There is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea. It's impossible not to dream of selling it all and living on a boat, year-round. In theory, it sounds like an affordable way to live life as close as possible to the ocean, especially in areas where prices of real estate went through the roof. But I wonder, what if we turn this daydream into reality, how much would it actually cost?

When a big ship and a small boat come together, you will see that the latter is happier than the former because it has much less problems!

With real estate prices of tiny studio's in the South West of France starting around 100,000 euro, I started wondering how much boat this would buy. And more importantly, how much it would cost per year to own a 12 meter plus boat.

evening light
There are a lot of mysterious things about boats, such as why anyone would get on one voluntarily

update: this post is 18 months old but being pushed back up, stay tuned

Bordeaux or Biarritz ?

Bayonne’s port is mainly a commercial port, but there is a good marine for yachts because of its proximity with Biarritz. Access is safe and easy during any season through the south, with low winds. The port offers every possible service and includes repair facilities. North of Anglet, you will find beautiful sand beaches bordered by the very famous Landes pinewoods. More to the South, you can explore the breathtaking landscapes of the Basque Corniche.

What about Port Medoc, near the stunning city of Bordeaux?  On the seafront, just a few miles away, boaters will be able to discover the lighthouse of Cordouan (5 miles), La Rochelle (60 miles) or even Arcachon (70 miles). Inland waterways will allow to reach the city of Bordeaux and to explore the beauty of the estuary islands. On the landward side, Médoc port is situated near the state-owned forest of the Pointe de Grave, starting point of several bike paths.

If you leave your boat in a marina, then rates vary, but should not exceed 2,000 euros for the year. Unlike the Mediterranean coast, the Atlantic coast is best suited for people looking for an adventure. The Atlantic coast doesn’t offer as many marinas and ports as the Côte d’Azur. Depending on the season, winds and tidal streams can be quite strong. The sailing season for Atlantic France goes from May to October. During the winter, winds are too strong and the temperature is too low. To dry dock your boat during winter, you should budget around 700 euro.

Death and Taxes ?

If the boat (regardless of country of registration) is kept by a french resident (regardless of nationality) in France then the yearly tax is due. The required equipment for French registration is not particularly onerous.

French annual boat tax (DAFN)?

  • 274 € : 11-12 m
  • 458 € : 12-15 m
  • 886 € : 15 m +

Reduction on the DAFN rates based on the age of the boat:

  • 33 % : 10 - 20 year old
  • 55 % : 20 - 25 year old
  • 80 % : 25 + year old

Insurance ?

Your boat insurance becomes compulsory in most of the ports and marinas worldwide, especially because of legal liability. Therefore, it is important to subscribe at least to the minimum cover called "civil liability". Insurance companies in France generally base their rates on the value of the boat. The premium should be around 1% of the value of the boat.

Maintenance?

Budget 1,000 up to 4,000 a year for any unexpected maintenance costs that may come up. It's like a car, where you don’t spend anything for a while and then you spend a ton of money.

Benefits ?

Well, the total bill seems to be hovering around 500 euro per month. Pretty much the cost of water/electricity/tax/insurance and maintenance bills that come with owing a small apartment. However, take note, not all marinas allow full-time living, but most set aside roughly 10% of their slips for liveaboard residents. These slips are hard to come by. Aside from the the challenge of finding one in your destination city, liveaboards can pick up anchor and move whenever they want a change of scene. The benefits of living on a boat are all about freedom. We all know that's priceless.

I was hoisted to the top of an 85 ft. mast on a sailboat and grabbed this shot of another boat leaving the marina on its way out to sea.

Bordeaux or Biarritz are places of dreaming, but they are not perfect to live year-round on a boat. In my mind French Polynesia is the ultimate place to do that. With real estate rocketing in cities like San Francisco and Vancouver, more and more people are ditching their pricey digs for a more adventurous lifestyle. Boat living tends to attract some interesting people: artists, musicians, engineers, surfers… Below are some numbers from a couple that ended up buying a pre-owned 40' Catalina cruiser for $150,000. They moved to San Diego, where the climate would be mild enough to live on the boat comfortably year round.

How much would this cost in San Diego?

In an average month, it costs them around $2,200 to live on the boat.  By comparison, they would spend $2,500 to $3,000 to rent an apartment in a similar area of San Diego. (You could rent a huge villa for that money in the SW of France)

Their largest expense is paying to keep the boat at a marina, which costs $1,050 a month, including the $250 "live aboard" fee. That covers utilities such as water and electricity, and also allows them to keep their cars in the parking lot, use the pool and laundry facilities, and receive mail and packages there. For $25, a pump-out boat empties their sewage tank, which usually needs to be done once a week. He maintains the boat's mechanical systems himself, but the couple hires a professional to wash and wax the boat's exterior once a month, which costs $80. Every six months, they pay a diver $50 to clean the bottom.

Liveaboard boats can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000. If you finance your boat, you will have monthly mortgage payments. Boat property taxes vary by location. E.g. Californians are assessed 1.1% of the vessels current value annually.

Liveaboard insurance is more expensive than recreational boat insurance.

  • $800 a year for liveaboard insurance (sailing in local waters)
  • $1,800 a year for liveaboard insurance while cruising (sailing internationally)
  • For liveaboard moorage you should expect to pay $550-750 a month.
Sailing French Polynesia

The bridge between the two hulls of a catamaran creates plenty of open airy living space up top with bunks down below in the hulls. You can expect near house-like amenities. However, they aren’t just expensive to purchase, they also take up twice the space and pay twice the rent and maintenance.

Conclusion

The cost of the marina in San Diego is much higher compared to the South of France. But so are the house rental rates. For now, we"ll stick to living in our old house in France, but it's not gonna stop us from dreaming about a new chapter in Central America or French Polynesia. Maybe, one day, we'll be living that dream.

"The idea of making do with less is something that I hope we can take with us, wherever we go next," the couple said. "Even if it is a house."

Oh, and in case you have the budget of a luxury home, we highly recommend a company we got to know through living seven years in South Africa. Designed by World Champion catamaran racer Phillip Berman and Award Winning naval architect Anton Du Toit, the Balance 482 is a brand new piece of art!!

The Balance 526 was the first model designed by Du Toit Yacht Design, produced by Phil and manufactured by Nexus Yachts in St. Francis Bay, South Africa.

Nexus Yachts, is run and operated by legendary South African professional surfer Jonathan Paarman, along with his brothers Roger and Mark.

"We have pre-sold the first 6 of the 482. Our boats take at least three times the labor of any boat made in Europe for size. The 482 is running about $400,000 less than a 526 and yet she carries most of the same equipment. A 482 built in France would have to cost considerably more to sustain the same hand crafted nature."

What would be the ultimate surf charter yacht?

South African builder Robertson and Caine offers specifically designed, award-winning catamarans. The Leopard Catamaran factory is located in Cape Town.

Similar to real estate, it's all about location, location, location. As we said earlier, Central America, especially Costa Rica and Nicaragua, are on top of our list. To avoid the worry of buying a boat, there's always the opportunity to simply charter one.

Captain Pete, the full time captain on PLAYGROUNDS, has over 15 years of experience navigating, fishing and surfing in the Costa Rica oceans and will give you an experience of a lifetime roaming the crystal-clear waters. A surf trip will take you to surf the best spots in Costa Rica, such as Ollie's point, Witches Rock, and the south of Nicaragua with more than 30 miles worth of surfing spots.