We've put our heads together, cast a wide net out to all our boating experts, and come up with a slew of smart ideas that, combined, could save you thousands of dollars a year.
There's no reason to always pay premium prices for the pastime we all love. Sure, there's storage, maintenance, fuel, insurance, and all the other associated costs of ownership. But in each of those categories, there are smart alternatives and ideas that could keep more money in your pocket. Try a few of these on for size, and watch the savings add up.
Step Up Your DIY
Marine mechanics typically charge around $90 per hour. Doing some of your own maintenance will save you hundreds of dollars in labor charges and materials every year. At the least, learn to winterize your own boat and change engine oils. You may even do a better job than your yard, which may not be as familiar as you are with what needs to be done. These tasks aren't difficult. Just buy the factory manual for your boat/engine to fine-tune your skills, and follow manufacturer recommendations. Look for training opportunities at boat shows, classes from local organizations, and books. YouTube has lots of videos to help, including on our BoatUS YouTube channel.
Consider Non-Marine Products
In general, purchase marine products, especially anything electrical. But some items, such as oil filters, air cleaners, cable ties, spray lubricants, quality stainless fasteners, and sandpaper, can be bought at local hardware stores or online at a lower cost than at a marine retailer. Read labels and specs to be sure that a product is not inappropriate for your boat and circumstances.
Clean Old Boating Stuff Out Of The Garage, And Buy Used
Some less-expensive used parts, such as anchors, can be just as good as new. See if there are any marine-salvage stores in your area. If you find one, sell your own extra boat stuff and marine hardware. Even pieces of teak or old teak cabinet doors are a find for crafty people. Or sell it on eBay or Craigslist over the winter. Join your marina or yacht-club friends to create a boating swap meet, and put a notice online.
Shop Around For A Marina
You may be comfortable in your marina and dutifully pay the annual bill. But are you getting the best deal? If there are other marinas in your area, shop around; some are operating at less-than-full capacity and would love to have you. (Be sure to explore why one marina may have openings and others don't by checking online for comments from other boaters.) For the sake of a few phone calls and moving his boat to another location, one of our editors saved $1,000/year; though in some parts of the country where marinas are much less expensive, this figure may be very different.
Be Imaginative With Solutions
Buying a used inner tube costs very little (often tire shops give them away). You can cut them up into shapes suitable for storage and use them for all sorts of onboard issues, such as temporary gaskets.
Aftermarket Gold Mine
If your boat and gear is out of warranty, investigate aftermarket parts. If those parts have the same or better specs, they may save you many hundreds of dollars over the "official" part sold by the engine manufacturer.
Only use oil recommended by the engine manufacturer. Using a different type or grade could void your warranty.
Buy your engine oil in bulk. An average quart of some types of OBM marine oil may go for around $14. A gallon may go for $40 (a $16 savings). A 4-gallon case goes for about $110 (another $50 in savings, and $114 less than buying it by the quart). Now imagine the savings if you have twin outboards that take 6 or 7 quarts of oil twice a season. If your dockmates all use the same kind of oil, buy cases at a discount.
Anchor Out More Often
Many cruisers prefer to transit from marina to marina. But for a 32-foot cruiser, a typical night in a marina in some parts of the country might cost up to $150, including electricity. Do this 10 nights during the season, and that's $1,500! Instead, plan several nights here and there at anchor, capture the unequalled delight and solitude of a night on the hook, and save the money. Or move away from those high-dollar destinations to those a little off the beaten path, where you might be charged half as much for dockage and other services.
Adapt when your needs or crew size changes. Maybe downsize to a smaller boat to better utilize your time on the water, save on maintenance costs and fuel, and possibly even store a smaller boat at home on a trailer to avoid marina fees.
Monitor Fuel Burn
If you use a lot of fuel, install a fuel-flow meter to see gallons used and gallons remaining, allowing you to determine real-time fuel efficiency in gallons per hour. Then you'll know your ideal settings for maximum efficiency and performance.
Keep Her Clean
Regularly cleaning marine growth from your running gear and boat bottom will reduce drag, increase speed, and lead to better fuel consumption. Hiring a professional diver to clean your running gear and, when needed, to clean barnacles and other growth from your bottom saves in fuel and haulout costs, sometimes amounting to several hundred dollars saved. Divers can also inspect and replace zincs, which may save not only haulout fees but save your boat from damage. Often this is needed during the boating season, though this shouldn't be a substitute for an annual full haulout to inspect and paint as needed. If you have the gear, strength, stamina, and experience, doing this yourself saves even more.
Love Your Trailer
Saltwater takes a serious toll on trailers, so ramp-flush yours after every saltwater launch to reduce the time between maintenance bills and help prevent corrosion and deterioration of brakes, tires, lights, and other components.
Shed Weight, Save Fuel
Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon, so don't keep freshwater tanks topped off then burn fuel lugging it around. Instead, keep enough for the day plus contingencies. Also, keep your fuel tanks half full for daycruising, unless you'll need more for longer runs. Remember, gas weighs around 6 pounds per gallon! Of course, never cut corners when there's any chance that you may need more. That's false economy and risky.
Displacement hulls are efficient, but you may be able to cut your fuel use in half, saving hundreds of dollars if you just slow from, say, 8 knots to 5. Planing boats are frequently the opposite; you get better economy by getting on plane quickly. Find your sweet spot for best efficiency.
Big Wheels Keep On Turning
Use blocks to safely elevate your boat and trailer off the ground in the off season to double the life of your trailer wheels. In season, keep your trailer and tow vehicle tires properly inflated to prevent wasting gas and potentially ruining tires.
Reuse Your Shrinkwrap
With the lack of recycling options and the yearly expense, get more than one season out of shrinkwrap. Carefully slice and peel it off in as few places as possible. Use a permanent marker to label which sections connect to what, to match it up next winter.
Before cutting the lines that run inside the hem, secure them so you can find and retie them in the fall. Take photos of the wood frame setup; label the wood to indicate which pieces join where.
Next fall, reverse steps. Use a roll of waterproof shrinkwrap tape (awesome stuff, available at West Marine) to join the sliced parts and reinforce worn spots. Put pads under wood supports to protect your deck. Retie the lines you cut that run around the hem, retighten for a snug fit, or use to them to thread a new line. If you have a heat gun and you're experienced in how to safely use this (potentially dangerous) tool, "reshrink" the shrinkwrap where needed (not critical). One of our editors got three years out of her $275 shrinkwrap, saving more than $500.
Ride With The Tide And Wind
Try comparing the fuel consumption of two identical trips, one with the tide and the other against it. The trip with the tide will be much faster and economical. The same goes for traveling with the prevailing winds.
Fraying, leaky canvas is expensive to replace. Get one more season out of it by spraying it with a clear liquid rubber sealant.
Don't Just Clean The Teak
There are plenty of other items that need your attention, too. For example, if you anchor with a lot of chain, greatly lengthen its life and save money by hosing it down with freshwater after every use.
Love Your Lines
Protect your docklines from chafe. Not only will they protect your boat when they're needed, you won't have to replace them as often. Sailors, swap your halyards end-to-end to double their lives.
BoatUS Saves You Money
Discounts: Hundreds of boatyards, marinas, tackle shops, and chandleries across America offer exclusive discounts to BoatUS members, which save our members an estimated average of $300 per year on fuel, dockage, and repairs. Download the BoatUS App to your smartphone to easily locate facilities offering discounts in your area or where you plan to travel. BoatUS.com/App and BoatUS.com/Maps
Insurance savings: Pay for good boat insurance up front, in one payment, to avoid fees. If you ever have a claim, you'll be glad if your policy covers consequential damage (such as paying for sinking damage caused by the "wear and tear" of a broken strainer), wreck removal up to the value of the boat (otherwise you'll be left paying the difference), and fuel-spill liability. BoatUS Marine Insurance policies cover these; many other policies don't. BoatUS.com/Insurance
Towing services: Your day on the water could go from fabulous to frustrating in seconds if you have engine problems, run out of fuel, or go soft aground. Not having towing coverage adds insult to injury when you're slapped with a bill for $700 or more to get back to the dock or launch ramp. With a BoatUS Towing Membership, an experienced captain will ensure you get home safely. Have BoatUS Insurance? Add towing coverage for as little as $3 per month (depending on boat size and location). BoatUS.com/Towing