Owning a boat is not cheap. Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about ways to lower the cost of owning a boat. Keep in mind as you read that implementing just one of these ideas has the potential to make a significant difference, but not all of them will apply to everyone.
Purchase used gear from other boaters, especially if they’re selling their boat
One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, and in the boating world this is definitely the case. When we were on the docks in Annapolis, Maryland, the boat across from our slip was being prepared to go up for sale and the owners were taking all of their personal items off the boat after having circumnavigated the world. Along the way they’d accumulated lots of items they no longer needed such as life jackets, wetsuits, navigation materials, etc. By having a short discussion with them and sharing the items on our “nice-to-have” list, we were able to make a deal and purchase items we needed for pennies on the dollar.
Online marketplaces are also a great way to get lightly used items at a discount, especially if you know exactly what you are looking for. Through our process of restoring our 36’ sailboat, we’ve found some steals on eBay, craigslist, OfferUp, letgo (U.S. only) and the Facebook Marketplace. On craiglist you can even setup email alerts for very specific searches so you don’t have to constantly monitor it to see if something you want pops up.
Get a job working in the marine industry
There are two routes to take down this road: the marine retail industry or the marine service industry. Regardless which one you choose, it will give you immediate access to discounts you don’t even know exist, and while this is the probably the most time-intensive suggestion on the list, it’s also the one with the greatest potential savings.
Working in the marine retail industry includes places like the ship store at a marina, West Marine, or any local equivalent. Before you take the job, make sure you understand how the employee discount works, because purchasing all your boat products there would be how you can easily double or triple your hourly wage with the savings. Our friends high school-aged son was a ship store employee part-time and his employee discount gave their family access to great prices on products they would have paid full retail for instead. Having a high schooler isn’t the only way to make this happen either. It’s a simple job to land for just about anyone, especially someone with customer service work experience, and usually requires only a small weekly time commitment. While you’re enjoying a nice discount, you’re also learning about all of the different boating products on the market, allowing you to make far more informed purchasing decisions – now that’s a win-win.
Going the route of working in the marine service industry will take more commitment and probably a little experience of a relatable kind but it also has an even higher savings potential than retail. Marine services companies will hold multiple accounts with vendors for the products they use and install on a regular basis and by working for a company with those, you may be able to make personal purchases through them. The advantage to your company is that your purchase is adding to their purchase volume, ensuring they continue to get great prices, and the advantage to you is a low price. Because of volume, companies also tend to have the best pricing for products they frequently use, so the type of marine service company you choose to work for should match your greatest product need. For example, if you need to redo all the canvas on your boat, you might try to work with a canvas company during their busy season delivering finished product or helping stitch things together. Most marine service companies are small businesses so if you’re able to meet a need they have for even just the busy season, it may not be as hard as you think to land a job.
Do the maintenance and repair work yourself
Boat maintenance and repair work is just about unavoidable for any boat but you can lower the cost of owning a boat by doing it yourself. The good news is that simple maintenance and repairs are usually easy to learn if you take the time to do so. There are many resources available on the Internet today (like the boat work section of our blog) and with several of the more common repairs like fixing a chip in the fiberglass, you’ll find that fellow boaters are willing to talk you through it or even do the job with you. Employees at local marine stores also usually have experience with basic projects so picking their brain while you’re there to purchase materials can be helpful too. With that said, it’s important to know when you are in over your head and should hire a professional. Always weigh the risk you’re taking if your DIY project fails. If it’s repaired stitching in the canvas, failure will likely just result in the hole reappearing. But if it’s an electrical repair gone wrong, your boat could go up in flames. Honestly consider the amount of risk and safety implications before you tackle any project you’re unfamiliar with on your own.
Live on or AirBnb your boat
If your boat is livable, this suggestion is for you. Living on your boat can be incredibly affordable, especially if you’re in a city with high rent and you don’t already own a home such as this couple in San Francisco. For many boat owners, you’re already paying the slip fee to keep your boat in the water, so why not stay there too? Then not only do you have a boat, you also have a place to live. I have yet to come across a coastal city that does not have at least one marina that allows liveaboards so do your research to find out where that is and then decide if any associated fees or rules would be a barrier for your situation. Chances are that through this process you’ll learn about others who live in your area who are also living on their boat – hello future neighbor!
If you think living on a boat is not for you, consider putting your boat on AirBnb as a way to earn some cash back for all those nights it sits at the dock unused. Before you think this suggestion is also crazy, take a look at some listings that already exist all over the world in places like the Florida Keys, Southern California, and even Greece. Is there a lot to think about before you make the choice to allow a total stranger to sleep aboard your precious boat? Absolutely. But if you’re truly serious about lowering the cost of owning a boat, you’ll do the research to see if it’s right for you.
Become an ambassador for marine companies
Some companies work with ambassadors to promote their brands. To become one, you usually have to have an influence of some kind within a community of people the brand would like to reach. For example, do you hold a board position at a yacht club? Do you have a large Instagram following? Anything you do that shows you have a voice of influence among a niche group of people is something a brand might be interested in. Oftentimes, being an ambassador doesn’t even mean free things, just discounted, which is something to be aware of. Also, you should never become an ambassador of a brand whose product or policies you do not support or want to be associated with (duh). Don’t put your credibility or reputation at risk just to save a few bucks, but it is a path worth considering if you’re looking to save some money.
You may not always be able to lower the cost of owning a boat completely… The cost of ownership can vary drastically based on the type and size of boat it is and where in the world you are.
My hope is that if you’re able to implement even one of these strategies, you’ll find the financial burden of ownership ease off just a bit. Remember at the end of the day why you want or have already decided to own a boat. For me the cost is worth it because it’s brought my family closer together, has provided a fun way to travel from one place to another, and allows me to live and sleep in my favorite place – by the ocean. If you know any other strategies to lower the cost of owning a boat or if you have a story about how one has worked for you, I’d love to hear about it!