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Old 08-06-2008
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Cost of Maintaining a boat

Hey folks,

I've looked at some of the previous posts on this topic and have found some useful advice, but thought I would see if there are any other/new thoughts on the cost of maintaining a small cruising boat for weekending and 1-2 week excursions.

The Boat: 27'-30' - Initial acquisition cost is on a ~$20,000 budget. Currently looking at late-70's, early 80's C&C, Catalina, Cal etc - the usual suspects.
The Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
The Expectations: The boat will be well used as a 3-way share with my brother and sister, so it will likely be out 6-9 weeks/yr. The boat needs to be safe, but doesn't need to be fancy. We are all 30 and under and don't need huge creature comforts. It's a cruiser - speed is not the primary concern, so I won't be going out and buying new sails every 2 years, bottom paint doesn't need to be race-finished.
Usage: Strictly cruising in local, known, protected waters. Our level of experience is not high (daysailed a fair bit, but haven't had to maintain a boat).
Storage: it will be moored in salt water year-round.
Maintenance: things requiring little skill and elbow grease will be DIY, things requiring more skill will be done by pros.

I have priced out moorage and insurance. What I'm looking for here is the annualized cost of maintaining the systems on the boat, annual upkeep and an averaged cost for replacing systems as safety requires.

Thanks in advance!!!
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Old 08-06-2008
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This is a hard question to answer. It really depends on what has been done in the past, and how well. It also depends what you consider "little skill & elbow grease" for your diy projects. It's kind of like asking "what's the average skill level of a 40 year old guy".

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Old 08-07-2008
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After owning my last boat (a catalina 30 - inland lake), I thought, "If I'd known what it would cost for the 7 years I owned it, I'd have never bought it. And that would have been the biggest mistake of my life. As the mastercard commercials say, some things are priceless. I'd never trade the weekends aboard the boat with my family and friends for anything.

So I'm not really answering the question, but a rough guess is that it'll cost about twice what you think it will unless you're really good at predicting future costs.

And in case you're wondering, yes, we bought another boat a few months ago, and will be living aboard in a couple of weeks. I doubt this will make much sense financially long term, but I'm sure it's the right thing to do...

S.V. lagniappe
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Old 08-07-2008
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Originally Posted by SVlagniappe View Post
After owning my last boat (a catalina 30 - inland lake), I thought, "If I'd known what it would cost for the 7 years I owned it, I'd have never bought it. Steve
S.V. lagniappe

Just out of curiosity what did it cost and on on what did you spend the money, If you don't mind sharing?
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Old 08-07-2008
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The reality is, you can spend a lot maintaining a boat, or very little. That being said, if you spend very little, you can expect to have problems just about every time you go out. They may not be big ones, but they'll be there as nuisances.

Depending on how you want the boat to look, you have cosmetics. A coat of wax at least every six months. I'd think that would be often enough up in BC. Keeping the boat washed, in general, at least every two weeks. Polish the stainless every six months.

Change the oil in the engine according to factory specs. Probably every 100-200 hours. Change fuel filters as needed. Keep DISTILLED water in the batteries (needs to be checked every couple of weeks, at least.)

Clean the raw water intake filter for the engine at least every other outing, if you live in an area with a lot of junk in the water. Beware of barnacles living in the filter/raw water hose. If you see them, you need to kill them and clean the dead critters out. (Vinegar in the plastic/glass part and on the screen if you're very patient. On-Off if you're not patient. Just be careful and wear gloves!)

Check the fresh water pump, faucets, etc. for leaks. If the water starts tasting nasty, purge the tanks, bleach them, purge and rinse them again. A hint: Dump a bottle of cheap, sweet white wine into the water before a weekend outing. It makes the water taste better coming out of a fiberglass tank.

I routinely (once a month) pump the heads full of vinegar and let it sit inside the pump/hoses for at least an hour, then rise them using fresh water until I'm positive the hoses are clean. The vinegar will attack salt deposits and, um, stuff in the pump, joker valve, hoses, etc., and soften them up so they can be pumped out. The nice thing about this is you can just pump them overboard.

Haulout, pressure wash the hull, bottom paint, PropSpeed for the prop and shaft, once yearly. Replace the shaft/prop zincs. That depends on the marina you're in. If you're lucky, once a year during haulout. If you have the boat in a marina with problems, you may be changing zincs every month. (If you do, move the boat somewhere else. If you have a bunch of older power boats around you, you can almost bet they're the culprits!)

Figure on replacing the running rigging once every couple-three years. You'll know when--you'll see little cuts, abrasions, etc.

Keep moving things clean and lubricated like winches, windlasses, genoa cars, sheaves, etc.

Light bulbs have to be replaced occasionally. Make sure you have spares for every different type you use aboard. Nothing is as vexing as finding out you don't have a replacement for your port running light--right at dusk.

Carry a spare bilge pump and bilge pump switch. They always seem to fail when you need them the most. Know where they're located, and have the tools to install them.

Carry a spare raw water impeller for your engine, and a new gasket for the water pump. Again, know where it's at and how to replace it, and keep the tools on the boat.

This isn't really maintenance, but something to think about: Make sure you use a toilet paper that is designed to fall apart quickly. The best stuff can be purchased at a marine or RV supply. Sorry to sound like a chauvinist, but make sure your female crew/kids understand to use a VERY SMALL amount of toilet paper. Just what they need, and that NOTHING but waste and toilet paper go into the head. In other words, if you haven't eaten it, it doesn't go in the head! Nothing will wreck a beautiful weekend's cruise faster than having to fix the head while you're swinging around the hook.

In the same vein: carry a spare joker valve for the head, and several pairs of disposable rubber gloves. You'll need them, sooner or later. Trust me. Been there, done that entirely too many times. (Being the cranky old man that I am, I have little signs over the heads: 'You break it or you plug it up, you fix it!' Believe me, that makes believers of most people.

These are just a few of the things you have to watch.

One thing I've learned about boats over the (too) many years I've been around them: They're like puppies. If you exercise them regularly, they don't cause you near the grief they will if you leave them to their own devices. I'm only partly kidding here. If you use the boat, things are not nearly as likely to break. Boats don't like to sit in their slips. Engines, particularly, don't like to be left sitting for extended periods. This is most true of diesel engines. They like to be used, and they like to have a heavy load put on them occasionally. It blows the carbon off the tops of the pistons, valves, etc. They don't like dirty, contaminated fuel, and the best way to insure they don't get it is to run the fuel out of the tank regularly. Even if you use the boat regularly, keep something like BioBor JR (algaecide) in the tank to kill the critters. Remember they'll settle to the bottom of the tank, so sooner or later you'll have to clean it out. Depending on how fresh the fuel is and how much water you have in the tank, that might be a very long time or very short time. A hint: Keep the tank full. No room at the top of the tank for condensation=less water in the bottom of the tank. No water in the tank, nowhere for algae to grow!

I'm sure if I sit around and think about it, the cobwebs would fall off of other things, but this will give you a little to think about.

Go out, sail your boat, have fun, and enjoy the area. I did a tiny bit of cruising up there when I was in my 20's. (Long damned time ago) and loved it.

Good luck and fair winds to you!
Cap'n Gary
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Old 08-07-2008
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For what it's worth, new boats cost just as much to maintain - if not more - as old boats.
Boat soap, degreasers, black streak removers, wax, metal polish, etc- 10 bucks or more a pop, and lots of pops on a new sweet looking boat.

Docking lines, extra chunks of rope and canvas/sunbrella; the odd can of varnish, sandpaper and paint brushes and don't forget the every so often seat cushion or hand held flare/fire extinguisher replacement..

It all adds up.

David Gerr (a well known author) has a rule of thumb of 10% the value of the boat to maintain it. That's somewhat reasonable if you average it out and also figure low price upgrades here and there. I'd estimate 3-400 a year on cleaning and greasing stuff a year, another 2-300 on other consumables (light's, batteries, engine oil and fuel filters) - and kick in a good number for 'man, I got to get one of those' moments at the boat show. Then add on the price of a yearly haul and bottom job plus fixing odds and ends (1000 - 2000 right there) and you've got a good start.
By the way, when you get said 20k boat figure on an immediate overhaul of most of the running rigging and dock lines which should run you a good couple of hundred right off the top, plus new PFD's that aren't moldy and actually still float. Do not try to save money on safety.
Speaking of which, one of the three of you needs to be in charge of safety items, one in charge of systems (diesel, electric, water) - with absolute power of budget on those items. These are not items to skimp and debate on.
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Old 08-07-2008
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It really depends on a lot of factors and it's impossible to quantify. The condition of the boat, the use of the boat (racing, distance cruising, coastal cruising, daysailing), your needs and standards, your skill set and desire to do some of your own work, etc. etc. etc. all factor heavily.

I think perhaps the best answer is: how much you got?

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Old 08-07-2008
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Don't forget... it depends on how you maintain it... if you pay the yard to do all the maintenance, it will cost you an arm and a leg to maintain the boat... even a little one. If you do most of the work yourself, it will cost you far less in money, but far more in sweat equity. However, if your goal is to go long distance cruising, then the sweat equity is well worth investing, since if something goes wrong, you'll be able to more readily diagnose and possibly fix it...since you'll be far more familiar with the boat and its systems.

In the case of Alvah Simon, this intimate knowledge of his boat may have saved his life. You can read about it in his book, North to the Night.

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Old 08-09-2008
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Maintenance costs.


Did you have the boat surveyed by a marine surveyor prior to purchase? If you did have it surveyed did you price out the various repairs she/he suggested at two or more marinas in the Vancouver area?
What are your own personal standards? To what level do you maintain the vehicles/machinery you already own? Without a valid assessment of your sailboat’s current condition and knowing what your expectation, of what acceptable upkeep/maintenance is, it is difficult to give you a dollar figure.
I am extremely picky about maintenance and try to do as much of it myself as I can. I do this because I enjoy it, I want to learn more, and I have other financial obligations that compete for my disposable income in addition to the sailboat.
My Cal T/4 is 35 years old and has an outboard engine mounted off the stern. She has no head, holding tank or the related plumbing system (use a portable camping toilet). I have a simple 12V electrical system that is powered by a battery (recharged at the dock). Mine is a simple 24’ (read cheap to maintain) sailboat.
Here is what I have spent (US $) in the last 4 years of ownership: maintenance $4,073.80, moorage $4,587.76 for a grand total of $8,661.56. Divide that by the number of months I have owned her and I have spent an average of $160 a month on maintenance and moorage (does not include the purchase price of the sailboat or the cost of my labor). I live in the Seattle area. I suspect many folks here spend 9K on a racing sail without blinking an eye. There are huge variations on “maintenance costs”.
If you have a diesel or gas inboard engine, transmission, stuffing box, one or more heads, a hot water system, radar/microwave/flat screen TV your costs are going to be significantly higher.
If you don’t maintain your purchase well then you gamble on having your boating outings marred by system failures. Those related to deferred or poor maintenance failures range from simply being annoying to possibly life threatening. Your monthly maintenance expenses are probably going to cost you more than you think.
Welcome to Sailnet & I hope the information is helpful.

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Old 08-11-2008
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Thanks for the advice so far!

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the useful advice so far! I really do appreciate it. It's hard to answer a lot of the very good questions asked because the question is preliminary to seriously looking at boats for purchase - so there are no surveyors reports etc.

To answer some of the questions: I would say our maintenance is middle of the road - the idea is to have a family cruising boat that is reasonably-well maintained and safe. My 'guestimate' budget was $4000 per year on maintenance and upgrades alone exclusive of moorage, insurance, etc. It sounds like this is not wholly unreasonable. We will try to do a lot of the work ourselves, but the mistakes made through inexperience, at least in the early going will likely eat in to some of the savings from that.

I'm leaning towards an outboard motor for this first go around - any thoughts on whether that will be a savings?

Anyone out there with a similar experience of being a fairly inexperienced first-time boat buyer in recent years who can give me a summary of what they ended up spending to get the boat into shape and keep it there?

Thanks again!

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