The real costs of boat ownership

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Apr 9, 2009
Hi Folks,

Im in the process of selling my sailboat and replacing it with a trawler. Yes, Im nearing retirement and the comfort of a trawler is becoming more and more appealing. Some of you folks have been very helpful educating me on the different types of trawlers and motor cruisers.

My most important consideration in purchasing a trawler is the ability to resell it when the time comes. For this reason Im sticking to popular makes and models in the area I live, Tampa, FL. After talking to repair facilities in this area and you folks, Im eliminating boats with teak decks. My budget of $75,000 will allow me to purchase a diesel powered mid 80s boat in the 34 to 38 ft range. Popular examples in this range are Mainship 34s, several makes of Chinese Trawlers w/o teak decks, and the Bayliner 38.

An important concern with the ownership of a trawler of course is the cost of ownership. I havent seen much discussion of this issue recently so I thought Id run some figures. For this discussion I have based calculations on owning the boat for 6 years. I developed a spread sheet program that allows me to plug in any boat and figure out what the real costs of owning it.

Some assumptions are necessary:
Purchase costs
Tax at purchase of 7%
Survey cost of $15/ft
Bottom paint at survey = $40/ft + $375 per engine
Upgrades and repairs at purchase = 7.5% of purchase price, less on a newer boat.

Annual operating costs:
Dockage $11/ft/mo
Insurance 2.8% of purchase price
Maintenance 5% of purchase price
Bottom cleaning $15/ft/yr
Bottom painting every 2 years

<ul>[*]After owning the boat for 6 Years, selling it with a depreciation of 5% per year or 30% for the 6 years. This figure was derived from my experience in selling my sailboat (it hasnt sold) and the down economy. [/list]<ul>[*]These figures are based on costs in the Tampa area where bottom cleaning monthly and bottom paint every 2 years is necessary. [/list]<ul>[*]Annual Maintenance cost of 5% of course is just an estimate and does not include bottom paint every 2 years. However bottom paint is figured into the cost figures below. Replacement of an engine or genset will certainly change the total annual costs.[/list]<ul>[*]Insurance costs were derived from the actual costs on a Mainship 34 and then linearly computed based on the size of the boat. Includes comprehensive, and liability of $500,000.[/list]
Here are some figures for 4 boats. These are the total costs to buy, sell (w/o broker commission) and operate (no fuel costs) on an annualized basis for 6 years:

29 Sailboat (Mine)*** *** 34 Mainship*** *** 36 Taiwanese*** 38 Bayliner

Purchase Price*** $25,000*** *** $40,000*** *** $53,000*** *** $65,000***
Annual Costs*** *** $8,900*** *** $12,000*** *** $14,000*** *** $16,500
Total Cost 6 yr*** $53,400*** *** $72,200*** *** $84,000*** *** $99,100

Note: The Total costs 6 yr figures includes the money received on sale after 6 years with a depreciation of 30% from purchase price without a broker commission on the sale.

Consider this: The cost to charter a Grand Banks 36 or Mainship 35/39 in Ft Myers FL is $4000/wk. This* would allow you to charter for 3.5 weeks per year and equal the ownership cost of a similar sized Taiwanese boat. Or put another way you could charter a Grand Banks 36 for 18 weeks over the next 6 years and equal the cost of owning a Mainship 34 for 6 years.

Another possibility is to purchase a boat and put it into charter. Charter companies will only take into charter later model boats such as a 2002 Mainship 35/39 which you may be able to pickup for $150,000. The same charter company above sent me some figures and after massaging them I came up with the true costs of putting a boat in charter. Again some assumptions are necessary and to keep things short: Boat cost of $150,000, 50% financed, all maintenance provided by charter company, charter income to boat owner of $28,500/yr, and depreciation of 26% over 6 yrs.
Annual costs: $19,833/yr, yes this does include the charter income.

Total costs 6 yr: $119,000
At this rate you could charter the same boat for almost 5 weeks a year.

Sounds like a lot until you consider this same boat not in charter with no financing will cost you $29,453/yr or $175,700 for 6 yr, or almost $10,000/yr more vs. putting it into charter.
To be fair the annual maintenance cost on a newer boat should not come close to 5% of purchase cost nor should you have to figure 7.5% of purchase price for repairs and upgrades on a newer boat at purchase.

So why does it costs so much??
In reviewing my spread sheet the big costs in decreasing order are:

Dockage accounts for half the annual operating costs in the 34 and 36 boats.
My marina here in Gulfport, FL, near Tampa is considering installing moorings in Boca Ciega Bay which has easy access to the marina. There has been some resistance from the local citizens so if these moorings ever come about is still in question. However, if they are installed I foresee the costs of boat ownership decreased significantly.

So there you have it folks. Anybody know of a good 2 person kayak for sale?
It's probably safer to figure the cost of maintenance, repairs, and upgrades to be 10 percent of the purchase price per year, particularly with an older boat. Some years it will be less but it only takes one major event--- new engine mounts, new exhaust system, new prop shaft, etc.--- to bump the average up to ten percent. And it's not a good idea to assume that just because a boat is newer it will not require expensive repairs. All the things that are wearing out on an old boat are the same things that are wearing out on a new boat. And if your boat is in charter service, you have the added risk of inexperienced operators making a mistake that costs you a prop or a shaft or a toilet or worse.

Chartering is a very viable option if your schedule will allow only a limited time for cruising. We chartered a 1991 GB36 initially but we decided we liked this type of boating so much that it made more economic sense to buy our own GB36. The boat we bought was much older, but its provided us with year round use and enjoyment for eleven years so far. Were we to depend on chartering, given the amount we have used our boat date we would have spent more on chartering than the purchase price of a new Fleming 55

From our observation and experience, putting a boat into charter requires you to buy a pretty new and well-equipped boat. The scheme only works if people charter the boat, and the boats that get the most charter customers are newer, clean, well-equipped, and functionally perfect. That dictates a pretty expensive boat at the outset. And if an economic downturn or some other factor causes the charter demand for the boat to fall off, the owner still has to make the ownership payments.

A major disadvantage to putting one's own boat into charter service, in our opinion, is that you can't leave all your "stuff" on the boat. We have books, clothes, boat parts, pieces of in-work projects, you name it, on our boat. THe refrigerator is fully stocked and running 24/7/365. The hanging locker we use as a pantry is full. If the boat was in charter we'd have to clear most of our stuff off the boat every time we finished using it.

And we use our boat year round. Even if we don't take it out because of high winds, we go up and stay on it for a weekend. So we treat it like other people treat a getaway cabin in the mountains or whatever.

So whether or not to buy a boat to put into charter service is a decision that has a lot of factors besides just the numbers.
I think your planning is a good idea, the thing that pops out to me is that you haven't gone anywhere yet. Transient moorage, I'm paying $1.40 per foot per night in Victoria right now, eating out every so often, and fuel will add to your costs.

I also concur with Marin that the charter idea might sound attractive if your goal was to buy a boat that was more expensive than you could make payments on and you wanted some help making the payments. I know some people who did that and it worked well for them.

You don't say though how many nights per year you plan to use the boat or how you plan to use it. If you plan to take a 3 week vacation in the prime vacation time each year your charter income will be impacted. (quite drastically here in the PNW where the prime time is relatively short) I am a big fan of knowing I can walk down and drive off in my boat any time I want to. I have, as Marin describes, enough stores on board to take a long weekend with just a bag of fresh groceries. There is real maple syrup in the fridge, pancake mix, canned soup, and in the summertime frozen meat and popsicles. My clothes are in the drawers, my toolbag and spares are right where I left them. It's worth it to me to have the boat like this and not in charter or even in partnership.

So it seems to me your decision needs more contemplation of how you'll use the boat. Do you want to take every third weekend on the water? Do you spend 3 weeks every summer on the boat? Do you do both? Some people save money by chartering, some by being part owners, others need to have the boat available to them all the time. If you can make a good guess on how you'll use the boat, perhaps the answer to how to buy the boat will get clearer.


All are controllable to a great extent by the owner.

Dockage MOVE , in Cape Coral and other locations far lower costs are avia
iable , you're retiring , live where you wish.

An even more RADICAL concept is go cruising only 1 day every two weeks will be needed go to visit a laundromat , that's 1 day of dockage .AS you learn the system, even that day can be skipped.

Maint , well even if you're not handy changing oil yourself , or rolling paint on the bottom at a DIY yard is far cheaper , and with better paint and movement , no divers and 3 year repaints is the norm.

Depreciation, doesn't exist on a 20--30= boat ,
CONDITION is the value , "paint sells the boat" , so its up to you to keep up her condition as you travel.

If you search the FL Mariner , you can being the cost of a 36 ft (or so) in under 30-35K.

Insurance, LIABILITY is a worthwhile "investment", but Hull might be self* done .

I complement you for attempting to find a "Round Trip" cost (buy, fix, maintain , sell, costs in advance.

But HOW you are willing to live , cruise and your talents (yes even luck) will be a really large mostly unknown factor.For some Fuel cost is a consideration.


-- Edited by FF on Saturday 1st of August 2009 04:11:34 AM
You forgot equity in your equations. You do get money back if you own the boat and then sell it. I know it is not an investment per se, but it is something that must be considered.
Most airplane and boat owners pay a premium for having their own machine ready to go whenever they want - no need to schedule weeks or months in advance.* And once you've scheduled, you probably can't push your 3 week trip back a week if the weather is cruddy or you come down with a cold.

That said, the old adage is that airplanes, boats, and women are all the same:* cheaper to rent than to buy.

You seem to have done your math right, but the condition of the boat you select will change things quickly and for the worse. And as noted, moorage can be a crap shoot. Also not noted is how meticulous you intend to be - more*OC behavior* means more $$$, slob behavior less $$ spent. Are you an accountant - too much money obsessing* will take all the fun out of your trawler ownership? With your initial investment budget on the low side, expect a few surprises. Unfortunately wiyh older boats, we usually get what we pay for.

Me, I'd pay top dollar for a used boat that gets really high marks from a tough surveyor. IMHO, a late model Monk 36 may fit your*desires perfectly. Much better investment in the long run than a 25-30 year old TT. If you don't have the money, as previously stated consider charter or join a lease with partners plan.

-- Edited by sunchaser on Saturday 1st of August 2009 10:17:13 PM

-- Edited by sunchaser on Saturday 1st of August 2009 10:17:59 PM
A different way to lower the round trip costs , yet enjoy a fine vessel is to go unpopular.

In Euro land Steel is prized , here its avoided at least as much as wood , "too much maint".

This may allow you to find a true great vessel , at a very good price.

Downside is at the end you will take longer to sell the boat ,
although the cost of purchase / return ( the Round Trip) at sale should remain acceptable

Canadians and folks in the NE are far more comfortable with wood .

A steel vessel actually designed and constructed for Offshore Service , (fairly rare and expensive) would be easier to sell than a steel coaster. Although the coaster would be a more spacious vessel, and a better live aboard inshore, more glass too.

Hi Folks,

All good replies. I think what surprised me is the real costs of owning a boat. Up until now it has not been something I have seriously considered because I am working and making a descent income. It is how I choose to spend my money. But going forward into retirement on a fixed income, how one spends their money can really make a difference on their quality of life. But quality of life also includes being able to enjoy the pursuits that make you happy. Boating has been a large part of my life since my mid 30's and I don't intend to quit. However being smart on how I pursue this enjoyment can make a real difference on how much I enjoy it.

The bottom line however is that owning a boat that cannot be put on a trailer is expensive. You can buy a "project boat" like FF mentions, but by the time you bring it up to most peoples expectations you will probably spend as much and most probably more money to do so than if you just paid more money to buy one in decent condition.

With dockage fees so high it makes sense to look around and again like FF mentions a little longer drive can pay big dividends. I don't understand why here in FL where boating is so popular and such a big business why mooring fields have not taken off. Perhaps we're on the beginning wave of such a move, but right now only one mooring area exits on the west coast of FL and that is in Ft Myers. A properly established mooring field provides greater safety for a boat than a slip with very little swing room, especially in high winds and a hurricane. In my calculations, dockage on a 34 to 36 ft boat accounts for half the annual costs and is probably the easiest to control.

Putting a boat in charter only makes sense if you purchase a relatively new boat like Ken and Marin mentions. My calculations definitely suggest this. But if a relatively new boat is what you're thinking of purchasing, then putting it into charter sure makes a lot of sense from a financial point because of the tax break and charter income. Though the cost of maintenance is higher (boat kept to the highest standards by experienced mechanics) you as an owner have no real obligations to maintain the boat other than pay the mortgage.

I think the real question here is whether to charter a boat or own one. I think the answer to that is really a personal decision. The ability to go out on your own boat at any time even if it's for only an evening cruise vs the planned well in advance vacation on a chartered relatively new boat that you can only justify doing 2 or 3 times a year is the real question. Also the pride of ownership vs the no hassle lets just jump on the charter boat for a week, also must be considered.

John, I did include the equity returned at sale. For arguments sake I used 5% depreciation per year based on a 6 year ownership period. From my figures you could purchase a 34 ft Mainship for $40,000, sell it 6 years later for $28,000 and the total cost to you including the $28,000 received at sale prorated over the 6 yr period would be like paying someone $12,037 per year for the use of their 34" mainship. A newer boat will depreciation more per year in the beginning.
tgwhite states: Me, I'd pay top dollar for a used boat that gets really high marks from a tough surveyor. IMHO, a late model Monk 36 may fit your*desires perfectly. Much better investment in the long run than a 25-30 year old TT. If you don't have the money, as previously stated consider charter or join a lease with partners plan.

I guess it depends on what you consider late model. Late model boats suffer higher depreciation rates and in my opinion can really change the financial considerations.
A 1984 full depreciated monk will cost you a lot less than a relatively new equivalent one because of the huge depreciation on the new one. At 10% depreciation on a new boat costing $250,000 your looking at loosing $25,000 a year or $150,000 over 6 yr whereas a $100,000 84 model will simply cost you the operating costs. But I think it's best to consider come depreciation on any boat you purchase so buying that same 84 Monk and using a depreciation of 5% a year will cost $5,000/yr and $30,000 over 6 yr. These are averages and I doubt will hold true in either case for the entire 6 years, but you get the drift.
Tim: If you have the cash, great deals are available on 3-10 year old motor vessels in the size range you are considering. No boat is a good investment, but the current buyer's market is in your favor - and will likely remain so for* several years. Lots of junk out there too - good deals seemingly for the bottom line obsessed. More junk today as maintenance dollars have dried up for many. Once you start seriously looking and making offers, it would be fun to hear of your experiences. You are looking at things the same way many of us do,*but once the hunt begins in earnest our dreams and reality begin to tug at*each other. Good luck.
sunchaser wrote:

Once you start seriously looking and making offers, it would be fun to hear of your experiences. You are looking at things the same way many of us do,*but once the hunt begins in earnest our dreams and reality begin to tug at*each other. Good luck.
I'll let everyone know and will keep in mind that tug of war.

I have not yet met an owner of a boat that is in charter who has said they make money with the boat. At best, they break even--- the charter income roughly equals their cost of ownership. But most of the ones I have talked to in our marina say that the charter income simply reduces their cost of ownership.

Granted, I'm talking in the PNW where from about October through April or May charter boats mostly just sit. Somewhere like California, Florida, etc where the boating season is more or less year round (minus time off for hurricanes), the charter income on a popular boat handled by a reputable company could be enough to perhaps make a small profit. I don't know.

The other thing is that I think it is a mistake to think that a boat is an investment unless you are buying something like a Hacker or Gar Wood runabout from the 1930s that is fully restored, or you're going to restore it.

While it appears that many older trawlers sell for more than they cost new in dollars, you have to take into account the value of the dollars. Our boat sold new in 1973 for about $40,000. The same boat today in excellent condition will bring perhaps $100,000. But the boat has still lost value. The last GB36s Grand Banks made in the very early 2000s cost well over $200,000 and that was before you equipped it to do anything. So even though we could sell our boat today (assuming we could even find a buyer) for more dollars than we paid for it eleven years ago, we have lost money on the boat.

I was given a piece of advice by a family friend years ago who was a very successful businessman. Among other things he conceived and founded the company Telecheck, which years later he sold for more money than God has. He gave me a lot of advice over the years I knew him but two things he said I have found to ring very true over the decades. "Never finance your toys," and "Never buy a toy thinking you'll make any money on it."

We bought our boat simply to enjoy what we thought boating would add to our lives. When we are done using it I'll probably have it sunk somewhere for fish to live in. We do not expect to get a dime out of it when we're done with it. We might--- you never know-- but this was not even a consideration in our decision to get a boat and what kind of boat to get.
It's my opinion that.*A well cared for used boat can be every bit as good or better than a new one. You are not looking at a car that depreciates by road milage. A good hull especially fiberglass and a good engine. What else is there that is really needed .You put a boat thru a refit and you have a new boat. As long as she doesn't leak top and bottom. You're good to go. If you don't love to work on your boat. Buy a new bleach bottle every couple of years and take your depreciation.
I wouldn't even think of buying a new boat.*
If you plan on cruising you need to know every system on your boat and how to effect repair.
So if you didn't install or repair one of those systems how can you fix it? Boat ownership is way more than just buying a boat putting fuel and oil in it. Paying you slip fees and going. Why eles would the number one name for a boat in the U.S. be
In the end it comes down to what do you want a boat for?*

As someone else said "It is not the voyage It's the vessel." or was it vise versa?
Hey Dude,
There's tons and tons and tons more to a boat than engine and hull. Wiring, fuel tanks, electronics (or lack of), steering, plumbing, exhaust ect* ......... almost forever. Been there done that* ...* refit that is. What one wants to do is get a boat that the last guy pumped tons of money into. Or better yet several owners. That's the biggest cost of having an older boat** ..* getting her up to the standard your needs require. But on the other hand that's about the only way of getting the boat you really want** ... it's a bit like building a new boat out of old bones.

Eric Henning
"getting her up to the standard your needs require."

Well that too depends , perhaps more on the quality of the origional build , than on an owners specific needs.

While many boats were built to sell on price , volume, and a teak paint job others were built for more knowledgeable owners.

An old Hatteris or Bertram or many of the 60's Sport Fish will be far better built , and better outfitted than many cheaper boats.

There all "cheap" 35 years old , so its mostly a matter of understanding the quality levels of gear 35 years ago.

Dave Pascoe does a fine job of explaining many of the differences, free on line.

Right on. I agree entirely.*A ton of stuff. Creature comforts. Heck I went for years* sort of camping out with a tent on the water.* As stated. Depends on your comfort standards.* I don't need a camera in the engine room.* Sure do want one.* Do you want a coleman stove or a built in propane range. I guess My point being all the bells and whistles cost money and repair.**Everything breaks.
*The more stuff you have the more maintenance. The greater the cost of ownership.* The biggest cost being labor. If you find something someone else sunk tons of time and materials into I think you can be way ahead of the game. Good bones is good bones. Old or new.

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