Boating offers you a fun way to spend time out on the water with family and friends. There are dozens of boat brands and designs with purposeful builds to suit any boating activity. From fishing in the flats in the estuary to taking on the waves in the open ocean, there’s a boat designed to do anything on the water.
While boating is fun, it’s an expensive hobby. Buying a new boat is as serious as purchasing a new car, and you need to carefully consider the right model and brand to match your motoring style. It’s the same thing with boats; you need a model that offers you the best performance for what you want to do out on the water.
Unfortunately, some decent boats can cost you north of $35,000 for an entry-level model. At the minimum, you’re looking at spending $15,000 to $20,000 on a new boat. So, it makes more sense to buy a used model, right? Going with a pre-owned boat can save you thousands on the costs of your vessel.
Just like cars, you get used boats in a variety of conditions, from those that need huge amounts of repairs to those that only need a few touch-ups. However, chances are you’re going to need some level of refurbishment to your boat, regardless of the age,
Refurbishing a used boat can save you thousands on the price tag, especially if you have the handy skills to do it yourself. This guide gives you everything you need to know about how to restore a boat.
- Plan and Set Up Your Workspace
- Workspace Requirement
- Basic Restoration Tools
- Boat Inspection
- Create a Master Restoration List and Prioritize Tasks
- Create a Restoration Calendar
- How to Restore a Boat – Checklist
- Wrapping Up
Plan and Set Up Your Workspace
If you’re purchasing a boat, make sure you have a dedicated space on your property for the restoration. Storing the vessel in a shipyard at the marina means you’ll have to waste time traveling between the shipyard and your home when restoring the boat.
That’s time you could be putting into the work, and having your workshop close to where you live saves you hours of time, getting the project finished in the fastest time possible. When you have a workspace at your home, you have access to outlets and better security for the boat and your tooling.
If you don’t have the space to store the boat at your home, look for suitable premises you can rent close to where you live. We recommend finding a place with an overhead cover allowing you to work in all weather conditions, and don’t forget the need for power outlets for your tools. You’ll also need access to water on the property and security for the boat.
Basic Restoration Tools
You’ll need to make sure you have the following restoration items and tools before starting your project.
Try and get two if there are two of you working on the project. The boat’s sides are steep when mounted on the trailer or at the yard. The ladder helps you climb in and out of the vessel and reach the high spots on the sides from the ground.
These hoses are easy to coil up and move around the boat.
Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
You’ll need respirators, surgical gloves, and safety goggles for your protective gear. The respirator is critical when sanding away paint and fiberglass, keeping the particles out of your lungs.
Get yourself a Bluetooth speaker to play your favorite songs when working on your boat – it helps to pass the time on long restoration jobs!
When purchasing your boat, make sure you give it a complete inspection before making your final offer. It’s a good idea to have a professional inspect the boat for you and point out any problems before you make your purchase. The last thing you need is to discover damage or engine/electronics problems after paying the owner.
Talk to the Seller
Before calling the pros, ask the seller if they have anything they want to disclose with their boat before handing it over to you. If you’re purchasing from a used dealer, ask the following questions to your agent before closing the deal.
- How did the previous owner treat the vessel?
- How did the previous owner store the boat?
- Is there any existing damage or repairs required?
- What are the service history and previous repairs done on the boat?
- How often did the previous owner use the boat?
- What maintenance did the previous owner do on the boat?
Restoring a boat is a big undertaking, especially if it’s in poor condition. Make sure you understand the task you’re taking on before you decide to buy the boat and make a huge mistake.
If you give up on the project halfway through it, you’re not going to make any money on the work you did to the boat. You might sit with it for a while before you find a buyer willing to commit to the restoration project, leaving you out of pocket.
Some repair jobs with boats just aren’t worth the hassle. The bigger the restoration project, the more money and time it takes to finish the restoration. Some of the major restoration problems to avoid include the following.
Wood looks fantastic on boats, providing a classic look and a wonderful aesthetic to the vessel’s finish. However, the issue with wood is that it rots. If the previous owners didn’t maintain the wood, you could be in for a serious, costly replacement when refurbishing the boat.
Wood finishes are more popular on older boats, so the chances are that you’re going to need to remove and replace all the rotted wood, and that can get expensive. However, if you find a boat with mildly deteriorating wood finishes, it may be possible to salvage it with the right tools, materials, and care.
If the boat is 25-years old or older, then the chances are that damage to wooden components on the vessel will have some rot in them. Almost every wooden boat would experience wood rot at some stage, especially if the owner didn’t take the necessary care of the vessel.
Some of the older boats may have a “cored” hull. Purchasing a boat with this design is a mistake. Eventually, you’re going to have to remove and refurbish the core, and that’s going to be a huge hassle in your project, taking up hours of your time. The coring in these older models typically features balsa or thin plywood.
If you’re dealing with someone on a prospective older model, it’s a good idea to do some research online into that specific model. If it has coring, then rather walk away and look for something else.
Some of the boats don’t have a cored construction, and that has that one advantage when it comes to the complexity of the restoration, and the time it will take. Other components on the boat that are at risk of developing rot include the transom, seats, floors, and stringers.
While wood offers an impressive finish, most modern boats replaced this material with fiberglass or aluminum over the last two or three decades. The paint on the boat comes from the factory looking fantastic. However, a few years in the sun at the marina will take the luster out of the paint job.
Most old boats come with a gel coat direct from the factory, adding extra protection to the paint. Some of the earlier models may also feature a metal flake, which has an impressive look. If you’re completing a restoration, the paint will probably be the most expensive part of the process.
So, we don’t recommend painting the boat after you finish the restoration if you want to save money on the job. It’s a better idea to try and restore the factory finish as best as possible.
If the old gelcoat needs some attention, you can buff it out and make the boat look 10% to 20% better with this simple task, saving you the paint costs. If the gel coat is repairable, don’t waste your time and money on repainting the boat.
The motor is another considerable point of failure when purchasing a boat. First, make sure that the engine is still in production. If you’re buying a boat from a manufacturer that went under, then the chances are those spares are not available anymore. As a result, you’ll have to spend hours digging through wrecks at the local salvage yard to find what you need for the job.
If you have the chance, purchase a boat from a person that works on the engine themselves. These people will take the best care of the motor. If that’s not an option, look for boats with the most extensive service history possible.
Ask the owner to start the motor, and ensure that it runs correctly. If you have no experience with boat engines, find a mechanic that can give the motor a once-over inspection and tell you about the problems you need to fix.
Get a Second Look
Buying boats and motors aren’t a good idea if you don’t have any experience with boats and don’t know what you’re looking at during the inspection. On the surface, the boat might look fine, but there might be a slew of problems with the vessel under the surface.
The last thing you need is to buy a lemon and never finish the restoration. So, it pays to have a professional assessor look over the boat before you close the deal. The professional will run over the electrical and mechanical components of the boat, the wiring, and the engine to point out any problems with the vessel.
While it’s easy to see the exterior damage and damage to the boat’s body, the stuff out of sight is a real concern, and the professional assessor will remove this risk from the deal.
Create a Master Restoration List and Prioritize Tasks
After you finalize your purchase and have the boat assessed by a professional, it’s time to plan the restoration. Planning doesn’t take much time, and it will end up saving you plenty of time and money in the restoration process.
You’ll need to create a master priority list for the restoration tasks involved with the project. When creating your priority schedule, ask yourself the following questions.
- What work do I need to do to make the boat run safely?
- What work do I need to do to get the boat to float?
- What damage is cosmetic, and what damage is structural?
- What are the vital tasks to complete, and what would be nice to have?
- Do I need specific workshop conditions for this restoration?
These questions help you form the framework around the restoration project. Organize your list, starting with the most labor-intensive tasks at the top of the list. Make sure you focus on safety and never work on the boat without wearing the correct safety gear.
Create a Restoration Calendar
After you finish prioritizing the tasks involved with your project, it’s time to map out your schedule on your calendar. A goal is only a dream until you put a timeline to it, and this phase of your planning is as critical as the prioritization phase.
Set realistic goals for completing each of the tasks, and stretch yourself to make the project challenging. If you don’t hit your timelines, that’s fine; just make sure you’re focusing on the quality of your work at all times.
If you make your purchase in October, you could set a date for having your boat in the water by the following July. That sounds like a great way to start the summer, right? With this goal in mind, you’ll need to complete the preliminary work involved with the project by June and leave the aesthetic repairs for the fall after the summer ends.
Taking the time to plan out your project relieves the stress and uncertainty involved with the restoration. With the right milestones in place for your project, you’ll find you feel more confident, with the momentum of your achievements pulling you through the project’s timeline to a successful restoration.
Some boat owners find that the length of the project becomes a chore to manage, and they lose interest over time. When you plan the project carefully, you’re consistently moving through it, and you know what to expect. Sure, there might be setbacks, but you’ll eventually achieve your goal with the restoration with the right planning.
How to Restore a Boat – Checklist
By now, you should understand the basics of what you need for a boat restoration project. It’s no simple task, and you can expect to spend anywhere from a year to two years or more on the restoration, depending on the condition of your boat.
However, with the right planning and execution, the time will fly by, and before you know it, you’ll be out on the water. We decided to give you this checklist to help you navigate your way through your boat restoration project.
- Make sure you have an adequate workspace for the project.
- Take an inventory of your materials and tooling.
- Clean the boat properly and remove all dirt before you start the project.
- Remove all organic material and water from the boat to prevent mold and pest infestations.
- Inspect the boat and identify any problems with the exterior.
- Contact a boat inspection service and have them go over the boat to confirm the final issues involved with your restoration project.
- Drain the fuel tank and remove the engine from the boat.
- Drain the gear case of the old oil.
- Remove old hoses and belts on the motor and replace damaged parts,
- Check through-hull fittings and ensure they have tight seals. Replace any perished seals.
- Check the seacocks to ensure they are in working order. Replace any damaged parts.
- Inspect the hull of the boat for signs of any cracks.
- Check for cracks in the fiberglass around fittings and fixtures.
- Ensure that any load-bearing fixtures have the proper backing plate for support.
- Check the boat from top to bottom for any evidence or signs of wood rot.
- Check the deck flooring, bases of seats, and the ransom. Look for any signs of decay or deterioration.
- Strip the old and rotted wood from the boat. Replace it with marine-grade cored composites or plywood.
- If you’re having issues with a specific part of the restoration project, research it on YouTube.
- Look on forums if you have trouble working out any problems – the people there have loads of experience, and they are great resources for knowledge.
After you have all your planning ready and the boat set up in the workshop, it’s time to roll those sleeves up and get to work!
The biggest issue with any restoration is the time involved with the project. During the planning phase, map out the time you have to work on your project each week and outline the required finish date for your restoration.
Stay committed to your project, and don’t give up!