Living On A Sailboat in the Caribbean in 2017: The Cost
Dreaming of upping sticks and making your weekend sailor’s lifestyle a more permanent move to fairer shores…
…like the Caribbean?
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 the shoes of a sailor who really is living on a sailboat and take a peek into his or her wallet.
Put simply, the cost of living in the Caribbean on a sailboat depends on your lifestyle, just like house living.
But you can easily live in the Caribbean for around $1000/month, according to Lisa Chapin, of SailTime San Fransisco, who recently spent two years in the Caribbean and another year cruising to the Galapagos.¹
I can definitely vouch for this. When I was in Anguilla, St. Barts, Guadeloupe and Martinique for a couple months a few years ago, I spent around $2,500 per month (and we’re a family of four).
Expats also agree.
In the Dominican Republic, for example, you can find many a pensioner living on their $1,500 Social Security money — and they are paying rent.
On a monthly budget of $2,000, a couple can live comfortably in the Dominican Republic: go out on the town and hire household help, according to USA Today.³
They even import your personal items and car tax free.
On Isla Mujeres, a couple can live a very nice life for around $2,500 per month, including rent, according to International Living magazine.³
And rents range from $900 to $1,500 for a one- or two-bedroom apartment.³
So you’re talking $1,000–1,600 a month for a couple on a boat there.
Fancy spending some time on English-speaking Ambergris Caye, the largest island in Belize? Expats who live there report they spend around $2,000-$3,000 a month.³
On Roatán, in the western Caribbean, you can live on $2,000-$2,500 with your partner.³
Take rent out of the equation, which is by far the highest expense wherever you live, and you’ve got around $1,000 (unless you choose to spend time at a pricy marina on one of the pricier islands, of course — more on that later).
Caribbean seascape, Beliz
Food and Drink
Food and drink costs can be minimized by eating freshly-caught fish on board, and maximized by dining out.
But one expat says his weekly food costs living on Big Corn, a four-square mile island with 6,000 inhabitants, average about $30.³
Eating at local restaurants, meals and a couple of drinks range between $15 and $20, he says.³
And he spent $610 on food and drink across a 3-month period!³
On Isla Mujeres, groceries for two typically total around $600 per month, according to reports.³
To work out what you might roughly spend in the Caribbean for every dollar you’d normally spend at home, check out this index.
According to that ranking, you’ll spend 99c instead of your $1 in the Bahamas, but you’ll spend 45c in the Dominican Republic.
So it’s worth taking a look at these figures before you arrive to minimalize expenditure where necessary — or find a more exclusive spot, depending on what you’re looking for.
Caribbean Jerk Buffalo Wings
Your Boat Mortgage
So you’ll probably be contributing to your boat mortgage/loan — your Principal, Interest, Taxes, Insurance (PITI) once you’ve bought your boat.
Right? Unless you buy it outright.
But if not, you’ll be paying that loan off every month.
For a $30,000 boat loan paid over four years, you’d be spending $697.79 per month.⁵
Kinda like rent…
Lisa Chapin 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.”¹
That’s a healthy sum. One to watch out for!
Tobago Cays, Caribbean
Ah, the marina. The cruisers’ biggest expense.
I mean, you can certainly go sustainable and find ways to minimize this cost. But you will probably need to spend at least some time at a marina.
As Lisa told me, “Most people who are out cruising are not out working, so they will probably spend ten nights on the hook (on anchor), and then they’ll spend two nights at the marina: when they need water or laundry, internet, food, etc.”¹
So what do marina costs primarily depend on?
The size of your boat.
Marinas usually charge around 50c to $2 per foot.
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, and cover water and other expenses”, says Lisa.¹
What are some other costs that you might come up against when you make your boat your home?
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.
You may even rely on peanut butter on a regular occasion.
I know I do, when I’m sailing.
San Blas Island, the Caribbean
Luxuries You Might Want to Indulge In
Watermakers usually cost somewhere between $2000 and $8000.
Quite a pretty penny. But think about it this way — if you want to make the most of your boat: sailing far away from 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?
Next, what about a compost toilet? Airhead have some amazing ones.⁶
They’re for airheads, as well as intelligent individuals ;)
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.
And that means they’re architects, craftspeople, writers, designers, gardeners, tradespeople.
Others rent out their spare cabins to people who want to “live” on a boat short term.
To make your lifestyle more sustainable, you’ll need to work wherever you go. Otherwise, you might end up needing to go home to work sooner than you hoped. Sad news.
But you can certainly make yourself useful as a bar hand, cleaner, shop assistant or handyman, too. You could teach English…
The options really are limitless.
Just make sure you don’t get in trouble with the tax man at home or abroad. Getting a work permit can be a struggle in some countries.
Admiralty Bay, Bequia Island, the Caribbean
Where to Go in the Caribbean
As a rough guide, the marinas in the Eastern islands of the Caribbean have “medium” rates of around $1/foot per day.⁷
“Upscale” marinas may charge two or three times that much.⁷
In Aruba, you may find yourself limited to the Renaissance Marina, in Oranjestad harbor, at:
- $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.⁷
There are similar rates at Jolly Habour Marina, except that this marina in Antigua modifies its rates by the season.8 So it’s just over $1/foot per day from November 1st to May 31st, and $0.85/foot per day between June 1st and October 31st. But the longer you stay, the less you pay per day.⁸
And if you just HAVE to go to St. Barts, but you’re on a budget, someone recently discovered that you can moor at the marine park for around just $2.40 per person per day.⁹
Why not explore and go for something to eat at the Chez Rose, Colombier and get a daily special for ~$12?⁷
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).⁷
- Personal Interview with Lisa Chapin