Operating Costs – Sail Vs Power

Realizing that the cost of operating a yacht like the FPB 83 Wind Horse is probably of interest we thought we’d recap the various links to articles on this subject with a few comments thrown in.

We have always separated cruising costs into two catagories, those associated with moving the boat and the fixed costs of ownership whether or not there are miles slipping under the keel.

In the fixed cost category the major items are:

  • Insurance.
  • Berthing or storage.
  • Haul outs.
  • Local taxes (often avoidable).
  • Crew (if employed).
  • Upgrades (typically not a factor for the first six to eight years).

These amounts will vary with location and personal taste. For Wind Horse insurance runs about six tenths of one percent, storage including haul and launch has averaged about US$9000 per year. The rest of the items are not applicable.

The underway costs include:

  • Fuel.
  • Oil changes.
  • Engine and transmission rebuild allowance.
  • Miscellaneous wear and tear (allowance for belts, stabilizer maintenance, prop and rudder shaft bearings, engine checks and preventives).

The fuel costs you can pick up from the links below. For the purposes of this exercise lets assume US$4.00/US gallon/$1.06/ liter for fuel. This figure is on the high side of what we have averaged. During 2008 for the 11,000 miles we cruised between California and Ireland we averaged US$3.35 per gallon, or Euro 0.632/liter and this was during the period when oil touched US$150/barrel.

Fuel burn is a little under seven gallons/26.4L per hour at 11 knots, so lets use seven for now (backing off to 9.7 knots would save a third). On this basis diesel is costing us US$2.54/nautical mile. To this we need to add an oil change and filters every 300 hours or roughly 3.6 cents/NM. We are told to expect 35,000 to 40,000 hours on the engine and transmission, but lets assume 27,000. We asked the guys at Cascade Diesel, who supplied the engines, for a rough costing and rebuild. The answer was  which divided by the hours times miles equals 8.75 cents per mile. Add in another $500 per year for odds and ends, which comes to half a cent per mile. The total of all these non-fuel items is just under 13 cents. So, running at eleven knots, burning $4/US gallon diesel it is costing us 2.67 per nautical mile to operate Wind Horse.

In comparison the 78 foot ketch, Beowulf, cost us US$3.09 per mile for operating costs between 1995 and 2003, so to be fair they need to be adjusted for inflation. The biggest item was sail inventory. Modern high modulus cruising sails are good for about 2200 hours, and that is what we averaged on our working canvas. The price per mile was based on all the costs over those years divided by the miles. Note that the average buyer would pay at least a third more for the same sails.

If you update these figures to 2010 with an inflation allowance, the per mile cost for Beowulf would be around $4.05 per mile.

Beyond the running costs, the balance of the expenses would be close to the same, with the FPB having an edge because of shallower draft (more berthing options), lower insurance rates, and less requirement for crew.

A note on the price of diesel. With our substantial fuel capacity we have the luxury of waiting for low cost fuel, which substantially enhances these figures. Also, buying large quantities at one time gets you a better price.


Operating Costs 2005

Fuel Cost September 2008

Engine Maintenance at 2000 hours.



Posted by Steve Dashew  (August 20, 2010)

2 Responses to “Operating Costs – Sail Vs Power”

  1. Warren Says:

    Thanks for this analysis Steve

    Did you buy all of Beowulf’s sails from USA lofts?

    What’s your basis for the 1/3rd more for the typical buyer please?

    With China cranking up there are sailmakers like Doyles sourcing production there… so sail prices are unlikely to go up

    However, diesel is another kettle of fish

    look forward to your comments


  2. Steve Dashew Says:

    Hi Warren:
    Dan Neri and Kenny Read supplied the first set of sails when they were a Sobstad loft, and then North did the second after they sold out to them. Re pricing, we typically got much deeper discounts than were available to the retail public, and these discounted prices are what are the costs presented are based upon.