How to minimise your boat’s annual maintenance costs

16 April 2020

A pleasure boat is like a hole in the water into which you throw banknotes… This old quayside joke is a little over-the-top and not to be taken too seriously! Nevertheless, the costs of owning a boat involve more than just the purchase price. Here’s how to estimate the average annual costs of running and maintaining your boat, and reduce them as far as possible.

Though owning a boat is no longer necessarily considered an “outward sign of wealth”, boats do still remain expensive to operate and maintain. Some of the annual costs involved will likely be fixed (as is the case with the various registration/navigation fees payable in each country), but others, such as fuel costs and berthing fees, will depend largely on where and how often you sail. It is commonly said that the costs of running and maintaining a pleasure craft amount to 10 percent of the purchase price of a new boat.
Though this figure is close to the truth for a typical pleasure boater, it can be considerably reduced through the choices you make and the amount of care and attention you spend on your boat, and above all, by being willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty or covered in paint.

1. The cost of maintenance begins with the fixed costs

The expenses involved in running and maintaining a boat are too often thought of as fixed costs, and though this is true in some cases, such as with the registration fees applicable to boats seven metres and over in length and with engines producing 22 HP or more, and the navigation fees charged in some countries, there are other costs which are not fixed but can instead be kept under control, such as insurance premiums for example, for which it’s definitely worthwhile comparing the rates and services offered by several different companies!

Another important item to consider is the berth. Here again, however, there can be considerable variation in the rates charged for the same service from one place to the next. To keep this cost to a minimum, one thing you can do is opt for an anchorage rather than a marina berth during the high season, or, during the winter, choose a more economical solution such as a basic mooring or dry docking, or even simply spend the winter at a marina further inland and therefore less crowded than usual. These are all precautionary measures that enable you to significantly reduce the bill without compromising either safety or pleasure and enjoyment.

2. The costs of running your boat

We don’t all entrust our propulsion to Aeolus, and for those of us in this category, the fuel bill can quickly mount up! Though the effect of careful throttle control on fuel consumption is well-known, the results produced can vary considerably depending on the particular hull/motor combination involved.

You’ll need to learn from experience what speed your engine is most efficient at and what speed offers the best compromise between comfort, noise and fuel consumption. This quest for improved efficiency is bound to have a beneficial effect on your wallet. It will also have a similarly positive impact on how far you can sail on one tank, as well as minimising your impact on the environment. No matter whether we’re talking sail-powered or motor-powered, using fittings and equipment sensibly is something else that will greatly increase your boat’s lifespan. For example, carefully rinsing sails and protecting them from chafing and UV rays will significantly delay the point at which they need to be replaced.

3. Servicing and renewal

The list of annual boat maintenance bills you’ll need to pay also includes servicing and renewal costs, and you can’t afford to cut corners where these are concerned. The life raft, the inflatable vest cylinders and cartridges, the lights and flares, the fire extinguisher servicing: these are all of critical importance, and most require the services of qualified professionals.

The costs just mentioned are easy to plan for, as are certain other safety-related costs, such as replacing the seal on a saildrive and, at around the ten-year point, the one on the standing rigging. We are talking only about standard maintenance here, However, it’s also important not to ignore the risk of unexpected mishaps or clumsy accidents occurring, such as the loss of ground tackle or the premature drowning of a dinghy motor.

4. The costs of maintaining your boat

Though there are some exceptions, our boats are relatively simple for the most part, and there are very few routine tasks requiring a high level of technical expertise.
If you have a little spare time available, it’s quite easy to learn the main techniques required to undertake a refit or a painting job below the waterline, or to winterise your boat and carry out a significant number of small checks and repairs on it yourself.
For example, the inboard engines fitted to our boats are mechanically basic, and learning to carry out maintenance tasks is made all the more easy by the fact that you have only the ins and outs of one model of engine to learn, and most manufacturers offer mechanical maintenance courses that enable anyone to familiarise themselves with the procedures involved.

By carrying out some of these tasks yourself, you will have the double satisfaction of both gaining a better understanding of your boat and keeping annual maintenance costs to a minimum.

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Article written by Olivier Chauvin.