Are you considering boat restoration as a cheap way to get on the water? While restoring a tired boat can save you money if you do most of the work yourself, there is a lot to consider and plan for if the costs are not to get out of hand.
Restoring a boat is a labor of love and something you are not likely to take on unless the boat concerned has some special meaning for you or you’re trying to save money. It is vital to understand that boats do not generally appreciate value unless they have some historical significance. Unlike car restoration, where collectors will pay big money for classic cars, the same is not true in the yachting world.
Don’t let that put you off, though. Bringing a boat back to pristine condition is hugely satisfying and something to be proud of.
Step-By-Step Process of Boat Restoration
Do You Need a Survey Before Commiting to Boat Restoration?
If you’ve recently purchased a boat, then you should have had a survey carried out already. If this is a boat you’ve owned for a while and intend to restore it, then a survey could be a good idea before you start. There are different types of surveys available, but the most common is the condition and value survey. The surveyor assesses the boat’s overall condition, reports any problems, and gives a market valuation.
Clean the Boat Thoroughly
While it may seem an odd suggestion, thoroughly cleaning the boat has a practical purpose. While cleaning your boat, you can spot any problems you may have missed previously. Cleaning also gives you a base standard to start from and will save you time in the long run. Unblock all the drainage holes, thoroughly clean the bilge, and lift any hull access points to clean and inspect.
List Broken Items
Making a list of parts that need replacing or repairing is vital. Some areas of the boat will only be accessible during the restoration. Suddenly remembering a component that you needed to replace when the restoration is complete is not great! Completing this step enables you to plan the boat restoration in a logical order.
Check Any Through-Hull Fittings
Any fitting that penetrates the hull can potentially flood the boat, so these must be checked and repaired. All through-hull fittings use specialized sealants where they mate with the hull. Don’t skimp in this area, as you will regret it when the first leak appears.
Check the Seacocks Are Working
Seacocks have two purposes. Some are there to let water in, for engine cooling, for example, while others let water out, such as cockpit drains. In either case, it’s vital to ensure they are working correctly. The seacocks for cockpit drains and sinks etc., are usually closed at sea as the rolling movement of the boat can let water enter the hull. A seacock seized open has caused many boats to flood and sink.
Check the Condition of the Hull
What you are looking for will depend on the materials used to make the hull. A thorough inspection inside and out is required.
Fiberglass Hulls have a gel coat to protect the surface, but water may have penetrated the core if cracked and damaged. You can repair small areas of damage yourself, but extensive damage will need a professional eye. Pay particular attention to any fittings, such as cleats, stanchions, and chainplates, as cracking often occurs here. On older boats, the gel coat may have faded and stained. As long as the surface is good, you can restore it using a jetwash and readily available materials.
Wooden Hulls can suffer from rotten or dried-out wood if the protective coating is damaged. Repairing wooden hulls is a specialist skill that you shouldn’t attempt unless you are very confident. If the woodwork is sound, then resealing is a simple but time-consuming task.
The surveyor’s report should have highlighted all the damaged areas that he can see, but it depends on the type of survey you commissioned.
Check Load-Bearing Fixtures
Load-bearing fixtures such as cleats and chainplates put immense stress on the deck. Behind every load-bearing fixture, there should be a backing plate to spread the load and prevent damage. Make sure the backing plates are in place and in good condition.
Inspect Every Halyard, Sheet, or Control Line
The materials used in making halyards and sheets are very resistant to the damage caused by saltwater and the sun. But over time, they do weaken. Inspect all the lines carefully for any wear or fraying, and replace where necessary. Any lines in good condition can be washed in a very light non-bio detergent but ensure you rinse with plenty of fresh water.
Inspect Your Sails
Your sails work in a hostile environment, constantly exposed to UV light, saltwater, and extreme tension in heavy winds. Checking your sails during a restoration is a vital step to getting back on the water.
Check the following areas particularly:
Stitching: The sails stitching is the most common area affected by ultraviolet light from the sun. If you find anything, you should send the sail to a professional for repair.
Cringles: A cringle is stitched in to feed a sheet or line through at each attachment point. Check for damage to the metal or fraying of the stitching. Anything you spot here will most likely need professional attention from a sailmaker.
Sail Surface: Look out for fraying stitching, tears, and holes. Small holes can be repaired using repair tape or by sewing.
Sail Edges: Again, look out for fraying or loose stitching, but also signs of stretching.
Mold: Although mold won’t damage a sail, it looks unsightly, but luckily it is relatively easy to remove. Any sails that pass inspection should be thoroughly washed, dried, folded, and stored in a cool, dry location. Do not be tempted to put your sails away wet, as this encourages mold.
Engine: You can commission a separate survey for the engine, but if you have just lifted the boat out of the water to restore it, then a good service is probably the only thing required. For any boat that has been unused for a long time, it may be more economical to lift the engine out for a complete overhaul. Each situation will be different, and getting several quotes is a good idea.
If you decide to leave the engine in place, then at the very least do the following:
– Drain fuel tank
– Change engine oil
– Change gearbox oil
– Replace oil and air filters
Estimate the Cost of Boat Restoration
You’ve completed a complete survey of your boat, and it’s time to start the task of estimating the cost of the repairs. This is a critical stage and not one to rush. Finding the cost of replacement parts is relatively easy, so long as they are available. Older boats will be out of production, and the boatyard that built it may no longer be in business. A degree of improvisation and adapting similar parts may be required, which takes longer and costs more.
Many jobs may be labor-intensive, such as stripping back the Gelcoat or sanding down wooden decks. If you can do these jobs yourself, you’ll save a lot of dollars, but don’t exclude the cost of your time in the restoration cost. If you need to use skilled trades, then ask for quotes.
Once you’ve built a complete estimate of the cost of restoration, only you can decide if it’s feasible or not. If you hope to profit by selling the restored boat, this is a simple financial decision. A boat with some historical or sentimental value can make a choice more difficult.
Planning For Boat Restoration
Now you have a good idea of the costs involved, and you’ve decided to go ahead and embark on your boat restoration project. Congratulations! It’s probably going to be a long but worthwhile road ahead.
Take some time now to plan out the restoration in stages. You should complete some jobs before others, such as replacing damaged structural parts before relaying the deck. It’s also worth setting yourself some realistic deadlines to complete the stages. Not only is it something to aim for, but there is a sense of satisfaction as you complete stages. It sounds obvious, but it is easy to miss or forget something along the way if it’s not written down.
Boat Restoration Costs
Some people will say pick a number out of the air and then double it, and you’ll still be well under the final cost! There are so many factors to consider. If you are restoring a small boat, say 25 feet LOA, a conservative estimate might be $15,000 to $20,000. But as you discover more problems along the way, the final bill could be much higher. As the size of the boat increases, the cost increases exponentially.
The final cost will depend on how much needs doing and the quality of the work. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good inspection, cost estimate, and a well-thought-out plan.
As an example, you may buy a tired-looking 30-foot boat for $30,000. Add on around $25,000 for the restoration work carried out by skilled trades, plus $15,000 for your own time—a total cost of approximately $70,000. Compared to the price of a new 30-foot yacht of around $120,000, that’s quite a saving. On the flip side, the resale value of the restored boat may only be around $45,000. Having spent so much time, money, and effort on the restoration, you’re unlikely to sell any time soon.
Boat Restoration Tools
Apart from some specialist tools for specific jobs, you will need a good set of basic hand and power tools. When you are buying tools, it is better to buy quality rather than quantity. The cheap grocery store tool kit with 100 items for 20 bucks will not stand the test of time.
The best advice I ever got was to buy the quality tool you need when you need it, rather than trying to build a complete tool kit from the beginning with cheap items.
Boat Restoration Materials
The list below gives you an idea of the materials you may need to buy based on a 30-foot yacht. There will be more. Make sure you add these items to your estimate of costs.
Rigging: An older boat that needs restoring will most likely need some of the rigging replaced. If you don’t like heights, this is a job for professionals. Expect a cost of around $1000 to $1500.
Metalwork: Replacing broken cleats, chainplates, etc. Replacing the chainplates could cost a few hundred dollars if you do the work yourself or several thousand if you employ skilled trades.
Sails: Replacing any damaged sails and repairing where possible. For a new jib and mainsail, expect somewhere between $2,500 and $4,000
Halyards, Sheets, and Control Lines: Replace any that are past their useable life. Prices for rope can range between $2 to $10 per meter, depending on thickness and quality.
Engine: Replacing oils, fuel, and filters and renewing coolant hoses, fuel lines, and pump belts.
Batteries: Any yacht that has stood for a long time will probably need new batteries, but get them tested first.
Gelcoat Repair Kits and Polishing Tools, or Varnish for Wooden Hulls: Gelcoat can be bought in bulk if needed. Around $30 for a 1kg tin.
Winches and Blocks: After cleaning them with fresh water, check for smooth operation and service them. If you need to buy new winches, budget for at least $500 upwards for a self-tailing version.
Specialized expert help in the boating world is expensive. The more you can do yourself, the better, but include your labor cost in the final estimate. Qualified tradespeople may cost you more, but they will complete the job in a shorter time, getting you out of the yard and on to the water sooner. Experienced, skilled tradespeople can charge around $100 an hour for their services.
Many people overlook the cost of storing your boat in the yard while the work is in progress. If you only work on your boat at weekends, it could be several years in the yard before you finish the restoration.
Owning a boat has continuing costs if you plan to maintain your restored yacht to the standard you’ve made it. We wrote an article covering the cost of boat ownership to help you know what to expect as a first-time boat owner.
Boat Restoration Tips and Tricks
When to Replace or Repair Yacht Components
A yacht operates in corrosive conditions of saltwater and sun, and particular items need regular checks and repairs. We’ve compiled a table below for the average lifespans of components, but many variables affect these estimates.
Component Expected Life Before Repair or Replacement
– Standing Rigging 10 years
– Sails 4,000 hours
– Halyards and Lines 5 to 10 years
– Engine (Diesel) 5,000 hours
– Mast Inspect and repair every five to six years depending on use
– Batteries 4 to 5 years
– Gelcoat 5 years
– Wooden deck stain Yearly
Do You Have the Skills for Boat Restoration?
Be very honest with yourself about your skills. Some jobs should be left to the professionals unless you are very confident. Electrics and the engine, for example, both require specialist skills.
An older fiberglass boat will very likely have some Gelcoat damage, so how do you repair this? We have chosen three videos showing the standard method for gelcoat repairs.
The first Gelcoat repair video is from someone attempting it for the first time. Watching this video should help you to avoid some common mistakes. The repairer uses a patch paste kit that is available from most boatyards.
In this next video, we follow another Gelcoat repair, but this time mixing the Gelcoat by hand and repairing small cracks instead of a hole.
The last video on Gelcoat repairs focuses on spider cracks that are so common in fiberglass boats.
Buffing and Polishing the Hull of a Fiberglass Boat
You’ve repaired the Gelcoat and now need to bring back the lustrous shine that your boat had when it was new. Here are a couple of videos showing you how to buff and polish Gelcoat.
This method uses only polishing creams and buffing tools to restore the Gelcoat finish. An alternative approach is to start with 2000 grit sandpaper before using the buffing tools and rubbing compound to polish the Gelcoat.
Finally, this time-lapse video shows a complete boat restoration from start to finish, completed in an incredible six weeks.
Do you Need Certifications for Any of the Work?
There are no requirements to have your electrical or mechanical work certified for privately-owned pleasure boats that don’t take paying customers. However, your insurer may insist that a qualified person approves any work you have completed. We would suggest that it’s in your interest to have the work checked before you first launch your restored boat.
If you intend to use your boat commercially, then a whole set of regulations will apply.
Sell Your Boat or Restore It?
As we previously mentioned, restoring a boat is not going to make you a profit. But you’ll finish up with a boat that was cheaper than buying brand new. The decision between selling the boat and restoring it will depend on numerous factors.
– Does the boat have any sentimental value to you?
– Do you have the time and money to complete the restoration?
– Will you lose interest partway through the restoration? Be honest with yourself!
Only by answering those questions can you decide whether to sell or restore your boat.
Avoid Expensive Brand Name Products
Boatyards will happily sell you branded products, but it is possible to use cheaper alternatives in some cases.
– Regularly wash your boat with fresh water to reduce the need for chemical products
– Use household products instead of chemicals where possible
– Use chemicals sparingly
– Vinegar is good for removing stains on cloth materials
General Cleaner: Use one cup of white vinegar in a gallon of water to scrub decks and surfaces, then rinse with fresh water.
Stain Remover: Mix baking soda and water to form a paste. Use it to remove fiberglass stains, then rinse.
Mildew Remover: A 1:1 mix of lemon juice and salt will remove mildew stains on cloth and canvas.
Need more information on a specific boat restoration project or task? Reach out to the #BoatLife community with a question or comment on our community forum!
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