my three decades as a marine surveyor, I've always
been amazed about two aspects of restoring old boats
what, in the marine trade, is known as a refit.
Bertram 42 Convertible
an Old Boat New
is that the people who can best afford to do them,
usually don't. Followed by those who can't afford
such projects are usually the ones that attempt them.
Such projects usually go wrong because the owner failed
to appreciate the costs, and to estimate them in advance.
There are no good deals on fixer uppers with boats.
There is just expensive and more expensive. Money
is the name of the game, and if you haven't got it,
then it's a mistake to think that you can do a refit
on the cheap.
the fact is that taking a good, well built, but aging
and clapped out older boat and restoring it can be
the most cost effective way to get yourself into a
good quality boat that you would not otherwise be
able to afford. It is possible for the economics of
such a venture to work out because a lot of the investment
is going to be good ole "sweat equity."
if you watch any of the many home improvement shows
on cable TV, you'll see this very same thing done
all the time. It requires a homeowner with at least
a reasonable degree of manual skills, along with the
time and commitment to get the job done. And most
importantly, if you tune in to some of these programs,
you'll hear architects and contractors giving some
real straight talk about good intentions versus the
actual ability of the homeowner to complete the jobs
he intends to accomplish. Indeed, most of the same
principles you hear discussed on these shows apply
directly to old boat restoration or refits. Here are
the primary ingredients:
boat you start with must be basically sound, and
not require extensive rebuilding of structural
the boat remains highly desirable on the market.
It's got that certain "something" that
consideration must be given to refit cost versus
complete cost estimate should be made prior
have the money available to complete the job.
have sufficient time and ability to provide about
25% of the cost in sweat equity.
permanently banish from your mind all thoughts
of buying cheap materials and components.
automatically understand that every job takes
4 times longer than you thought it would.
never crosses your mind that any little job will
ever be easy.
and persistence are your strong points.
never occurs to you that the lowest priced contractor
will do a good job. Rest assured, he won't.
If you can meet these
requirements, then, and only then, are you (1) likely
to complete the project, and (2), end up in a financially
sound position with a boat that can sell for significantly
more than you paid for it.
Not all boats make
for good projects. In fact, most don't. The ones that
do are those that have enjoyed an excellent reputation,
and are sometimes referred to as classics, or just
have that certain "something." we can't
name. A well-known example would be a 31 Bertram.
Just because a boat is old, and you can get it for
next to nothing, doesn't mean that it's a good subject.
What makes for a good subject is a boat other people
would want to pay good money for when you're finished.
Basically, this means the high end boats that most
people can't afford when these boats are still high
on their depreciation curve.
This is easily determined
by researching the resale values of similar boats.
For example, if you search for old Bertrams on the
boat sale sites, you'll find dozens of them at very
respectable asking prices. If you do a similar search
for old Carvers or Chris Crafts, the result will not
be the same.
If you think you can buy an old boat and fix it up
with the leftovers from your weekly paycheck, you
are mistaken. Old boat restoration is very costly,
and no one who is employed full time has sufficient
sweat equity to be able to complete a project in lieu
of significant cash transfusions. These usually come
in the form of hiring professionals to complete some
of the more technical jobs. This is where most people
who attempt such projects go wrong. They think they
can get the job done for next to no money if only
they can work hard enough. Unfortunately, it doesn't
work that way. If you doubt that, just take a tour
of the back lots of boat yards and observe all the
failed attempts. The best you can expect for you sweat
is about 25% - 35% of the total cost. The remainder
you will pay to someone else.
If you are capable
of producing a reasonable estimate of the cost to
complete the job, then you are probably qualified
to attempt it. If you're not qualified, but are willing
to pay someone who is to make an estimate for you,
then you are also likely a suitable candidate for
the project. Smart people who lack certain skills
are not unwilling to pay people who have what they
lack, and thereby save themselves a lot of grief in
is another major ingredient,
a major key to success. A typical planning failure
is attending to the cosmetic appearance of the boat
first, while neglecting the more important systems.
Surveyors see this all the time: the outside and interior
looks great, but when he opens the hatches he is greeted
with thousands of dollars worth of worn out systems
that render the effort little more than a pretty wreck
that can't be sold.
While you may not need
a high degree of technical boat knowledge, there are
necessary prerequisites. Some of the better ones are
people from the building trades, engineers or other
trades involving the creation of things. People who
know and understand materials, systems and things
mechanical and electrical.
ability to estimate the amount of time to complete
a job is the other major factor in most project failures.
If it took 2000 man hours to create a 30 foot boat,
ask yourself how many man hours it will take
to restore it. Bear in mind that it takes more
time to undo something and then restore it, than it
took to create the thing in the first place. Re-creation
always takes longer than creation. It is said that
God created the world in seven days. That's probably
because He didn't have to clean up anyone's mess first.
The trick to selecting
the right boat for such a project is to find one in
which the major problems involve more cosmetics than
major, costly systems. For example, a boat on which
the wiring, plumbing and engines are all shot is not
a good candidate because these are amongst the most
costly systems to replace. Conversely, the better
subject is one for which these systems need more in
the way of repair, and less in way of replacement.
The difference in cost between engines that need to
be replaced, versus those that can be rebuilt, is
around 60% to 70%. A pair of gas engines may be rebuildable
for $8,000 but replacement cost is $22,000 including
installation, a difference of 67% or $14,000. The
best candidates are always going to be those boats
with engines that can be rebuilt.
Some people make the mistake of thinking that they
can put bigger, heavier engines in a boat that was
originally designed for x- amount of power. Before
you do this, you need to find out whether the structure
can withstand greater speed and heavier engines. Often
times it can, and a major structural failure occurs.
The time to do this research is Before you buy.
There are few things
that can make an old boat look nearly new than to
paint the worn out gel coat finish with a urethane
paint. But, as we know, urethane painting can be very
expensive. Yet much depends on the complexity of the
boat involved. Painting a fly bridge sedan costs vastly
more than an express or open type boat. It also makes
a huge difference in the amount of clutter on the
boat, meaning all the things that have to be painted
around or removed first. The simpler the boat, the
less the cost to repaint it.
Our final and one of the most important factors. The
rule is this: the larger the boat, the more systems
and complexities it contains, and therefore not only
will the absolute cost be higher, but the cost will
be proportionately higher than smaller boats. The
difference in cost between restoring a 40 footer versus
a 30 foot can be on the order of magnitudes. Generally,
we would not recommend that anyone but an expert attempt
to restore a boat bigger than 35 feet.
A Brief Picture.
So what does a reasonable restoration project look
like in terms of money? Here's a typical example.
A run down 30 foot "classic" FRP boat is
purchased for $25,000. The cost to rebuild engines,
and hire tradesmen to make necessary repairs and restorations
is another $25,000. In addition, the owner invests
another $10,000 in sweat equity, for a total investment
of $60,000. The new replacement cost of the boat is
$125,000; the resale value of this boat upon completion
is $40,000, giving him a 2:3 return on investment.
This is pretty good since no one makes money on the
sale of used boats except brokers. Thus the owner
ends up with a boat that is in nearly new condition
for a shade over half the price of a new boat. Yet
the other part of the payoff is the satisfaction he
gets from a job well done, plus all those head-turning
glances at his "new old boat."
Needless to say, such
projects are not for everyone. But for those that
have requisite skills, time, money and determination,
such projects can be extremely rewarding. The ultimate
trick to being successful is to treat the task like
a business proposition.