The Cost of Living Aboard

Boaters are perceived as wealthy by the general public. And sometimes that’s the case but living aboard can be done the expensive way or the inexpensive way. Boats come with a lot of expenses, but exactly how expensive they become depends on how you approach the whole thing.

Size matters with boats because every extra foot of boat costs more. When you live aboard, you get rid of all your land bills, but you take on a bunch of new and different costs, which are usually cheaper. So, the smaller your boat, the less expensive it is for both the initial purchase and ongoing costs. Most people think it isn’t possible to live on a boat under 30 feet. Not only is it possible, it’s preferable for the lone liveaboard or couple. And if you can’t afford to make a big mistake, don’t buy a big boat.

Initial Costs

The Boat

The price of your boat is the biggest upfront cost in the whole process of living aboard. That said, don’t spend all your money upfront because there are more costs to come, both expected and unexpected. The boat should as small as possible while still meeting all your needs. Don’t buy the biggest boat you can afford. First time buyers always overestimate the amount of space they’ll need, and regret it later, especially when their loan payments are due. It’s wise to spend 60% of your budget on the actual boat, and save the remaining 40% for insurance, registration, slip fees, maintenance and all the other extras.

The Survey

When you find the boat you want, have it surveyed before you sign any dotted lines. Most insurance companies will require an up to date survey before they give you a policy. A good surveyor knows boats inside and out and usually the specific problems of certain makes and models. Use a surveyor that has your best interests at heart. They can let you know about any problems and then you can decide if the problems can be overcome or if they are worthwhile and cost effective to fix. 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.


Most marinas require proof of insurance before you’re allowed to berth your boat in their marina. Insurance companies require a boat survey when the boat is first purchased. And you may have to get a survey done every few years to keep your insurance up to date. Insurance is higher for liveaboards in most cases.

Registration/Documentation/Sales Tax

Depending on where you live, you can expect to pay for registration and sales tax, or some versions thereof.

Monthly Costs

You’ve got the boat, but now you need somewhere to put it. More often than not this involves paying a marina for a slip. Many marinas want all the money upfront for a season, but sometimes a liveaboard can work out a monthly payment deal with the management. And if your water and power aren’t included in your dockage, you can add those as a monthly cost. You may also be paying for phone, internet and cable. If you have some of your personal belongings in storage, add that as a monthly cost. Maybe you need to pay for parking too.

marina ensenada
Marinas usually have a monthly rate. This one in Ensenada looks nice.

Ongoing Costs

Every single boat needs to be maintained. Maintenance and repairs are all part of the cost of boat ownership. For newer boats, the cost is less. And the older the boat, the more maintenance it requires (just like humans). Water takes its toll on boats; sea water is especially corrosive. Sunlight, rain, ice, snow and constant movement also contribute to a boat’s wear and tear. Generators and engines are usually the first major things to go in the first ten years of a boat’s life. Other maintenance like the occasional scrub to remove scuffs and bird poop is simple. Hauling your boat out of the water to scrape and paint the bottom is more work and money. Short term and long term maintenance has to be factored into your budget if you want your boat to be safe, look good and retain its value.

Operating Costs

Living and cruising on a boat will require some more expenses you hadn’t considered. Things like tools for day to day jobs. Life jackets and charts/GPS, if you plan to be out on the water. Fuel is a cost unless you never plan on leaving the dock. Ice for food storage and entertaining. And of course any damage that occurs, maybe during an outing or a storm. Or a careless neighbour docking!