Fears and Worries, Finances Q&A, The Big Decision Q&A

Cruising kitty: Will I have enough money?

Pam Wall (Kandarik), Nadine Slavinski (Namani), Diane Selkirk (Ceilydh) and Aimee Nance (Terrapin) answer Tom’s question:


My biggest fear and concern about dropping everything and taking my wife (who is more enthusiastic than I am) and three kids cruising is $.

  • Will I have enough?
  • How much is enough?
  • Will I be able to earn anything underway with dive gear and being a licensed captain with systems experience?

This is always my main stumbling block.

– Tom

4 Answers

Pam Wall, s/v KANDARIK

My husband, Andy, and I were working parents of necessity. When we planned to circumnavigate we had the very same questions that actually kept us from departing for a whole year after our intended time to be able to sail away from an income. And that was a mistake. We had a little stash of money, not much, but we knew if we lingered until we had enough money, we would never leave!

So, after a year’s delay, when our children were a year older, then 4 and 7, we did finally just cast off with what little we had, and we knew we would have to make it do! We just knew! So, with that in mind, and the free air filling our sails as we headed for the great South Pacific, all care disappeared with that first breath of wind filling our sails for the voyage around the world. The reality was that we had to be very careful of what we had with us. We never felt as if we were missing anything! We were careful and smart, and found that we could survive easily on our 39 foot sloop with much much less than we anticipated. We were actually happy and proud that we could curb our land bound appetites and still sail and see the wonderful places that we made as landfalls around the world.

We did find work when we stopped in a few places. We put the two children in real schools which was great for them as they met children and teachers from different cultures. We worked while the children were in school and replenished some of what we had spent. Then we took off again, westbound, and found other work further down the Trades and again put the children in real schools which was marvelous for them and allowed us to get more in the piggy bank, and then carry on again further west.

This was how we lived and paid for the most fantastic life a family could ever ever have together!!!

It was not a flamboyant life of spending, it was a carefully thought out of what we could spend and what we did spend. Our biggest expenditures were eating out, which we just did not do often, renting cars to really get inland and see the countries not just the harbors and we always rented from RENT A WRECK type of places, and haul outs for our boat’s maintenance. Food was carefully chosen when needing replenishment and we fished and fished and fished and had a love of fresh fish that makes eating on land almost impossible now as we only could eat FRESH CAUGHT FISH that tasted completely different and so much better than any store bought or restaurant could offer.

We found work, and work found us. We had to be careful and thoughtful of the countries laws where we worked, but we always seemed to be able to work and not break any laws, which is the only way to do it.

If you asked me how much was in our budget, I could not tell you. If you asked me how much we spent, I never kept track. If you asked me how much the experience was worth, I would not hesitate to say a million trillion dollars!!! We made what we had, and believe me it was not much, work for us. We never were without what we needed and we saw the world from our cockpits and our children met and got to know people from around the world which I feel is the only hope for that elusive “World Peace”

Don’t put it off, go while you can, go before it is too late, and handle the situation as it happens. I have learned that you can make all the excuses in the world to not cast off, and believe me, don’t do that. Just go and make it work with what you have and remember your family is the greatest asset you can possibly hope for in life!

Pam Wall
S/V Kandarik

• On this website:
Pam Wall  Answers 12 Questions about Sailing as a Family

Nadine Slavinski, S/V NAMANI

 I have two answers.

1. One is the general cost of cruising, which is an excerpt from my book, Pacific Crossing Notes: A Sailor’s Guide to the Coconut Milk Run (by Nadine Slavinski & Markus Schweitzer).

The most difficult question to answer is how much cruising costs, because every sailor has his or her own definition of “necessity” and “comfort.” The best answer may be Bernadette Bernon’s “it costs what you’ve got.”

We know sailors who have crossed the Pacific on an average of US$500 per month and others who might multiply that number by five, ten, or even more. A frugal crew with an older vessel that never ties up at a marina, goes out for a meal, or hires help for repairs will be able to go on a long way on a tight budget. Their principal expenses will be boat parts, food, cruising permits, fuel, and insurance (if they purchase insurance at all). Of these, the latter two are highly discretionary. Given fair conditions, we often chose to drift along for days instead of motoring through hundreds of dollars of diesel just to make landfall sooner.

Similarly, the costs of outfitting a boat vary widely. Some crews spend top dollar for safety gadgets, electronics, and creature comforts, while others are happy with a back- to-basics approach. All in all, most cruisers report that they spend a fraction of what they do back home since transportation and accommodation costs are essentially zero. After all, anchoring is free, wind is our primary source of propulsion, and deserted atolls offer limited opportunities to spend money.

We consider ourselves cost-conscious sailors. We pay for boat and health insurance and treat ourselves to the occasional meal out while making our own repairs and otherwise watching our wallets closely. We cruised the Pacific from 2011-2014 for an average of US$90 per day – which included everything but the cost of the boat itself: food, fuel, insurance pro-rated by day, cruising fees, and parts/repairs. (We paid approximately US$1700 per year for boat insurance and US$1500 per person per year in health insurance.) Our normal daily operating expenses were much lower than that $90 average, but the overall average is skewed by periodic investments in the boat: new rigging, haul- outs and bottom paint, new engine mounts, plus one-time costs such as transiting the Panama Canal. We saved a great deal of money by cruising on a sturdy older vessel: our 1981 sloop (loaded with many extras) cost C50,000 in 2006 and sold for the equivalent of C44,000 in 2014.

That’s us. You can compare the cruising costs of various crews on Bill Dietrich’s website. Just remember, it doesn’t have to cost a king’s ransom to cruise the Pacific – unless you want it to.

2. The second is a link to an article I wrote about working while cruising, including an interview with a scuba diver and an engine mechanic. It can be found here: Here, Kitty Kitty (Blue Water Sailing website)

I also have many other information articles about cruising as a family on my author website, here.

Nadine Slavinski
s/v Namani

• On this website:
Nadine SLAVINSKI Answers 12 Questions on Sailing as a Family

Diane Selkirk, S/V CEILYDH

Having enough money is pretty essential.

But as Tom figured out, knowing what counts as enough can be hard to gauge. I think it also depends on how comfortable you are with risk. When we hit Australia we were down to six months of money and didn’t have the guarantee Evan would get a job. Our worst case scenario was this would be the end of our cruise and we’d sell the boat in Australia. So I was comfortable with the risk.

My personal rule of thumb is I want enough money for a however long I want to cruise plus six months for resettling, plus a 5-15%-of-the boat’s-value maintenance/repair budget for each year we’re out. Short-term cruisers can often defer this maintenance–but once you’re out for more than two years, or cross an ocean, big ticket items need repair or replacement pretty regularly.

As far as how much money you need to live–this really varies too. There are families that manage basic expenses for $1000 a month and others who spend 5K. It depends on where you travel, if you stay in marinas, how much inland travel you do, schooling expenses etc…

As far as what you can earn with your skills–I’m not sure. It probably depends on where you plan to cruise and exactly what services you intend to offer. We know diesel mechanics, electricians and refrigeration technicians that manage to find steady work with in the cruising community. Most cruisers tend to be jack-of-all-trade types so you would probably need specific expertise to be hired.

Diane Selkirk
SV Ceilydh

On this website:
The CEILYDH Family Answers 12 Questions about Sailing as a Family

Aimee Nance, S/V TERRAPIN

Hi Tom,

This is also the most pressing question we had before we set off to go cruising.

So far, we have found that the answer really depends on the cruisers themselves, rather than location or circumstance. We have seen families that get by on less than $2000 per month and families that seem to have unlimited budgets. It really comes down to what comforts are you willing to sacrifice for your cruising adventure. For example, we have found that marinas and restaurants are some of our biggest budget killers. Are you willing to anchor out 99% of the time? Do you plan to catch and eat your meals or are you the type that loves to eat out?

We budget about $2100 per month for everything and seem to get pretty close to that when we are in the water here in Mexico.

Also, do you plan to be on your boat the whole time? Right now, we are in San Miguel de Allende to wait out hurricane season. Many cruisers in the Sea of Cortez haul out in Guaymas/San Carlos to avoid the heat and hurricane danger of the upper sea. For us, this has been pretty expensive since we now have rent and substantial transportation expenses. However, there are a few boats that head up into the Sea and sweat it out and there is hardly a cheaper place to be.

We have also met cruisers who have had significant expenses for boat/ and or dinghy repairs. We have been lucky in this category so far (knock on wood), but having to rebuild a diesel engine on the move could obviously be a budget killer. This is something to take into consideration when boat shopping and also a reason to get a mechanical survey and rigging survey in addition to the general survey.

As far as working while cruising, there are certainly those who do it. You probably won’t make very much with your dive gear if you are talking about cleaning hulls. Most cruisers that anchor out do this themselves and you may tick off the locals if you try to do this in a marina.

There are certainly those that make money with a captain’s license. Scott from Windtraveler picked up some work in the Caribbean for a while. Also, if you can fix outboards or diesels, you will always be in high demand. I would caution you on this type of “working” only because some folks end up getting stuck in certain places for the sake of the job and for me, this is not what cruising is about. That being said, when we start running low on funds who knows what we will do to keep it going!

I hope this information is helpful to you. We post our “Cost to Cruise” every month in an effort to help those with questions like yours.

Good luck with your transition to the cruising life and hopefully we see you and your family out there one day! Best,

Aimee and Phil Nance
S/V Terrapin

On this website:
The TERRAPIN Sailing Family Answers 12 Questions about Sailing as a Family



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