15 Ways to Save $1,780 This Season

And you don’t have to skimp to do it.

Since disposable income isn’t too easily disposed of these days, it’s tempting to consider scaling back on your usual spring and summer plans. Don’t do it. Instead, boat smarter. Use these ideas to keep your costs down and maybe even have your best season ever.

1. Cut Your Coverage Area
Insurance companies often set coverage parameters based on your geographical cruising range, which the companies often refer to as "navigation." Say you live in New Jersey. The insurance company may offer you a policy that covers you for cruises down to Key West, but you know you'll never take your boat south of Ocean City, Maryland. Adjust your plan's navigation range and save.

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Estimated Savings: $75

2. Call Ahead
Spontaneity is great, but it can thin your wallet pretty fast when applied to overnighting. Block Island is one of the most popular cruising destinations in the Northeast, and the rates are pretty typical. The 2010 rate for a 31- to 45-foot boat is $4.50 per foot per night at Champlin's Marina. But if you make the reservation early enough to mail in a deposit for two nights or more, you get a discounted rate of $4.25 per foot per night. So, for a 45-foot boat for two nights, you'd save $22.50. Over four weekends a season, that's a savings of $90. Also consider overnighting during off-peak times. We've seen rates as low as $1.50 per foot per night in October. If you get a stretch of good boating weather, that's a steal. Estimated Savings: Up to $270

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3. Hit the Road
People with boats they trailer have instant money-savers. An efficient tow vehicle should average between 10 mpg and 13 mpg with a full load. Even if you get just 8 mpg towing your boat, it's still better than the most efficient cruising speeds on the water, which, depending on your boat, will average between 1 mpg and 2 mpg. Just trailer your boat closer to your final destination. Say you tow 100 extra miles this season instead of cruising that distance, at 10 mpg. That could save you 40 gallons of fuel over the long haul. Estimated Savings: $120

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4. Pump on Land
Trailer boaters have another money-saving advantage over slip-dwellers: refueling at gas stations. Buying fuel at a marina can cost an extra 30 to 80 cents per gallon. For a 100-gallon tank, that's an extra $30 to $80 per fill-up. Even if you keep your boat in a slip, consider transporting fuel from the gas station to the dock in a Gas Caddy ($370 for a 28-gallon unit at westmarine.com). If you have your boat on a trailer, there's no excuse. Fill up on the road, and make sure you do it as close to the launch as possible. Doing so will save on your truck's towing payload. Estimated Savings: $175

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5. Assess the Props
Make sure your propellers are the right size to allow your engine to rev up to its maximum rated rpm. To further ensure efficiency, send the wheels out for reconditioning, as even small dings rob the effectiveness and cost you fuel — and potential repairs. Even if you shave as little as one-tenth of a gallon per hour, it will add up during the course of a season, and over the life of a boat. Estimated Savings: Up to $100

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6. Go Straight
The easiest way to save money when boating is to trim the mileage fat — i.e., fuel. Use your chart plotter to map out the shortest route to your destination, and stay true to it with attentive helmsmanship. Say meandering off course adds an extra five miles to your 100-mile cruise. If you averaged a 2 mpg fuel burn on your cruise, you'd chug an extra 4.5 gallons of fuel, costing you about $15. So if you boat 1,000 miles a season, well, it's easy math. Estimated Savings: $150

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7. Block Your Ice
A 10-pound bag of cubed ice costs 99 cents at my local 7-Eleven. I can bring the same amount of cubed ice from home for free. Better yet, use block ice. It takes a lot longer to melt and, thus, will keep your food and beverages — or your catch — cooler longer. Make your own block ice by freezing water in plastic storage tubs or milk cartons. We easily go through 80 blocks of ice a season, and every one of them saves cash. Or get dry ice from ice distributors the day before an outing for about $2 per pound. Lean one pound against the side of the cooler and refrigerate your drinks the day before. They'll stay cold all day — for two bucks. Estimated Savings: $80

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8. Use Discounts
The average Boating reader spends $500 annually on gear. You can chop that number way down simply by finding bargains from online retailers. West Marine and Overton's constantly offer deals for 10 percent to 25 percent off. Don't forget to look at West Marine's clearance outlet online. We found a $45 Shakespeare 8-foot radio antenna for $40 and a $1,500 Torqeedo outboard for $1,270. Also check out the clearance center at the Sierra Trading post (sierratradingpost.com). Early this year the site had deals like $169 polarized sunglasses for $58 and a $450 wetsuit for $240. Estimated Savings: $200+

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9. Go Digital
Look through the performance numbers on the various boat tests in this issue. Despite different lengths and horsepower, boats typically settle into a sweet spot for the most miles per gallon and best range just after climbing onto plane. With digital fuel-flow monitors on the dash, you can monitor your best gas mileage in real time. Mercury even takes it a step further, employing an "Eco-Screen" in its SmartCraft gauges. The screen literally turns green and reads "optimized" when your boat is properly trimmed at the most efficient revolutions per minute. Mercury claims it provides a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in fuel economy. If gas costs $3 per gallon, and you use 500 gallons, that's $1,500. With the gauge, you pocket major cash. Estimated Savings: Up to $300

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10. Change Your Own Oil
Buy an oil removal pump, such as the electric quick-change pump ($26, cabelas.com), and save money on your regularly scheduled oil changes. Connect the clips to your battery terminals and suck the old oil through the dipstick tube. It's that easy. You'll still have to buy the oil, but you won't be paying the labor, which averages $70 per hour. Estimating Savings: $70

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11. Reduce Your Laid-Up Boat Coverage
Pinpoint the date you'll launch to the date you'll haul out. Mike Costolo of C&L insurance in Miami specializes in marine insurance. "In Northern climates there's often a discount during the laid-up months. That's not as common in the South, where you can boat yearround," he says. The laid-up discount is awarded for the low-risk time the boat's not being used. If your policy says you launch April 1 but you don't launch until the 15th, change your policy to reflect that. Estimated Savings: $50

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12. Know the Value of Your Boat
The recession has killed the value of boats. If you're not selling, there's nothing to sweat. In fact, you stand to gain. Where? In your insurance premiums. A lot of people are insuring their boats at nearly double their actual values. That makes replacing your boat a snap, but if you're more risk-tolerant, you can adjust the policy to "actual value." "The most important thing an individual owner should do is check his hull value," says Tom Conroy, managing director for marine accounts at Markel American Insurance. Take a look at your boat's current blue book value, hire a surveyor or just comparison-shop at various online sales websites. Adjust your policy accordingly. Estimated Savings: $70

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13. Increase Your Deductible
"How much risk are you willing to bear?" Conroy asks. If you raise the deductible, you might be able to substantially reduce your premium. Go from a $1,000 deductible to a $3,000 deductible on a $100,000 boat policy, and you can decrease your premium payments by 5 percent or greater. Estimated Savings: $50

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14. Cheap Cleaning
Boat-specific cleaners give you some peace of mind because they've been field tested and approved. But they're expensive. A 32-ounce bottle of mildew remover costs about $11. Boat soap averages $6 a bottle. You can make your own mildew cleaner by mixing one-third sodium hypochlorite (deck cleaner) with two-thirds water. Percentage-wise, that's a huge savings. You can also make your own soap by mixing one cup of powdered laundry detergent per gallon of water. Estimated Savings: $20

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15. Get Educated
Most marine insurance providers offer discounts if you complete an approved boater's education course. Many also offer "experienced operator" discounts, so if you're an old salt, have friends sign an affidavit attesting to your years on the water. You can also get discounts if you install highwater alarms, depth sounders, fire-suppression systems, remote monitoring systems and other safety features. Even the digital depth sounder you have on board could shave a few dollars off your insurance policy. It's just more proof that the deeper you look, the more you can save. Estimated Savings: $50+

**Have some tips of your own for boating on a budget? Head to the forums to share them with your fellow boaters!
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