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The Frugal Mariner
Saltwater Suzi and Cap'n Larry's "Boating on a Budget"
How to's, Information, Education & Fun Stuff about Boats, Sailboats, and Cruising
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Cruising on a Budget
(while still keeping the Captain and First Mate Happy)
We have met lots of cruisers out there. Some seem to have an unlimited budget; some seem as poor as dog meat. Almost all seem to be enjoying themselves.
I’m telling you, if we can do it, almost anyone can do it.
We were never rich. By most people’s standards we were hardly even in the bottom of the middle class. We had to sell our home, our belongings, and invest all of our savings to buy a boat and go cruising. We, like many, burned our bridges behind us.
Maybe you are fortunate enough to be able to afford a boat and a home. Our boat had to become our home. We had to commit to a lifestyle we knew very little about. We have been married for forty-two years. We are completely committed to each other. We have lived aboard and cruised for the last almost 14years. Well, we’ve lived aboard anyway. We keep running out of money and have to pull in somewhere and work.
But when we are cruising, we do it on the cheap but comfortably. Well, to an extent comfortably. We bought a 1977 Morgan Out Island, 41 feet long, center cockpit. It had many, many things wrong with it. Though we had had a survey, our ignorance (some may call it stupidity) kept us from understanding just how much needed to be done to get it ready for cruising, let alone comfortable cruising.
So we learned. Our twin daughters, eighteen at the time and just graduated from high school, wanted the experience, and opted to join us. They and Saltwater Suzi (she was just Suzi, then) worked while I fixed the boat. It was out of the water and we needed to install through-hulls, clean and paint the bottom, repair the rudder, replace leaky portlights, repair all the decaying DC wiring and the plumbing which was either not functioning or leaking and on and on.
You wanted to learn how to cruise comfortably on a budget and here we are telling you tall tales about how we fixed our boat. Well, we’re telling you this for a reason. There is an awful lot to a boat. And you can either learn to repair it and upgrade it yourself or you can hire it done. If you hire it done, you will pay at a minimum $60.00 an hour (that’s off-season for refinishing work). The usual is more like $85.00 per hour. They supply the parts and they make a tidy profit on that, too. We know; we have worked in several boat yards. We’ve also worked at chandleries. Their mark-ups can sometimes make piracy at sea seem like petty larceny.
Money $aving Tip #1
So the first thing we will tell you is that you MUST learn to repair and upgrade your boat yourself. Is it hard? Yep. But if you’re the least bit handy, willing to ask questions, to learn, to make mistakes and admit them and try again, you can do it.
There are books you can get which will help you to understand what you need to know. Elsewhere on this website we have some elementary how-to’s which you can read. We will also have step-by-step, illustrated guides to the upgrades I have done on Kanau, our own boat. Here is a list of some of the books we’ve used and recommend:
We've done some shopping for you and found some good prices on the Internet - so you can just click on the blue names of the books above. We've also included some of West Marine's prices for comparison. West Marine is really nice to have around for something you need in a hurry - and sometimes they'll match prices if you can show them an ad. (To be fair - they have no shipping charges at the store - but there is sales tax.)
There are some helpful web-sites (besides this one) that go a long way in helping the new (or experienced) boater.
Here's one which offers quite a few Do-it-yourself boat projects, upgrades and repairs:
The Marine Do-it-Yourselfer with Bob Pone.
You will find other helpful information on line by searching for the specific repair or upgrade project you have in mind. Just be careful which advice you take - some may be a little shaky.
Okay, now you can fix your boat. You’ve purchased all of the tools and spare parts and books and you have them on board. What next?
Next, if you are new to boating you need some knowledge. You need to know the Rules of the Road. We have a summation of the Rules and some links on this website.
We would also recommend that you take some boating courses. Both Suzi and I belong to the U.S. Power Squadron. We very, very highly recommend that you join. Their courses are excellent and frugal - (that’s what this site is about, remember?) You can find a squadron near you by following this link.
Join the U.S. Power Squadron. Their courses are excellent and inexpensive. You will be able to take their standard courses: Seamanship, Piloting, Advanced Piloting, Junior Navigation and Navigation. (Read about them by clicking HERE.) Also offered are many elective courses: Cruise Planning, Engine Maintenance, Marine Electronics, Sail and Weather. The courses will only cost you for the course materials - usually about twenty bucks. And THAT is a BARGAIN! (Read
Now you need to decide where you’re going, and how long you will be gone. If you are a cruising couple, these (and all) decisions MUST be made together. If not, you may end up cruising by yourself.
Cruising by yourself? Some people do it. Many prefer it. We can’t recommend it. (Imagine seeing an alligator, or a whale, or your first glimpse of a tropical isle; it is hard not to say, all excited like, “Quick, come look, it’s an alligator, or a whale, or a tropical isle!” And there’s no one with whom to share it. Man, will you feel dumb.
So, if you don’t have someone to share the experience with, we recommend you find someone.
about the elective courses by clicking HERE.)
You'll find, too, that taking the Power Squadron's advanced courses will save you money on boat insurance. Check out Saltwater Suzi's advice on insurance.
Once you learn how to navigate, you’ll need charts, electronic as well as paper. Either way, it can be expensive. Here’s a real money saver:
Download your Nautical Charts for FREE Click HERE.
These charts work in some navigation software such as Capn Voyager, which we use, and we update our charts before each cruise.
Another, even scarier scenario (hey, that's fun to say): you’re waiting for a bridge opening, maneuvering among eighteen other boats, the current is swift. And you have to poop. Yikes!
Get a First Mate. If you’ve got a boat capable of cruising, you are a magnet for the opposite sex. Unless you’re a curmudgeon, it shouldn’t be that difficult. We have met more than one single sailor who seems to have a new ‘crewmate’ frequently. After two or three or four, one settles in permanently.
Before you go anywhere on your cruise, you need several short ‘shakedown’ cruises. This is a must also. We’ve seen more than one cruiser, or cruising couple who bought the boat, sat at the dock while all upgrades and repairs were made, and then left with little or no experience. One was back in under forty-five minutes. The first mate was off the boat in a second asking for a good strong drink. It was supplied and glugged down in a single gulp and the hand outstretched for more. We met the Captain at anchor in Florida a few months later. He was dejected, engineless and First Mate-less. A very unhappy fellow.
So take the boat out. Take it out after you have added anything new, or repaired anything. Even if only for a few hours. Each time you go out, you will gain more confidence. You will gain more experience. When you know everything is working, take the boat out in weather that is increasingly less than ideal. This is more for seasoning the crew than checking problems with the boat. Most of the time the boat can take much more than the crew - especially if the crew is inexperienced.
Being happily married, Saltwater Suzi and I don't belong to the organization, but we have met and socialized with some members and feel comfortable in recommending "Singles on Sailboats." If you're looking for a First Mate or Captain with whom to share your experiences - and maybe expenses- it's worth checking them out:
If you are indeed a frugal boater, you will spend a lot of time at anchor. (Staying each night at a marina is not the way to save money.) First, read our advice on anchoring, and then practice, practice, practice.
First rule of anchoring: You can’t have too much ground tackle. We have three anchors, each always ready to deploy. We have a CQR, a Danforth, and a Bruce. Each is about one size up from what is recommended for our boat. Each has about 80 feet of 3/8” chain and 300 feet of ¾” nylon rode.
Anchors are definitely NOT a place to practice being cheap. Frugal is Okay. But not cheap. The boat came with one anchor. We bought the others used. We got most of the chain used - though it was in very good condition. And we bought the nylon rode at a discount. More on discounts later. (Just like the teasers, on TV - details after these messages from our sponsor.) We seldom use all 300 feet of rode, so when one end starts to get worn, we turn it around and use the end which hasn’t seen much service.
Once you’ve got your ground tackle and know how to use it, what conditions to use what anchor in, you’ll be set to save a lot of money cruising. Marinas cost a bunch especially for transients. That’s what they call you. They know you won’t be staying long so they have to get all of your money at once.
So you’re not going to stay at marinas, but you still have to get ashore to get groceries or see the sites or do the laundry. But you still need to get groceries... so you need a dinghy.
Have patience. While you are getting your boat ready for your first cruise, make a list of the major items you want for the boat which are not absolutely essential. Auto-helm, dinghy engine, radar, better boarding ladder, backup VHF radio or GPS. Many things which your used boat has may be serviceable, for the time being, however, you know some of the worn stuff is going to crap out on you. And Murphy’s Law will step in and insure that it will crap out at the most inopportune time. Put that stuff on your list, too.
Now, with your list in mind, keep your eyes open. Look for used items posted for sale in the marina bathrooms, community bulletin boards, and penny saver.
Go talk to the guys that work in your marina - don’t bother them while they’re working though - they’re on the clock and somebody is getting charged seventy or eighty bucks an hour. Offer them a beer (or 2) after work and just get to know them. After awhile, you’ll know when, you can drop the hint that you’re looking for good used stuff. And ask them to keep their eyes open for you. And then hand them another beer. Often, the guys that work in the marina know when someone who has more money than sense is buying the biggest, latest, coolest gizmo and is going to just toss his old one. (Honest, this really happens all the time. I work in a marina and it really does.)
Be careful that what you buy used is in good serviceable condition and particularly that it is better condition than your old one. If you’re not sure, ask a pro - they’re your buddies now, remember?
If you wait long enough, you’ll find just the thing you need.
So you need a dinghy. Pick out a good used one. New one’s are really pricey. Sometimes you can get the engine with it, too. They’re also expensive. Most people get an inflatable - they’re lighter and more manageable. If you can get a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) for a good price, they row and plane better - make sure that it is Hypalon rather than plain PVC because of the UV resistance of Hypalon. (Though there is a product called 303 Protectant by 303 Products to protect the less expensive PVC, we know too l ittle about it to feel
Here we have two dolphin scratching their backs on our anchor rode while we rested at anchor in Georgetown, Exumas
Store your dinghy on deck when you expect high seas. And lash it down well. Use davits to store it otherwise.
Another big advantage to a used dinghy is that it is less likely to be stolen. Remember, there are places you might go where the value of your little dinghy and engine represents a years income for a local. Lot of temptation there. If there’s a nice shiny one sitting next to your tired dinghy, guess which one gets stolen. Lock it up anyway. And maybe take some crucial part with you. One couple we knew would pull their dinghy up on the beach and remove a screw-out deckplate they had installed in the rigid bottom of their inflatable dinghy. They would unscrew the plate leaving a 4” gaping hole in the bottom, pretty much insuring that if their dink were stolen, it wouldn’t get far.
comfortable recommending it. If you buy the dinghy used, you don’t know whether the previous owner used it.) Avoid the very old. Avoid those with many patches. Avoid off brands. Especially avoid off brands of dinghy engines. It can be difficult to get parts when you’re in some backwater island in tropical paradise.
Towing your dinghy behind you causes too much drag. WAY too much drag. It will result in higher fuel costs or slower sailing. (If you don’t believe me, tow your dinghy behind your boat on a long painter. Get your boat going six or seven knots and go to the back and try to pull it up to the boat. Then understand that the effort it takes would be the same as someone standing on solid ground behind your boat, pulling exactly that hard.)
So now you’re out there and you’re traveling and meeting new and interesting people, both ashore and on other boats. And life is good. But you need to do the laundry.
So you can go ashore and walk or take a cab to a Laundromat (or maybe some kind soul will offer you a lift - it’s surprising how often that happens - we have found that people along the water are very generous and helpful.)
And you don’t want to sail naked as we suggested earlier. (By the way, it does have other advantages besides avoiding laundry and tan lines; it’s a lot more fun applying sun tan lotion to each other, and as an added benefit, if you’re old like we are, you get your choice of anchorages. Everybody leaves. )
But seriously, folks, here’s what you can do: Throw your clothes in a bucket of water with a healthy amount of ammonia. Do it on deck and stand upwind. Stir it around a bit, wring it out and hang it up on the lifeline to dry. The ammonia will evaporate. And your clothes will be clean. (Suzi says about a half of a cup of ammonia to two gallons of water)
Save money on food: catch fish. We're not much good as fisherman ourselves so we can’t offer any good advice. (We dragged a lure behind us all over the Bahamas and never got a nibble, however, others did and often caught fish larger than they could eat. So we frequently were invited for dinner.
Save money on books - almost every marina has a “put and take.” Bring your old books in when you’re getting fuel and leave off the old and pick up new.
Swap CD’s with friends. It’s illegal to trade in copies and we would never recommend that you do anything illegal. But we're not lawyers. It may not be illegal if you’re far enough offshore. Or if you put them on your iPod. Legal types: any objections???
Buy what’s produced locally. Take soft drinks to the Bahamas, for instance, but buy your rum there. Lot’s of it. We have friends who make their own beer on board. We don’t know if they save money, but they sure are popular at an anchorage and get invited for dinner often.
If you’re musical, you can sometimes cage dinners or at least snacks and wine. Larry plays guitar and sings, and it’s always in demand, even though he's nowhere near being a professional. People particularly like songs you’ve written yourself. Larry wrote one for Suzi which is where she got her Saltwater Suzi nickname.
Free is good. Trading is good. If you need something, a part, a manual, a tool, whatever, get on your VHF and ask. Don’t be afraid to ‘dumpster dive’. Bring a case of cheap cold beer into any working marina on a Friday night. Get to know the guys. You’ll soon have access to their spare, extra parts bins.
If you’ve picked up skills working on your own boat, you can offer those skills along the waterway. Marinas, especially in the south, are always looking for people. And they seem to be used to people only working for a month or two. Suzi and I have done it many times. And been asked to come back. As long as you can do what you say you can do and show up everyday, they’ll pay you for it. You won’t get as much as you’d like per hour, but, hey.
Start a website - or three or four and sell information - like this one - all right we're giving it away - but if you buy something through our links we get a few pennies. And if enough people pay us a few pennies, it adds up to a few bucks.
Starting and running a website can be time consuming and if you have little or no experience it can be a difficult learning curve. If you don't want to go to all of the trouble, there are other ways to make money on the Internet. We have a site at Cafepress selling nautical t-shirts and other stuff. All we have to do is come up with the design, upload it, and put the right tags on it so it can be found. If people like it, they buy it. We started ours a little over a year ago and it profits about $100.00 a month. We expect sales to increase with referrals from the Frugal Mariner. Take a look at it: Fun and Funny T-Shirts for Boaters . We made over $250.00 in December of 2010 - not a lot of money, but we didn't lift a finger to make it - except when we originally designed an uploded it.
Try working somewhere that does work that you need to do on your boat. Saltwater Suzi has sewing skills and has worked in canvas shops here and there. She has made all of the cushions, the bimini, side curtains, the sail covers, winch covers, pillows, bags, etc. working evenings and weekends when the place she’s working for is closed. And she can get the material wholesale. A bimini, for instance, the size of the one we have, with side curtains and dodger can cost five or six thousand dollars. She has done it for a few hundred. Our daughter, Colleen made the first one for us.
(By the way, when it comes to biminis, the bimini, which came with our boat, was black. Don’t, DON’T, DON’T have a black bimini. The heat they absorb and radiate below is horrendous! Noon in July on the Chesapeake you couldn’t stand to be in our cockpit. You couldn’t even touch the stainless steel frame. Lighter colors. Always lighter colors. ‘nuff said.
Cut your own hair. Cruisers, wherever they go are easily recognized as cruisers. They are always slightly rumpled, always seem happy, and many look as if their newspaper delivery boy cut their hair. The reason for that is they don't spend money on haircuts - they cut it themselves to save money. Nobody cares how we look, why should we? I've cut mine for years. It really isn't that difficult. Google "cut your own hair" and pick the method that seems right for you.
Now, I’ve talked quite a bit about saving money while out cruising, but not too much about the creature comforts. Remember the title of this article said Cruising on a budget (but keeping the Captain and First Mate Happy)
Lin and Larry Pardey have a book called:
the Cost Conscious Cruiser . We recommend it highly. Along with any of their books. (Lists for $29.95 on their site - and if you can afford to, buy it there - out of respect for them and what they’ve accomplished - but if you are really a Frugal Cruiser consider go with this link:
and save about ten bucks - equivalent to three bottles of cheap rum in the Carribbean).
While I recommend their book, they are much too Spartan for my tastes. They go without many things to which those of us who grew up on the land have grown accustomed. Things like refrigeration, a microwave, computer, stereo, stove, oven, a hot water shower and a televsion.
These are things you can do without while you are cruising. But, in my estimation, this isn’t just a boat; it’s our home. I’ll do without my reclining chair. I’ll do without my woodshop in the basement. We’ve even done without a car. And Suzi will do without her washer and dryer, and without her sit-down bathtub, and her automatic dishwasher. But that’s where we draw the line.
We have installed a big battery bank, a high output alternator on the engine to keep them topped off and a 2500 watt inverter. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Every cent.
And we bought a used water maker, which I haven’t installed yet. And we have an Electrosan for each of our heads so we don’t have to have so many (expensive and inconvenient) pump outs.
But how do you afford all this expensive stuff? I’ll tell you this; you don’t go paying full pop.
Talk to your boat broker. At the beginning, when we first bought the boat, we had very little experience at saving money in the marine industry. And we probably made many mistakes.
But our broker, bless him, saved us lots of money. He told us to make a list of everything we wanted. And he took that list - probably 18 or 20 thousand at full list - and put it out to bid at several chandleries, including West Marine, Fawcett’s in Annapolis, and others, including some directly to the manufacturers.
If you are outfitting you boat, go get a job at West Marine. They are always looking for people. They don’t pay much, they don’t even offer commission. BUT, their discounts for employees are amazing.
Consider shopping for your boating supplies in hardware stores or in camper trailer stores. You must be careful though that you get marine quality product. A boating store’s stainless steel products are 316 grade - or should be. Hardware stores just as often carry the 304 grade - stainless or not, that stuff will rust! Voice of experience speaking here. However, we have had good luck with water pumps purchased in camper stores. Often, the only difference is the packaging. It says “Marine Grade” stamped onto the item you buy in the marine store. Other than that, and 40 or 50 dollars more in price, there seems to be little difference - even catalog numbers are the same. We doubt very much if a manufacturer is going to make a special run just for the marine industry. It just wouldn’t be cost effective. We could be wrong in some cases, but for the most part we think it's true.
If you shop at West Marine without at least a Port Supply card, take a Defender catalog with you, in some cases they will match prices. (Port Supply cards are their way of selling ‘wholesale’ to retail dealers. It’s about halfway between full list and their cost. Though watch for sale items - sometimes the Port Supply price is higher. If you work for someone who has one you can usually get them to purchase for you.)
We’ve rambled for over 3,500 words. We’ll stop now. We think you’ve gotten enough ideas to keep you cruising on a limited budget. If you have any ideas yourself which you would like to contribute to other boaters, please e-mail them to us and we will add them to this.
One of the best bargains in the boating business is the BoatUS towing insurance. You get unlimited coverage for $129.00 bucks a year. Click here to check it out.
Any discussion of cruising costs needs to include Annie Hill's excellent book: Voyaging On A Small Income
Calculate your boat's speed and fuel efficiency at different RPM's. If we travel in our Morgan Out Island at 1800 RPM's we travel at about 5.5 knots, we burn about .86 gallons per hour.
If we run it up to 2000 RPM we burn about 1.3 gallons per hour and travel about 6 knots.
If we are traveling 50 miles (typical day's run when we are traveling on the Intra Coastal Waterway) it takes about 10 hours or 8.6 gallons at 1800 and if we run at 2000 it takes 8.3 hours and we burn 11.2 gallons.
We are real friendly and outgoing and help out whenever we can. So we get invited often. (friendly = frugal) It’s good to bring a bottle of wine or some crackers and cheese. An added advantage is we don’t need to filet, clean and cook the fish.
Shopping in Used Boat Products Stores can save you lots of money. However, and this is a BIG HOWEVER, research before you buy and do not impulse buy. We have all too often seen used items in these stores selling for higher prices than they sell for Brand NEW! Take a boat Catalog with you. If you see something you might want, compare before you buy.
This is Kanau, our Morgan Out Island at anchor in Georgetown, in the Exumas. We made it this far on a very tight budget and enjoyed ourselves the whole time. If we can do it, almost anyone can do it.
Do a lot of research before choosing your cruising boat. We chose the Morgan Out Island 41' center cockpit ketch. She needed a lot of work when we got her, (so the price was low) but she's basically a very sound boat We've put a lot of time into doing upgrades and repairs. We shopped carefully for parts and materials to keep prices down.
While out cruising, you'll see beautiful scenes like this. Keep your camera handy. We upload photos like this to Cafepress and make a little extra money selling calendars.
An added advantage to working in a marina is that you often get access to perfectly suitable but discarded items.
We have picked up free a roller furler for our jib. (The original owner was upgrading and just left the old one - which we have used for years.)
We found a perfectly suitable stainless steel boarding ladder in the dumpster. (It needed new steps that I made out of scrap pieces of starboard.)
We got dinghy davits for our boat when some boat owner got mad at his. (He forgot to pull the drain plug on the dinghy, which filled with water and the added weight cracked his transom. In frustration, he tore off the davits and threw them away. They’re mine now.)
We got all new solid stainless steel rub rail to replace our dinged up aluminum rub rail. (A guy we knew on a fancy Hatteras saw some scratches on his and had it replaced. We saw the old rub rail lying next to his boat and asked him what he was going to do with it. He said he thought he would recycle it. We offered him a case of beer. And walked off with about $2,000 worth of stainless steel rub rail. An afternoon in the shop with a grinder, and sander, and polisher (just walk through the grits) and it looked like new. Beer goes a long way.)
We can’t tell you the number of things that were perfectly serviceable or easily repairable that we’ve picked up cheaply or (usually) free. Pumps, toilet, anchor chain, teak, an autohelm, light fixtures. You just have to keep your eyes open, be extra friendly and keep cold beer on hand.
Everybody came back with an itemized bid, expecting that we would be buying all of the items at one place. We took the lists and did a pick and choose and saved about half. We bought a stove, refrigerator, Electrosan, 2500-watt inverter, water heater, pumps, plumbing, etc. etc. at great savings.
So when you are purchasing your boat - talk to your broker. He may be able to get you some good deals.
The difference is about 2.9 gallons. If fuel is about $4.00 per gallon that's $11.60 a day. After about 20 days travel time that's $232.00. Check out our BOAT MATH page if you need help with the calculations.
Do your own math for your boat. There probably is an optimum speed if you spend the time doing the calculations. You need to do the calculations over a long enough period of time to balance out the affects of currents with you or against you.
And sometimes, you may want to travel a little faster to get to your planned anchorage before the crowds arrive.
Please enter the discussion. Leave a comment; ask a question; answer a question; voice an opinion. Please keep it civil - and no spam. This IS monitored.
Check this link for what West Marine currently has on sale. Always, ALWAYS buy when stuff is on sale.
If you want to keep the sun off of your dinghy, but don't want the hassle of taking a full dinghy cover off and then putting it back on each time you use it, what you need are dinghy chaps.
Saltwater Suzi made this one for our dinghy. It's lasted for years and protected the dinghy just perfectly. You can have a custom one made for your inflatable, or you can make one yourself. Here are a couple of links on how:
Making Dinghy Chaps
Instructions from SailRite
From 'Good Old Boats'
If you haven't done this before, it's a good idea to read all three.
Another Money Saving DIY tip