How Much Money do you Need to Sail? Estimating the Costs

Sailing is equally as relaxing and serene as it is adventurous and fun. But the costs associated with it can be tricky to understand and estimate sometimes. Understanding the type of experience you want out of sailing and the costs associated with it will help in budgeting and allowing yourself to have fun.

How much money do you need to sail? When estimating costs to determine how much money you need for sailing, consider all about the variables. While a 26’ sailboat can cost anything from $20,000 (used) and up, there are also maintenance costs, accessories, and incidentals. So you will need to be prepared for upfront costs along with budgeting an annual amount for sailing.

There are many ways to approach the costs associated with sailing and also many factors to be sure you’re accounting for. With proper planning, research, and a solid understanding of the experiences you want to have on your boat, you can find a budget that will work for you.

How Much Sailboats Cost

There is a pretty wide range for costs when looking through your options for a sailboat. While you have options for length and size, you also have options for the models and if you would like to go with a new or used boat.

So, let’s breakdown some popular options, along with some ideas on how to make sailing work with your budget. Simply put, sailing is not cheap. But it’s also not out of reach. People tend to assume that boat ownership comes with an unattainable price tag. But if you do your research and you’re savvy about your decisions, it doesn’t have to be.

Here is a pretty general overview of what to expect for two of the most popular boat sizes. These numbers can, of course, vary based on model and condition, but they will give you a general idea of prices.

New 26’ Boat Used 26’ Boat New 36’ Cruiser Used 36’ Cruiser
$80,000 $20,000-$30,000 $150,000 $40,000-$50,000

If you are looking to get some of the experience of sailing, but maybe not dive into this big of an investment, there are cheaper options for smaller, more basic sailboats.

But if you’re looking for the full experience of a larger vessel, this is where you begin your financial planning.

One-Time Costs for Your Boat

While the boats themselves may be vastly different in style, condition, or uses, a lot of the surrounding factors of cost remain the same for them. You will need to find out information directly from your state regarding registration and tax information. An excellent resource for registration information is through your state’s DMV website.

Here is an example for a 26’ $20,000 boat. These are the different upfront costs you will need to consider for your purchase:

Price of Boat $20,000
Registration (at $10/ft) $260
Trailer $1000-$1500
Taxes (8%) $1600
Total: $22,860 – $23,360

This example is based on an 8% tax, which is in the middle of what most boat sales will face for taxes in California, which is between 7.5% and 10%. So these numbers will vary based on your state’s tax and registration costs, which could be lower than the $10/ft model as well.

But overall, this gives you a solid framing for what you need to expect upfront, and you can do the same for any boat of any price.

Pro Tip: If you decide to go with a smaller boat, you may not have registration fees depending on your state. For example, California does not require registration for sailboats or non-motor boats under 8 feet. If you check your local DMV site, you will be able to find information specific to your state and what you may or may not have to pay registration fees on.

You may also want to consider joining a sailing club, at which point that could also become an upfront cost as well. If you decide to join a club, there will typically be an initial payment due at the time of membership signup, and then the club will require a recurring monthly fee.

Recurring Costs for Your Boat

After you have your initial costs budgeted for, you need to begin the calculation for recurring items. The recurring charges aren’t always quite as apparent as the initial costs. These fees often surprise newcomers who haven’t done their research.

Some items you need to consider:

  • Insurance
  • Mooring
  • Fuel
  • Taxes
  • Winterizing (where applicable)
  • Storage (where applicable)
  • Sailing Club
  • Maintenance

If you are in a warmer climate and using your boat year-round, the costs could ultimately end up being slightly lower because you won’t need to store your boat for the winter.

The more you’re using the boat, the more costs you will incur in some areas like fuel or general maintenance. But if you need to store your boat or have it winterized, there will be additional costs as well.

Depending on your needs, you can bank on an estimate of $400-600 per month for recurring upkeep and maintenance.


Although boat insurance is not mandatory by almost all the states, if you still want to go for a boat insurance, you should be able to score boat insurance for around 1.5% of the value of the boat. So a $20,000 vessel would only be about $300 per year for insurance.


An average for mooring is around $15/ft. Mooring is crucial for the safety and longevity of the boat and others around it. The last thing you want to do is put all of this money into a boat and then make a silly mistake in your upkeep and how you secure the vessel that ends up costing you more in the long-run.


Fuel can be tough to estimate until you have begun sailing. While it may not be a considerable expense, you should still account for it. An average sailboat will use around 1-2 gallons per hour, with some variances. But once you get out on the water, it will be beneficial to begin tracking your fuel costs on an average so that you can budget ahead for the remainder of the year.


Your taxes will be dependent on the state you live in and their watercraft tax laws. There may also be property taxes depending on the state and where/how you dock your boat. Make sure to do your research and learn what the exact rates are, if any, for your state and county. (For example, California can range from 7.5% up to 10% purely based on country.)

Pro Tip: Look into a home mortgage interest deduction if your vessel is equipped with a kitchen/kitchenette area, toilet, and sleeping berth. You may be able to use this deduction as a second home, aside from your primary residence.

Winterizing & Storage:

If you live in a cold climate, you will need to research and implement a plan for winterizing your vessel. Previously, I wrote an excellent guide that can walk you through the winterization process step-by-step. Feel free to check it out here.

Preservation is essential in extending the life of your boat. If you’re used to cold winters with snow, you’re most likely also used to the additional maintenance that comes along with it for your cars and home. Your boat will need just as much, if not more attention, to be sure that when you are ready for her in the springtime, she’ll be ready for you too.

If you have access to a storage location, even better. If not, you will be paying for that as well.

Sailing Club:

While we mentioned this earlier, it’s worth circling back to so we can cover what you get out of a membership. If you plan to sail as a family, a club offers a variety of activities that will speak to the whole family. But there are a lot of other perks as well.

  • Junior programs that will teach kids how to sail and proper safety techniques
  • Access to organized social activities or cruises
  • Depending on the club, it may give you access to a boat slip on the premises
  • The ability to race for your club, under a U.S. Sailing-sanctioned burgee


Sailboats require a unique set of maintenance tasks to maintain the integrity of the vessel for years to come. Much of this cost will depend on the condition of the boat when you purchase it. If you go with a new boat, then your maintenance costs will be lower than that of a used boat in most cases.

Keep these in mind for recurring maintenance:

  • Hull repair
  • Engine repair
  • Unclogging cooling systems
  • Rusted cooling systems that need replacing
  • Sail replacement or repair
  • Re-rigging

The good news is, that something like new sails is not a common issue unless you are pushing her in poor weather frequently. But if you do reach the day that you need to replace them, they can get very pricey (into the thousands), so it is wise to have that in mind.

Pro Tip: It’s worth the $150-200 to find a good sail cover. Paying that small amount upfront to protect the longevity of your sail could save you thousands in the long run.

When looking at maintenance as a whole number, it is safe to bet on about $2,000-$5,000 per year to maintain a standard cruising sailboat. This will, of course, vary per situation and boat owner but can be used as an average estimate.

If you’re looking for some further specifics, I would recommend this Boat Cost Calculator through Sailo. You can play around with different boat sizes, types, costs, and maintenance items.

Always overestimate where you can, and don’t get lazy with those upfront costs. Many additional costs can be avoided down the line if you plan and implement proper techniques from the start. That $200 sail cover or extra winterization preparation will be well worth your time and money.

How Much do Sails Cost?

While we talked a little about how pricey they can get, I feel it’s essential also to break down some additional specifics when it comes to sails, how to maintain them to save money, and what costs are associated with them. While fuel may be cheap on sailboats because of these sails and the way the boats are designed, the sails take over as a significant expenditure.

Much like other factors we have talked about, the sail costs will significantly depend on the size and type of sailboat. You will also need to consider it may be not only a main sail replacement, but also a jib replacement.

For a standard 26’ boat, you will be looking in the range of $1000 – $2500 for jib and main sail replacement. For a mid-sized boat around 36,’ the same replacements can get as high as $3000 – $5000 for the jib and sail. The main factors in sail cost are the following:

  • Quality of fabric
  • Type of material
  • Hull length
  • Sail area
  • Rig type
  • Amount of sails

For basic sailcloth, you can count on it costing $7 per square foot. But while keeping all of these variables in mind, it could end up being slightly more or less, which is why it is hard to commit to solid price points for your sail needs.

Repairing Sails

If you have some tattered sails that have seen better days but haven’t seen their last days quite yet, you may be able to repair them and save some money. It will all depend on the condition of the sails, however. Some will reach a point of no return, and the amount of money and time you would have to put into repairs won’t end up being worth it.

Even if the job upfront doesn’t seem too daunting or expensive, also keep in mind if you will have to do another repair job soon. While it may seem tempting just to do a quick patch or repair job, it may not end up being the smartest move in the long run. If it is a minor issue, repairing should be fine. But for larger jobs, you want to do your research and decide if the repair is worth it, or if you should invest a bit more right now and buy new.

If you decide to undertake repairs, you should brush up on your sewing skills. A steady hand and patience will be needed for any repairs. The sewing needle you used to stitch up a ripped sleeve on your favorite t-shirt isn’t quite going to cut it. The needles are specially made to be for heavy-duty jobs such as this. You will also want a leather sewing palm to protect your hands.

You can find some great deals on kits for repairing sails, like this Sail Repair Kit. If you decide you’d rather buy each item individually to meet specific needs, you can find most on Amazon or other major retailers. It may just end up costing you a little more.

Aside from the tools you will need in a kit like that, you will also need repair patches. Typically, standard sails are made from Dacron. Here’s a variety of options for tape, patches, and kits.

Tape will sound like a great option, as it is much easier to tape than to sew up damage. But I would only recommend the tape for smaller tears that don’t compromise the rest of the sail. If you decide to tape anything, make sure to check it frequently to be sure it is holding, and nothing else is beginning to tear around it.

Types of Sailboats and Their Costs

When you begin your search for the perfect sailboat to fit your wants and needs, you should start at the very beginning. Knowing the specifics of what you want in your boat will make the budgeting process much easier, as you will have a clear picture in mind that you can bring to fruition catered to your budget.

Which Hull Type Do You Want?

Sailboats offer three basic styles of hulls. The styles vary in how many hulls and their shapes. The two most popular types are monohulls (one hull) and catamarans (two hulls). There is also the trimarans style that had three hulls, but these are not common.

A monohull will run you a much smaller price tag and allow you a larger budget for maintenance and enjoying your time without the stress of additional cost. While the cost issue may be clear cut in your decision, it may come down to style and sailing type for you.

Here is a great read that compares the two on everything from cost to style to the logistics.

Lower Cost Options

The price tags on new sailboats can be very intimidating. Once the shock value has worn off, you might begin to wonder about other options that would stay in your budget. For those of us unable to foot an $80,000 tab, there are plenty of ways to get out on the water in a beautiful vessel. They can include renting, leasing, buying used, or downsizing the boat itself.


Maybe you have a milestone birthday coming up, or a company party. Or perhaps you want to know that you can occasionally hit the water in a sailboat to enjoy an afternoon without breaking your bank account. Renting is absolutely an option that will make sense for you.

There is an excellent guide from Go Downsize that walks you through pricing and features for six different types of sailboats you can rent. As referenced in the article, these should be taken with a grain of salt depending on the area you live in, demand, and time of year.

But starting rates can be in the $70/hour range, all the way up to chartering larger vessels for weekly excursions. Another advantage to renting is the freedom to choose different styles. Maybe this week you’d like to get her up to some top speeds with a racer. But then next week you’re ready for a relaxing cruise for two for the afternoon.

Take a look through your rental options locally and decide if the math adds up for renting as opposed to buying.


Sometimes we forget that we can think of a boat like a car on wheels. If possible, we store a car in the garage in the winter, and we winterize a boat. We can buy or lease a car, and we can also lease a boat. Consider leasing a boat.

If you plan on the occasional outing or for special occasions, renting may be the way to go. But if you are planning for regular outings, but still want a smaller price tag that an outright purchase of a new boat, leasing could be your ticket in.

Lending Tree offers some useful insight into the differences between buying, renting, or leasing through charters. Leasing can be an excellent option for a beginner looking to gain a better understanding of what boat ownership will look like at a portion of the cost. You can look at leasing as a stepping stone to ownership.

Buying Used

Buying used is always going to be an appealing option, no matter what the purchase is: electronics, appliances, cars, watercraft – it is a great way to find a more impressive model with a lower price tag. There are plenty of excellent options out there for used boats so that you can keep the budget lower on the front end.

The main area of focus needs to be on making a smart choice that will also keep the recurring price tag low. If you want to find a fixer-upper that you plan to pour money into, you’re probably looking to stay under $10,000 upfront. Whereas if you still want something sailing-ready, but with a lower price tag, you can easily find great options over 20’ for $20,000 and up.

If you’re looking for something small and used, you can even go as low as something for around $2000. This would, of course, be a much smaller and basic boat. But if you’re itching to get out on the water and don’t have tens of thousands of dollars, this can be an excellent option.

Just be sure to inspect the quality and condition of the boat thoroughly. While $2000 seems very cheap for a boat, it won’t be if you end up needing to replace everything within the year. Sometimes, a simple but effective and small vessel is just what you need.

“To be successful at sea we must keep things simple.” – Author, Pete Culler

Of course, when you buy a new boat, you need to consider parts and additional maintenance. Maybe you did splurge on the new boat but would like to keep some of your maintenance costs lower. Finding reliable used parts as you need them can help keep your annual cost low while maintaining the integrity of the vessel.

You will always want to make sure all pieces are compatible, though, since there may have been upgraded or changed since the used parts came out.


While the allure of a 36’ sailboat with a cabin stacked with amenities is quite enticing, it might not be possible. But if there is one thing that boat enthusiasts have in common, it’s their love of being out on the water. By simply opting for a smaller vessel, you still get to accomplish that.

Something under 10’ is not only going to be a cheaper initial purchase, but the maintenance on it and fees will also be much less. In my book, as long as you’re out on the water with a smooth breeze in the air, no matter the size of your boat – it’s a good day.

Accessories and Safety

While there are plenty of more significant aspects when calculating costs, it’s important to remember the little things too. As we all know, the little things add up.

I found a solid list of sailing gear to own, through The Sailing Podcast. Many boats will come equipped with specific accessories and safety features, but be sure you are fully prepared before going out on the water is paramount to your safety and those around you.

Making sure you buy all of these smaller items ahead of time will contribute to a stress-free sailing experience, knowing you have everything you could need out there.

The Final Breakdown

As we’ve seen, there are plenty of ways to make sailing fit your budget. If you want to be a high roller on the high seas and get the biggest and best of them all, it will run you a hefty price tag. But if you get creative with used options or opt for something smaller, you can find ways to make it fit whatever budget you are hoping to use.


I am the owner of sailoradvice. I live in Birmingham, UK and love to sail with my wife and three boys throughout the year.

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