How to Own An Old Boat and Not Lose Your Mind (And All Your Money)

Where do you start?

Where do you start?

I retired three years ago, and took a salary cut of 50 percent.  Don’t be alarmed:  I knew it was coming, and planned accordingly.  One of the expenses I planned for was our 27 foot coastal cruising sailboat.  I knew its costs (proportional to my salary) would grow by a factor of 2 when I retired, but I also knew there were ways to manage it.  If costs turned out to be more than I expected, I could get a part-time job.  So far, I haven’t needed to do that.

So what are the annual costs?  There is moorage, of course, and the amount is locally variable.  There is also the cost of winter storage here in the mid-Atlantic where I live, which includes a two-way travel-lift ride (fall and spring) and storage ashore for 4 months.  Add to that any supplies needed to winterize systems, and for our boat antifouling paint every other spring.  Spring recommissioning costs include new fuel filters, water pump impeller, and some cleaning supplies.

Then there is the project list.  Yes, the project list, because if you own a boat you should keep one of these.  What kinds of things are on the list?  Stuff you either have to do, or want to do.  Here are a few examples:

  • replace forestay (have to)
  • paint underside of sliding hatch (want to)
  • repair rotted engine-bearing stringer (have to)
  • move alcohol stove to more convenient location (want to)
  • repair rudder strap (have to)
  • replace rudder stabilizer bracket (have to)
  • paint interior overhead (want to)

You might find that you have more than two categories.  We also have a “someday” category for Cay of Sea.  A few items in that category include

  • custom dodger and bimini with bug screen enclosures
  • new mattress for vee-berth
  • refinish deck and re-bed hardware/fittings

It boils down to urgency:  immediate, desired, and someday.

“Immediate” or “have to” is what you need to keep using your boat safely every year.  These are things you can usually plan if you keep close tabs on the condition of your boat.  For instance, I knew for 4-5 years that I would “someday” need to address the soft engine bearing stringer.  I inspected it every year, and inspected all the engine fasteners along with it.  When I determined that it was becoming critical, and another season of use may occasion a breakdown, I tackled the problem.

“Desired” or “want to” usually relates to some convenience item.  Three years ago, after planning and thinking about stoves for quite a while, we bought a new stove and relocated it to a more favorable location.  We could have kept the old arrangement, but this has made our cruising much more convenient.

“Someday” is a project that you have planned for the “out years.”  It’s probably a big expense like our custom canvas project that can be postponed until the right time, for the right occasion.  This isn’t a need, but it will improve the state of our cruising life a good bit.

The way you manage the project list is to prioritize according to urgency.  If there is a condition which will prevent you from sailing safely, you do that first.  You continuously inspect your systems (hull, rigging, propulsion, sails, plumbing, electrical) for degradation and problems, and plan remediation according to your schedule.  If you are taking care of urgent matters right away, and soon-to-be urgent matters before they become urgent, you have a better chance at controlling the costs.  You also won’t be caught in that situation where a boat yard manager tells you that he not only addressed the problem you asked him to, but found 7 more that need to be taken care of.  You’ll be way ahead of him on that score.  Occasionally something will pop up that you couldn’t anticipate (this happened with my rudder strap – but I had all winter to address it) and it might displace something else you had planned for that period of time and amount of money.  Most of the time, however, you will be far ahead of the disaster/breakdown curve.  And given enough time, you can find the right service provider at the right price to do your work.

Okay - what do I do first?

Okay – what do I do first?

Patience is a virtue.  If you buy an old boat with lots of issues to address, where do you start?  You make a list.  Prioritize the list according to urgency and safety.  AND – don’t try to fix everything at once.  That is the surest method to over-spending and discouragement.  Make the boat safely usable first.  Year by year fix urgent and emerging problems.  Be sure to sprinkle in a few of those satisfying “want to” projects that make your sailing life sweeter, your boat nicer looking, and your accommodations more comfortable.

And given the time, you can do most of the projects yourself, if you are so inclined.  That is where most savings will be realized, and that is the subject of another post. . .

Related post: The Continuous Refit


    • Thanks Bob. Those of us who are addicted to sailing have to learn how to manage cost!

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