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Old 31-10-2012, 13:09   #1
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Keeping Down Maintenance Costs for Cruisers

So this is continuing a theme that has been on mind for several days now.

A good FT cruising sailboat (i.e. Lagoon for example) can be constructed to be almost completely self-reliant. Electricity and water can be produced from the ocean and the sun. The wind provides locomotion. The boat floats on the water and provides protection from the rain due merely to it's natural form.
With proper technique, the only personal needs of any substance include food, booze, flip-flops, and bikinis.

So, except for the initial purchase of such a vessel, a person's cost of living a cruising lifestyle are very, very small... except for one thing.

Maintenance. It's more than big. It's HUGE. It can be crippling when not properly planned and provided for. In short, it seems to be the single largest cost of a FT cruising lifestyle (assuming a kind of minimalist way of living). So large, in fact, that it appears to be even larger than the costs of a land-based lifestyle with all it's many costs.

What are the costs?
- Broken running gear
- Corroded parts
- Worn out sails and lines
- Faded, peeling, cracking gelcoats
- Damaged hulls
- Blister maintenance and bottom painting


So it seems to me that, given this, there would be value in creating materials and designs that would minimize or even eliminate these costs.

- What do you do to minimize maintenance costs?
- Would you post your maintenance budget?
- Is it possible, or cost feasible to build cruising sailboats with almost no parts that would break, corrode, fade, or wear out?
- What are the barriers to getting more widespread adoption of better, more durable technology into these boats?
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Old 31-10-2012, 13:21   #2
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

Good used parts. Emphasis on good.
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Old 31-10-2012, 13:23   #3
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

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Good used parts. Emphasis on good.
How do you locate them? How much does that save you?
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Old 31-10-2012, 14:23   #4
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

I'm assuming "FT" means fulltime and if that's the case we've been FT for the last eleven years of our forty years aboard. I have replaced a diesel propulsion engine, diesel generator, sails and rigging over the years (not all in the last eleven years) and refinished chain plates, replaced some trim, painted topsides, filled some deck balsa core, and averaged hual outs with paint, zinc, a couple of cutlass bearings, installed a dripless shaft seal and carrier bearing. This has added up to about $36K over the 27 years that I've had this boat. The number is low because I do much DIY and I'm sure I've overlooked some things. So, lets double it and say I'm spending $2,600 a year on my 41' boat. 'doesn't seem like an overwheming maintenace cost to me
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Old 31-10-2012, 14:38   #5
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

Art,

Sadly this is a reality in a lot of industries, not just boating. And a lot of people get caught in a trap, where they can't afford all the repairs they need, so something has to give. Typically it is moving just a step down in quality... I.e. they know 316 fasteners will last longer than 304, but the 304 is half the price.

The problem is that as soon as you start this cycle it becomes harder and harder to break out of. Because now everything needs work on a faster cycle than it otherwise would, so just treading water becomes the goal and there is no money left to do quality upgrades, or repair things ahead of time.

As an example...

I had a client come in to replace his chainplates with titanium when his stainless ones cracked. Now the chainplates were rediculously massive and over specced, but it's what he wanted... To make them out of titanium was going to run about $5,000 vs about $3,000 for stainless. The decision was made that the longer lifespan of titanium was worth it, so everyone gets to work...

Then he overheats his engine, and that has to be fixed. So the chainplates get put on hold. After the engine is fixed he only has about $1,000 left in the kittie to get the boat on the water, so instead of replacing all 15 chainplates with titanium, he replaces just the one that was cracked with stainless.

Now I hope everything is ok for him, and so does he, but we both know that there are 14 chainplates on that boat that haven't been pulled, and are the same age as the one that failed. So their expected life is roughly zero. But he has no options, he doesn't have the cash to fix it right, and so he is just getting by.
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Old 31-10-2012, 14:54   #6
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

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How do you locate them? How much does that save you?

E-bay, second hand sailing outfits, Marina yard sails etc. The savings will vary depending on the Vendor.
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Old 31-10-2012, 15:39   #7
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

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Art,

Now I hope everything is ok for him, and so does he, but we both know that there are 14 chainplates on that boat that haven't been pulled, and are the same age as the one that failed. So their expected life is roughly zero. But he has no options, he doesn't have the cash to fix it right, and so he is just getting by.
So what if these boats were built with Titanium plates to begin with? Would the cost have been worthwhile, in the end? Certainly not to the original owner, who never had a chainplate break or corrode.

I suppose that this is a chicken and egg problem. Boats could be built to last longer with fewer repairs, but then most buyers would complain that they only plan to own the boats for 5 or 10 years - why do they need a boat that will last 50? And who will want to buy their 50 year boat in 20 years anyway, when all the styles and features have changed.
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Old 31-10-2012, 15:56   #8
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

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So what if these boats were built with Titanium plates to begin with? Would the cost have been worthwhile, in the end? Certainly not to the original owner, who never had a chainplate break or corrode.

I suppose that this is a chicken and egg problem. Boats could be built to last longer with fewer repairs, but then most buyers would complain that they only plan to own the boats for 5 or 10 years - why do they need a boat that will last 50? And who will want to buy their 50 year boat in 20 years anyway, when all the styles and features have changed.
I have wondered this myself. Since boats range from low end production to high end one off's are the high end boats bullet proof? My thought is that no, they are not. The marine environment is harsh and parts break or fail. You read blogs of folks on Lagoons who talk about ongoing maintenance, part failures, etc. Well, you read the exact same stories on blogs of folks on Catana's.
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Old 31-10-2012, 16:16   #9
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

I just replaced a 6-year-old aluminum-tank water heater that would have only cost $250 for an exact-model replacement. But then I might have had to replace it again in six years. Instead, I replaced it with a stainless-steel-tank heater that cost $750. Will the new unit last as long as three of the cheaper units would last?

I don't know the answer to those kind of questions. What I know is that the best way to keep maintenance costs down is to do your own work. This means you have to start out with the right tools, like having a sewing machine to repair/replace sails and canvass. It also means that you have to be able to do electrical work, plumbing, rigging, et cetera.

If you're worried about costs, I can already tell you that you're looking at the wrong boats. Too big, and perhaps too complex as well. On another thread currently active, one of our mods with a 54' boat is looking at the possibility of having to spend $60,000 for new sails. We all want the big boat when we're sailing her, but the tiny boat when we're stuck with maintenance and repairs.

Too many people start out wondering what is the biggest boat they can afford. A better question might be, "What's the biggest boat you can maintain?"
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Old 31-10-2012, 16:28   #10
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

The way to keep costs down is to keep the boat size down.

As a rough rule of thumb maintenance (and many other costs) is going to be proportional to the cube of the length, so a 40' boat will cost about 8 times that of a 20' one.

Cats are more expensive than monos so again with a rough rule of thumb you'd be looking at about an extra 50% or so here.

For cruising boats there seems to be a sweet spot at about the 36' mark where the boats are large enough to be cruised and small enough to be undesirable.
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Old 31-10-2012, 16:33   #11
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

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If you're worried about costs, I can already tell you that you're looking at the wrong boats. Too big, and perhaps too complex as well. On another thread currently active, one of our mods with a 54' boat is looking at the possibility of having to spend $60,000 for new sails. We all want the big boat when we're sailing her, but the tiny boat when we're stuck with maintenance and repairs.

Too many people start out wondering what is the biggest boat they can afford. A better question might be, "What's the biggest boat you can maintain?"
I already know it's bigger than I want or need. Unfortunately, Cats don't come much smaller, and I know that I will need a catamaran to meet my purposes.

I'm very, very aggressively looking for ways to drop the cost of both acquisition and maintenance.

I've thought about other solutions - for example, a half-cat with one full hull and one outrigger hull would do the job. I don't need that second hull, but I do need the top-deck saloon and the stability of the cat.

I've also considered the possibilities of a monohull that would meet the same requirements, but such monohulls are scarce, expensive, and just as large or larger than the boats I'm looking at.

FWIW, the only two boats I currently have under consideration are the Lagoon and Leopard 40' boats. I would consider a 38', except that I have heard they are not very "sea-kindly". Even so, a 38' is not yet completely out of the question.

Liveability and comfort both at rest and at sea is my number one priority - above price, quality, and sailability

As Churchhill is reported to have said "Madam, we've already established what kind of woman you are, we are now merely haggling over price"
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Old 31-10-2012, 16:45   #12
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers
The way to keep costs down is to keep the boat size down.

As a rough rule of thumb maintenance (and many other costs) is going to be proportional to the cube of the length, so a 40' boat will cost about 8 times that of a 20' one.

Cats are more expensive than monos so again with a rough rule of thumb you'd be looking at about an extra 50% or so here.

For cruising boats there seems to be a sweet spot at about the 36' mark where the boats are large enough to be cruised and small enough to be undesirable.
Exactly! Great post. Keep the size down, even if you must have a cat, though most cats will cost more to keep up. Two engines. More surface area. Tougher on the rigging. More complicated stuff like steering. More costly to haul out and dock--sometimes twice as much. Do all the work yourself, which means having a boat that is within your capabilities to repair. Keep the systems simple and basic. Most of the expensive stuff is system repair, including sails. Basic, traditional cruising sails cost less than half of hi-tech ones, and last just as long or longer. Stainless wire rigging is a lot cheaper than rod rigging, and lasts longer. Don't fall into the trap of buying the latest or greatest anything--buying a couple of models older generally means you can buy it cheaper or on sale, and often means more of the bugs have been worked out of it.
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Old 31-10-2012, 16:52   #13
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

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Liveability and comfort both at rest and at sea is my number one priority - above price, quality, and sailability
Nothing wrong with that. My last two boats have been bought with a top consideration being that they make good homes.
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Old 31-10-2012, 17:07   #14
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Talking Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

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With proper technique, the only personal needs of any substance include food, booze, flip-flops, and bikinis.
We are already on page 2 of this thread and not a single sailor has mentioned that bikinis are entirely superfluous.
I have obviously laded in some sort of a twilight zone were real sailors don't exist!
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Old 31-10-2012, 17:07   #15
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Re: Keeping down maintenance costs for cruisers

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Exactly! Great post. Keep the size down, even if you must have a cat, though most cats will cost more to keep up. Two engines. More surface area. Tougher on the rigging. More complicated stuff like steering. More costly to haul out and dock--sometimes twice as much. Do all the work yourself, which means having a boat that is within your capabilities to repair. Keep the systems simple and basic. Most of the expensive stuff is system repair, including sails. Basic, traditional cruising sails cost less than half of hi-tech ones, and last just as long or longer. Stainless wire rigging is a lot cheaper than rod rigging, and lasts longer. Don't fall into the trap of buying the latest or greatest anything--buying a couple of models older generally means you can buy it cheaper or on sale, and often means more of the bugs have been worked out of it.
Exactly right, which is why I'm interested in creative or simple ways of keeping the costs down.

I see haulouts and bottom painting as being costly and inconvenient. If I can avoid the cost and time, and do it in a way that is compatible with my lifestyle goals, then I want to know about it. That includes having discussion like this to come up with new/different ways of doing things, or of not doing them.

Some ideas I've read about in the past:
1) only using one engine at a time (alternating which engine is in use from time to time)
2) sailing the boat gently in moderate conditions to avoid conditions that could lead to strain or flooding
3) sticking to basic cruising sails

On the other hand, there are false economies - that's part of what this thread about - for example, is it a false economy to skimp on the replacement of chainplates? Or to delay engine maintenance schedules? Or to skip annual haulouts and bottom painting? How about ignoring hull blisters? or allowing the gelcoat to fade?
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