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Old 04-06-2014, 09:07 AM   #1
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Keeping Boating Affordable

As we get closer to the reality of keeping a trawler on the Chesapeake (either the one we have under contract or a future boat if this doesn't pan out), the costs are coming into sharper focus. While nothing has been a show-stopper, if you step back and just look at the numbers, they can be sobering. All the more so when I consider I paid about $100 per calendar quarter to dock my 28-foot sailboat at our club.

OK, so those days are over. To be clear, I'm not a cheap-skate, and I do expect to pay inflated prices because the word "boat" is part of my hobby. But I hate to pay grossly inflated prices for things like slip/mooring fees (long and short term), labor, fuel and insurance simply out of ignorance.

So, what are some of your secrets for preventing boating from costing more than necessary? How hard do you negotiate for long-term/transient dock space or work you can't do yourselves? Which suppliers do you look to for reasonably priced parts?

Finally, no lectures please on "if you can't afford it, don't get into it." We can, but my last name begins with an "Mc" and reasonable frugality is in the DNA.

Thanks in advance.
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Old 04-06-2014, 09:30 AM   #2
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For the most part at least for our boat the costs can be broken down into major categories, many of which we do not have as much influence over as we would like.

Moorage
In my area there is no way to influence this. In other areas it might be possible with cheaper marinas, or a mooring ball.

Insurance
All you can do here is find the best coverage at the best price. I havent found we can alter this much.

Utilities
This one we can influence, use less, save more

Maintenance
This is another expense you can influence greatly. Do most of the work yourself. If you don't know how to do something, learn. Develop the skills. Shop for the best deal on parts. We use a variety of sources like amazon, ebay, along with the traditional suppliers.

Telecommunications
This one you can eliminate all together if you are frugal. My boat is a telecommuting location for my company, so I cannot avoid those costs. I boat in a area requiring satellite communications, adding exponentially to the costs.

Opportunity cost
This is what it costs you to tie up capital in a boat. It can be borrowed money, or your own capital, but it is still a real cost. The way to influence this is to buy a cheaper boat, or get a better loan interest rate, or if you are using your own capitol be a crummy investor

The cost of the large boat lifestyle is high. It is a committment that owners either make happily, or as we have all seen, they end up selling their boat and taking up something else for pleasure.
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Old 04-06-2014, 10:10 AM   #3
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You said you didn't want a lecture, but if costs are going to be a big concern, boating is probably not for you.

You can shop for marinas and you can shop for parts. Shopping for the lowest priced labor can be a mistake because skilled people earn what they charge. Unskilled people may charge less but may not do a good job.

Some folks own nice boats and keep them in top shape, others own a piece of junk but don't spend a lot. Some are in between. The choice is yours.
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Old 04-06-2014, 10:18 AM   #4
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I find the most controllable cost for me by far is maintenance and upgrades. Am I willing to put up with those crappy zamack rail fittings that pit so easily or do I replace them all with stainless steel? Do I fix the aft head that we never use and never miss, or do I replace it with a Raritan SeaEra conversion kit just because it bothers me when something doesn't work. Do I replace all the lights -- all of which work perfectly well now -- with LED's? Do I replace all the deck fills (fuel, water, and waste caps and inlets) with stainless steel because the threads are getting shot on the old ones and the fuel inlet might let water in when it rains -- and if I do replace them, do I replace the fuel lines too just because the old ones are old, and after all I have the salon wall panels removed anyway? You get the idea. It never ends. Where I draw those lines is the most controllable expense of all, but it's a constant fight between my wallet and my OCD.
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Old 04-06-2014, 10:19 AM   #5
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Their called "yachts" for good reason, something to keep in mind.
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Old 04-06-2014, 10:23 AM   #6
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Kevin had a great overview.

In the bigger picture, if you let your passion for frugality overcome your passion for boating, you won't be a happy boater.
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Old 04-06-2014, 10:31 AM   #7
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Following Kevin's outline:

Moorage-You just compare rates for dock space at home. Typically to reduce it you either have to move further away, especially if you're in a prime area, or to somewhere with fewer amenities. When cruising, the obvious way to reduce is anchoring more. Now as to dockage, do check on the various discounts available. Also, when transient, multiple day discounts. What many do is anchor out and then break it up by a week at a dock, getting a weekly rate rather than daily. Or pay two and get one free. I take it you're one who enjoys looking for deals so explore the marina's site plus places like Cruisers Net and Waterway Guide and Active Captain.

Cash also can be a factor in moorage and fuel. Now I don't like to carry that kind of cash but sometimes there's an ATM near. On the other hand, using a rewards card can have it's benefits.

Insurance-Be careful and don't be penny wise, dollar foolish. Make sure of the coverage. But do check around. Sometimes even among the reputable marine insurers there will be large variations. Just be sure what you're getting.

Utilities-one thing that can help is Solar. But then that's a cost too. Making sure you take advantage of free water. Also free pumpout of your tanks.

Maintenance-As said, whatever you can do yourself saves. On the other hand, for major work, be very careful taking the low price. It can end up being a very expensive decision. The person who drastically cuts compared to others has to cut corners somewhere. Pricing parts and labor separately and purchasing some of the parts yourself can help.

Telecommunications and electronics-There is one group, largely sailors, who take the attitude less is better in all regards. They want to escape all of the land life. But then there are others of us who want all the comforts of home. Just know prices do change and look at competitive rates. Just like choosing cable or phone providers at home. A large variation is dependent on how much of the time you're in cell phone range, how much of the time you have wifi at night. If you cruise the coast and use marinas you have communications handy. As you go further from shore it becomes more difficult. How long can you go out of range? We'll admit, we can't stand being unable to communicate even for hours, much less days. But others don't care if they're a day or two between phone and email communications.

Preventive maintenance-Do everything by the manuals, do preventive maintenance religiously. Or it will cost you. Take care of things when they arise.

Tow coverage-do have an annual plan. You will run aground or have engine problems sometime and need it and better to pay an annual rate than per tow.

Boat selection-single vs. twins will be less expensive. Trawler displacement vs. semi will be less expensive to operate. 8 knots cost less than 20 knots.

Meals-Just like at home, eating on the boat is cheaper than restaurants. But to many restaurants are part of the joy. Still there are affordable restaurants available in most areas.

Warning-Be careful. Do it yourself is great but not if you and your family then can't ever actually get out and enjoy the boat. Savings on communication is good but not if one of your family hates going out because of it. Saving on dock space is nice but not if your drive is lengthened and so you go less or if you miss out on being at the marina where you could really enjoy yourself. Know yourself and your family. For instance, we spend more on fuel because we just don't like going 8 knots or even 12 knots all the time. So we go 20 knots and that costs. But many people love going slow and never feel like they're sacrificing by doing so.

One more-Boating can in some cases be a shifting of expenditure. Marina versus country club with golf. Communications on the boat and fewer tv channels at home. Vacations on the boat versus flying and spending two weeks at an expensive resort. Forego an expensive restaurant or concert for a weekend cruise. We spend a lot on boating. But we don't fly anywhere to vacation. We'd rather spend two weeks cruising than two weeks in Paris. At some point you may even find with your second home on your boat that downsizing your primary makes sense. We put more miles on the water last year than on land so we save on auto costs.
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Old 04-06-2014, 10:40 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by angus99 View Post

OK, so those days are over. To be clear, I'm not a cheap-skate, and I do expect to pay inflated prices because the word "boat" is part of my hobby. But I hate to pay grossly inflated prices for things like slip/mooring fees (long and short term), labor, fuel and insurance simply out of ignorance.
I don't like the tone of the "grossly" inflated you used. That sort of carried an assumption someone was cheating you. Be careful as if you treat service providers with that thought you won't have good relationships. Specifically. Is $4/foot grossly inflated for a transient slip? No. Not if it's the market price at that location. Nor is $1/foot a bargain if it's run down and in an area with little demand. Marine fuel may seem high but there are many costs involved in providing it. So please don't think of things as grossly inflated but just prices varying a lot by where and whom. That doesn't mean don't look for bargains. Many town docks for 48 hours or so are great deals. One of the nicest marinas around in Wilmington NC is running a deal on a week free dockage. Yes, look around and compare prices. But if one marina is $3 and another is $2 that doesn't mean the $3 is inflated. I've paid $1 and wished there was better and I've paid $6 and felt I had a good deal. Of course I was in a resort with that and used their gym, their tennis courts, could have golfed or used their pool or laundry, used their concierge, even used their spa, got room service delivered to the boat.
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Old 04-06-2014, 11:24 AM   #9
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Buy a well found vessel that needs few apparent upgrades or fixes. Project boats are money pits but can save illusory money on the front end.

Whether your last name is Mc or Gotrocks, consider your boat and expenditures as off the necessity grid.

If you're on shore and not blue water cruising, lots can be saved on communications gear. If you are OC about selfies and smart phones, boating will drive you batty as you go from good to bad to no coverage areas.
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Old 04-06-2014, 12:37 PM   #10
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Keep it simple, the golden rule of KISS. The simpler your boat, with the less systems, the less you have to go wrong. Your not required to have insurance, unless you have a mortgage, and they don't fall into the rule of KISS. Dockage and storage can be found behind private homes if you look around, and make friends by offerings of "Mc" beverages. Parts can be found on Ebay, or Defender . The less pumps the better. Buckets are best. As far as electronics, remember that this planet was well traversed long before electricity was harnessed. You can still buy kerosene lamps, and the glow they give as you read old books are a "connector" with the past.
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Old 04-06-2014, 12:41 PM   #11
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First of all very well said BandB. Fuel at the marina costs a lot more to provide than fuel on the road.

My moorage in Akaska was $570 ....... a year. Nearly all or all the public moorage in Alaska is built and rebuilt (in other words maintained from a depreciation standpoint) by Federal money. Even the folks in Florida are monetarily supporting most or all of public boat moorage in AK. So boating in places where other people are supplying the moorage can be of great advantage. There may be similar situations in the lower 48.

Moorage outside of AK is burdened by the same modern day polluted world factors that make cars so expensive. Safety this and safety that. EPA here and EPA there. The economics of making things palatable to this world of too many people is HUGE. Imagine with all the advances in the ability to manufacture cars how cheap it would be to build cars w/o all the stuff the government requires the makers put on the cars. To build them like the manufacturers would like to.

And TAXES. The tidelands where our marinas are built are subject to lots of taxes and requirements imposed by states, counties and the federal gov and probably others. Taxes should reflect the cost of doing business like dredging channels and maintaining navigational aids ect ect. But I suspect in this day taxes related to tidelands and boat moorage are siphoned off for other purposes not even related to boating.

Also in days gone by floats were made out of logs and lumber. All of them substandard by today's requirements but they were probably CHEAP. Frankly I'd rather walk on a wood float than concrete. Grass grows on the concrete and breaks it up requiring replacement. But I've not broken an ankle falling through a weak board on an old wood float. That could be an opinion altering experience. So one could say the good old days weren't so good after all. But moorage wise I think we're half sunk by taxes and legal requirements. And moorage is the monster cost in boating. And trailerboat wise you'll probably spend more on fuel getting to the water than on the water.

TOO MANY PEOPLE
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Old 04-06-2014, 12:55 PM   #12
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I have to say I am really impressed with the great quality of the responses. Lots of great recommendations in the thread. I have only one thing to offer, and that is to think about each transaction you make. We shop for fuel, there are several blog sites that publish fuel prices, we shop for insurance, we shop for repairs and really look at every boat purchase. We have learned over the years that "price" is often not the most important issue. For example, a great diesel mechanic is worth whatever it costs. However, when your buying 500 gallons of fuel, it might be worth going to the next station to save $0.2 per gallon.

It is absolutely true that if boating is your hobby, you accept that it is a cost that you are willing to bare. However, we have really started to look at where we can get the most value.

All that said, we also ascribe to the idea that when we cruise in remote areas, i.e., the Broughton's, it is our obligation to leave behind some coinage. We want these businesses to be there and we love the security and social opportunities they offer. So we are less sensitive to their fees and costs then we might be in a more populated area. Again, it is a matter of valuing the service provided and be willing to pay accordingly.

Thank for the great thread.

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Old 04-06-2014, 01:08 PM   #13
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........... Your not required to have insurance, unless you have a mortgage, .............
Bad advice. Really bad advice. If you own anything of value, if you have any savings or retirement, or if you are the sort of person who believes in personal responsibility, you need liability insurance and plenty of it. If you kill or injure someone with your boat or on your boat or if your boat damages another boat, dock, marina, etc., you could be sued for everything you own.

You need insurance.
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Old 04-06-2014, 01:10 PM   #14
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Salish Lady- Well put, especially your last paragraph about leaving some cash behind.
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Old 04-06-2014, 01:14 PM   #15
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Added points on fuel:

There are often breaks on higher volume purchases so it can benefit to run it down a bit and then fill up. The breaks can be substantial.

When at home, we get fueled by a fuel barge rather than at a marina. Their rates are substantially lower. Now generally they cannot fuel you at a marina that sells fuel, but at docks without fuel or on the water they can.
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Old 04-06-2014, 01:28 PM   #16
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Bad advice. Really bad advice. If you own anything of value, if you have any savings or retirement, or if you are the sort of person who believes in personal responsibility, you need liability insurance and plenty of it. If you kill or injure someone with your boat or on your boat or if your boat damages another boat, dock, marina, etc., you could be sued for everything you own.

You need insurance.
My first reaction was WHY would you do that? Just don't. Maybe you need insurance, but many go their whole lives without it, with no problems to places you can't obtain it if you wanted it.. Just have a safe boat, be well prepared, and operate prudently. The guy who owned a boat rental place at the Marriott Marina in Miami never even had it, the 10 years he rented boats to novices with no claims or problems. I rode out Hurricane Andrew here on a 50' I lived aboard. Know my damages? Zero.
Having none is like windsurfing over sharks, you don't fall because you can't.
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Old 04-06-2014, 01:35 PM   #17
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+1 on pilothouse
With care and being flexible as to location, I have dropped my dockage and storage dramatically. Being at a place where "good enough" is the mantra works for me. When your boat needs work, it is also useful to be somewhere that you can participate with paid help or exchange for services or do it yourself. It is also important to dock where you are not captive. You must have a vehicle and be able to get away to buy supplies and food at the major stores.

Fuel wise, most times I just loaf along. My costs are roughly $10.00 an hour. I do not begrudge that. My bar and restaurant bills are roughly equivalent to my fuel bill so I could save some bucks there but I don't. I do make wine on the boat every summer. That is very inexpensive and certainly has made me some friends.

Maintenance wise my boat is almost 30 years old and runs fine. I fix what I have to and PH is right, I do go through a few pumps but I have no interest in replacing them with OEM models. I does not have to be pristine. It just has to work.

On communications modify your cell plan. I dock on the US side but my cell reaches Canada and I pay zero extra - consistently under $50.00 monthly. although I am 1200 miles from home my phone considers calls from my home area a local call.

As well I bought a range extender for the marina office's internet 79.00 one time cost and now have ongoing free wifi.

Look for places that are significantly less than full. They need you as much as you need a deal. Boat clubs also make sense economically. I found one club that charges only $200 for the full season of dockage. Being fussy costs serious coin. I am sure I am in the bottom 10% of boaters if I was to compare operational costs. I am actually kind of proud of that because I have extra loot to enjoy the summer with.
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Old 04-06-2014, 01:35 PM   #18
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I have a slightly different view of boat costs. As Kevin described pretty succinctly, many costs are not all that variable. I have come to look at costs per unit if usage (hour, day, etc). Then it becomes quite easy to separate relatively fixed from variable costs. Variable costs are those directly related to usage, i.e. fuel, away from home dockage, and to a large extent maintenance. It is pretty simple to compute variable cost per unit of use. As to fixed costs, if my fixed costs are $10K/year, and I am only putting 100 hours per year on the boat (or say 20 days/year), then I know what it costs me to enjoy the boat for those hour/days. Like any fixed costs, the trick is to spread those costs over more units of enjoyment (for lack of a better term!). If I double my use, my cost per unit of enjoyment halves. The trick is to use your boat as much as possible-spread those fixed costs out!

A costly example of a person buying the wrong boat for them: 22 months ago, a guy bought a used 58' FD trawler for $1.75M. Thought he and his family would love it and use it plenty. Turned out, they did not like 8 knots, did not have the time they expected to use it. They put less than 50 hours on the engines. They put it on the market last week for $1.375M. It will probably sell for around $1.25M. So their little 2 year experiment is going to cost them over $500K plus the cost of owning and maintaining the boat. An expensive mistake!
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Old 04-06-2014, 02:09 PM   #19
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Great perspectives, folks. Thanks.

To clarify for anyone concerned about my use of the term "grossly inflated," here's some background. Yesterday I visited 10 marinas on the Chesapeake. Prices for a seasonal slip varied from $3K to $5.6K. Similar winter haul out packages ranged from $1,000 to $1,800. One of the most expensive was a marina with basic facilities and not in a location I would remotely describe as a market price-setter. IMO, they simply saw a guy with a "new" boat. I certainly agree that fair pricing can vary for a multitude of reasons, including the honest need to make a profit, but I don't think this industry is immune from opportunists.

All that aside, my purpose in starting this thread was not to smear the industry; I simply like to get my money's worth. Please keep the ideas coming.
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Old 04-06-2014, 02:44 PM   #20
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My first reaction was WHY would you do that? Just don't. Maybe you need insurance, but many go their whole lives without it, with no problems to places you can't obtain it if you wanted it.. Just have a safe boat, be well prepared, and operate prudently. The guy who owned a boat rental place at the Marriott Marina in Miami never even had it, the 10 years he rented boats to novices with no claims or problems. I rode out Hurricane Andrew here on a 50' I lived aboard. Know my damages? Zero.
Having none is like windsurfing over sharks, you don't fall because you can't.
A lot of reasons to have liability insurance. First, in the event of an accident, I don't want to be bankrupted. Second, in the event of an accident, I want the other parties to get what they deserve, for their boat to be repaired, their medical bills paid.

Now I drive cars and boats carefully. But I maintain insurance. I have very high deductibles on my side of it, the collision or hull. But the liability is very important to me. If you're telling me someone operated a boat rental business with no liability insurance, then I'm shocked. Shocked he would. Shocked he legally could.

But then I'm shocked liability insurance isn't required to register a boat. In my opinion it should be, just as it is on a car. I have no issue if people choose to not protect their own car or boat, but do have an issue if they run into mine and they don't have liability insurance.
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