Why Cruising America's Great Loop Costs Much Less Than You Think
Cruise America's Great Loop to circumnavigate eastern North America’s waterways by boat! Click here for Part One of our look into how you can afford tomorrow's Great Loop boating adventure today.
If you know how to plan accordingly and where to find the inside scoop on America's Great Loop like we do here at AGLCA, then you won’t need to spend $100,000 or more to cruise in comfort and safety. Even with boat costs--for well-equipped boats ranging anywhere from 25' to 45'--incorporated into your budget, your total Great Loop expenses can run under $60,000.
Under $60,000 in total cost for cruising the Great Loop? That's what many couples spend on average yearly at home on dry land! How's that possible? Consider that while you do incur unique boating costs, most of your expenses won't change much when you move your life from land to boat. Whether you spend much more or less than $60,000 will depend on your lifestyle.
Our data from our Gold Loopers
--AGLCA members who've completed the Great Loop
once before--clearly shows us that cruising expenses are surprisingly similar to your current living expenses year to year. But keep in mind: if you don't plan accordingly, it's easy for your cruising adventure to balloon from $60,000 to $100,000 or more.
So, if you dream of undertaking America’s Great Loop, and you want to avoid a financial nightmare that’ll take the shine of your golden years, then an AGLCA membership is the place for you to start. With our member resources, you don’t have to throw money at every bump in the Loop just to keep cruising.
AGLCA’s members-only Cost of Looping calculator is a great tool for Loopers in the planning stages of a future trip. Punch in your estimated boat and living expenses, and the Cost of Looping calculator helps you forecast the cost of a year (or more) living the Loop. Equally helpful is the data we’ve compiled from members who’ve completed the Loop. Dozens of our Gold Loopers have used our Cost of Looping calculator to report a near complete list of their Looping expenses, which will soon be searchable by other members to help you better estimate your own trip’s potential cost.
Basically, with all the Gold Looper data on hand, we at AGLCA have noticed an established trend. In general, your biggest cruising costs are as follows:
- General expenses, such as food, eating out, entertainment and regular medical bills. (Nearly all of our Gold Looper submissions show general expenses were by far the top cost. And when it wasn't first, it was usually a close second.)
- Marinas, dockage and slip rentals.
- Fuel—thankfully, much lower today than in years past.
- Maintenance, which can be even lower if you have a DIY handyman aboard. (FYI: on rare occasions, maintenance can rank higher.)
- Equipment and gear, which go up if your boat hails from the days of Captain Ahab, or cost next to nothing if your boat comes pre-outfitted with the latest equipment.
Note: each of the above costs varies widely depending on your personal wants and needs.
America’s Great Loop insider Captain John agrees that after buying a boat, the Loop is as low-cost as you want it to be. He writes: “If you choose the right boat, then your individual choices in lifestyle will be the majority of your cruising cost. This means you can spend the majority of your budget on yourself and on what makes you happy, rather than on your boat, fuel and boat related expenses.”
So, let’s analyze each expense to reach a few specific conclusions (and one big general conclusion).
- General expenses. You’re going to have to eat. If you cook at home and don’t spend much on your grocery bill, you’ll do likewise on the boat. If you regularly eat out and party in style when at home, you’ll be faced with the same expenses on board. So your general expenses, whether on land or water, are roughly equal. The Gold Loopers in our members' forum have plenty of experience and boatloads of advice on how to maximize your dollar when it comes to living in economical comfort, including tips on managing your expenses from Cable TV and internet to insurance needs and medical emergencies.
- Marinas. What about the high cost of marinas, you say? Marina overnights are cheaper than most hotels, but their cost can add up overtime. But average costs for a full year of tying up at marinas can be about the same as a year-long apartment rental. As with general expenses, you have control over marina costs by choosing how often to pull in. Sure, you can save money by anchoring more often, but most Gold Loopers agree the best part of cruising is meeting wonderful people along the way, so don't underestimate the social aspect of the Great Loop. You’ll befriend more seagulls than humans if you spend too much time in between marinas.
- Fuel. If you drive a car at home, then you budget for gas. Fortunately, with fuel prices as low as they are these days, you feel less of a pinch at the pump. The same is true on the Loop. Today’s fuel costs are the lowest they’ve been in years, often two or three times less than they were for those who did the Loop in the past. One AGLCA member recently commented: “These lower fuel prices are a great unexpected boon to those who had expected more than double the cost.” Can your total fuel expense for a 40'-ish, boat with an often-used generator and marina diesel averaging less than $3.50 per gallon cost less than $9,000? Or, to put it another way, can you average $1 per mile on the Loop? We'll answer that question in our upcoming post about cruising on the cheap thanks to 2016's low cost of fuel!
- Maintenance. Everyone appreciates a $10k rainy day fund, but how often do Loopers need to tap into one to patch up a boat emergency? And what’s the cost of regular maintenance? A smooth cruise can get financially bumpy when you’re laid up for a month waiting for a part or a mechanical fix, but the frequency and seriousness of boat repairs mostly depends on your ability to learn what needs fixing and when to fix it, an ability that can lead to cost-saving habits similar to those you’ve developed caring for your home and car. Our member community has thousands of years of combined experience on the Great Loop—that’s a lot! They’ll help familiarize you with how to plan for periodic maintenance hiccups and full blown emergencies. The more familiar you are with your boat and the Loop, the more money you’re likely to save. Anticipated maintenance costs can run the gamut, but there’s no reason why you can’t keep them to a minimum, just as you do as a home and car owner. As for dire emergencies, only Poseidon knows if or when the next disaster will strike. But plan your emergency maintenance fund the way you would an emergency fund on land. For detailed tips, ask our Gold Loopers!
- Equipment and gear. Do you want to stuff the latest gadgets in every nook and cranny aboard or can you cruise with the equipment that comes included with your boat? We’ve had Gold Loopers spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $50,000 to make their boat Loop-ready. You can compare that to different people’s entertainment needs at home: do you want a top-of-the-line home theater system, or do you just need a library card. I think by now you see the pattern:
Your Great Loop’s total cost can be as high or as low as you want it to be.
For curious Loopers looking for further information, Gold Looper’s Madison and Marlene Groves wrote a primer, So You Want to Do the Great Loop, which includes detailed cost breakdowns of cruising expenses. You can find the Groves’ free primer and a boatload of forum threads discussing costs and cost-saving tips in our members-only section.
Finally, let’s get back to the expense of purchasing a boat. At AGLCA, we partner with leading yacht brokers that buy and sell boats ideal for cruising the Great Loop. They have tips on how to buy a boat, do the Loop while experiencing minimal depreciation, and sell the boat when you're finished. We hope you'll be bitten by the cruising bug and decide to go around the Loop again, but if selling the boat upon completion is a must, it can be done. We've had a Looper buy a boat and sell it a year later, after completing the Loop, for the same price!
Still think America’s Great Loop is just a daydream? We can tell you from experience that you’re not alone. Like our 6,000 members, you have the dream to cruise, and that means you’re well on your way to doing the Loop. How do you bring your dream to life? Join AGLCA, America’s Great Loop leader, to access all our member resources that can help you manage your budget and prepare you for your Great Loop adventure.
Click here for Part One of our two-part look into how you can afford tomorrow's Great Loop boating adventure today.