Cruising Budget 2011-2012

Many people dream of sailing away to the tropics. One of the things that stops many of them are concerns about the costs. We have been tracking our expenses during the four years since we sailed away from Canada in hopes of informing and enabling others.

Scream is a 45 foot sail boat with a crew of two. She was built in 1980 and so is 32 year old. She was in good repair when we purchased her for $145,000 five years ago.

Our budget year was May 16, 2011 to May 15, 2012. We covered 4,000 nautical miles again this year. We spent:

180 days in New Zealand
162 days in Fiji
23 days in international waters


We divided our budget as follows:

  • Boat Maintenance : $250/week = $13,000/annual
  • Provisioning: $100/week = $5,200/annual
  • Petty Cash: $50/week = $2,600/annual
  • Discretionary: $75/week = $3,900/annual
  • Tourism: $75/week = $3,900/annual
Budget 2008-2011 2008-2009 Actual 2009-2010 Actual 2010-2011 Actual Budget 2012 2011-2012 Actual
Provisioning $5,200 $5,303 $3,924 $5,574 $5,200 $4,504
Petty Cash $2,600 $2,600 $2,600 $2,600 $2,600 $2,600
Boat Maintenance $13,000 $15,002 $14,653 $16,445 $13,000 $7,425
Discretionary $5,200 $3,543 $6,916 $7,296 $3,900 $3,549
Tourism $3,900 $4,592
Total $26,000 $26,448 $28,093 $31,915 $28,600 $21,459
Variance -1.7% -8.1% -22.7% 25%

Please note that:

  • all costs are Canadian dollars, which have been close to par with US dollars for the past two years.
  • all costs have been rounded to the nearest dollar for simplicity, and do not add precisely in some circumstances.


Feeding the crew is the most important expense. We mostly eat vegetarian meals, which certainly helps to control our costs. On the other hand, we consume about 5000 calories a day, which means we eat more food than physically smaller crews.

We are careful shoppers. Cruising teaches you to provision carefully as you will regularly go weeks between opportunities to buy food and months between well stocked places to resupply. Still, by tracking costs, buying bargains, and occasionally refusing overpriced items we save maybe 10 to 20%.

Provisioning in Latin America is cheap but selection is generally terrible. Costs in the south pacific are quite similar to costs in North America. Selection on south pacific islands varies from wonderful (Tahiti) to poor (Tonga).

Of course, some foods are ridiculously inexpensive in third world countries. By eating what the locals eat you save a lot. Our 2009-2010 year was in central america, and was 20% less than our average despite ending that budget year with the boat heavily laden with provisions for the following months.

Boat Maintenance

2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012
Insurance $1,811 $1,889 $1,501 $1,314
Fuel $2,623 $1,020 $728 $1,134
Moorage $2,891 $660 $1,799 $1,565
Haul Out $0 $3,927 $617 $0
Other $9,353 $7,157 $11,811 $3,411

Scream is a well built, 30-year-old boat in good condition. Our maintenance budget is about 10% of her purchase price per year, and we recommend this 10% as a budget for others. This is the cost to keep a boat in good condition. Any refitting of a boat would be in addition to these figures.

Many boats have "smaller" budgets by excluding categories of spending that we include. Many boats exclude periodic refits from their budgets. Sails, lines, rigging, batteries, anchors, chain rode, canvas, and even engines will all need replacing eventually.

Insurance is a difficult cost. We have never made an insurance claim, yet year after year insurance eats more than 5% of our budget. While in New Zealand we have comprehensive insurance, as it is reasonably priced at about 0.75% of the agreed value per year with deductibles under $500. Comprehensive offshore insurance is too expensive for us, at around 3% of the agreed value with deductibles of $5,000 and more. Objectively, offshore insurance at this price would only be a good investment financially if we thought our chances of a complete loss where over 10% in every given year, which we consider a patently absurd estimate of risk.

We have always carried liability insurance. We started with liability insurance as part of our offshore policy, then switched to a Canadian insurer , and finally to a New Zealand insurer. The costs can vary dramatically but most foreign insurers won't want to work with you.

The crew have always had health and evacuation insurance.

Fuel costs have varied considerably from year to year. They reflect how much motoring we have done more than fuel prices. We again sailed most of our distance this year, but had higher fuel costs than last. As most boats motor more than we do, I recommend a fuel budget of $0.01 per horsepower for every mile of planned travel, sail or powered. We acquired a portable generator this year, which saved us very little in fuel costs as we bought it late in year.

Moorage costs for Scream are considerably lower than for most boats as we spend more time at anchor than our peers. We spent 73 days on moorings and another 72 days on docks this year, which is about the same as last year . I think that 80% of the boats spending cyclone season here in New Zealand paid for a dock for 120 or more days, so their expenses are double, or more, than ours in this area. Many of those boats also purchased cars, adding those costs.

We did not haul Scream this year as our last haul out was near the end of the previous year and we are not cruising in the coming year.

Other boat maintenance expenses covers a lot of different expenses. Repairs from mechanics, replacement parts, paint, tools, and other miscellany fit in this category. We managed to avoid a lot of big ticket repairs this season, which accounts for this year's drop in this category.


2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012
Restaurants $2,422 $969 $1,195 $1,263
Communication $0 $0 $1,044 $456
Other $1,121 $1,226 $3,094 $1,830

Our budget also includes all the money that the crew spends ashore, from new clothes to pints of beer.

Restaurant costs are mostly a reflection of our budget confidence, and so grow or shrink considerably to keep the overall budget in line. Typically we eat out about once a week.

Communications costs were new to our budget last year. In Latin America we did without cell phones and internet was available for free or built into the moorage costs. We have had to pay for internet and have a cell phone now. This year we saved considerably on communications costs as we spent less on hardware and had quite inexpensive, if often poor, service in Fiji.

Discretionary Other is the catch all category for our expenses. The biggest expenses are clothing and personal items like prescription eye glasses.


2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012
$0 $4,721 $1,960 $4,592

Please note that the previous year's figures have been moved from the Discretionary budget travel category as this budget is new this year.

We added the tourism budget as a new category in 2011-12. It has been mixed success. I think that we have done a little more tourism this year than we might have without it, but not much. The two spikes are for our two trips home. We honestly spent nothing on tourist activities our first year cruising internationally. Most of the spending this year is for flights home that we have paid for but not yet taken.

We are not going to be cruising in the coming year. So there is no cruising budget, and there will not be a budget post next year.


Living on a small budget is hard work. We do everything that we can for ourselves. We repair our own sails, canvas, and clothing. We do our own plumbing, electrical, painting, and even some engine maintenance. We bargain hunt and wait for sales. All this and we still have to regularly deny our impulse purchases.

Most boats spend all of the money that they think that they can afford. From the other cruisers we've spoken with, the thinnest budgets for a cruising couple on the smallest ocean-going boats are about $1,000 per month. These boats are eating whatever is cheapest, doing a minimum of boat maintenance, and spend very little on activities. Ninety percent of boats spend $2,000 per month or more. Half the fleet spends $4,000 per month or more. All of these are operating budgets for a boat that was at least moderately well-equipped for offshore passages.

The keys to controlling costs are having a small boat and being self-sufficient enough to live at anchor.

If you want your budget to be much less than ours, you either need a smaller boat (Scream is 45 feet) or you need to cruise in less expensive areas (Latin America comes to mind). If you have more money, the world is yours to explore in comfort.

8 thoughts on “Cruising Budget 2011-2012

  1. Steve Holden says:

    Thanks for a fascinating post. It is very interesting to see how things work and and the experiences you guys are having.

  2. Dad ensslen says:

    fascinating, good and responsible work.

    do you ever feel like splitting out boat improvements out of boat maintenance?

    thank you

    bon voyage

  3. Great post! We enjoy your posts and look forward to seeing some of the places you have visited. We are off the boat and back in Victoria for the summer, but will return to her in the fall. wishing you both fair winds and calm seas.

  4. Cruising says:

    Thanks for providing information about Cruising Budget.

  5. Capt. Jon says:

    Thank you for taking the time to provide all this detail. We were out for 2 years and are now trying to figure out how to go cruising and stay out! Your experiences and "lessons learned" are very helpful!

  6. We enjoyed following your voyage and have found the budget feature most helpful even though we have been unable to come close to matching it!

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