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How to make your Cruising Dollar Go Further

How to make your Cruising Dollar Go Further...

Stay our sailing for longer - that's the goal!

We have been asked many times to share how we are able to live this lifestyle in the longer term.

So, there have been lots of articles written about costs of cruising, and the work that people do in order to get cruising. Some cruise for a short term, then go back to work, some long term. Some save and wait until they're retired. Some work as they go.

And I guess for us that journey over the years has been similar. Working, cruising for a bit, then repeating the process. So, yeah, our basic formula has been to work hard, live frugally and save our pennies.

But I want to cover off on a slightly different tack, and talk to you about how we have set up our yacht to be self sufficient, and some of the things we do to keep our costs down. As, to me, this is a vital key to managing to live this life for the longer term.

"How we have set up our yacht to be self sufficient, and some of the things we do to keep our costs down. As, to me, this is a vital key to managing to live this life for the longer term".

When I first started living aboard and cruising, apart from the engine, there was no power to run any systems, food was kept in an ice-box, I cooked on a gas stove and had oil lanterns for light. Navigation was by paper chart, communication via VHF radio.

That was it.

Darren put Solar onto his first yacht, which enabled him to add lights, and fridge, and an inverter to charge his phone.

My how things have changed!

We have laptops, e-books, tablets, GPS, chart plotters, AIS, Radar, HF, VHF, mobile phones, satellite internet, WiFi, power tools, juicers, 2 fridges, a freezer, and electric toilet, lighting, a washing machine, a watermaker. We charge multiple cameras, filming gear, torches – and I spend literally days on the laptop editing.

And it's all mostly run purely from the energy we get from Solar and Wind. Amazing really.

So we have everything that we need – and if you want to live self sufficiently - here's how we would suggest you do it.

  • Buy a boat you can afford to run

  • Learn to do your own maintenance and upkeep

  • Set up your boat to be self sufficient

  • Hardstand on the ocean as much as possible

  • Avoid marina's

  • Do your washing on board

  • Use less gas in cooking

  • Air-con - do you really need it?

  • Ponder your Galley appliances

  • Vacuum Seal Meats

  • Ponder food & entertainment requirements

  • Better source your Parts & Equipment

  • Share skills and Barter

Now before we cover off on each of these items, I will just speak quickly of lifestyle.

In my years we have both have seen a very distinct change in the types of people cruising out there. There are those who are bare bones, those like us I guess who are moderate livers, then there are what seems to be a new breed of cruiser who want to transfer their land based lives to the boat. Now this is cool. Depending on how you set up your boat it can be very expensive – and importantly (for me) it can be environmentally and personally unfriendly.

So, I went to a boat show a few years back. And I hopped on board a very flash yacht. To me it looked like an apartment. And I commented to the salesman 'wow, haven't things changed'.

I mean this yacht had an actual 24v stand up fridge/freezer. They had it displayed with an espresso machine, microwave, an ice machine, TV/surround sound system. Separate TV's and air-con for each 'bedroom suite'.

The guy was trying to sell me that I could use my hair dryer and bring along all my cooking appliances. And I have to say I was gobsmacked. I couldn't stop laughing actually. Because I wanted to look at the engine, check out the systems and I wondered why it had all these mod cons however wasn't set up with a Watermaker and Solar for the longer term. And he said, with a wink, 'most people don't leave the marina luv!'

So, ignoring that generalisation, I asked him 'how do you run all of these things. Are these all 12Volt appliances?' And he said 'No. You have to run your motor for a few hours each day to recharge the batteries to keep things humming along'.

And that's where he lost me. I mean, awesome. But not for me.


I love cruising for the peace and tranquility and connection it brings me.

I love being able to get really remote, to be away from civilisation and land for months at a time.

I love listening to nature - not the sound of an engine running for 2-3hours in the morning, then again in the evening.

I love the smell of salt air, not fumes.

If I wanted to live in an industrial zone, I would live in the city.

And I can see how people would love all the of items on board, however I am not sure if people realise the cost of it. The cost financially and the cost personally.

Essentially we are living in a tiny house, and for me the noise of it would be kind of like parking your car in your lounge room and running the motor for a few hours – and trying to remain calm during the whole process. I don't get on well with noise pollution. I get agitated by the sound of an engine – except maybe when the motor is saving my ass in a squall !!

Then there is the cost of fuel for all of this. Groovy if you are coastal cruising and can pull into the next marina. But that just simply doesn't occur at a remote atoll in the middle of nowhere.

And lastly, there is the environmental cost. For me, living minimally, with a low carbon footprint is important.

I love that we are mostly self sufficient.

I love that we create our own power.

I love that we burn very few fossil fuels.

I love that we are mostly independent.

I love that we don't need to bounce from town to town in order to re-fuel and take on water.

I love that we don't impose our needs on remote communities that can also be struggling with finding water and fuel to survive.

So as I said earlier, we have many of the mods cons. However, our goal is to live as sustainably a we can, in a way that we can afford, in a way that we enjoy, which still includes some luxuries. We just have our mod cons in a different kind of way.

So, lets tackle some of the points I made earlier:

  • Buy a boat that you can afford to run.

Boats are expensive. If you need to go into a marina, or store your boat in a marina, bigger boats cost more to berth. Marina's charge by the metre, and if you own a Cat, they charge you for both hulls. It all adds up.

And remember, boats live in a corrosive environment and are constantly working – even when you are not on board. Maintenance costs are high. Specialized systems and mod cons are great to have, however can be expensive to run and expensive to fix when they break down.

Foam Upgrade to Cockpit Squabs

  • Learn to do your own maintenance and upkeep.

Boats need a lot of regular attention. Your engine needs regular servicing - and its pretty easy, so invest in yourself to avoid blowing blow your hard earned $ on hiring a diesel mechanic simply to change your fuel pump out, for example.

Thing is. You will find it hard to get a diesel mechanic to come out to your boat at anchor, therefore will have to go into a marina. Which adds onto the cost.

Rigging, would be another example. You can change out your own standing rigging (if you choose to). We don't have the swaging gear, however to save on costs we take sections down at a time, take them into the rigger, get them made up. We then re-install them.

When we changed out our standing rigging 2 years ago. It cost us about 4.5K. I have heard 20K prices being flung around. So, for us, that represents a big saving!

Repair your own sails. Now this can also be an expensive area where you can reduce your costs. Learn how to do minor sail repair, how to make repairs on your canvas work. I wouldn't say its fun, but you can save lots by sewing your own clears, cushions, squabs etc...

Additionally, you learn a new skill and you will learn more about your boat.

So yes, get to know your boat. She will show you where she needs attention. Getting onto fixes early can help avoid expensive repairs at inconvenient times!

Our Schenker Watermaker

  • Set up your boat to be self sufficient.

So we pretty much run on solar and wind power. And as I said before we have everything we need. We recently upgraded to 500watts of solar.

A couple of years ago we changed our batteries out. We used to run Trojan Wet Cells, which actually we found very good. This time round we are trying out AGM's. So, our House bank has 4 AGM's ( 220AH each) and we have a separate engine start bank.

The house bank runs all of our power consumption is either 12V or runs though a 2000watt inverter. By this I mean, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, communication tools, lights, fans, instruments, watermaker – you name it – everything electrical that we have.

Now, here's where your change in habits comes. To do this we simply run electrical items during the day. So, charge laptops, wash clothes, make water, bake bread (if you have an electric bread maker) – during the day. This ensures that you have enough battery for night time usage.

We don't have a TV, however lights and sometimes a stereo or a couple of movies on the laptop for us when we are at anchor, and enough to run our chart plotters and nav systems through the night when sailing.

Lights, we changed over to LED. Surprising how much power you can save. Darren tells me the lighting system draws 1AMP.

Think about investing in a Watermaker. This one item has considerably improved our lives.

We looked into a portable generator version, however didn't want to have to store another item, nor carry the extra fuel to run it. We also didn't want to have to pull out, unpack, hook up, run, then pack it all down again – just to make water.

We also looked at engine driven. Lots of plus's here with the higher output, but again fuel, noise...

So we have an installed 12V version with an output of 30l per hour. It works really well for us. We simply flick the switch and run it. About 3x a week say for a couple of hours suits our needs. Easy.

Now we both shower most days. We don't have long showers. And we haven't run out of water since this has been installed – nor have we had to do the dreaded dinghy run to lug 20L Jerry cans ;)

What I like about having the watermaker is that we can go to remote areas and not have to ask them to share their valuable resources with us. We are privileged to visit amazing places and communities, and don't feel they should have to supply us because we choose to go there.

So investment wise:

Solar panels $500

Wind Generator $1500

Regulator $150-$300

4x 225AH House Batteries $1600

Inverter $300

Watermaker $6000

So, for an investment of a little over 10K we live completely under our own steam as far as power and water consumption goes.

I would also add, consider investing in a Wind Vane or Hydro Vane. These are a fabulous self steering system that do not require power. Your instruments and electronic self steering do consume a lot of juice.

We have one on the list... The List... The List... ;)

Darren fitting insulation

  • Hardstand on the ocean as much as possible.

Think of jobs that you can do whilst on your boat. Now I know there are restrictions for people living in marina's, however I am talking cruising here.

You can paint your decks, replace your rigging, do your internal woodwork and painting, re-bed toe rails and deck fittings, service your engine – all at anchor.

Yes, you have to think carefully about how you will dispose of your waste, but it can all be done, by you, without the added cost of dusty hardstands.

Darren once even fitted a sea-cock whilst in the water. He took the boat up a creek, moved all his gear over to the opposite side of the boat to help lay her over enough, then changed the sea cock out. Brilliant!

  • Avoid Marina's.

Sarean hasn't seen the inside of a Marina in over 5 years. (I can hear some of you gasping!)

Wonderful places to meet people, eat, drink, be merry. Easy to get on and off your vessel and great that someone will come and catch your lines for you. Some even deliver a daily paper!

However be mindful that, marina's also charge a premium for fuel, so we try to find diesel and petrol at a local supplier.

A marina berth for us is about $75 per night. For a Cat of our length it is $130. No wonder people who spend a good deal of time in and out of Marinas find cruising expensive!

Now this marina avoidance business can vary depending on where you are cruising - what the coastline is like, for example. It may not be hospitable to anchor out. Some people like the easy access to land, and need to plug in to top up power.

Luckily, because of the setup we have, even if we did go into a Marina we probably wouldn't even plug in!

  • Do your washing on board.

We've been doing some big messy boat projects, so in the past few weeks I have been taking our washing to a laundromat. So 2 loads of washing and drying has been costing around $26. Now, on a regular basis, those costs would add up. And remember, as a cruiser, you may not come across a laundromat for weeks even months.

I used to shove my washing into a lidded bucket, tie it to the deck and go for a sail. Things would generally have had a good old wash by the time I got to my destination. Then I would go through the process of rinsing and wringing them all out. It's a ritual I used to enjoy ;)

We have recently purchased a Twin Tub. We like this as we can re-use the water and it has a spin cycle. Bonus all round!

There are tonnes of options out there and you can run them off a good inverter. Watch you water and power requirements when purchasing.

7-minute meals in the Pressure cooker

  • Use less gas in cooking

So this is a good tip. Especially prior to passages, I cook in batches. We use a pressure cooker a lot, as it cooks quicker, therefore saving on gas. I then freeze down the remainders or use them up during the following weeks.

You can also get thermal cookers, Wonder bags and solar ovens, that will slow cook your meal during the day.

I have a solar oven on my wish list - I just don't know where I will store it as yet ;)

Shade sails on Sarean

  • Air con - do you really need it?

So running an air-con unit can be really hard on your batteries – almost impossible. Consider also the cost, noise and smell, in running a generator.

So some secrets we have found to living without air-con is to create airflow in other ways:

  • Install 12V fans

  • Sew or purchase windsocks – they push through a surprising amount of air.

  • Create shade. I have sewn shade sail triangles which we suspend over the deck. We also have an awning that rolls out of the side of the stack pack on the boom. These two things reduce the heat through the deck considerably.

  • Think about insulation. We are in the last stages of putting insulation in behind our head linings, under the decks and along the ceilings.

  • Also, thick curtains and shade curtains on your windows and hatches help keep heat out.

  • Ponder your Galley Appliances

I have a friend who runs her engine every time she wants to make a coffee. She thinks I'm nuts ;)

I don't know if you can get a 12Volt espresso machine. I don't know if you can get one that would run on an inverter. Luckily, we are tea drinkers.

However we do have a French Press for guests, which makes a darned fine brew – and only uses gas.

Also consider purchasing a hand blender, 12V appliances and/or appliances that will run off your inverter.

  • Vacuum seal meats.

Now this is a goodie I learn't a few years back. Vacuum sealed meats don't need to be frozen. They will last up to 3 months chilled. Another small way to save on power consumption.

  • Food and Entertainment.

So turns out this is one of the biggest spends on the cruising budget for most people.

When it comes to socializing I really enjoy getting people over, with everyone bringing a shared plate.

When we go out, oftentimes we will share a main and we find eating local brings the price down.

Also when provisioning, if we are in a bigger town or city, I try to find wholesaler or bulk supply store.

Some people find it challenging to step outside of their usual foodie zone, and can spend quite a lot sourcing a particular brand or item.

  • Parts and Equipment

We try to carry a sufficient amount of spares. This can be tricky depending on where you are cruising, however generally you can track down items on the internet to be sent in, or shop locally.

So yes, we don't always shop at Chandleries. We source things like fuel pumps from farming and machinery suppliers. Or water filters from hardware stores... So yes – think laterally when sourcing your gear.

As an aside, we have changed over to battery powered tools, which has been a boon as we don't have to run our emergency Genny to run them. We simply re-charge through the inverter.

A wonderful new cruising friend!

  • Share skills and Barter

You meet the most amazing people within this big wonderful cruising community, who have a wide variety of talents and skills. Don't be shy to ask for help. You will be surprised by how many will offer their skills. It creates community and fosters long term friendships.

A great way to thank can be with a meal, or to share some of your skills where they have a need in return.


So, I hope that has given you a few more ideas on how you can be a little more energy efficient and reduce your environmental impact - and make those vital cruising dollars stretch further!

Please feel free to share this post with friends.

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Thanks so much for reading - wishing you Fair Winds and Following Seas!


Have A Wonderful Day!

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