Is Sailing Cheaper Than Flying? (Explained With Examples)

Sailing can be a much more enriching experience than flying because the pace is slower, and there is so much beauty to see.

What about the costs, though?

Let’s dive into whether sailing or flying is cheaper.

Here’s Why Flying is Cheaper than Sailing:

Generally, airplanes are a streamlined system of travel where the flyer pays for a single or round-trip ticket. Sailing costs far more, considering food, fuel, and emergency gear or supplies. Flying, therefore, is cheaper than sailing.

6 Quick Price Comparison Between Flying and Sailing

Please note that these numbers are not exact and are an average price estimate regarding gas at $4/gallon in the summer of 2022.

Location Transportation Time Average Price
New York City to London Airplane ~7 Hours ~$450 Round-Trip
New York City to London Sailboat ~17 Days (@ 8 Avg. Knots) ~$3,000 @ $4/Gallon, 2GPH
New York City to London Cruise Liner ~1 Week ~$1,300+
California to Hawaii Airplane ~6 Hours ~$650 Round-Trip
California to Hawaii Sailboat ~13 Days (@ 8 Avg. Knots) ~$2,000 @ $4/Gallon, 2GPH
California to Hawaii Cruise Liner ~1 Week ~$1,200+

[Sources from separate fuel calculators and airlines]

If you were to sail across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, it would take a lot of time, gas, and therefore money. Depending on whether or not you are sailing or flying, that cost can drastically differ.

According to our research, it seems that it would be cheaper and faster to fly rather than sail or take a cruise over the ocean.

Most cruises cost $1,200+, while plane tickets can be bought for $450-$650 round-trip. These prices fluctuate from year to year, even from month to month.

During low seasons and low prices,  a 7-hour flight at $650 is actually pretty good – especially for a round-trip!

In contrast, the cost per gallon would be astronomical when sailing your own ship (let’s say a medium-sized vessel) for 2-3,000 miles. You would basically be paying for a cruise, except doing all the sailing yourself and moving at a speed that will take you about a week and a half or more.

Our calculation is based on the idea that you are sailing at a constant 8 knots, most likely using your motor and gas as you go. This is not always going to be the case, as most sailboats – you know – sail using the wind!

While you might be paying a lot of money in gas to sail across the ocean, it is just as likely you will bypass fuel consumption when the wind is right.

Keep in mind that it is very difficult to calculate sailing costs without a unit of constant speed or field consumption. So while it might be cheaper to sail by the wind for most of your trip, we can’t exactly say how much that will cost.

Food & Emergency Supplies:

Make sure that you consider all that goes into sailing for about a week or two on the ocean.

Just because you are paying for gas doesn’t mean your job is done.

Food, emergency supplies, and paying any sailors you’ve brought along on your trip will add to your sailing costs.

These added costs can stack up quickly, especially when feeding multiple people on a small vessel.

You will also probably have to pay for a marina or dock space once you reach your destination, which can cost a few hundred dollars in some places.

So, depending on who you are feeding, where you are setting down your anchor, and if you have to pay deck hands, your sailing costs could be much, much more.

What About the Time Differences?

Time differences change how we view travel, and the time it takes to get somewhere.

For example, it would take about 7 hours to fly from New York City to London. London, however, is 5 hours ahead in the time zone.

If you left New York City at 10:00 am, you would be in London by 5:00 pm New York time. However, the clock would read 10:00 pm London time when you arrived.

In that sense, time gets a little lost when you travel through time zones.

Going back the other way would feel like traveling backward in time. If you left London at 10:00 in the morning on a Monday, you would end up in New York City at noon that same Monday.

So, even though you flew 7 hours from London to New York, you would actually have only traveled about two hours forward in time – this is why Jet Lag is so rough when you travel internationally.

Time Differences Do Not Affect Cost:

While it is strange to travel internationally, the time zones do not affect the cost of your trip. You may arrive in New York City at noon on Monday, but the cost of your trip will remain the same regardless of when or how long you are traveling.

That being said, some plane tickets are more desirable than others, making them more expensive, based on the departure and landing time.

Tickets that have you sitting at the airport at four in the morning before your flight will be much cheaper than an easy 9:00 am flight out of New York. That is because the demand for a ticket at 4:00 am is not as high as a ticket at 9:00 am.

Make sure to keep an eye out for those cheaper tickets. Yes, you’ll have to wake up much earlier, but you could save yourself a few hundred dollars in the meantime.

Do People Sail Across The Oceans To Avoid The Pollution From Aircraft?

Sailing can be considered better than traveling by airplane or car, but that doesn’t mean it is always better for the environment.

Yes, sailing avoids adding more pollutants to the air than aircraft and cars emit. In fact, according to atag.org, “Aviation is responsible for 12% of CO2 emissions from all transports sources, compared to 74% from road transport.”

However, sailboats can disrupt the native species, plants, algae, and sediment in the ocean when they pull into harbors or sail near reefs.

Still man-made vessels, boats are not natural additions to the aquatic landscapes. Motors and keels harm or disrupt wildlife, and using jets or propellers can displace or erode sediment in areas where rocks and sediment keep things stable and sturdy.

Oil spills can pollute waters, and non-native algae and species can infect areas where you sail if you don’t clean your boat properly before you arrive.

So, while sailboats definitely pollute less than airplanes and cars, don’t count on them as being totally green and safe for the environment.

What is the Cheapest Way to Cross the Oceans by Boat?

Probably the cheaper way to cross the oceans when sailing is to sail yourself and use as little fuel consumption as possible.

Sailing the old fashion way might take time, and it might be dangerous, but it can be freeing. It can also be much cheaper than using a motor and sailing at high speeds.

You can also sail using a cruise line, finding cheap tickets, sales, or promotions before you buy – the cheaper cruise ticket might be better than using your own gas. While it isn’t as freeing as sailing the oceans yourself, it is safer on average and more convenient since you don’t actually have to do any sailing yourself.

Cruises are becoming increasingly popular for those reasons.

Finally, you can charter a small ship or vessel to take you where you want to go for a lower price. While there may be fewer amenities than a cruise ship and less freedom than using your own boat, chartering a sailboat from experienced sailors can give you that oceanic experience without the responsibility or added costs.

Remember that chartering a vessel can still be costly because they will have to pay for the gas required to get you where you need to go.

What About Prices for Motorized Boats and Ships?

Motorized boats will use far more fuel consumption than a sailboat because they can’t use the wind to help them along.

If you are looking for transportation on the Great Lakes or over a shorter distance on the ocean, then a motorized boat charter might not be a bad idea. For example, a boat charter on Lake Michigan can cost anywhere from a cheap $200/day pontoon ride to a $2,000/day yacht trip.

Many certified boat owners also charter trips as a side hustle or as a small business.

While it can be tricky to find trustworthy, experienced, safe, and resourceful people, they exist out there!

If you can find a reliable boat owner who will charter you a quick, safe trip around the Great Lakes or on the ocean, their costs will likely be much lower than from a large boat-chartering company.

Sources:

How Much Fuel Does a Sailboat Use?

Knot – Nautical Mile – Calculator for Ships

Boatbookings Journey Planner – Yacht Fuel Cost Calculator

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