The A to Z Challenge Tips for Living Aboard

M is for Money Saving Tips

Friday, April 15, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

During the month of April, we're participating in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge where every day (excluding Sundays) we'll be posting to the blog . . . alphabetically. The overall theme we've chosen to tie all the entries together is living aboard a boat and cruising – things we've learned along the way: our thoughts, reflections, and tips for those just starting out or who are interested in this lifestyle.

You don’t have to be rich to own a boat but, unless you have a tree planted somewhere that grows dollar bills, saving money while on the water is an important part of boat ownership. There are hundreds of interesting and imaginative ways to keep your boat on a budget, and I’ve put a list together of some of top methods we’ve used over the last 15 years. Some of the ideas I’ve listed will save you hundreds of dollars at a time, while others may only save you pennies, but all of them work:

David diagnosing and fixing a problem with  our heating system.
Fixing Things Ourselves    
This is by far and away the most important and best way to save money on a boat. Every cruiser will tell you the same thing – boat jobs are expensive. Add a marine professional into the mix and costs can quickly skyrocket, sometimes without even fixing the problem. By doing the work ourselves, not only have we saved thousands and thousands of dollars over the years, but we’ve learned more about our boat and how things work.

Taking Care of the Boat Systems    
Take care of what you have and it’ll take care of you . . . it’s a motto we live by. David’s fastidious when it comes to our house batteries and never lets them fall below 15 percent of their overall capacity and they lasted for 15 years. Our inverter/charger is another example. It’s turned off unless we’re using it and never left to run in the background. When we’re under sail, the radar is turned on but remains on standby. If we need it, it’s there without wearing out the magnetron or cooking people in the vicinity with radiation. Not only does this save wear and tear, but it also saves amperage. The flipside to this is that it’s also important to USE your equipment and let it work every now and again. It’s not enough to come down to your boat on the weekend to run the engine. It’s also important to run your systems. 

Regular maintenance extends the life of your boat, decreases the need for repairs and helps keep a crew safe. Know your boat and keep an eye out for anything and everything that might need attention – from replacing worn halyards to regular oil changes. But the work doesn’t stop there. It’s important to wash your boat regularly and wax it annually to help protect the gelcoat from the elements (especially bird droppings) and avoid more expensive repairs down the road. 

Repairing Rather Than Replacing      
It can be tempting to replace things on board, especially with advances in technology but we stick with what we’ve got whenever we can, maintaining it properly and repairing anything that breaks along the way. It saves us money and keeps unwanted items out of the landfill.

Not only is anchoring free, it’s our preference and unless we need to provision, do laundry or have an overwhelming need for a taste of “civilization," we avoid marinas whenever we can. The rates in the Pacific Northwest are reasonable but can still run anywhere from $0.50 to $1.25 a foot during the summer months. At 43 feet, that can add up quickly, and it only takes six nights in a marina over the course of a month to double our expenses.

Making It Ourselves
Whether we need new covers for our fenders (an inexpensive pair of sweatpants and a little sewing will take care of the job), or we want to clean our teak decks (the active ingredient in cleaners is oxalic acid – something we can buy at our local hardware for a fraction of the cost), making it ourselves can save a lot of money. Want a wifi booster to keep connected when on the water?  Research the components online and build one yourself. Need a battery monitor? Ditto. Whatever it is you’re in the market for, from cleaners to electronics, it’s worth taking the time to see if you can make it for less. 

Knowing Our Prices 
We spend close to six months of the year cruising in Canada, where everything is more expensive than it is in the U.S., so we pack what we can and take it with us (including fuel). But it also pays to know your prices locally. When purchasing fittings, hardware, teak oil, deck cleaners and the like, we shop at hardware stores first. We shop around for “large ticket” items online and avoid chandleries whenever we can; but if we have to resort to a marine store, we start with companies that offer deeply discounted prices like Defender and Jamestown Distributors. And when it comes to fixing a proprietary piece of equipment aboard, like our Hurricane heater, we check part numbers online for replacements. When David changed out the fuel pump recently, he found the same one through Amazon for $100 less than Hurricane wanted for it. It all adds up at the end of the day!

Buying In Bulk   
From toilet paper to teak oil, we buy in bulk. At first I didn’t think it would be feasible on a boat, but I’m always amazed at how much I’m able to fit inside Cambria’s bilges . . . and how quickly the savings add up.

Being Our Own Entertainment     
David and I are both homebodies (which is exactly why travelling by boat suits us so well) and prefer to watch DVDs rather than go to the movies, cook rather than eat out, listen to satellite radio rather than go to concerts. When we socialize, we do it aboard (our cockpit or yours?). It’s not that we’re particularly cheap (well, I am) or that we’re living on a strict budget. We simply don’t find the value in these things, so we tend not to do them. Over the years we’ve found that free activities suit us better – kayaking, hiking, playing the guitar, beach combing, etc. For us, that’s what cruising is about – simplifying and getting back to basics. 

Library Card  
On the water?  Absolutely.  Especially if your library has an electronic collection.  You can be thousands of miles away and still check out the latest e-books or audio-books.  Just like a regular library loan, it only stays on your iPad or Kindle for a few weeks, but it’s a great way to expand your reading list without additional costs.
Credit Cards That Don’t Charge a Foreign Transaction Fee
If you spend any time outside the U.S., you already know that some credit card companies can charge you up to 3 percent on your foreign purchases. Forget about it!

How about you? Have any great money saving tips for boat ownership? Drop us a note below in the comments section or on our Facebook page. We’d love hearing from you!

Note: I first wrote a version of this blog for Three Sheets Northwest.

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  1. Great tips! One of the most important is to be able to fix things yourself. The costs really mount up when you get professionals involved. Plus, you can't always find them when something breaks down and you're in the middle of nowhere.

    Cheers - Ellen |

    1. That's so true. We wouldn't be able to stay on the water if David wasn't so adept at fixing things.

  2. Yes to fixing things yourself. Just like a house, no one cares about your boat the way you do.

    1. Absolutely! It may take us three or four times longer than a professional, but we know the work is done right and it's done well!

  3. Wow, buying in bulk! This is something I do not do, but will look into. Especially for the all important snacks and chocolate! - Lucy

    1. I love Costco and buying in bulk! What's really fun is finding a tasty bar of chocolate five months down the road that I'd forgot all about -- it's like Christmas in July!

  4. Great list. We practiced all of your tips while on Irie for eight years, except for the library card. But, we did have a lot of movies on the hard drive and digital books to keep us entertained. Fixing the boat yourself is often the only way to know that it is done right, and you learn something every day, and you save heaps of money (and often it is the only way to get something fixed in remote areas anyway)!

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary