Like cars and houses, boats need maintenance, but unlike the other two, they need more of it due to exposure, salt water corrosion, and stresses that come with being a seriously mobile platform. The total cost of boat ownership should include maintenance which can be divided into categories like frequent (monthly), periodic (semi-annually or seasonally) annual, and long(er) term. For example, washing a boat should be done twice a month while the bottom paint may be refreshed every 2-3 years.
Maintenance costs vary with the size of the boat and the complexity of additional equipment such as a generator, water maker, large battery banks, extra refrigerators, sail repair, etc. Usually, maintenance can be estimated as a percentage of the boat price (4-10% of the purchase price for a new boat) but that will vary with how big and complex the boat is, whether it’s owned privately or placed with a charter company like Navigare Yachting, and where it’s kept which will dictate not only the effect of the climate but also the cost of local labor.
If you live aboard the boat, your maintenance costs will be different since the boat is used less as a vessel and more as a home and that stresses different systems. For example, the sails and engine may not be used frequently but onboard systems like the plumbing and refrigeration may need routine upkeep. Upgrades and major repairs are beyond the scope of this discussion and for our purposes, we’ll focus on a 40-50-foot sailing yacht (monohull or catamaran).
Washing – a boat gets dirty and it collects corrosive salt which is why it’s good to wash a boat at least every other week and after every outing. If you do this yourself, you’ll save money, but you must factor in cleaning supplies which can cost at least $100 per year. Professional cleaning quotes will be by size and can vary dramatically from $10-20 per foot per month and more for catamarans that have two hulls and more deck surface.
Waxing – most boats are finished with a gel coat which must be waxed both for protection and to look its shiny best. The best results require buffing with an abrasive chemical polisher and then applying wax. The deck, cabin top, and hull will need to be waxed and this is usually priced per foot and will be more for a catamaran. Waxing should be done every 6-12 months depending on the severity of sun exposure and may cost $1,000-$1,500 each time.
Bottom cleaning – boat hulls that are kept in water attract growth both soft (grasses) and hard (creatures). Growth not only adds weight, but it also adds friction which makes the boat slower and more fuel-hungry. The regularity and necessity of bottom cleaning depend on where the boat is kept, what marine life is present in the water, and even the temperature of the water. Most regular bottom cleaning is done every month and can cost $1-2 per foot of hull.
100-hour service – boat engines need to be serviced and a typical period is 100 hours of use which will come at different times for different boats but can be 1-2 times per year. The oil must be changed, filters (fuel and oil) replaced, belts inspected, and pump impellers replaced if needed. This service is usually charged per hour and will depend on local labor costs.
Detailing – this comprehensive service is usually done annually and it includes washing, polishing, and waxing of the hull and superstructure. It may also include a deep cleaning of cockpit cushions and fabric structures like dodgers or isinglass enclosures and mitigation of mold and mildew. Rust should be polished off all stainless and the brightwork or varnish on the wooden surfaces may be included. An interior deep cleaning may or may not be included. Pricing will depend on what’s included and the size of the boat. You can expect to pay $30-50 per foot and more for cats.
Winterizing and spring commissioning – if your boat is kept in a cold climate, it may need to be winterized at the end of the season and recommissioned again after a layup. Both processes may include deep cleaning and waxing and equipment care. The process is much like a 100-hour service but also includes flushing of the engine cooling system and inspecting items such as the raw water strainer, the shaft and shaft seal/packing gland, exhaust manifolds, electrical system, generator (which is another engine), transmission fluid and so forth. Don’t forget ancillary equipment like water makers and even the windlass. Again, this service is usually priced hourly and the more engines, the more cost.
Battery inspection and maintenance – today’s boat batteries are often of the sealed kind rather than traditional wet cells which require topping up with fluid. However, even if you have sealed AGM or lithium batteries, it’s good to check them at least once a year to inspect their charge times and discharge capacities to determine how much service life they have left. Replacing batteries may not happen but once every few years on private vessels or more than once a year for boats in the charter that get heavy use.
Sails and rigging – sailboats will need to have their sails inspected and possibly mended or washed. Dacron cruising sails can last years with normal use while hardworking laminated racing sails are not only more fragile but also more expensive to replace. The running rigging (the lines that manage the sails) is subject to UV damage, flogging, and strain/stretch and may need to be whipped, over-ended, or replaced. Standing rigging, which are the stays and shrouds that support the mast, should be tuned and inspected. Most boat owners will use a professional rigger for this inspection. If the boat is sailed hard and often, this inspection can be annual although, for most boats, it may be sufficient to do it every few years. Riggers are specialized tradesmen and you can expect to pay more than $1,000 for a comprehensive rig inspection and tuning.
Antifouling paint – boats that live in the water need protective ablative or hard antifouling or “bottom” paint. These two types of paints wear differently and are suited to different uses and environments. This service is done in a boatyard and includes power washing (or in extreme cases stripping) the existing paint and reapplying new paint. Osmotic blistering treatment will be an extra charge. Expect to pay upwards of $100 per linear foot of hull depending on the yard and the quality of the paint chosen – and double that in the case of catamarans. The boat will need to be hauled out of the water by the boatyard for this work to be done. Expect $10-20 afoot for the haul-out fee. It’s a good idea to inspect the propeller(s) and grease the folding and feathering kind while the boat is hauled out. This service is additional to bottom painting and is done on an hourly basis.
Your tender and outboard should be included in any maintenance schedule and budget. A RIB (rigid inflatable boat) should be inspected for leaks and the outboard should be serviced including coolant, lower unit lubrication, and the fuel injection system and spark plugs. The windlass, anchor, and chain/rode should also be inspected annually. Flares, lifejackets, and fire extinguishers should also be checked (not maintained) and should be replaced when at their expiration dates. This will add to what most people consider to be part of the maintenance budget.
DIY maintenance is an option, but you must have the skills and the time to do it. Professional services may cost you 3-10 times more than doing it yourself but for some tasks like applying bottom paint or repairing sails, it’s best to leave it to professionals. Pick what you want to tackle (like cleaning or detailing) and leave the rest for others.
How you tackle boat maintenance is up to you but it’s an unavoidable part of boat ownership and you do need to budget for it. Make checklists of what has to be done and don’t underestimate the associated costs. If you don’t take on certain projects for a while, they’ll turn into deferred maintenance issues which can be much more costly later.
If your boat is in the charter as with Navigare Yachting, the maintenance process will be done for you automatically but you should understand the need for it and its costs so you can factor that into your annual budget and avoid surprises at the end of the year, provided that you have chosen the program where you bear the maintenance costs. In our Complete Program, on the other hand, Navigare Yachting will cover the cost of all maintenance!