How much does it cost to build a boat?

A question I often get asked is; what is the cost to build a boat like Tokyo Express?

What are the costs to build a boat of this size? It’s a good question and a topic I spent a lot of time trying to work out myself before I began.

Second-hand boats are cheap these days, although cats still hold their price better than keel yachts. With the interior fit-out work included, I put in close to 8,000 hours of work, creating my boat. But that also included building a shed, designing a lot of my own things – everything.

It can be done quicker than I did, but there is still a lot of work involved. Putting an hourly rate on your time spent building a boat, and adding that to the cost of materials, may make it appear an expensive exercise.

Some people suggested I was wasting my time putting in so many hours when 2nd hand boats are cheap. Just go out and buy one! If you are well paid, and the only reason for making a boat is saving money, then maybe it is better working longer in your day job and buying a boat.


Comparing apples to oranges

But my reasons to build were not just about saving money.

Building my boat was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, it falls more into the category of a hobby. I lose track of time whenever I’m in my shed creating, even on small projects.

Making a craft you can live on, and sail across an ocean with, takes it to another level. The joy and satisfaction I felt, launching a boat I’d spent the last three years building, are not something money can buy.

You will never feel the same about a boat you buy as the one you have built. Creating your own craft also gives you the chance to make it how you want, and build it to meet your standards. Even if you are building from plans, you can still make plenty of changes and tailor the boat to fit you.

So calculating the cost of the hours I worked and adding that to the material costs, and comparing that to buying a boat, for me, doesn’t tell the whole story. It is like counting the hours you spend playing tennis, or whatever your hobby or sport is, then working out how much money it costs you in lost work hours. Maybe it’s not quite the same, perhaps it’s somewhere in between.

I built because I loved doing it, and saving money was a nice side effect of doing the job myself. When I added up the material costs without counting hours, it was a lot cheaper than buying a boat. Also, it was built to my standards and the way I wanted it. And it was a new boat. You might find a second-hand boat cheaper, but it is just that, second-hand. That’s comparing apples to oranges, it’s not the same thing.


Now, to answer the question.

The cost of raw materials and equipment to build TE, added up to around $75,000 (AUD), in 1995. Things have gone up since, but something’s not so much. In fact, some items are cheaper these days. To put things more into perspective.

  •  Epoxy cost me $13/litre back then – buying 200 litres bulk at a time. (The price in Oz for buying 20 litres in 2016 was $24/litre).
  •  Paint I think, is cheaper these days.
  •  Wood hasn’t increased too much.
  •  Electronics are less expensive (and better).
  •  Solar panels now cost less than 1/10th of what I paid.
  •  Tools are considerably cheaper today.

I sold the boat for about 3 times more than the material costs, after living 5 years on board, which is in line with the rule of thumb I’d heard many times, that the material costs are half to one-third the value of a boat.

I think it’s rare to get the same sense of satisfaction working in a job for someone else, compared to being your own boss, managing your own project. So while my “hourly rate” was not that high, if you want to look at it that way, I did earn money when I finally sold the boat, and they were the most enjoyable 3 years work I’ve ever done.

In my book “Building Tokyo Express“, I talk more about the cost of building and describe how I built my boat. I had more time than money and made a lot of the systems and major components, that you would usually buy or have made, myself. It saved me a considerable amount of money. You can weigh up for yourself if it is worth it or not.

If you have more money than time, you can get some or all of that work done for you and finish the boat quicker. The timeline in the back of the book, details how long it took me to complete each part of the boat along with many ideas and things I learned during this time. It can be done a lot more economically than you may first think.

You might also be interested in the following post, which compares the advantages and disadvantages of catamarans vs monohulls. There is a big difference!

I hope this gives you a little more insight into the costs of building your own boat.

Tim Weston