“How much does it cost to cruise in the Caribbean?” is a question commonly asked by would-be cruisers. And trying to work out how much money you need is a difficult question to answer.
It depends on many factors: What type of boat you have? What condition is it in? Is it going to need lots of maintenance or repairs? Can you do your own work?
The more you can do yourself the better. Learning as much as you can before you set off is a big advantage. Buying the best quality equipment and gear that you can afford should save costly repairs later on. Do you like to eat out in fancy restaurants and stay long term in marinas or is hanging off the hook and eating in local establishments more your style? Do you plan to fly home on a regular basis? Will you buy yacht and medical insurance?
There are many sailors living on a shoestring budget, perhaps as little as US$500 per month per couple, that limit their annual extras by hauling out only when necessary and not carrying insurance. Marinas and fancy restaurants are probably out of the question.
A thousand dollars plus a month offers a little more wriggle room but extras will still be limited. However, dining ashore by taking advantage of happy hours and meal deals or eating locally will be more affordable.
Increasing your budget to $2000 plus will allow brief stays in marinas, occasional car hire and more shore-side activities. Perhaps you will carry insurance and haul out or visit home more regularly. Or your boat may have more complicated systems to maintain.
When deciding your budget or what your budget might allow, there are many things to consider.
Customs and Immigration
Fees vary throughout the islands. Many French Islands are virtually free with little or no clearance fees. Other islands charge but their fees are not prohibitive, while a small few are exorbitant and can put a big dent in a small cruising budget.
Harbor and (Marine Park) Mooring Fees
While it is still possible to anchor somewhere off most islands for free, many now have areas that are designated marine parks where anchoring is prohibited and moorings must be used for a nightly fee. Also, harbor fees may be charged.
Marinas and Moorings
Marinas on average charge around one dollar per foot per day for boats up to 50ft. Catamarans and side-ties can be more. The rates usually reduce the longer you stay. Sometimes good deals can be found during special events and low season.
Mooring buoy prices vary greatly. A very few in marine parks are free. Otherwise prices are between $5US – $30US per night.
Hauling out in the Caribbean is going to set you back whatever your budget. Some yards charge $6US/ft or less for haul and launch but their storage rates are often more than those charging in excess of $10/ft whose storage rates may be less. Some yards include a number of free lay-days with the initial haul and launch fee. You need to watch all the other charges too; they can add up. Water and electricity are often charged by the day; air conditioners cost more. There can be live-aboard charges, do-your-own-work charges, outside labor charges, environmental charges, rubbish charges, chock charges and pressure washing. Not to mention materials and labor. Antifouling paint ranges between $150US-$300US per gallon and that will add to an already hefty bill.
Boat and Health Insurance
Boat and health insurance costs are high. Many cruisers carry neither or carry liability insurance only. Trying to get hauled or find a place in a marina is tricky without yacht insurance these days. Having insurance not only covers you but if you are damaged by another vessel, having insurance helps with the claim. Whether to carry health insurance is another question you must ask yourself.
Fuel, Propane and Water
In most places diesel and gasoline are over $6US/gallon. Water is $0.10US/gallon or more. Propane can vary between $25US – US40 for a 20lb bottle.
Local produce is very reasonable throughout the islands; imported goods are not; when you see something cheap – buy it. Alcohol varies but usually rum and beer are not over priced. Local establishments selling rotis or burgers, or bars with ‘happy hour’ prices can be very affordable.
Car hire ranges throughout the islands between US$30-US$70 a day plus. Local buses are a great way to see the islands, especially on a budget. Sometimes good deals can be found on taxi tours and excursions. Diving ranges anywhere from US$55 upwards for a one tank dive.
Cruising can be a very inexpensive way to live, where the simple pleasures are the ones that count. At the end of the day, no matter what your budget, we all sit in the same beautiful anchorages, sipping the same rum and watching the same beautiful sunset.
Rosie and her husband Sim Hoggarth on yacht Wandering Star have cruised the Caribbean and North America fulltime for nine years. Visit their blog: www.yachtwandering star.com