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Boat Buying Guide Boat Maintenance Costs

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Part V – The Budget: Boat Maintenance Costs, Fees and other Stuff

Like anything else, a boat has to be taken care of in order to operate properly and retain her eye appeal.

The saltwater marine environment is tough on everything, and what the saltwater doesn’t attack, the Caribbean sun does. Maintenance – short term and long term – has to be factored into your budget if you want your boat to be safe, have a long life and look good.

Some maintenance is simple, such as a soap scrub and freshwater rinse at the end of each boating trip. Other maintenance – like rigging inspection and scraping and painting the bottom – is more complicated, but the good news is that big-ticket maintenance items don’t usually have to be done every year. One of the things that you will determine when you find “your” boat is whether you have immediate maintenance needs.

One of your decision-making tools will be your survey, which will point out any problems that need to be addressed. Safety concerns, and any defect that your insurance company deems important, will be the things you will need to repair right away.

The way you plan to use your boat will be another factor in determining your boat maintenance needs.

For example, you find a lovely older boat, but she has moldy cushions down below. If you plan to day sail only, then you could wait for a while before you replace the cushions. If you plan to take extended trips, during which you will have to sleep below, those smelly cushions could make your nights miserable.

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A new boat is not always better than an older boat when it comes to maintenance and other expenses. A brand new boat should have no problems, but it may not come with life jackets, a BBQ grill, or fenders. Even the anchor package might be extra.

An older boat could have problems ranging from a defective VHF to a faulty generator.

However, an older boat might come with a collection of add-ons that the seller will leave onboard, such as extra sails. (Our first sailboat – a used Hunter 23 – came with five sails!) The boat might even have a dinghy that the seller is willing to throw in for little or no extra money.

A note about wooden boats: I love them! I would love to have one. Wood boats are beautiful, but it takes a lot of maintenance know-how, time and money to keep them in tip-top condition. We bought a fiberglass boat and I contented myself with adding a wood wheel. Maintenance issues addressed here are with a 40’ fiberglass monohull in mind – a wood boat has its own set of special maintenance needs.

I’ve gathered some information from various sources (special thanks to: Lavida Marine Center – St. Thomas; Grenada Marine – Grenada, Nanny Cay – Tortola, Captain Oliver’s Marina – St. Maarten, Spice Island Marine Services – Grenada, and Bahia Redonda – Venezuela) so that you can develop an idea of what your boat’s maintenance costs could be.

“Subject to Survey”

Your purchase contract should contain this phrase and you are the one who has to pay for the survey. Benson Baker of Caribbean Marine Surveyors in Tortola, BVI, gave me an estimate for survey only – exclusive of haulout – of between $13.00 and $17.00 per foot. So for our sample boat, the cost of the survey could run between $520.00 and $680.00. (TIP: The surveyor works for you and should report to no one but you. If the boat seller asks you for a copy of your survey of his boat, tell him to pay for his own. If you don’t want to purchase the boat after having it surveyed, you can be nice and authorize the surveyor to release the results to the seller, or you can offer the seller a copy of the results for half of what you paid.)

The Government:

Government boating costs are in the form of documentation and registration fees, mooring permits, etc. Consult the Top Surfing Spots for the websites that have information about documenting US vessels. Consult your local government for a list of their registration requirement and fees. Plan on a minimum of a couple of hundred dollars.


Listed below are some ballpark figures to help you get an idea of what your yearly boat maintenance costs could be.

These are estimates and price ranges only – always find out exactly what the charges will be before you contract to have your boat hauled and worked on.

  • Haulout, pressure-wash and splash or block: (about one hour – you can generally change your zincs during this time) cost ranges from $3.75 (splash) to $9.00 (block in yard) per foot.
  • Lay days: The cost is dependent upon who does the work – owner or yard – and can range from no charge (yard doing boat repairs) up to $1.50 per foot per day.
  • Yard labor: Rates range from $1.00 to $12.00 per foot, depending on the service. Services, such as preparation of customs forms (where offered) to consulting with an Exotic Materials Specials, can run from $10 to $70 per hour. Rates are labor only – you will pay extra for materials and, in some cases, you will pay an hourly rate for an assistant to a specialist. In some yards, you will pay utilities on top of everything else.
  • Bottom job: Cost of labor ($6.00 to $10 per foot) PLUS paint, which can run from $40 per gallon to $340 per gallon (yes, $340.00 per gallon – and you thought gasoline was expensive).

Now let’s consider “hidden” boat maintenance costs – stuff you that you may not have thought of, but you will probably want to budget for.

  • Tools: Even if you are not a do-it-yourselfer, you will need a few basic tools. Get the boat its own set; when you need a screwdriver out at anchor, there is nothing worse than realizing that you left your toolkit in the car.
  • Fuel: If you plan to purchase a sailboat – and sail rather than motor everywhere – this will not be too much of an issue. But what about a power boat? How much fuel can you afford each month? Can you afford to run your boat every weekend, or just once a month?
  • Foul-weather gear: No, you won’t need the thermal gear that they use up north, but you will need rain gear. You will get cold faster than you realize if you get wet and stay wet … and store-bought rain jackets are so much more effective and attractive than garbage-bag rain coats.
  • Cruising guides, chart kits and how-to books: Even if you don’t plan to go on an extended cruise, you still need local cruising guides and charts. You bought the boat so that you can go out and play, so you need know where to go! I consider Chapman’s (at around $60.00) to be a “must have” – and there are many other boating books that you will want to add to your library.
  • Life jackets: Gotta have ‘em; one for each person on board, child and adult. It doesn’t hurt to have extras, and it’s a good idea to have one for the dog. Plus, you need throwable floating cushions.
  • Linens: Plan to sleep aboard? Most of us like our bunks to have pillows, sheets and a blanket. We like to have towels, too.
  • Cookware and tableware: Depending on your boat’s amenities, you could spend days in a lovely, secluded anchorage. You may want to prepare hot meals or sandwiches; either way, you’ll need the means to prepare and consume food and beverages. Get a cheap set of everything for the boat; it will be worth it in the long run. (We tried schlepping stuff back and forth from home to the boat – what a hassle!)

You can probably get all of this stuff locally (and I urge that you do whenever possible), but if you have computer access, you can check out these on-line chandleries for an idea of the price ranges for these items: Budget Marine (www.budgetmarine.com), Island Water World (www.islandwaterworld.com), and West Marine (www.westmarine.com).

Boat Maintenance Costs limit your fun.  Staying on top of Boat Maintenance means lots of days enjoying the benefits of your work  Thanks to Roberto H
Staying on top of Boat Maintenance means lots of days enjoying the benefits of your work
Thanks to Roberto H

In sum, a few budgeting and boatyard Do’s and Don’ts:

Don’t blow your whole boat budget on the purchase – try budgeting 60% of your “boat kitty” for the actual purchase of the boat, reserving 40% for insurance, registration, slip fees, maintenance and extras.

Do plan to hire a specialist when it comes to evaluating and repairing rigging, engines, electrical systems, and any other crucial boat systems that you are not trained to deal with. An improperly installed head can sink a boat!

Don’t forget to ask about weekend and holiday hours at the yard. Half way into a major project is not the time find out that you have 30 minutes to finish a job that will take three more hours. Ask about specials, too. One yard in Seabrook, Texas offered a haulout, pressure wash and zinc change at a 50% discount if you had it done during their off-peak season.

Do let the yard manager know what you plan to do with your boat once she is hauled and blocked. You don’t want to arrive at the yard to work on your boat and then discover that the 50-foot extension cord you brought with you is useless because your boat is 300 feet from the nearest electrical outlet.

Do get a copy of the boatyard rules and regulations. If you are a live-aboard, can you stay aboard your boat while she is on the hard, or do you have to budget for a hotel room? Can the dog stay, too?

Don’t be afraid to discuss budget limitations with the yard owner/manager. Our Islander 28 was a great boat, but she had blisters. The first time we had the boat hauled, my husband explained to the yard manager that we had a certain amount of money budgeted for that haulout and that the repair bill was not to exceed that amount.

The yard manager told him that they couldn’t really tell how bad the blisters were until they got to work on them, and that limiting the budget was not practical. I explained to the yard manager that we had X dollars to spend at that time and that if he exceeded X amount, he would become the owner of an Islander 28 – one with blisters.

The yard manager tried to appeal to my husband, who just pointed to me and said, “She’s holding the checkbook.” Guess what? We had a few blisters repaired each time we hauled out until the job was completed, and we didn’t go broke in the process!

Next month: How to find your boat

Ask An Expert

David Comeaux, former owner

Rustler’s Moon, a Camper Nicholson 34.5

“Some things I did not consider/know about before we bought Rustler’s Moon:

I did not get the engine separately inspected by a qualified diesel mechanic. This would have cost several hundred more dollars before we bought the boat, and probably would have introduced further delays in taking possession of the boat, as the boat was not located on the island where we resided … but it likely would have saved us thousands in the long run.

I underestimated the boat maintenance cost in time and money of needed alterations. Unless you custom order your boat from the factory, you are unlikely to find the perfect boat. So there will be compromises, and you may have plans to “improve” the boat. A good example on our boat was shade from the tropical sun. The boat did not have a bimini, and we just decided we would add that later. Not only is a bimini more costly than you might expect, but on our boat, it turned out to be impractical to design a bimini that gave adequate cockpit coverage yet did not interfere with the rigging. As a result, we ultimately had an awning designed for leisurely days at anchor, and just made sure to apply a lot of sunscreen while underway.

Question From a Reader

Dear J Summer Westman,

I read your article in the recent All At Sea in which you said that the “Caribbean Box” in 2004 was above 12.4 degrees north. Could you tell me what is the “Caribbean Box” now? I am planning a marina in Grenada and would like to know if we are still outside the box given that we had Hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Emily (2005). Thanks.


Mike Quinn PE
Quinn Company Limited
Managing Director
Tel: 473-444-4687
Fax: 473-444-4822

Hi, Mike. I have spoken with one of our insurance experts; she says that the coordinates of the “Caribbean Box” have not changed since 2004. Although Grenada is still outside the box, it is best to check with your insurance agent for details about your coverage.

Thanks for writing,


If you are a boat owner, former owner, boat broker, boatyard owner, marine store owner/worker or have experience with any other aspect of boating – insurance, haul-outs, financing, marinas … you name it – and would like to share some of your experience, I would like to hear from you. Please send your comments, and a picture of you, your boat or your business logo, to me via e-mail at SummerVI@earthlink.net. Please include your business name, website and other pertinent information. I reserve the right to edit remarks and will submit as many as I can to the publisher, who reserves the right to do even more editing.

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  1. Thanks for giving me ballpark estimates of the maintenance costs involved with owning a boat. My husband and I have been talking about purchasing a boat so we can make use of the reservoir near our house. We’ll definitely factor these costs into our budget to make sure we get something we can afford.


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