How much does it cost to build a custom one off catamaran? Really? It's a bit like asking "how much does a house cost?" It depends! It actually depends on a lot of things.

We don't buy anything at the hardware store or from a motor dealer without an accurate statement of the price. Well if you're shopping for a new boat and you need to know the price exactly; right down to the last coat of varnish on the handrails, you should probably buy a production boat with a fully itemized specification and contract attached. But if there is nothing in the range of production boats that ticks all the boxes, and for many of our customers that is the case, then the only answer is to build yourself, with or without professional assistance, or order a custom build from a pro yard.


The cost of building custom boats varies depending on the country (labour rates and infrastructure costs), constantly moving exchange rates and taxes, the quality and reputation of the yard you're dealing with, and of course the extent and quality of the fit-out, rig and sails. 


If you already have a realistic grasp of boat prices there's no need to be scared of the final figure. Production builders have many ways of saving money to offer you a competitive price. But many of the ways they use to save building costs, like production tooling and interior linings for example, add to the weight and can limit the ability to keep the design up to date.


And to be competitive they need to attend boat shows, produce a lot of glossy marketing material, and offer attractive incentives to brokers and dealerships. All of these costs can be put to good use to produce a well equipped one off with considerably less weight and less marketing overheads than a comparable production boat.


So how to nail down the cost of a one off? The accounting staff at the production company puts in a lot of work to determine the build cost and the appropriate selling price. There's no short cut. Someone has to do the footwork. That's either you the owner, or the boat builder once you supply him or her with a detailed set of drawings and specifications.


But if you're not ready to dig into the detail to decide whether your dream of a quality custom built catamaran is achievable we've produced some figures to make sure you're living in the real world.



Pricing Table for Benchmarking Build Costs for Cruising Catamarans

These figures at left give you a framework for your aspirations for a fully finished boat ready to sail away. Want to know how much you can save by doing all the work yourself? That brings in another layer of elasticity because quality and working efficiency are so variable, but if you estimate the cost of materials and equipment at about 45% to 50% of the cost shown in the table then you're probably still living in the real world.

Designer's Note - how we came up with these figures

Deciding on these numbers wasn't easy. For a start pricing is as much about personal philosophy as it is about arithmetic. One chef bakes a cake using the best and freshest ingredients, and puts a great deal of loving care into the process. Accordingly he or she puts a premium on the price. Another chef who bakes a cake of equal quality simply doesn't feel the need to charge so much.

Each cake tastes as good as the other but your guests might be more impressed (and judge the more expensive one to taste better) if you mention you bought it from the chef who charges more.

So how much should the cake cost?


Boats are a lot more complicated because not only are there are so many different technologies and specialist skills involved, there are many different levels of expectation and priorities.  One yachtsman's carbon mast and sail wardrobe is another yachtsman's kitchen appliances, carbon toilet bowl and leather lounge. (Apologies to the chefs if they disagree on the point I'm making here).


But to get to the numbers: We keep a big spreadsheet of the numbers we have on hand in nine different categories. These numbers include quotes for rigs, sails, engines and many other items. They also include published prices for production yachts and some known prices for custom builds. These figures have been used as reference point to prepare the numbers in the Pricing Table above.

Note that the listed selling price for production boats is not always a valid measure for comparing products because some boats need a substantial additional amount of equipment added before they're ready for ocean voyaging.


The purpose of the table is to try to line up the prices so they make sense across the size range. That is; create a reasonably smooth curve if you plotted them in graph form. After initially preparing the prices I reviewed my source information a couple of times and found some hard spots that prompted me to adjust the figures. No doubt I could keep doing this forever. The problem is to maintain a smooth curve you can't adjust the figure in one size range without adjusting some of the others, even though your data doesn't match up in the adjusted figure. So there's a certain amount of dead reckoning involved.



The fact is there are just so many variables it's simply not realistic to produce a figure that will be accurate in every case. The boat that has the carbon rig and the carbon toilet bowl will be more expensive than the boat that has neither, and the boat that only has one or the other will be somewhere in between.


Working Backwards.

My advice is to work backwards. Decide how much you're prepared to spend, look at the pricing table and decide what you can afford to build, knowing that you can probably save a little bit by being selective what you buy and where you buy it, and you can certainly spend a lot more if you're willing.


To round up the article I come back to the introductory paragraph; if you need to know the price exactly you need to buy a production boat.


A Personal Philosophy

Like most sailors I get great pleasure in seeing boats that well designed, well built, selectively fitted and maintained with pride. It's difficult to achieve this if you're stretching the budget to its limits or making compromises to get into a certain size range. Focus on quality rather than size. Build what is realistically affordable for you and you will achieve a high level of satisfaction from your time with the boat, and probably get a higher return on your investment when its time to sell.