Joe Goodman’s love affair with yachts began at a summer camp in the US state of Pennsylvania, where he spent his days paddling an aluminium canoe across a lake.

Now aged 73, Goodman sails a 44-foot Italian yacht which he has owned for 25 years. His desire to own a yacht was fuelled by both a passion for boating, and also a desire for the feeling of freedom it would give him.

He sails several times per month now, but when he was younger, Goodman sailed nearly every weekend to Catalina Island off the Southern California coastline and regularly made treks to cities like Santa Barbara and San Diego.

“Self-reliance is a part of every man who has built a cardboard fort as a kid,” said Goodman, who is retired. “Yachting means you are free to explore the world. It’s about the journey.”

A privilege once reserved for high society socialites, yacht ownership today represents a very different, more commoditised and even egalitarian world.

These days, a yacht — loosely defined as any luxury boat powered by a motor or sail — that you can navigate alone can be had for as little as $50,000 second-hand.

In part, the introduction of less expensive construction materials — like fibreglass — has brought the cost of yachts down, opening up the market for more buyers. Frequent resale of luxury boats has created a strong used yacht market, which has also made the sailing dream more affordable. Shared leasing and shared ownership options worldwide have made way for the possibility of part-time yachting — at a much lower cost.

Today there are more yacht owners in Europe and the United States than in any other part of the world. Five years of booming economies across Asia have also fuelled increasing numbers of boating aficionados in countries like China and Singapore, which have stunning natural and man-made harbours.

Here’s what you need to know about yacht ownership and how you can get in on the sailing life.

All sizes — and prices

Paul Whelan, general manager of Simpson Marine, a brokerage company headquartered in Hong Kong, said the sale of “smaller” boats within the 40 to 70-foot range are more common than the highly publicised acquisitions of multi-million dollar super boats. A 25-foot day boat might sell for $50,000.

If you can’t pay for a yacht outright, you’ll likely need to put 20% as a down payment on a boat, with a five-year loan term typical.

New yachts are fully customisable, and thus more expensive. Every detail can be picked to order from the colour of your cinema curtains right down to the bathroom floor tiles, so there is no limit as to what can be spent. It’s not unheard of for a new yacht to cost upwards of $1bn — Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich famously purchased his, named the Eclipse, for that sum — not including operation costs. You can’t cruise a 13-cabin, 415-foot, basketball-court and Jacuzzi-tub bearing vessel without a crew of about 50 — and you’ll have to fill the 224,399-gallon fuel tank.

The upkeep of the 590-foot super-yacht Azzam, owned by United Arab Emirates president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nayan and equipped with two helipads and a missile defence system, is estimated at $60 million per year.

The operation costs of a modest boat are much lower, but it’s important to keep them in mind. Post-purchase, owners must consider the cost of fuel, title registration and insurance, docking fees, maintenance and repairs.

Maintenance and repairs for Goodman’s 44-foot vessel in California cost him around $5,000 a year. He also spends $1,000 per month in docking fees and $200 in yacht club dues (with a one-time initiation fee of $10,000). His fuel fees are low, just $300 per year, because he spends the majority of his time on the water sailing.

Take time to consider

Amid a sea of options, some buyers take five years to make a decision on the yacht of their dreams.

Adam Waters, chief executive officer of JW Marine, a brokerage firm in Sydney said most prospective yacht buyers begin by researching options on sites like

They then attend yacht shows like those in London, Monaco or Singapore to preview models before taking a few boats on a sea trial. Prospective buyers can literally take the yacht for a spin outside the harbour, much like test-driving a car around town.

Waters said the most important factors to consider include how the boat will be used — whether it be for corporate entertainment, fishing, or family recreation — whether the buyer wants new or second-hand, sailing or motorised and where they will keep it.

A yacht for family entertainment needs cooking, sleeping, and bathroom facilities for multiple people, for instance. One primarily used for solo day sailing should be sleek on the water and come with only a small cabin to store equipment.

A share of the sea

For weekend and holiday boaters, yacht share is a cost-effective alternative to ownership, especially in places like Australia, Croatia and Greece where it is popular.

In this system, a luxury boat syndicate will divvy up time-shares among eight or fewer parties who will be entitled to around 43 days per year, depending on the number of people participating. In Australia, a new 40 foot-long sailing yacht shared among four people could cost around AUD $40,900 ($36,658) per year per person plus monthly maintenance fees of AUD $489 ($438).

Sharing a boat with strangers through a third party ensures equal time division, something that can become a point of contention among friends who try to co-own a vessel. Syndicates, typically found online, often take responsibility for things like refuelling, cleaning and docking.

“It’s a way to put your foot in the water and see if it’s something you want to invest in,” Waters said.

Another method is to start with a smaller boat then upgrade. Whether or not a boat holds value depends on factors such as build quality, service history and general market conditions, Waters said. While fluctuations in the market can mean that your vessel might appreciate in value, in most cases the price will depreciate, like a car.


You can buy from online sites like and where individuals list their vessels for sale or trade, but inexperienced buyers might be better served by a broker who can ensure the boat was not stolen, that there isn’t money owing on it (if you are buying used) and that it is in top condition.

 a broker can also serve as the middleman for negotiation and help obtain financing with the best rates and terms. According to Yacht World, for yachts costing under $1 million, the industry standard for brokers is a 10% commission at sale.

In Asia, private boat sales are rare and yachts are generally bought new, Whelan said. Marinas across Singapore and Hong Kong have long waiting lists for docking space because infrastructure can’t keep up with demand.

Whelan said he and his team in South East Asia sell around 100 boats per year. Prices range from $1.5 million for a 50-foot, second-hand yacht, to $4 million for a 75-foot new Italian vessel.

“It beats buying another Ferrari or Lamborghini — [a yacht] is a status symbol here,” Whelan said. “We’re starting to get people who have owned two or three boats before. They've been bitten by the bug, so there’s a passion there.”

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.