What it’s like to live on a big boat


Despite booming boat sales and charters, yachting remains a mystery to most people.

CNBC spoke to several yacht owners who agreed to answer any questions about the yachting lifestyle and, perhaps more importantly, how much it costs – without a ban on topics.

The owner

Nim and Fabiola Hirschhorn are in the US Virgin Islands aboard Luna, their 2019 45-foot Lagoon 450S catamaran. The couple operate all-inclusive crewed charters in the Caribbean.

Sophie Darsy and Ryan Ellison are in the Azores on Polar Seal, a Beneteau Oceanis 40 from 2007, which is equipped for deep sea sailing. A few years ago the couple learned to sail, quit their company jobs and now report on their life at sea.

How much does a decent yacht cost?

N. Hirschhorn: It depends on some basic parameters. Is the boat used or new, in what year of construction, is it a monohull or catamaran, is it an ex-charter yacht or has it always been privately owned … do you just want to cruise or cross oceans?

The Hirschhorns operate charters in the Caribbean, with four-night trips for two guests starting at around $ 12,000.

Courtesy of Sail Luna

Luna was bought new for $ 650,000; However, we know many people who live on boats that were bought for $ 30,000 to $ 80,000.

On average, you can buy a mid-range seaworthy 45-foot monohull that can sail around the world for $ 100,000 to $ 150,000 and a catamaran of the same size for about $ 250,000 to $ 500,000. Of course, there are boats on both ends of the spectrum and at every price point in between.

A rough guide to boat buying for beginners

costs size Construction year What you should know
$ 5,000-20,000 20-30 feet 1960s to 1980s Will likely need maintenance that can easily cost as much as the boat
$ 30,000- $ 60,000 30-40 feet 1970s to 1980s The improbable boat will be ready to cruise; Budget at least 25% of the boat’s value for repairs and upgrades after purchase
$ 70,000- $ 110,000 40-50 feet 1990s to 2000s A modern entry-level boat or an older larger boat; Here the cost is a balance of age, size and features
Source: Sophie Darsy

Are there any other costs you should be aware of?

Lesson: The purchase price is only part of the budget you need to buy a yacht. When we took over our boat, the costs came faster than we knew!

American Ryan Ellison and French Sophie Darsy, now both Swedish citizens, bought their boat for $ 90,000 in 2016.

Courtesy Ryan and Sophie Sailing

In the first three years we owned Polar Seal, we spent at least $ 40,000 equipping it for cruises and ocean sailing, including:

  • A cockpit enclosure to keep the cockpit dry: $ 7,000
  • New sails: $ 8,000
  • A dinghy and an electric outboard [engine for the dinghy]: $ 5,000
  • A watermaker to make fresh water from seawater: $ 2,000
  • Lithium batteries and equipment power supplies: $ 6,000
  • A new autopilot: $ 2,000
  • A life raft: $ 2,500
  • Security and communications equipment: $ 3,000

If you’re looking to buy a boat, keep at least 30% of your budget for maintenance, repairs, and upgrades.

We also have annual costs for boat insurance (between $ 1,000 and $ 4,000, depending on location) and travel and health insurance outside of Europe ($ 1,500) and airline tickets for family visits (approximately $ 2,000 per year).

How much do you have to earn – or save – to live on a yacht for a few years?

N. Hirschhorn: Think about what it costs to live on land – how do you live? Do you like to eat in fancy restaurants and buy nice things? Chances are you’ll do the same if you live on a boat, which means your lifestyle will often cost the same. Will you anchor – which is free – or stay in marinas? Are you going to live on your savings on a sabbatical or are you working on the side? Are you a family or a couple?

Nim Hirschhorn said he pays $ 90 to $ 300 a night to moor his boat in marinas in the Caribbean.

Courtesy of Sail Luna

We have friends who lived aboard a 1984 47-foot monohull with three children for two years. The boat was $ 90,000 and they lived on $ 50,000 a year while cruising the Caribbean and anchoring all the time.

Personally, we live on about $ 100,000 a year. I know couples who live on $ 1,000 a month and families who live on $ 3,000 to $ 6,000 a month. It is not uncommon in our church to hear that life on a boat and a trip around the world costs less than life on land.

How much does the location affect the costs?

Lesson: In 2019 we spent the winter in a marina in Spain, where we could benefit from an advantageous price (300 USD per month). But the food was very cheap ($ 300 a month). We used our time at the dock to do some large boating projects and our maintenance budget increased significantly – $ 15,000 for upgrades over six months.

But we rented a car for virtually free thanks to a local deal, and our “fun activities” budget went to zero as we enjoyed inexpensive restaurants and bars with friends all over southern Spain.

Yacht owners are also on a budget, said Sophie Darsy, who along with Ryan Ellison spends about $ 3,500 a month on boat maintenance, data plans, groceries, occasional marina stops, and activities like diving, windsurfing, and car rental.

Courtesy Ryan and Sophie Sailing

Compared to when we did a three week trip to Bermuda, groceries and restaurants were very expensive. But we spent those weeks at anchor and didn’t have to pay for a marina. We haven’t spent anything on maintenance or repairs. We spent the remaining weeks of this month at sea, and since we hadn’t spent any money in those two weeks, we made our budget.

How has the pandemic affected sailing?

N. Hirschhorn: It’s more complicated … some countries have closed their seaports to visiting yachts, and some require an entry protocol, which can include prior authorization and quarantine on board for up to two weeks.

Some countries do not accept all nationalities and travelers of certain origins, which makes it difficult when we have three to four nationalities on board. Other countries only welcome vaccinated travelers.

Covid test requirements mean “we can’t do island hopping anymore,” Nim said, adding that frequent rule changes and delays in test results have made sailing logistically complicated.

Courtesy of Sail Luna

Lesson: The pandemic made sailing between countries a little more difficult, but while our options were extremely limited in 2020, we were much more fortunate in 2021.

Like the housing market, the boat market exploded in 2020 and 2021. It seems like everyone and their neighbors are buying a yacht … prices have also risen in unprecedented ways. Our boat has increased in value so much that if we sold it today we would not lose any of the capital invested.

Is it compatible to have young children in order to live full-time on a yacht?

F. Hirschhorn: There is no reason why children of all ages cannot live on a yacht. There are many families who live on boats on the water and they are usually very confident, intelligent, and worldly children who thrive in this lifestyle. There are hundreds of “children’s boats”, especially in the Caribbean [boats with families living on them].

Is there WiFi at sea?

N. Hirschhorn: Yes, we have a couple of levels of service. We have a cellular data service that can receive a signal up to 20 nautical miles offshore. Since we normally sail between the Caribbean islands, we are usually always connected. We also have two other satellite-based systems with limited WiFi but worldwide coverage.

Lesson: No! We only have wi-fi in port or at anchor if we have a data plan for the country we are currently sailing in. Out at sea we have satellite internet that allows us to download weather forecasts and basic emails, but under no circumstances watch Netflix or listen to Spotify!

Is seasickness common?

Lesson: Many sailors suffer from seasickness, and I am particularly susceptible to it. The trick is to prevent it. Once the nausea subsides, there is no way to get rid of it.

We know a lot of boat owners who are not rich at all. It’s just a different lifestyle …

Nim Hirschhorn

Captain of Sail Luna

My top tips are:

  • Take medication the night before departure and sleep well.
  • Drink lots of water and eat a lot more than usual; low blood sugar speeds up seasickness.
  • Keep yourself warm; Invest in sailing clothing and equipment that will protect you from the elements because the cold will send you to hell in no time.

Is skinny dipping allowed?

N. Hirschhorn: No, we must obey local laws and customs; However, nudity is far more common in the Mediterranean.

Lesson: It is not uncommon for us to be anchored alone in front of a lonely island. Nobody is watching, so …

What is the most common question you are asked?

N. Hirschhorn: Many ask us if we have a home on land. We love to see the surprise on their faces when we declare that Luna is our home.

European countries are “easy” to travel to, but the Caribbean can have “archaic” and costly lawsuits for yachts, Darsy said.

Courtesy Ryan and Sophie Sailing

Lesson: All of my friends have asked me if I am ever afraid of facing a storm or a large lake that would capsize our boat and honestly, before we left it was me!

But now I know that we always leave the port when we have a good weather window. In three years, 13,000 nautical miles and two ocean crossings, we’ve only sailed through stormy winds once and we did it perfectly.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about the yachting lifestyle?

N. Hirschhorn: Some people think that a yacht owner is a millionaire. We know a lot of boat owners who are not rich at all. It’s just a different lifestyle that comes with lots of bonuses but also lots of sacrifices.

Lesson: People believe that we are very rich, come from wealthy families, or make a lot of money. None of this is true. We have saved a lot of money, made some sacrifices, and continue to do so … and we are staying within budget.

When we were full-time, Ryan and I brought home comfortable salaries and lived the dream of “two incomes, no children”. We now earn less than half of what we made then and live on half of our old budget … but our lives are much richer.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.