Cruising In a Down Economy

My wife Susan and I made the decision almost twenty years ago to buy a boat and go cruising while we were still young and healthy enough to enjoy the lifestyle. Watching friends plan and work for years, then have their dreams smashed on the rocks due to health or family issues was a driving factor in this decision. The one major stumbling block in our plan was the financial aspects. We are neither wealthy, retired with a pension, or on the list of a family member to inherit a lot of cash. So how in the world would we accomplish this with no income once the dock lines were untied and we left our home waters? Those are tough and scary decisions but they needed to be overcome if our plan would work. The solution would be to buy the boat with the sale of our property and business, outfit it for extended cruising, put enough money in the bank to carry us through our cruise, and then get us to a place where we could settle in and find jobs to build the cruising kitty so we could start again. For the plan to work, we also needed to keep our expenses to a minimum without making our cruising lifestyle a bit more than a survival existence. It was important to us that we enjoy the ride and have a great time or it did not make sense to do this at all. After 17 years aboard our Mariner 40 ketch, Sea Trek, and with tens of thousands of miles under the keel, we are now switching gears and have recently purchased a Marine Trader 34 trawler so that we might enjoy some new cruising grounds that are just not practical on a deep draft sailboat.

But even that decision had to be part of the overall plan. The “new to us” trawler has a single diesel engine that is very economical and burns only about 1.2 gallons of fuel per hour. Fuel is a major expense for us while cruising, even on a sail boat, since quite often the wind is coming from the wrong direction or there is no wind at all. We are currently doing a complete refit and renovation to make the new boat both comfortable and self sufficient for cruising. Even the choice of equipment and method of installation helps in saving us money, even though the initial outlay may not make it seem so. Installing a $3,000.00 watermaker might seem like an extravagance, but if it keeps us at anchor rather than having to pay for dockage, and not having to pay for water to fill our tanks, then it does not take long to pay for itself. Once that threshold is reached, the unit begins to save money every time it is used. Likewise the expense of building a good charging system using wind generators and solar panels to keep up with our power demands, keep us out of the expensive marinas and limits the number of hours we would need to run the engine and burn expensive fuel.

One of the best kept secrets in the cruising community is the number of free docks along the waterways on the east coast of the US. Once you have made some solid friendships along the way, these secrets will be revealed to you, but they are not publicized for obvious reasons. We thoroughly enjoy being at anchor for the peace and privacy as well as the savings. Finding a free dinghy dock in US waters is getting harder as waterfront access becomes more expensive and areas are developed. But we always seem to find them, be it at a friendly restaurant that will let us tie up if we buy lunch, dinner or have a drink or two, or a shopping center that has a dinghy dock for boaters to come in and shop. We do enjoy the occasional dinner or lunch ashore and find that the eateries frequented by the locals usually have the best food, lowest prices and special offers while the big expensive places are targeted more toward tourists and expensive meals.

When we are outside of the US we love to explore the country, meet the local population and experience the culture. This can be accomplished for much less than one might expect. Quite often we have gathered a group of cruisers and all chipped in to hire a van and driver for a day or two and dividing the cost over two, three or even four couples makes this very affordable. Since the van is ours for the time hired, we can get to the larger supermarkets, wholesale houses, or shopping malls for re-provisioning or finding needed parts. While out shopping we can include stops along the way to visit local museums and historic sites. All give us a good dose of history and flavor and most are also free. We often see parts of the countryside most boaters will never see sitting in the harbor and hanging out at the marinas. There are also many occasions when we take the local transit to get from place to place. Many find this disconcerting, but we find it part of the experience. We have ridden the “chicken bus”, named because many of the riders are carrying their chickens in their laps, across Belize to visit Mayan Ruins and back again and cost us only a couple of dollars. This is probably not for everyone, since the busses can be hot and crowded with no air conditioning, but what a way to meet the natives. Air conditioned busses with movies are available for a bit more money, but still not all that expensive. We try and stay away from the well publicized tourist areas and find places off the beaten path which are sometimes even more interesting. We also cover a lot of miles walking. It is a healthy, enjoyable form of transportation and in many countries what starts out as a good walk, finishes with a pleasant ride with one of the local folks that will pick you up along the way.

This also brings up a subject that many ask when they find out about our lifestyle. How do we cover ourselves for health problems? We have opted to not carry health insurance while cruising since most coverage is not available outside the US, where we travel the most, and if it were, it would be prohibitively expensive and wipe out our entire cruising budget. The cruising lifestyle in and of itself seems to keep us much more healthy than when we are sitting somewhere working toward the next cruise. We have also found that excellent health care at a fraction of the cost in the United States is available almost everywhere we travel. Each person has to make their own decisions with this and consider existing needs and conditions, but we have found this to not be a problem for us in all of these years.

Each decision needs to be made based on how it impacts the cruising kitty. Careful preparation of the boat means less chance of breakdowns and expensive repairs. Being able to affect most repairs by the skipper rather than hiring it out will help in a big way to keep the funds in the bank. Even shopping becomes an adventure to find the local markets where vegetables, fruits, and fresh meats can be bought at a fraction of the cost of the local supermarket. While in the US, we clip coupons from the local Sunday paper to help save $10.00 or more on a weekly basis for groceries. We look for the fuel docks that offer the best prices, even if it means buying fuel before we actually need it. With the new trawler holding 300 gallons of fuel, we can seek out the docks that offer a discount for volume, something we could not do before with the sailboat and a much smaller fuel tank.

A trip to the nearest beach or an excellent snorkeling spot is only a dinghy ride away and other than the cost for fuel for the dinghy is totally free. The dinghy becomes your family car and can get you to the beach or down a beautiful river or stream that probably looks like it did a thousand years ago. Our outboard is kept in top condition to get us there and back and to use as little fuel as possible. Potlucks on shore thrown by cruisers will bring you a banquet for no more than the cost of a single dish you make yourself on board, and bring to share. Local cruiser hangouts can bring impromptu concerts and entertainment that you could never find at Madison Square Gardens. These social interactions and the lifelong friends you make can never have a price put on them. And better yet, every cruiser you meet will have another tip for you to live and enjoy this wonderful lifestyle while maintaining the bank account for a long as possible. Our cruising budget usually averages around $1500.00 per month. We have met cruisers with budgets of $500.00 per month while others could spend $5,000.00 per month.

Don’t let the present state of the economy keep you from pursuing your dreams. Remember the old days when we all lived within our means and tried to have fun in more simple ways. That is the essence of our cruising philosophy.


  1. Great Pep Talk to those in the mood to cruise. I love doing everything as the locals do when I'm in a foreign place. The whole idea of travel to other countries is because you have an interest in the culture and geography, so why not take the Chicken bus? Did you know there's a special way you hail the Safari Bus in the USVI?

  2. Glad you liked the article. Actually, the last time we were in the USVI we didn't get a chance to use the local transportation. We prefered to spend most of our time in the BVI, but that is another story. Chuck

  3. Great writing. I heeded your advise and got the WiFi system you rigged up for yourself and it works great! We are aspiring cruisers, currently working on two boats, one to sell one to cruise. i love your craftsmanship along with your stories and advice. Great blog!

  4. Thanks guys, it is always good to know that someone has benefitted from the site. That is what it is here for. Chuck

  5. I have recently found your web site and am finding it interesting and fascinating to read. Great job!

  6. Graham, Always happy when someone finds the site useful. Chuck


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