I’ve tracked every dollar spent owning my Bristol 45.5 for the first three years, including the purchase price and first off season refit. I know what you’re looking for, I’ve clicked on enough articles with titles like this; so without further ado here are the numbers:
I’ve had many of my boat owning peers tell me I shouldn’t track this all. Seeing $276,814.11 in black and white I understand why.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I did not set out to find the best boat for a certain budget nor was minimizing cost of ownership a top priority. This is all very specific to my circumstances, I know I could have spent less; these 3 years were also my first three years of boat ownership so I was learning how I might have saved money as I accumulated this data. I’m just publishing this because in 2018 when I was looking at what boat ownership would actually cost there were few articles like this out there so I’m just adding to the collective wisdom of the internet.
2019, the year I chose a Bristol 45.5, bought her ($77,682.80) and had her 40 year refit done ($93,346.01) was without a doubt the most expensive year ($188,906.60). 2020 I tried to keep it lower key ($39,748.65) and in 2021 I tackled a few more projects coming in at $57,759.48.
Goods vs. Labor vs. Carrying Costs and Improvements
I’ve found these categories useful for breaking down costs. Let me explain what I mean when I use them and how they help me:
- Goods: By goods I mean “physical products” in the economic sense. Some expensive examples of goods are Counterpoint herself, my new genoa, the YDNR-02 that connects my sea talk network to NMEA 2000, to the fire extinguishers down to the mousetraps I needed last season to banish my rodent nemesis once and for all! Boat goods are largely binary in the sense that if I didn’t buy a new thru-hull transducer I would have to do without boat speed; if I didn’t buy the new fire extinguishers I wouldn’t have had them and would have been cited by the coast guard when they inspected me off the coast of Maine in 2020.
- Labor: In the case of my boat expenses labor is largely summed up from the invoices for the work I’ve had done professionally. Largely I keep track of this to make sure I’m making good time vs money decisions during the course of my boat ownership.
- Carrying Costs: These are the costs related to owning any 45′ sailboat; even if nothing ever broke or needed updating I’d still need a place to keep Counterpoint during the sailing season and the winter. She’d need insurance. Since I no longer have a home in New England I keep a storage unit for storing boat bits in the winter. And so on.
- Goods + Labor + Carrying Costs = Total Costs – Every boat cost is categorized as either goods, labor or carrying cost.
- Improvements: Improvements are a subset of goods and labor that I categorize as upgrades I’ve decided to make in S/V Counterpoint; improvements as opposed to maintenance related to wear and tear or the boat’s age and separate from consumables such as fuel. Where the fire extinguishers are goods that Counterpoint needed the N2k network bits for the N2k network I’ve slowly been upgrading to are improvements. Mousetraps are just goods but the new lazy jacks are definitely improvements. Some goods and labor are partially improvements: Counterpoint needed a new headsail but she didn’t need a top of the line cruising genoa but I knew getting one would improve her sailing performance so much I decided to splurge and called 50% of the cost an improvement.
The last bit I feel like I need to explain is the Catalina 42 comparison that I track. The formula is simple:
$110,000 + Improvements + Carrying Costs = Catalina 42
But why $110k? Because when I decided to buy a Bristol 45.5 the other option I was considering was purchasing a Catalina 42 as a “Starter Boat” and at the time I figured I could get a similarly equipped C42 for about $110k. Having gone through a 93k refit I like to have an idea how different my first 3 years of boat ownership would have been had I made a different choice.
My Top 10 45′ Sailboat Expenses
|1982 Bristol 45.5’s 40 Year Refit
|Bristol 45.5 Purchase
|Replace standing rigging, mast wiring and electronics
|Dockage (2019 included with purchase)
|Winter Storage (2019 included in refit)
|Bottom soda blasted to gelcoat, epoxy barrier coat & paint
|North Sails Genoa
|Storage Unit & Hauling
|Complete Service Vacuflush Head
The top 10 expenses add up to $257,484.11 which accounts for 93% of the dollars I’ve spent on my Bristol 45.5 during my first 3 years of boat ownership. The #1 expense being more than 20 times the #10 expense. If you’re anywhere in my ballpark when it comes to boat needs and budget these and you want to save money entirely eliminating ALL any other of my other boat expenses would only save you 7% so let me teach you about these 10 expenses.
Since I’ve already written at length about the top two expenses (62%) I’ll discuss the remaining 8 in this article that make up 31% ($86,455.30) of the money I’ve spent during my first 3 years of boat ownership.
Dockage, Winter Storage, Storage Unit & Hauling: $35,927.57 (13%)
Keeping a boat in New England and living aboard at a marina in the summer is expensive.
COVID-19 turned my life upside down. I’ve been full time remote worker for a while now and I was planning on spending the summers living on land in New England with my girlfriend; living aboard S/V Counterpoint somewhere south during the winter. COVID-19 presented my girlfriend with the opportunity to move to Southwest Florida and she jumped at the chance. So now I live aboard in New England in the summer and live in Florida in the winter.
If I had known I would be living aboard in the north and living on land in the south I might have bought a different boat. I definitely would have set things up differently.
While I’m not willing to sacrifice a slip at a Marina of my choosing during my summer living aboard I am considering other ways to save on these costs:
- Joining a yacht club that has less expensive winter storage and shrink wrapping
- Keeping an inexpensive vehicle in New England during the summer so I don’t have to rent a car to shuffle gear at the start and end of the season
- Hauling the extra boat stuff down to Florida for the winter or just getting rid of it
- Living on the hook during June, July and/or August to save on marina costs
- Storing much further south where it’s less expensive and shrink wrapping is unnecessary
But if you have other ideas please share in the comments or on the contact form!
Bottom Job and New Genoa: $21,392.16 (8%)
If I wanted to save this $21k I would simply have to be willing to sail slower; basically to have a tank that sails less well than Counterpoint currently does.
All the professionals who saw the state of Counterpoint’s bottom said that the bottom needed to be redone. By then end of 2021 the old genoa was literally shedding parts of itself every time she tacked.
Still, in spite of the rough bottom and the old genoa I had one of my best sails ever during on a light air overnighter from Boston to Provincetown. So neither of these big expenditures was entirely necessary (the jib needed a replacement, but I didn’t need an awesome replacement).
But I was very happy with both of these improvements during 2021. I love the challenge of light air sailing and with the smooth bottom and new headsail I really enjoyed singlehanding S/V Counterpoint around Narragansett Bay in under 5 knots of breeze. My sailing friends who sailed pre and post improvements also noticed the difference in light air.
Standing Rigging Replacement: $19,129.94 (7%)
This project was actually an expense of opportunity. I could have skipped having the mast unstepped and sailed on the original 1982 rigging for a few more years. It probably would have been fine until I actually headed further afield and in 2021 when I had the work done I knew I’d be coastal cruising for at least the next few years.
But, the rigger who built the original rigging for Bristol 45.5s in the 1980s happened to be working in the marina I was staying at in 2021. As I was considering converting Counterpoint to a cutter rig I figured this rigger was the right guy to work with on the project.
His name is Dennis and he works at (and perhaps owns?) Bay Sailing Equipment in Fall River, MA.
I’m really glad I decided to work with Dennis; he spoke with an engineer from the company who built the mast and determined that a cutter rig would not be structurally sound on Counterpoint after measuring the mast. The other quotes for the cutter stay that I had received didn’t include any budget for a structural engineer so that could have been a big problem down the road.
So I tabled the dual headsail for the time being, had the standing rigging replaced and used the extra budget to have all the wiring within and electrical components on the mast replaced.
Insurance: $5,599.80 (2%)
The rule of thumb for yacht insurance is 2% of hull value per year. I’m a little bit under that for 3 years of insurance with an insured hull value of $100,000 ($2,000/year > $1,866.60/year).
I am working with a new insurance agent this year and I think I’ll be able to get some considerable insurance savings in 2022 and I’ll post in the comments if I do.
Head Servicing: $4,405.83 (1.6%)
I could certainly have saved money by doing this myself; the invoice was 85% ($3,762.79) labor. If I would have just replaced the hoses myself I probably could have saved $2.5k of that.
Or for the same amount I could have replaced the Vacu-Flush with an inexpensive easier to service manual head. But, hear me out:
When I bought S/V Counterpoint I counted the VacuFlush as a negative; I had used fresh water heads and they all consumed too much water. But all of my boat guests loved the VacuFlush – it’s a fresh water head which has less of that outhouse smell and it’s easy to flush. The VacuFlush uses much less water than other freshwater heads which means the holding tank fills up much more slowly. When the aft manual head went down I used the VacuFlush exclusively for a season and it never had any kind of outhouse smell so now I am also a fan.
But the hoses were old and they had a funny plastic-ey smell and my most important boat guest, my girlfriend, was quite sensitive to it. So replacing all the hoses made it to the top of my list.
The plumber showed up on a Monday and was done by Thursday. He managed to keep smells to a minimum which was great because I was living and working aboard at the time. (He was also a really nice guy.) The expertise to do this job while hardly making a mess was worth it to me. Other than having to use the aft head I was hardly inconvenienced at all!
The Best Way to (use this article to) Save!
I never really intended to second guess all of the work that I paid to have done in these articles but here we are. What I intended to do was to provide information on how much refit projects cost and I’ve done so in this article and in the big article on my refit.
If you’re in the market for a 45 ish foot boat the best thing you can do is use these articles to keep track of which of the projects you’re looking at down the road are big expensive projects. Every boat buying article talks about blisters but nobody mentions sodablasting and epoxy barrier coating a rough bottom might cost $10k; that new fuel tanks in the bilges could cost $50k or that a new suite of sails will run you at least $10k. If you’re looking at two similar boats, one that had the standing rigging replaced last year you know that is a $10-15k value ($5k for the wires and electronics) and can start evaluating your 3 year total costs accordingly. You know that sails new within the last 5 years is a $10k value (at least!).
What you don’t see in my list of top 10 expenses is the work that I did myself. Replacing the windlass controls, upgrading the electronics, finding a second hand life raft on the cheap and so much more. Fortunately for me I was able to do these projects myself and save some money; which is unfortunate for you dear reader because I haven’t been owned boats enough to have any idea how much those projects would have cost to have done professionally.
I can only provide you the data I have.
When I break things down and write about them I am learning as well. My takeaways after capturing all this data are as follows:
- I am pleased to see marina fees and performance improvements are the top two expenditures after refit and initial purchase; while I’d like to save money on these expenses where possible I am pleased that I’m able to spend my “boat money” on living where I want to live and improving S/V Counterpoint in ways that help me enjoy sailing her more!
- I am glad I over-estimated when I was budgeting for boat ownership. I had budgeted $200k for the first year (purchase and refit) and $75k the few years thereafter to keep improving things as I more about how I want my boat setup for the long haul.
- I should not have been so cavalier as I was about knowing I’d need a new genoa the first few years of owning Counterpoint
- I overpaid for my standing rigging. But I’m glad I didn’t save money on new standing rigging with an inner forestay that could have lead to a dismasting
- Sitting aboard in front of my laptop while the head was being serviced was surreal; I was earning my salary and the plumber was costing me money at the same time. I was definitely thinking “I would MUCH rather exchange this money than exchange places”
S/V Counterpoint Article Series
If you care to read more about my journey buying, owning and cruising Counterpoint checkout the additional articles below: