How Much it Costs to Live on Your Sailboat in the Caribbean

Dreaming of upping sticks and making your weekend sailor’s lifestyle a more permanent move to fairer shores? Ready to jump off land and dive into a new adventure with your family or partner and take a break with no return date?

Or perhaps you don’t have much boating experience, but would love to spend a moment walking in a liveaboard sailor’s shoes and understand how it all works.

This week, we interviewed Lisa Chapin of SailTime San Fransisco here at She’s been involved with boats since age 7, when she would sail with her family and their dog. She now lives on her boat all the time, after spending two years in the Caribbean and another year cruising from these beautiful islands to the Galapagos. She’s one of the few women who’s both a captain and lives on her 53-foot Hatteras, and it was a delight to talk with her about her experiences and tap her expert knowledge for your benefit.

Lisa Chapin

We also interviewed Captain Gino, of course, who spent months discovering the food, the culture and the good life down in Anguilla, St. Barts, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and many more of the thousands of islands that pepper this amazing region of the world. As always, we found him in good spirits.

So with these experts at hand, let’s get started looking at how much it costs to live with your sails towering above you and the wind in your face.

Average Cost

Both Captain Lisa and Captain Gino are of the opinion that the cost of living on a boat really depends on your lifestyle. So the average cost of living on a boat in the Caribbean? “Around $1000/month*”, says Lisa. “But,” she adds, “You can easily live on a boat for less than $1000, and you could easily live on a boat for $4000.”

Breaking That Down

What will you be spending on, specifically? Gino says, “Living on a boat is very much the same as living in an apartment, when it comes to cost.” Indeed, as Chapin told us, you’ll probably be contributing to your boat mortgage and Principal Interest Taxes Insurance (PITI), just like a house; paying for maintenance, water, laundry, etc. – all the things that you would normally cover during any month on land.

Lisa is a boat broker and has helped people from all over the world buy boats that meet their needs. She warns that it’s important to recognize that 10% of a boat’s value should be set aside for maintenance. “So if you have a $100,000 boat, you’re looking at $10,000 a year in maintenance, and if you have a $40,000 boat, you’re looking at $4,000 in maintenance. That way, it really scales it and makes things easy.” She spent under $100,000 on her 53-foot Hatteras, plus $35,000 to remodel it.

Another major factor that will influence how much you end up saving is how much time you spend at the marina in the Caribbean (or anywhere else, for that matter). And what does that primarily depend on? The size of your boat.

As Lisa told us, “Most people who are out cruising are not out working, so they will probably spend ten nights on the hook, as it’s called – on anchor, and then they’ll spend two nights at the marina: when they need water or laundry, internet, food, etc. The marina is usually the cruisers’ biggest expense. It costs around 50c to $2 per foot. When it comes to boats, a lot of things are by the foot. So small boat less, big boat more. “ If you’re planning to camp out at the marina for a while: “Expect around a $150 charge per month from marinas to live aboard to cover water and other expenses”, says Lisa.

When looking at the islands specifically, Captain Gino recommends you research the different islands really well before you set sail in that direction. He points to St. Barts as an example of a stereotypically pricier island, but unless you’re dying to dine at the Eden Rock resort for $450 a night or more (a lot more), do your homework and you’ll be fine.

If you’re on a budget and St. Barts is just a must-do location for you, Jane Anderson recently wrote an article that could help you, which you can find here. She found some exciting information: you can moor at the marine park for around just $2.40 per person per day. Why not explore and go for something to eat at the Chez Rose, Colombier and get a daily special for ~$12? Or you could head over to Les Gros Islets at 17°54.015’N 062°51.509’W and anchor your 39 foot boat for around €7.90 (~ $10).

Tobago Cays

As a rough guide, the marinas in the Eastern islands of the Caribbean have “medium” rates of around $1/foot per day, according to a post on Cruisers Forum, a great general resource for sailors. “Upscale” marinas may charge two or three times that much.

Cruisers Forum’s Gord May also states that in Aruba, “…you may find yourself limited to the Renaissance Marina, in Oranjestad harbor. “ He quotes the following rates:

  • $1.00/foot a day
    $5.00/foot a week
    $15.00/foot a month
    $140.00/foot a year
    All services (water, electricity, etc) extra.

These rates are indeed similar to those offered up by Jolly Habour Marina’s website (, except that this marina in Antigua modifies its rates by the season. So it’s $1/foot per day from November 1st to May 31st, and $0.75/foot per day between June 1st and October 31st, and the longer you stay, the less you pay per day.

What are some other costs that you might come up against when you make sailing a daily activity? Well there’s kitting out the boat for optimum comfort, but you don’t necessarily need to buy the most expensive chart plotters, GPS, radar, fridge, and cushions! Provisioning the boat to your own tastes is of course essential, but you don’t need to go crazy on organic food and other luxuries if that’s not your thing. Peanut butter by the gallon might be classed as essential, however – at least for emergencies 😉

Luxuries You Might Want to Indulge In

Like with many purchases you make, sometimes it really does pay to buy the best quality you can buy. As Lisa warns, “There’s nothing as expensive as buying a cheap boat.” She goes on to tell us that buying a doer-upper can test couples’ relationships, so try to be as realistic as possible when selecting a project for renovation.

Sometimes investing earlier can help you save money later. Watermakers are the perfect example. They usually cost somewhere between $2000 and $8000. Quite a pretty penny. But think about it this way – if you’re going to be making the most of what Lisa says is “the absolute best benefit of being on a boat” – that you don’t have to stay near the land, wouldn’t that watermaker save you many thousands of times, as well as make it optional for you to go to a marina more often than not?

Working to Make Your Lifestyle Sustainable

If you’ve done some boating, you have probably noticed how sailors come from all different walks of life. Lisa’s has sailor friends that are graphic designers, although they often grumble with the difficulty dealing with large files at marinas with slow internet connections. Others work in the trades, sell their crafts or blog and write from their boat. There are many options, although steering clear of tricky work permit issues makes working at the destinations you sail to more difficult.


So are you ready to quit living on the land? Sure, you can cruise over to St. Tropez and pay an average of $2000 per night, but these days, you just don’t have to. With sailing becoming more and more accessible, there’s room for everyone to learn to sail well, grab a captains license with experience and sail off into the sunset, happy as can be. Enjoy the waves. 


*All $ represent USD at the value quoted at the time of writing.

Images courtesy of Lisa Chapin and others as labelled.

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  • pacific_waters

    I haven’t owned that stays in the water for years but isn’t maintenance cost more a function of size and material than cost? “So if you have a $100,000 boat, you’re looking at $10,000 a year in maintenance, and if you have a $40,000 boat, you’re looking at $4,000 in maintenance.”

  • Yes youre right about it being more a function of size and material. I’m just generalizing it as being $1000 for maintenance for every $10,000 worth of a boat and thats including dock fees. Remember, “In General” there are a lot of boats in the world……….. but generally speaking…………….

  • Yvette Dickerson

    I do not agree with the 10% of value for annual maintenance. A newer boat that costs more is not going to require as much in maintenance as an older boat that costs much less. A more accurate budget for maintenance would be to allocate a rate by size type and age of vessel. Perhaps more complicated but also more realistic. By the 10% rule set aside that much money each year let the boat maintenance go undone and just buy a new boat every 10 years. Ridiculous?

  • Ok Yvette, I understand what you are saying and that sounds like it’s right, I am generally speaking and use a 10% mark as a high percentage just to cover any unforeseen maintenance issues that may surprise you……..

  • Kevin Lynn Helmick

    Good article, although seems to be aimed at the wealthy. Caught my attention because it was a life long dream of mine, years ago reading stories by “sea gypsies” like Fritz Seyfarth, who would work odd jobs in port during storm seasons to finance his next adventure. Anyway, if you can find copies of his books like, Tales of the Caribbean, they’re extremely good, entertaining.

  • […] are championed for their liveability. You can entertain more people on your boat, and stretch out comfortably […]

  • […] you’re not sure how much it costs to live on your sailboat in the Caribbean, I wrote all about it in January, 2016. Also check out my upcoming book, soon to be released. It’s all about the […]

  • Captain Gino, what kind of yearly income would allow for living on a sailboat? What’s the low-end? What kind of boat and lifestyle would 50,000 net provide/allow?

  • Hugh Dampier

    Capt. Gino,sailing has been on my mind since surfing in the 60’S. What will it take for me to grow a pair and live the last years like the first60. I do not want to waste my retirement in front of a TV.But I can only make my move once .

  • Great post! Have nice day ! 🙂 kw7h8

  • I know nothing of boating/ I dream of a life I saw when I first made it out of Wisconsin to St. John. Cruz Bay, there was a young man who had a older sail boat anchored off Gallows Point. He was there whole time. If boat is paid in full, works bartending, takes dinghy to/from. I see Zero costs. Am I wrong? Anchor anywhere off an island, eat/shower/work during day/ sleep on boat at night. Other than gas for motor to navigate channels or reefs, sailing is free. Please tell me what I’m missing. Thanks.