This is the age old question of what came first, the chicken or the egg. Do I pay more at first to pay less later. The answer, unfortunately, is how “free” do you want to be?
Let’s say you purchase a used catamaran for $350,000 in good operational shape with everything you’d expect from a 10ish year old cat. You’ll obviously have the continuous maintenance costs, as well as fuel, and docking/marina charges. We’ll call them yearly costs and they will always be there.
You can travel less and use your generator as little as possible to save on fuel. You can mostly anchor in areas with little or no costs (but you’ll use your dinghy more). So you may be able to save here and there.
However, you will use your generator. You will use your engines. You will definitely use your dinghy engine. It’s really not possible to avoid certain costs. You will have a minimum of yearly costs that is nearly impossible to get away from.
Depending on where you sail, the fuel costs could be much higher than expected/planned. Fuel on the water is always more expensive. Fuel in the middle of nowhere, even more so. What’s really expensive? Fuel you don’t have when you really need it.
You do not have to look at catamarans for sell for very long, though, to see they almost all have some source of alternate power. Solar is the most abundant, but wind turbines are also popular. Hydrogenerators are also used, but much less so due to drag.
Although we have 3 alternate sources of power, I’m only going to look at solar. Hydrogenerators really only make sense if you already have electric motors and use them as the hydrogenerators. The wind turbine is okay, but for it to be meaningful, you’d need more of them than you want. Good idea to have one or maybe two, but that’s not enough.
Sun Power My A/C – It’s Self Defense
So, of course, you have solar on your boat. How much? That’s the $50,000 question. A quick look on yachtworld.com and used boats on the market are all over the place on how much solar they have. I randomly looked at eight boats that are in my (hopeful) price range that are between 5 and 10 years old.
Four of these had no solar. This surprised the shit out of me. Who wouldn’t want at least some solar?
Three of these had an average of about 400 watts of solar. From my experience, that’s about the norm.
Then I hit one that had 1500 watts of solar. That is on the high end and much more in line with what I want. Did that boat cost more? Yeah. Yeah, it did.
(Note: To get check some wording, I looked at another boat real quick boat. 2008 Leopard 46 for $449,000. This bad boy had 2400 watts of power.)
The more solar you have the better, but you don’t need more than you can use. How much can you use? Well, that’s something you’ll have to evaluate on your particular boat. Factors like refrigerators, freezers, a/c, stove, and all the electronics are what you’re mostly looking at. Unless, you have electric motors. We’ll discuss that later.
Batteries, just like fat, but better.
Next are the batteries. You need good lithium batteries to go with these solar panels. For a good, scientific explanation, I’ll direct you to the Wynns. They have an excellent Battery Math video. For this example, though, I would need at least six 300 AMP hour batteries at a cost of around $3,500 each. This would cost me about $21,000.
My current total just for solar with batteries is $27,000 plus whatever miscellaneous money needed to properly install.
I believe that I would eventually save enough money to make this worthwhile. Also, it would allow me the flexibility to be off the grid and comfortable for longer periods of time.
Tesla of the Waters
Now let’s step it up a notch. I don’t want to pay these crazy prices for fuel. Or risk running out of fuel when needed. I want some electric motors and a small genset in case it gets cloudy with no wind.
First up is the OceanVolt Saildrive 15. This bad boy was made for sailboats. It even has hydroregeneration built in for when you’re under sail. I’d love to slap 2 of these bad boys on my future boat. Starting price, about $40,000 each. And I need 2 of them… Well damn. Is that correct? Damn. A new Yanmar with 40 HP would be about $5,000. Damn. Damn. Damn.
Then I hit the configurator. I don’t need the 15, I can do this with an 8 or 10. A dual saildrive 8 is only $22,000. Battery bank and integrated management system is another $42,000. These new electric engines would cost me over $64,000.
I don’t think that works for me.
A few weeks back, I ran across a Lagoon that was listed as a hybrid. They had replaced their diesel engines with electric motors from Electric MotorSport. In particular, I think they had this motor shown at $3,700 (configured mine at $4,400) . You’d still need to buy a large battery bank for this and additional solar panels, but I think it’s much more doable.
When the time comes for my catamaran purchase, I will definitely be in touch with these guys.
How much money will this save me? I have no idea. I do feel like I’ll save a good bit after a few years on the water. If the wife and I buy a $350,000 boat and stick $50,000 worth of magic electricity stuff in it, it would take a few years to see the savings. If we cut and run after 2, we would most likely lose money. I’m okay with that.
Here’s the other part, though. Time is money. One of the consistent things I’ve read about and seen on countless youtube videos is how much maintenance people have to put into their engines and how time consuming fueling can be.
I am not lazy. I do not mind doing necessary work, especially to live a life that I love. I am, though, a fan of making necessary work unnecessary. Less maintenance on the motors? Hell yes. Less time in the heat working to fuel my boat? Hell yes.
For my boat, solar is the way to go. Hopefully, electric motors will also be on there.
Shout out to Jason and Nikki Wynn. The wife and I have been watching their videos on youtube for a few years now. They seem like very good people and they document their adventurous lives better than I ever will. Their website has an incredible amount of details on various topics and I would be remiss if I didn’t link to them directly. If you’re truly interested in this life style, they are a must watch.
Gone With the Wynns