More and more people want to sail away and explore the world by sailboat. However, there’s still a misconception that sail cruising is only for the rich. It couldn’t be less true – if you choose your cruising grounds carefully and are ready to adapt, sailing the world can be much cheaper than living on land. We spend around £500 per month, so really anyone can do it long-term, as long as they can keep on making a little money as they sail.
Here are nine tips on how to sail the world on a budget.
Get a simple boat
Don’t fall for the luxuries of huge modern sailboats and buy a simple little boat that is easy to maintain. You want to sail the world, not constantly get stuck in places repairing your boat, right? The less things that can break and the least complicated they are, the easier and cheaper it’ll be to live aboard. Simple systems, such as manual foot pumps for water and a composting toilet take much less effort to look after and will be less likely to break, but also less costly to replace. A smaller vessel will also be less expensive to store, paint, and antifoul, as well as being easier to sail, dock, and heat.
The easiest way to save money is to anchor out as much as you can. This will save you a lot of mooring costs, which are usually rather high in the most popular cruising grounds. We’ve heard of marinas asking medium-sized boats for 100 Euros per night in the Mediterranean! What’s the point of taking your home with you, if you’re going to spend more than a hotel stay to store your boat?
The sooner you get used to anchoring, the better. It doesn’t take long to master a good anchoring technique and once you get confident in your skills, you’ll feel pretty relaxed leaving the boat for the day and going to explore on shore.
You’ll want to keep extra mooring cash away for storms or high winds, just in case – sometimes the money for a berth or mooring ball is worth the feeling of security. A great alternative, where available, are town quays – it’s often free to moor your boat and you can step straight ashore.
Since we left the UK, we’ve only ever paid for a marina once (when caught out in light winds with no nearby anchorage) and where possible, we choose mooring balls in high winds, which cost a fraction of the price of a berth (between 10 and 20 Euros). I think the longest period of continuous time we’ve spent at anchor is two months so far, so once it becomes the norm, it feels really comfortable.
Work as you go
Keeping an income while sailing is fundamental. We wouldn’t be out here unless we were digital nomads, so don’t underestimate work. No matter how frugal you are, you’ll spend money while cruising, so you’ll need to keep the cruising kitty topped up.
We work remotely on our laptops as freelancers and find that, while work slows us down and sometimes makes us change plans, this is the best route for us. Other people prefer to stop every now and then to work on land, either where their boat is, or back home. There are many ways to make money while cruising – we explore this in more depth in this article.
By researching the countries and ports you visit beforehand, you’ll be able to account for most expenses in advance – there is nothing worse than unforeseen costs. Make sure you check the cost of living of the countries you plan to go to, as well as any VISAs that may be required. Look up the towns and cities you stop by beforehand to see if there is a cheaper place just around the corner.
Marina costs are usually a good indication of how expensive a place is. Towns will also be more expensive if they are promoted as a tourist destination. If you do end up in an expensive town, make sure to go to the bigger supermarkets when shopping and to avoid spending money on attractions or car rentals.
Also take into account that if you want to take part in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers or use the Panama Canal you’ll need to set aside a good sum for these too.
Of course, there will be unanticipated expenses, such as boat repairs and unexpected upgrades along the way, so keep a contingency set aside for this purpose.
Eat and drink in
There is nothing better than a homemade warm meal accompanied by a beer in the cockpit, savoured while looking at the sunset. So why eat on shore? Eating on the boat will cut your costs right down, so unless it’s a special occasion, try to avoid going out.
You could even try and save even more by changing some expensive habits you had on land – for example, you could swap wine for canned beer, drink less alcohol or sugary drinks, or consume less meat. But remember: you want your new life to be comfortable and not feel like you’re making too many sacrifices, or you won’t enjoy it.
Of course we all want to sample the amazing local delicacies of the countries we visit, so allow yourself some budget to eat out once or twice a month. We like to try and stretch our dining budget as much as we can by going to cheaper restaurants and bars. And if we feel like we need a date night, but can’t afford it, we go out for a cheap drink after dinner – beer in Spain only costs 1.7 Euros a glass!
Fish and forage
Fancy some free food? Fishing and foraging aren’t very difficult skills to acquire and they don’t take much effort either. By getting most of your proteins directly from the sea and shore, you’ll be able to save on the most expensive food items.
We always tow a fishing line when sailing and, where we can, we go on mini foraging expeditions looking for easily identifiable seafood. We usually manage to catch cockles, mussels, mackerel, and pollock. We even caught a tuna once. Nothing compares to the taste of fresh fish and seafood.
Use your sails and the oars
If you’re serious about cruising on a budget, then you should try and avoid using petrol or diesel as much as you can. It’ll cut on costs, as well as being more environmentally-friendly and keeping wear and tear on the engine down. When you cruise, you really are in no rush, so why use the engine if you can sail, even at low speed?
We’ve done plenty of day sails and passages where we drifted along at two knots for a few hours. It didn’t bother us getting to our destination a little later and going so slow in low winds allowed us to work on our laptops while sailing without feeling queasy.
When going to shore, use your dinghy oars rather than the outboard if you can – you’ll save money in the long run. We always row to shore unless it’s too windy and choppy or we’re anchored too far from shore.
Get a good data plan for your phone
Most people set off cruising thinking they’ll simply go to a bar to get Wi-Fi when they need it. Big mistake – do you have any idea how much it costs to drink or eat out constantly, just to get on the Internet? Get a good solid data plan for your phone at a convenient price and make the most of it. This way you can work from your boat without spending an extra penny.
Boat maintenance and upgrades are the biggest expenses you can incur when cruising – the more you use the boat, the more bits will need replacing. If you do all of the repairs and upgrades yourself, you’ll cut costs by at least half, as marine professional fees are usually very high.
Did I miss any tricks out? How do you save money while cruising? Let me know in the comments below!