How Much Does It Cost To Go Cruising?

Aside from ‘What Kind of Boat Should I Get?’, this is probably the most Googled subject among potential cruisers. It is asked so much that many of the cruising blog writers will give you a breakdown of their monthly expenses so you can know exactly how much they spend on this lifestyle. I hate to disappoint you but we aren’t those people. I never met a spreadsheet that could keep my attention for more than 5 minutes. Maybe Mike will want to keep a spreadsheet while we’re cruising. After all, he does that kind of gig for a living. I’m sure he’ll miss it terribly when he dumps his job and waves bye bye. (Wink wink)

Money, schmoney. This view is priceless.

So we’re unlikely to be that cruising couple that keeps track of stuff down to the penny. We’ve just never been that way. But I will tell you this: you know those people who answer the above question with a smarty pants answer like ‘It costs as much as you’ve got.’? As much as that kind of answer irritates the crap out of me, they have a point. And that irritates me, too. (Maybe it’s just been too long since I had chocolate or something. I’m extra twitchy lately.)

I think what people should really be asking is how much it costs to PREPARE to go cruising. This is where the big money is, unless shit happens and you have to have serious repairs in faraway lands. You can’t know that in advance, unless you just go with a completely unprepared boat. Then, well, you’re kind of asking for trouble. It’s a risk some people choose to take, and that’s fine for them, but not for us.

Where is this man’s PFD? Bad, Mike! Bad!

We’ve got about a year before we leave jobs and start preparing to get out of Tacoma. Between now and then there is a lot of money we need to spend. How much will we spend? Please reference the smarty pants answer in paragraph two: as much as we’ve got. And this will mean cold hard cash, not credit cards. Our employment prospects on the high seas are fairly grim. I mean, I’m not going to do any Life Coaching or Psychotherapy via sat phone. And I guarantee Mike will not be coding at sea. No, we’ll leave with debts paid off and just enough in pension money to able to do this without being terrified.  So the answer of how much we’ll spend is going to truly be however much we have. Damn those irritating smarties with their hands on their hips.

I thought it would be a fun little exercise to make a list of the things we need to purchase for Galapagos before we leave. To be sure, we don’t need everything on this list if you get right down to it. (If you want a game of semantics, just begin a conversation about wants vs. needs. It goes downhill very quickly.) We have a safe boat now. She floats, she doesn’t leak, she has sails. We have a dinghy and oars. We have good anchoring gear. Who really needs a life boat? What are the odds, I mean? Who needs a Sat phone if you can just have an EPIRB? We can sail without a working SSB radio. We do it all the time in the summer. The ‘go now’ people might say that we should just forget everything else on this list and go. We kind of like being a little more prepared than that, though. Call us crazy.

Love our Walker Bay for up here. But if the dinghy is the family car of cruising, this is like driving a VW Bug.

People  may say that we don’t have to purchase everything we need before we leave the U.S., and that, too, is true.We could definitely leave without a sat phone, or even an SSB radio. But it’s so much easier to get things here, and having stuff shipped to foreign lands like Mexico is not something I would deliberately set out to do. So let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that we want to have these things before we go, especially as most are related to safety and communications.

Want to know about how much we’d need to spend before we leave on stuff that will make our cruise safer, easier, and possibly more fun? Here you go. Don’t forget we have high sales tax in Washington State. Add at least 8% to these prices, more in Seattle. (I have not included the usual maintenance stuff like doing a bottom job because that would have to happen regardless of staying or leaving. Maintaining the vessel in good working order is a given.) Also note that almost all of these things are the same price for our big boat as they are for people with small boats. We are also willing to buy quality used goods to save money whenever possible.

Photo via Craigmarine.Info  I want the white one, but if we found one used at a reasonable price, I’d take what I could get.

  1. Portland Pudgy Dinghy –     This is our first choice for a dinghy. It’s extremely practical, easily rowed, and can be a sailing dinghy. We are loathe to give up our Walker Bay because we both like rowing, and because we could outfit that for sailing as well. But our trip this summer to the west coast informed us that this Walker Bay 8 foot dinghy is wonderful around here, but too small and lightweight for wilder areas. We could make do for awhile with the Walker Bay, but it would limit us. The Pudgy is unsinkable and stable like no one’s business.  The downside is that like the Walker Bay, it must be stowed on deck during passages. Considering it is also a lifeboat, that makes sense. It’s very hard to find these used, although there was one recently on Craigslist. The used price was not much lower than the price new.
    Basic Boat- $2695
    Life Raft Kit –  $1975
    Sail Kit (really wanted, but not needed) $1295
    2.3HP Honda motor (or equivalent)  $927
    Total:        $5597 without sail kit
    $6892 with sail kit
  2. OR   Rigid Inflatable dinghy with a folding transom, like this Achilles model,  so it can be stowed below while on passages. We are less likely to buy a used inflatable because there is a reason why people call them ‘deflatables’. (Still, if we found the right deal, never say never.)  The idea of being able to store the dinghy below, leaving the forward deck clear during passages, is appealing. If we go this route,, we have to buy a life raft, plus a larger outboard engine.  If we stay cruising for several years, we’ll have to add the cost of getting the life raft repacked and recertified every couple of years. Some manufacturers have you do it more often than others, and you have to be sure to be in a place where that service is offered.
    Life Raft, 6 person (we may have passengers) – $3200
    Achilles RIB – About $3385
    Tahatsu 9.8 HP or equivalent-  $1900
    Total approximation:$8485    Ouch!
  3. Either SSB radio or Iridium Sat Phone. In a perfect world, both. Galapagos has an old Kenwood SSB on board but Mike, a radio geek, has not been able to get it to work. Anyone know someone who could take a look at it? Melissa is decidedly NOT a radio geek, or any kind of geek other than a plant geek. She just wants something that works, and will keep them in touch with family, weather, ships, other cruisers, and the occasional post to Facebook.   If we could get our current SSB to work, that would be very nice. Know someone who might help with this? Contact us.
      ICOM IC-M802 SSB Transceiver $1840
     Iridium Go – $1270
  4. EPIRB  like this one.     About $400  Another bunch of money on stuff we hope never to use.
  5. Internet and cell phone booster such as the Wirie Pro or equivalent –  $650
  6.  Offshore PFDs with build in harness similar to this one: $200 x 2 = $400
  7. Tides Marine Strong Track for our mainsail. It would just make life a lot easier. Easy to raise the sail, easy to drop the sail. I like easy. I’m a lazy sailor. And our main does not drop easily. In high winds this can be a problem. I don’t like problems in high winds.  This product gets rave reviews from cruisers and Practical Sailor just reviewed theirs and they loved it. Our sail track is old and worn. It needs refurbishing. Practical Sailor says this product costs $28/foot. Our track is about 50 feet,  so approximate cost for our boat is $1400.Grand total of everything we dream of buying: $12,452 , plus whatever I forgot to put on the list.

Of course, these are only the ‘big ticket’ items, and I may have even missed one or two.  Here’s a partial list of the smaller (less than $1000) items we’ll want to have before we go. This list seems to have a mind of it’s own and grows without our even feeding it:

Hatch covers and screens
Medical supplies for first aid
Ditch bag. We have many of the items needed already, and I have a waterproof                        backpack I can use for the bag itself.
More dock lines
Additional fenders, like these inflatable ones by Easystow.
Cockpit screen enclosure. We could get this done in Mexico.
Millions of spare parts, extra pumps, etc.
Rebuild kits for both heads

We love the open cockpit in the Pacific Northwest because we hardly have any trouble with bugs. That will change as we go south. We’d like a screen enclosure. Mexico might be a good place for us to get this.

Now you know why we still have our jobs. If we can release ourselves from our house, the items on this list will be much easier to attain. No action yet on the rental plan for the house, so that may just be a no-go. Did we completely miss the mark in terms of the market in our area? Maybe. We had to give it a try and we’re still trying on that. We can afford to wait a few months.

But we do have plan B, which is another long shot but includes our son, Andrew, getting a good job here in the Tacoma area with his new Geographic Information Systems certification (which he completes in June). He’d love to live in his own house with his girlfriend and a couple of friends,  and we’d love for him to do that, too. If that works, then wonderful! If it doesn’t, plan C is to sell the place and just be at peace with it. I think when it comes to separating yourself from the family home, it’s kind of like a divorce. You want to be sure you’ve done everything you can to stay together. Then, if it still doesn’t work, you have your answer and can feel ok about it.

Rainbow over Sucia.

Here’s to forward momentum, regardless which direction. The universe will show us the way. You readers are part of our universe, so any thoughts or leads you have on how to pinch a few pennies are welcome.  Know someone who wants to sell their white Portland Pudgy? Yeah. I didn’t think so.

Man Vs. Rock on D'Arcy Island

Man Vs. Rock on D’Arcy Island



19 thoughts on “How Much Does It Cost To Go Cruising?

  1. You know my preference re SSB vs SAT phone (both would be nice): SSB HANDS DOWN.

    Full enclosure screens: no air flow and thus SO HOT in Mexico

    Prtland Pudgy? Neat, but be prepared to accept slow. If considering an inflatable, consider an air flow. So much lighter, easy to stow.


      • Your comment about the screens has been repeated by others so we will rethink that, at least until we get down there. I understand that the Sea of Cortez has been wetter in the last couple of years, increasing the number of mosquitos.. I don’t have a problem using DEET, though. Definitely do not want to reduce the breeze!

    • We are prepared to go slow, since it’s how fast we’ve always gone! All things are a compromise, and we figure that if we hate the pudgy, then we can get an inflatable almost anywhere. But we really can only get the pudgy while we are here. Still, all things are on the table until the purchase is made. Sure hope we can get that SSB to work. Maybe someone local can take a look at it.

  2. Hi Melissa. Just discovered your blog through WWS. Wanted to touch base, because we seem to have a few commonalities. We’re a family of 4, hoping to go cruising in the not-too-distant future (I’m a former cruising kid). We’re down in San Diego though. But, we love our Pudgy, and think you’ll find it to be an awesome addition. Also, we’re both in GIS, and I wanted to wish your son good luck in getting a job. We’ve each got 15 years in the profession, and really think GIS is a growing field. Cheers! Dawn on S/V Firefly

    • Hey, how cool that you are both in GIS? I’m very glad to hear yet another positive Pudgy review. No one has a bad word to say about them except that they are slower than an inflatable, which is true, of course. Andrew is very excited to be getting that GIS certification. We hope he finds a good job. The prospects seem positive. I am wondering if either of you will be working while you travel? Asking because that is a goal of his, to be able to travel while he is still young. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree with either of our kids. Wish we could have taken them cruising when they were young, but, alas, we didn’t really know it was something we wanted to do until later.

      • Re: working in GIS and travelling. The only way I think that would work is if we did consulting. Currently, we both work gov’t jobs (him: County, me: State), and the gov’t is not particularly flexible about working way, WAY far away from the office, lol. But if he got a few consulting gigs that didn’t require field work or face time, I could see how that would work. We’re still trying to figure out how to take ours, while they’re still young, but we’re not old enough to “retire.” We’ll see!

        • Thanks! I will pass your comments on to Andrew. We are definitely advising him against gov’t jobs because of the, yes, inherent inflexibility of those positions. But, of course, it’s his choice. I think he is interested in doing some consulting or project work after he gets some experience under his belt. knowing this kid, he will find a way to do it. Once he sets his mind on something, it’s pretty hard to divert his course. Love your boat! It’s beautiful. Hope you can take your kids cruising, but I, too, understand how hard it is to make that work sometimes when children are young. Fair winds!

      • Hey, GIS is what I used to do, actually. What I loved was making beautiful maps that told a story. A tip, If his program doesn’t include it, he needs to pick up Python scripting, it’s highly in demand, database skills are a big plus too.

        • I think he is taking that next term, Sue and i will pass that information along to him. I love the idea of maps that tell a story! Mike is a database geek for Boeing so I know he has been talking up the database stuff. I’ll gladly pass any and all tips to him, with thanks!

  3. Great post! We have a page on our site about the costs in preparing to cruise. We’re spending a lot, so sure hope this is the most expensive part of this whole thing! We have an inflatable dinghy, but still need lots of stuff … solar panels, ground tackle, auto-pilot. Gonna earn another vacation from those credit card miles … LOL!

    Good idea to be flexible on the house. We have a couple of rentals .. sometimes the tenants are great, and sometimes they cost us a ton of money. We sold our main house just over a year ago. Whatever route you take, I’m sure it will be worth it.

    Right there with ya in keeping momentum .. as long as we’re moving forward, we’ll get there!

  4. Spend what you can to get the things that make you feel comfortable and safe out there, but don’t spend so much that it cuts short your time out there cruising. We went bare bones so we could get out here quicker, but others we know had to have it all fully equipped before they left the dock. It’s kind of a balancing act. Just be sure the safety related items get purchased first 🙂

    Love the photos.

    • That is our goal for sure. But even then, there is only so much ‘safety’ a person can buy. We are definitely not going to be held back by having to have all the ‘perfect’ stuff. We’re too old for that. Time’s a-wasting. One of the previous owners of our boat, who sailed it to New Zealand and beyond over 5 years, has chimed in via email with his advice. Considering he knows this boat well, we are grateful as heck he’s a reader!

  5. Great post, we’re definitely not the “keep track of every penny and put it on the blog” types either. That sounds like a brutal task and is waaaay too much like work:) You’ll get it all figured out. Cheers to forward momentum!

    • Agreed! Way too much work, and also likely to be pretty depressing seeing all those numbers in black and white! Thanks for reading and commenting! We appreciate it.

  6. I forgot to add that we (well, actually just me, as Michelle as a retired administrator now hates all things financial) kept track of every penny/peso during our first cruising season, (late August 2013 to early May, 2014). It was helpful for us but not something we felt we wanted to “publish” (spent way too much on alcohol… stressful year I guess). Two things it showed: (i) expenditures are really high as one heads down the coast (which includes repairs in SF Bay and purchases for the boat there and in San Diego), but after a week or so in Mexico, they decrease substantially and level off at a reasonable amount (except those bottles of wine…) and (ii) by Mexico, we were spending less than we had expected (that is, we were living comfortably on far less than we had prior to retirement, something that holds true today living on land back home in Whistler, BC).

    We (I) stopped accounting for every penny/peso in our 2nd season in Mexico.

    And yes, the big $ were spent pre-trip outfitting Pelagia.

    Cheers, David

    • Well that’s encouraging! I like the idea of spending less than expected and look forward to that. I know we are really cheap cruisers. We never go to marinas, and we don’t eat out much, plus we spend long periods of time in areas where there is no way to spend money even if we wanted to. On our last 5 week vacation, I think we spent 200$ doing things like eating out and buying groceries. Of course, I stocked up before we left, but I call it a win to spend 5 weeks out and about with no major expenses. I hope to replicate that often.

  7. Kenwood will repair all their commercial units – instead of shopping around for someone local, just bite the bullet and call Kenwood to arrange to return it for service. It’s not actually Kenwood that does the repairs, but an authorized third-party. I had one of my Amateur Radio units repaired – it was pricey, but done right.

    With the SSB, you should also budget for a “radio modem” so you can use SailMail to be able send (short, text only) emails via Marine HF.

    • Steve,

      I found the address for Kenwood’s repair facility in California but first I would like to determine if the unit is worth repairing or if it is really even broken. I suspect something is amiss since The audio blanks out of its own accord when listening to to the receiver. I have hit the tune button and the tuner begins to whirl so I know some kind of signal is being sent but since Don’t have a swr meter or a dummy load, I can’t be sure of what is actually going on there. I have contacted a the Radio Club of Tacoma and chatted with some of the folks there just to see if there was anyone local that could provide a little mentoring. If the radio can be put into good working order, we will use it for voice and weather faxes. I have read that the TKM 707 is not particularly easy to use with a pactor modem (per the sailmail site). Since we are very interested in acquiring an Iridium Go system as well, we would probably use that for email and perhaps weather.

      I should put the word out at our marina to see if anyone close by could come down and have a look and provide some guidance. I have some experience with SSB from decades ago working at our little MARS station in Laughlin Air Force Base so I think I can be trained up.


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