Making Money On A Boat – How To Buy The Right One

Making Money on a boat? How about this one? Author pic taken in Botofogo Bay, Rio de Janeiro. (c) James Marinero

Start here and do it right

Making money on a boat? Don’t get the wrong idea – this article is not about buying a wreck and tarting it up. But you know – the picture and the boat’s name, I couldn’t resist it. Whatever ‘Mest’ means in Brazilian Portuguese. OK, I just checked, it means ‘most’. Most messy?

So you want to buy a used boat to live on and make money while you live on it? Maybe travel overseas while you do so? It can be done.

Plenty of people do it. I do it and have done for many years.

Here is some basic guidance about real issues you may will have to face. It isn’t easy – sometimes, buying a house can be easier. And many people love their boats more than their houses!

Family matters

What’s this? Well, boats are a great way to involve the family – or a great way to get away from them. Give it some thought now. Wherever I’ve sailed in the world I’ve met families with young children who are on amazing journeys, making money as they go – there are plenty of ways of making money on a boat (check my article on this). Their children are learning new languages, making new friends and meeting new cultures.

There are plenty of videos about this online.

But if you plan to do it alone then you’ll not be alone so to speak. There are plenty of solo live-aboards who make money while sailing. In fact we had a famous solo lady sailor aboard today for coffee. She makes money as she sails is the author of a well-known sailors handbook. And she even built her own boat! Not recommended for starters.

Will you be seagoing or based on a river/lake?

I’m assuming here that you will be seagoing, but it’s a fact that many live-aboards do not go to sea. They like life on canals, rivers and lakes.

Of course if you have any of the US Great Lakes in mind then that is equivalent to going to sea from a weather and water conditions standpoint. Except of course that the lake water is fresh and not saline – that could influence your choice of boat, particularly if it has a metal or wooden hull. I’ve got another article coming up about that.

Sail or Power?

A very basic question and one I can’t advise you on, other than to say ‘try them out’. When I was a boy our family had no experience of boats. We started out on powerboats and I tell you, they were basic in those days – the first one was a converted wreck of a ship’s lifeboat in which my Dad fitted an army truck engine. A great learning curve, but within 2 years we’d moved to the magic of sail.

If your live-aboard lifestyle plans include long distance voyaging, then sail is the more usual option.

Find out more

It’s a good idea to join a boating or sailing club and get a feel for what you like. This is a great way to start learning about boats and getting experience, building your knowledge of boats and the sea or the lakes and rivers.

Pick the brains of experts at the club bar – there will be plenty of opinions.

You can put your name on the club’s crew list – many owners are happy to take novices as crew – but tell the truth about your experience.

So, you’re getting a bit nearer to your dream of living on a boat and making money while doing it.

One, two or even three hulls?

Yes these are choices too, with pros and cons all round. I’m sticking to one. However, if you plan to base yourself in the Caribbean, then multihulls are a good option down there. You could even go down there and buy one ready to go. Then start making money on the boat.

Set your purchase budget

What you can afford to spend on the boat? I’m only considering used boat buying here – I definitely would not recommend buying a new boat as your first. With a new boat you’d need to add in extras, and that can be a big number relative to the basic boat price, even as much as 1/3 of the basic cost.

Set your running budget

You need to be looking at 10% of the cost of the boat as an annual running cost (and that’s without fuel). This will cover insurance (that’s maybe 2-5% of the boat’s value), a mooring or yard storage perhaps, servicing and wear and tear, and we’re just getting started.

Generally, multihulls (2 hulls = catamaran, 3 hulls = trimaran), will be significantly more expensive to moor at marina slips, and to haul out for antifouling and other maintenance than a monohull.


Depending on what you want to use the boat for, you may need to decide about the construction and hull material. GRP (fibreglass) is the usual choice, but there are others. For a first boat I’d definitely keep away from steel, aluminium and carbon fibre.

Start writing down your basic requirements

It helps to have a checklist of the minimum that you want and focuses your thinking. If you can do spreadsheets then that’s a good way. That will enable you to build up the costs of a basic new boat and its equipment (‘inventory’), and then compare this with a selection of used boats. This will give you your specification. Then when you see a used boat you can easily decide whether it is good value for your money.

Take a break

And while you are doing all this head off with the family(?) for a charter holiday on a boat, with a skipper if you haven’t yet got the qualifications. You should be going for a few days at least, on the type of boat that’s been crytsallizing in your dreams.

See how it works for you and the family if you have one.

Arrange the finance in advance

You might have ready cash, but if you need to arrange finance then it’s a good idea to establish how much you will have access to (and can afford to service) when the time comes.

Plenty of people sell up and sail off. It’s not done lightly. But, if you can afford to rent out your property AND buy a boat, then that’s a great way to become a live-aboard.

Find your boat

Now you just need to find the right boat. There are plenty of ways to do this – online, at the local boat club, yacht yard, magazine listings, online brokers, eBay and more. Have a browse on apolloduck for example – they have boats available all round the world. And no, I don’t get any $ for that link.

Cast your net as wide as possible – that will give you a good feel for what kind of value you can get. Think about joining the local boat club or yacht club – if you are a novice then you will be able to get experience crewing with others, and learning the language of boating and sailing people.


Do not fall in love yet.

You may live to regret it.

There are a lot of pitfalls along the way, and the one I hear about most often, is buying a boat different to what was originally wanted because the buyer fell in love with her. It happened to me once. I never found chine-built boats especially attractive, then I was tempted, and over twenty years later she’s my home, and we’ve got more than 70,000 miles under the keel together.

Also, don’t get tempted by a restoration project unless you are an expert on boats already. Even if they are named ‘Mest’. These can be huge holes for money.

I was working online here, in Sardinia, making money on my boat at anchor. It was one of my most lucrative freelance assignments, writing IT consultancy sales proposals (c) James Marinero 2012


You should have a shortlist of 2-3 boats to work with by this stage. Check online to see if there is an owners club or reviews, which will give you an indication of any problems to watch out for. Then, go and see some of them. Touch them, inspect them and wait, even try them out.

Whatever you do, don’t be rushed. And you can always ask a pal from the boating club to come along and help you with his or her experience.

Closing the deal

You will end up making a couple of offers and negotiating. Always make your offer ‘subject to survey’ and ideally ‘subject to sea trial’. Unless you are buying a small boat, then it’s always advisable and usually cost-effective to get the boat surveyed by a qualified marine surveyor.

Engine oil sampling is recommended. A lab report on the oil will give you a good idea on the state of the engine(s). A compression test for diesels is also a good idea although I’ve never had one done myself. The surveyor should be able to arrange all this.

If you’ll want comprehensive insurance then you’ll have to give the insurers a survey report anyway.

Get your pal from the boat club to help you out and advise you what to watch out for (like the owner stripping stuff out before handover).

Will the previous owner give you some tips, maybe accompany you on your first short trip? That’s useful even for experienced sailors when buying a boat.

Next steps

You will need to be planning where to keep your new boat, arranging insurance, a mooring and a whole lot more, especially if you plan to make the boat your home and even your place of work.

And then there’s the whole handover bit and the preparations for becoming a live-aboard, one step nearer to a dream of making money on your own boat.

I hope that my experience will help you buy wisely. It’s said that when you are involved with boats, the more you learn then the more you realise how much you don’t know. That’s a fact!

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