase, you must view the tabulation of the dollar amounts involved through a lens that helps you understand what you are getting. Below are some typical costs associated with owning a sailboat. Sometimes, other surprises pop up, and they are unavoidable, but for the most part, these are expenses you should consider when crafting a budget for your possible boat purchase. 

(Disclaimer: Costs associated with boat ownership vary by region. It would be best to research the cost of slip fees in your local marina and the going rate for repairs in your area. Taxes, licensing fees, and registration will also be region specific.)

Buying a boat signifies a transaction, an exciting beginning. Ownership, however, extends beyond purchase – embracing costs, maintenance, and cherished experiences.

It transforms a vessel into a gateway to adventures, bonding with the environment and your family while making memories that truly define the joy of boating.

Of course, the initial cost of owning a boat is the act of purchasing of the sailboat. That is an entirely different process with its own nuances requiring attention.

Slip Fee, Mooring, or Dock Fees

If you plan to keep the boat at a marina or dock, you must pay mooring or slip fees. These costs can vary significantly based on the location and size of the boat. If you’re not keeping the boat in the water year-round, you’ll need to budget for storage fees, whether dry storage on land or indoor storage during the off-season. Supply and demand are in play in storage scenarios. In Southern California, slip fees can skyrocket when supply is low.

Maintenance

Boats require ongoing maintenance, including regular servicing, cleaning, and repairs. Maintenance can be divided into expected and unexpected maintenance, and the costs can vary based on the size and type of boat. The prices will also vary depending on where you store your boat. Recently, I had a pigeon decide to call my cockpit home. It had been two weeks since I had visited my boat. My absence resulted in a mess that required serious cleaning, and I needed to design and install a cover for the storage compartment in the gunwales. This is the type of unexpected cost that can arise. In this case, I did the work myself, and the materials were under $50.

Recurring maintenance costs that can be expected include bottom cleaning, engine maintenance, rigging, and cleaning supplies.

Registration and Licensing

Many regions require boats to be registered and may also charge licensing fees. If you sail on the ocean, you can be sure there is a registration fee. The specific regulations and requirements for sailboat registration vary depending on the jurisdiction and the size of the sailboat. Registration helps authorities keep track of vessels for safety, law enforcement, and tax purposes. It’s essential to research the laws and regulations in your area to determine whether your sailboat needs to be registered and to understand the process and requirements involved. There will be a yearly fee for most sailboats.

Taxes and Insurance

Your marina will require you to have insurance for your boat that list them on the policy just in case of an accident that damages their property. Your local jurisdiction might tax you for having a boat. The specific rules and rates for boat property taxes vary widely depending on the country, state, or local jurisdiction. Some places may assess a tax based on the boat’s value, while others might have a flat fee. The taxes collected may be used to support local infrastructure, services, or other public programs. For example, my vessel tax is roughly $150 per year in California; however, my insurance is a rider on my home insurance and is about $25 per year. Boat insurance can get expensive, so it is wise to check with an insurance professional for an accurate price for coverage for your vessel.

Seasonal Costs

These are the expenses that vary throughout the year. My sailboat does not use much fuel, but I consider this cost seasonal. In late winter and early spring, the wind does not cooperate with my desire to see the migrating whales in the Pacific Ocean. I typically use far more fuel during this time. Summer and warm water temperatures encourage more growth on the hull, so I have a diver clean the bottom twice a month between June and October.

These seasonal costs will vary depending on your region and how you utilize your vessel, but you should factor these into your budget in some form.

Equipment

You will need safety equipment, navigation tools, life vests, and other accessories. Legally required safety equipment such as flares, fire extinguishers, and sound-producing devices should be added to the list of mandatory expenses. I recently replaced our cockpit cushions as the sun and salt air slowly affect their appearance. The cushions themselves were still comfortable but unpleasant to look at. The cushions are an avoidable expense; the safety equipment is not. 

There are some big-ticket items that will eventually come up but are not necessarily regular expenditures.  Replacing your sails can be expensive, new bottom paint can dent your wallet, and if you haul out your boat in a boatyard, you can expect a hefty invoice.

Education

There is a cost associated with enhancing your sailing education, and you should not ignore it.

Your safety depends on your confidence and experience being out on the water. Knowledge is part of that equation; you should budget to expand your sailing education.

Learning from a professional will allow you to expand your sailing adventures and grow your skill set.

A clear financial commitment is involved in owning a boat; however, the return on your investment can vary wildly. My two sons grew up sailing, benefiting from the sailing lifestyle through added responsibility in understanding seamanship and the independence gained from taking friends on day sails during their teenage years. A college application looks better with sailing certifications, and their adventurous outlook to explore and be curious about the world came from sailing.

Is owning a boat worth it? To me, it is money well spent.

It’s a lifestyle, not a possession, so if that doesn’t suit you but you still love to be out on the water, there are plenty of alternatives to boat ownership. No matter which way you go, I think we all agree nothing beats a perfect day at sail.

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