We get hundreds of comments and questions from people and families who are considering the liveaboard lifestyle. They want to know what it costs. We decided to write a journal about our experiences of the last two months aboard to give our perspective.
We planned to save money while we cruised and we chose to make our life change for money and family reasons. How has it worked out? On the family side, very well. We spend more time together than ever and we are all very happy on the water. We travelled for about a month to make it 1250 miles from Galveston, TX to the Florida Keys. We rented a slip in a nice marina until December until we can cruise to Cuba and beyond. The Florida Keys is a wonderful place for our family and we are happy. The kids haven’t watched TV or videos in more days than I can count and many of the dry land habits have escaped them. We haven’t heard them saying: “I’m bored” since we moved aboard, which is a 100% change from our life in suburbia.
How has the money part worked out? For the most part, pretty well but we spent more to get here than we anticipated. The cost of us driving our own boat was much lower than having it transported by truck and we had a month of memorable experiences that made the trip worthwhile. We gained much-needed boating experience along the way and navigating the ICW was a good way to learn along the way, in a safer environment than the open ocean. There is no substitute for experience and since we had none, we didn’t realize how many things worked before starting our voyage.
Cruising Vs. Liveaboard
Cruisers have different expenses than people who just liveaboard their boats without much movement. The number one cost and consideration is fuel. Our boat uses gas, as opposed to diesel, which costs more. Our boat consumes a lot of gas and gets poor miles to the gallon, although it is very fast and comfortable to cruise. Fuel on the ICW is sparse and it ranged in price from $2.80-4.30 per gallon. I didn’t notice diesel prices but they are highest here in the Keys at about $3.30 per gallon on the water.
Docking fees can be expensive. Transient (nightly) slips are the most costly and tabulated per foot of the boat. We paid $37-90 per night. The price went down dramatically when we switched to a monthly slip and we pay $800 per month. Yearly slip prices drop further still and this slip would be about $500 per month if it were on an annual contract. We have to pay for our electric separately on a monthly contract. I wish we would’ve anchored out more along the way because it would’ve been cheaper, just not as convenient. Our generator burns about 1/2 a gallon per hour and will run everything on the boat. It would cost us $25 or so to run the genset for 10 hours on the hook and of course we don’t run it during the day because of the noise and cost.
Eating out vs. cooking for ourselves can really take money out of our budget. We don’t eat out very often to keep the costs down and we try to stay away from trendy places where the food is more expensive and not as good. Aubrey is a great cook so eating in is a treat every night. Groceries cost a lot more in small stores with remote locations. It is better to stock up in places that have regular sized grocery stores. Ice is a cost that you wouldn’t think of, but Ice on the water is about $4 per bag. Many people get a bag of ice every few days and the expense could really add up. We have an ice maker on board and it is nice. We ate out more often while cruising because we wanted to try new things and just wanted to get off the boat. We’ve yet to supplement our meals with a lot of fish that we’ve caught but that is on the horizon. We save money by driving to Key West to shop at the commissary on the Naval base. We save about 30-50% on all groceries by taking the time to drive every two weeks.
Beer and liquor can take a bite out of a cruising budget. Thankfully, we don’t drink that much. Beer in the ICW was around $10 per 6-pack (don’t forget the ice!) and I’ve heard of places in the outer islands of The Bahamas where it costs $4 per can at the grocery stores. Most cruisers stock up on wine or whatever they drink by the case.
Laundry is expensive and unless you have your own washer on a trawler, it also adds up. It costs about $4 to do a load in the places we’ve stayed. Living in a home, I think I took for granted how many loads were done.
Boat repairs haven’t been an issue for us, as of yet but we are saving for the day when it is required. Repairs and parts can really set you back and sometimes they have to be done right away. We did invest in a bunch of spare parts before we left Kemah, TX but I still wish I had more. West Marine will suck the money right out of your pockets so find other suppliers if they exist to save money.
The extra things that you need or want can really add up. Salt water fishing poles are so much more expensive on the water. We got all of what we needed before setting off. Tackle is super-expensive as is bait! Our son fishes more most of the day and we divide up his bait bags for daily use. We try to catch something and cut it up but we could do that a lot more to not blow so much money on bait that isn’t catching that many fish to eat. Sadly, he has to throw many of his fish back and he has a thing for catching big nurse sharks that we would never eat.
Tours and touristy things can suck your cruising budget dry. So far, we’ve done really good-by riding on public transportation and going to a lot of museums in lieu of the guided tours or expensive expeditions. There are more $200-500 trips than you can understand and they all sound great but I think we all enjoy the simple things. The kids seem to have more fun at the beach than they did at the expensive insect attraction that we took them to in New Orleans.
People who liveaboard and don’t do a lot of cruising seem to save a lot more money. I think we are learning smarter ways to cruise. We have an express cruiser, which was really big for our lake but we’ve learned that it isn’t the most practical thing for us on the ocean. Living space, storage, fuel consumption, range and capacity for water and sewage are the biggest drawbacks to our boat. Our boat can burn 25 gallons per hour at our cruising speed of 25 knots. We’ve also learned that we enjoy going slower and we are more comfortable. I think we’ve made the resolution to trade in our speedy express cruiser for a much larger trawler that cruises at 8 knots and only uses 3-4 gallons per hour. A trawler offers 2-3 staterooms and 2 heads for our comfort. It also offers a full-size galley and the oven that Aubrey secretly longs for. I love the large decks where you can fit a comfortable table and chairs because we spend most of our time outside. The idea of having a washer/dryer again seems too good to be true.
We are hoping that we don’t have to sell our boat for too much of a loss but it doesn’t look good. On the plus side, trawlers are available for what we can probably get for our boat and an across the board trade wouldn’t be out of our options. If any of our readers has a trawler for trade send me a message and I can give you the details on Miss Lone Star.
We love our lifestyle so much we are making plans to do this for many years in the future and we want to live on the hook a lot more in the future. Aubrey wants us to be similar to the “Alaskan Bush People” but the Bahamas version. I think that would suit me just fine!
We would love to know your experiences with expenses or different boats has been so please leave a comment if you have the time. Thanks.
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