Most people don’t like to talk about money… For me it also feels strange, but I do it anyway. Because one of the most common questions when I tell people that I live permanently on my sailboat ahora is: How much does it cost and how can you afford it?
Just to clarify: No, I didn’t make an inheritance or win the lottery. During my doctorate studies I was employed for six years at the University of Konstanz and was able to put aside between 500 and 1,000 € a month for my sailing dream due to a relatively moderate (but by no means stingy) lifestyle. From that money I bought ahora and was also able to put aside a little fund for emergencies.
Now I’ve been on the road for seven months and I slowly get a feeling for my monthly expenses. I do not do detailed accounting and the costs vary greatly depending on the country. A big factor is also whether I am more in the harbour or at anchor and whether I eat out a lot or rather cook for myself. But here’s my experience so far:
I need about 1000 euros a month.
This includes taxes, health insurance, insurance for the boat and all running costs. It does not include larger, unforeseen expenses for the boat, for which I have my emergency fund. Further down, I’ll look at how the costs are roughly broken down.
As a result, the time window for my sailing trip has expanded from “two to three years” to “as long as I like it”. Not a bad starting point. 🙂
Relatively poor or quite rich?
Depending on who I tell about my expenses, the reactions are different. Most people are surprised at how little that is. In Germany, as a self-employed person with an income of €1,000 before taxes and health insurance, I would be pretty close to the poverty line (currently at €781 net disposable income).
Luckily, however, I feel anything but poor. When I watch the sunset with a beer at anchor in the evening, I sometimes can’t believe how lucky I am. I managed to make my childhood dream come true! Even if I had a lot more money at my disposal, I could hardly imagine a better life.
Expenditure on long journeys are as individual as the sailors
Even if 1,000 € is not much for German standards, there are some (predominantly younger) sailors who get along with significantly less. For example, my friend Christoph, who sailed across the Atlantic and back after the Abi with a 2,000-euro boat. Or Mika, whom I met in Porto and who is also sailing on an extremely little budget.
However, I have also met quite a few sailors who have greatly underestimated the cost of cruising and who have already run out of money for their planned circumnavigation before they arrived in Portugal. In general, it can be said that the cost of the boat (port fees, but also costs for repairs) increases exponentially with the length of the boat.
Every technical device on board not only entails costs for buying it, but also maintenance costs. That’s why I’m quite gladthat ahora at 32 feet is among the smaller cruising boats and (relatively) simple. I am a big fan of the books by Lin and Larry Pardey, and I have equipped ahora for the journey according to their philosophy “Go small, go simple, go now!”. My principle: as simple as possible, but as safe as necessary.
But this also means that I have to do without some comfort. I don’t have a shower (or watermaker) not on board. Not even running water (I use hand or hand water foot pumps). And of course there is no hot water.
But now let’s get to my expenses so far:
Acquisition cost for the boat
I decided to buy a relatively small boat (for today’s conditions). However, I chose a model known for its seaworthiness, and in which has proven itself in quite a few major journeys. When I bought ahora in 2016, I paid €10,000. A fair price, especially because there was already a lot of equipment on board: The sails were almost new, a dinghy with outboard was just as much part of the boat as a huge amount of spare parts. In Germany we call that with “Pött un Pann” (with pots and pans).
After I sold the harbour trailer that came with the boat for 1,400 € and the old “Atlantic” wind pilot for 800 €, I was below 8,000 € for the boat. Not bad for a Laurin 32 ready to sail.
Costs for offshore-cruising equipment are adding up
However, I still had to invest a lot in order to equip ahora according to my wishes for long-distance travel. The renewal of the electrics (solar panels, solar controllers, chargers, high-quality gel batteries and tinned cables) came to a good €2,500. The construction of a bowsprit and a bracket for the wind pilot cost me another 2,000 €. The wind pilot for €3,000 was one of the biggest investments (here I am deliberately talking about investment rather than cost, as used windvanes have a surprisingly stable in value compared to other parts on board). In addition, there were safety-relevant purchases, especially the life raft, AIS transponder and a PLB programmed as Epirb: all together a good 2,500 €. In addition, I have had stays and shrouds renewed for yet another 2,000€.
These are just the big expenditures; there was still a lot of money adding up from “little things” such as life jackets, ropes, paint, tools, etc.
What I don’t include here are the mooring fees and the cost of the shipyard during the three years I had the boat in Germany. This is because I used the boat in the years before my trip.
Thus, overall, ahora has cost me about €25,000. A whole lot of money! But when I consider that the ship will be my home for the foreseeable future and my rent in Konstanz was almost 10,000 € per year (incl. heating and electricity), the costs are not that high. And compared to other boats that you see lying around in the marinas (and which are hardly ever used), ahora was a bargain.
But it could probably also be cheaper. Since, as you can see above, the “accessories” are what is most expensive, it may well be worth looking for boats that are already prepared for long voyages. Especially in Southern Europe, but also in the Canary Islands, you will find great bargains: boats that were once equipped for a big trip, but whose owners did not make the leap across the Atlantic, for whatever reason. And also in the Caribbean you can probably find some cheap, and in this case already tried and tested, boats.
However, with such a purchase one must be able to live with the decisions and the philosophy of the previous owner. This is not necessarily in line with one’s own ideas. And it doesn’t hurt to know exactly who fixed which part, when and how. For me, this is also part of the principle of good seamenship. In any case, I have no regrets about having equipped my boat myself. And last but not least, working on your own boat is also fun and increases the joy of anticipation for the planned trip.
The part of my savings that has not been invested in the boat serves me as an “emergency cushion”. If something unexpected happens or if my online projects don’t go so well, I can live off this cushion for a while.
If time comes, I will be able use this money for larger expenses at my floating home. At some point, new sails are certainly due, and the engine, which has been doing its duty faithfully since 1974, will probably have to be replaced at some point, despite the good care that I give her.
What is my cost of living on board? As I said, a rough estimate for the costs of my life on board (at least here in Europe) 1,000 € per month. Some costs, such as health insurance and taxes, depend on my income as a sailing digital nomad. In other words, they might rise sometime in the future (along with hopefully higher incomes).
Insurance and taxes
First of all, there are fixed costs of currently almost 200 € for my health insurance and approx. 50 Euro for the insurance for the boat.
Since I will soon leave Europe and neither my health insurance nor the boat insurance is valid anymore, I have terminated my German health insurance plan from June on and signed up for a travel health insurance plan. This reduces the costs down to just 57 € per month, but the contract is limited to 5 years. I will probably have to do without a casco insurance for the boat, because especially in African waters boats of ahora’s age are unfortunately not insurable (or only at horrendous cost). I will thus have to live with the risk of total loss of the boat.
Of course, I have to pay income tax, but the tax rate on my current estimated income of about 1,000 € per month is fortunately quite low, namely less than 50 € per month. If the income increases, the tax rate will of course also increase. But since I have also benefited a lot from the German (education) system, I think that is only fair and I will not complain.
Harbour fees and costs for the boat
Harbour fees vary widely depending on the country, season and also according to comfort requirements. And of course also, whether you go to a port at all or prefer to enjoy the peace and quietness at anchor for free. Regarding harbour costs, Holland was very cheap. The municipal harbours rarely cost more than 1 € per meter boat length.
France and northern Spain, on the other hand, were quite expensive: 25-30 euros a night were standard here in the summer. So if you want to save money, you should try to find anchorages or even go through a night. However, you would miss a lot of beautiful places and scenery.
If you stay in one place longer, you can not only get to know the country and people better, but also benefit from cheaper monthly fees. In Porto, for example, a full month of mooring for ahora only cost 163 €. If you stay three months, that even reduces to only 130 €. And that includes electricity, water, showers and wifi.
Here in the Algarve, the ports are again a little more expensive, although it remains affordable in wintertime. In Portimao, for example, the costs per night in low season (from October to mid-June) are only 13 €. By the way, the price difference to larger boats is particularly large here. If ahora were only 2.5 meters longer, the costs would increase to almost 30€…
However, there are also very protected anchorages here, so I currently go to the marina on average once a week to shower and fill the water tank. If you get away with washing yourself with sea water, you can live here at sensationally low costs.
Although ahora is a sailboat, I had to realize that on the way from Hamburg to the Algarve I had to use the engine much more than I would have liked. I motored almost half of the 2,000 miles down here!
Even if this sounds frighteningly much, the consumption (and thus the cost) of fuel is still limited: With an average consumption of 1.5 liters per hour at 5 knots cruising speed, we are at 300 liters of diesel, i.e. approx. €450. In addition, there is oil and oil filters and a bit of fuel for the outboard. So roughly calculated approx. 75 € per month. However, I hope to be able to sail much more from now on and thus to minimize the engine running times. Let’s see if it works…
So far, other expenditure on the boat have fortunately been very limited. Apart from new mooring lines, material for a new hatch from acrylic glass and a bit of kitchen equipment, I didn’t need anything. So maybe 25 € a month. (OK, I also have a new tillerpilot, but that was a Christmas present…) However, I assume that expenditure will be higher in the future. There’s always something that breaks. But when it comes for larger expenses I have my emergency cushion.
Food, eating out and other luxuries
For food and restaurant visits, my costs vary a lot, depending on how much I cook. On average, I calculate with 300-400 € per month. There is certainly a lot to be saved here. But I like to buy good quality ingredients, if possible organic food or freshly from the market, so I really don’t pay attention to every euro here.
And I like to eat out relatively often. On the one hand because I find it nice to get to know the local cuisine and on the other hand, because when I’m alone, I am quite lazy when it comes to cooking (and especially doing dishes). In Porto this was very cheap: with lunch menus ranging from 5 to 7 € including soup, drink and espresso, I found it difficult to motivate myself to cook. Here in Algarve, the restaurants are more expensive, but I have hardly any harbour fees.
One luxury I regularly indulge in is a coffee in a café. Almost every day I go out for coffee once (or even twice). But not only because of the coffee, but above all for working (and to get around people). So to speak, you could also consider the more than 100 € that I spend on coffee every month as rent for an office space. (Unfortunately, this is “office” probably not tax-deductible… 😉 )
Recently I hardly went to any bars or clubs. I prefer to have a beer on board with other sailors. For internet on board and phone I pay a total of approx. €25 a month, which I also see more as an operating expense for my business.
Apart from the “luxury” of eating and visiting the café, I am quite frugal. I wear my clothes until they have holes and i don’t need any luxury. One advantage of living in such a confined space is that you are not tempted to buy too much.
What about retirement funds?
In fact, savings for retirement currently fall a bit short. During my professional career, I regularly paid into an ETF savings plan, which is currently on halt. If my online business continues to perform well, I hope to soon have surpluses that I can use for a long-term investment.
Since I haven’t even been on the road for a year, the “supply gap” in my savings is fortunately still manageable. First of all, I am glad that my savings are not getting any smaller at the moment. So I think I’m going to stick to this lifestyle for a while… 🙂
What do you think of such a life? Can you imagine swapping the comfort of an apartment for a small sailboat without running water? I am looking forward to your comment…
Interested to knowReply
1) your battery system upgrade
2) what kind of fridge you use.
I have a 29ft boat and I’ve installed hot water in galley and heads. Heats of the engine and back up AC power. Works really good. Can tell you all about it if interested.