Part I we discussed what makes for a suitable candidate
for a major boat restoration project, both in terms
of the boat and the person attempting it. In this part,
we'll take a look at how to proceed with such a project,
and what you need to consider before you buy.
Bertram 42 Convertible
an Old Boat New
When looking at boats
for sale, take a notebook along, and when you find
what you think is a suitable candidate, you should
begin to make a list of what needs to be done before
you make the purchase. You'll basically do the same
thing if you already own the boat, except in greater
detail. Start first with the major and most costly
items which, of course, will be the engines and generator
if it has one.
There will be a limit to what you can economically
or physically deal with in terms of things like deteriorated
deck cores, or deteriorated structural hull components
such as stringers and bulkheads. Any boat that you
consider that has deterioration of major structures
will dramatically add to the cost and amount of labor.
You should consider this issue very carefully before
tackling such a project.
comes the exterior finish. Is the gel coat in good
enough condition that it can be machine polished and
restored to good condition? Bearing in mind that the
exterior finish is one of the most important aspects
of resale value. A boat that is bright and shiny is
going to attract far more attention to one that is
dull and permanently faded. Can the boat be painted
for a reasonable cost? This question is best answered
by how complicated the surfaces are, and how much
hardware there is that has to be either removed or
painted around. Flybridge boats, for example, are
particularly costly to paint due to all the convoluted
surfaces and tight quarters where it it very difficult
to both prepare and spray these areas. Express cruisers
without superstructures and open boat make the best
candidates for reasonable cost paint jobs.
Check around as to
whether there are any painting specialists in your
area. In places like South Florida, there are dozens
of them where competition keeps prices reasonable.
Most will want to look at the boat before they quote
a price but they may be willing to give a ball-park
Trailerable boats make
excellent prospects for repainting due to their portability
and small size. Plus you may be able to find
brush-on specialists that don't require the added
cost of a spray booth. Should you consider brush painting
a boat? My answer to that is that brushing is just
fine for smaller boats, say in the 30 foot and under
range. There are contractors out there who can lay
Awlgrip on so well that you'd have a hard time telling
that it was brush painted. This is less true for larger
boats with larger surface areas.
As boats get older and go through one owner after
another, the electrical systems tend to get so jury-rigged
with substandard wiring and additions that the basic
electrical system is no longer reliable. The thing
to be on the lookout for is rat's nests of tangled
wiring, and wiring with numerous splices in line,
and especially boats where the power demand exceeds
the original system design. If all three of these
problems exist, chances are that the boat needs to
be completely rewired. The smaller the boat, the easier
and cheaper this is to do. By the time you get up
to a 35 foot cruiser, the cost of rewiring may become
cost prohibitive. For the typical outboard or small
inboard boat with only a DC system, the cost can be
up to $100/ft. For a 35' cruiser with DC & AC
systems, figure $300/ft. depending on complexity.
Don't make the mistake
of thinking you can patch up bastardized electrical
systems. As any electrician will tell, you it's easier
and cheaper to start fresh than to attempt untangle
an existing system that is full of faults. So, size
up the electrical system, and if it looks bad, it
Other Major Systems
For smaller boats this usually means the fuel
tank, steering and controls. Foamed aluminum fuel
tanks are usually suspect when installed beneath the
deck in the bilge. The cost of replacing fuel tanks
is not great so long as the deck has a removable deck
plate. If the deck has to be cut out, and then rebuilt,
the cost is going to be too high, so that you'd best
take a pass on that boat.
Also check the fuel
lines, filters, and fill hose to the tank and vent
hoses and fittings. If these are aged and cracking,
then chances are they need replacement.
Other costly considerations
include air conditioning and refrigeration. A replacement
AC unit cost about $1800; the typical reefer about
$700. A bollixed up head and holding tank system could
easily run to several thousand dollars to replace.
Inboard boats will generally
be more complex than outboards. Not only do you have
the entire drive train to consider, but also the rudder
packing and steering system that may be worn out.
Typically, most old boats will have worn out engine
mounts, so be sure to check on those. If the engine
compartments are a mess, bear in mind that cleaning
them up, including painting, is not easy.
Attempting to paint
around equipment and systems is a bad idea. A sloppy
engine compartment paint job is often worse than not
repainting. I see this done very frequently and what
it looks like is a quickly attempt to make a boat
presentable for sale. It basically doesn't fool anyone.
If the boat is going to be rewired, the best thing
to do is plan on removing everything, then steam or
hand cleaning the whole area prior to painting. There
is no point in trying to paint over rust and corrosion
as the corrosion will continue on beneath the
paint, wasting your efforts.
your restoration project to be taken seriously,
this is what your engines should look like. This
13 year old engine was removed, cleaned, painted
and reinstalled with all new plumbing.
Detailing an engine
compartment is best done by completely stripping it.
This is no pleasant prospect, as it means removing
everything, including the engines, and putting it
all back. Is all this worth the effort? Well, it depends
on how exacting you are, and what you mean by "restoring"
and old boat. Most "restoration" jobs I
see address the cosmetic issues everywhere but the
engine compartment. The boat looks wonderful until
you open the engine hatches ,at which point it becomes
a dead give away that all the refitter cared about
was how it looked on the outside. Many such projects
don't even pass survey because the most important
issues were ignored. Like a 20 year old boat where
the sea cocks hadn't been removed and checked for
two decades. At best, they've done a "spray can
Next to wiring, detailing
an engine compartment is one of the toughest jobs
of all, but I can guarantee that, when done right,
there is nothing more impressive, and more bearing
on resale value than doing it right. What a detailed
engine space says to the buyer is that the seller
cares about more than just the outward appearance.
A sloppy, paint-over job signals just that and doesn't
fool anybody, indicating that the seller is trying
to fool you.
My advice is to take
this into consideration when buying the boat. The
better shape the engine compartment, the easier the
job will be. If there are numerous water leaks and
everything in the compartment is rusted, corroded
and covered with soot and sludge, you've got a hard
row to hoe. If you can't deal with the issue of cleaning
up a big mess, then perhaps you ought to pass on it
and look for something better.
Interiors and Leaks
As with an engine compartment, if an interior is suffering
from water leakage damage, the costs are going to
go much higher than if there are no leaks and no water
damage. If there is no prospect of finding and stopping
the leaks, then during the period you own the boat,
the leaks will continue to cause damage, rendering
your efforts null and void. Pay careful attention
to leaks and what it will take to stop them. The most
common problems are ports, windows and hatches, along
with leaking hull/deck joints.
jobs aren't as easy as they might seem. This is
the problem with the usual foam backed vinyl interior
that leaves a terrible, sticky mess that's hard
to remove. If you've never tried to repair something
like this, you're in for an unpleasant surprise.
may be the easiest job of all. But a lot depends on
the existing materials you have to deal with. The
array of available new materials and prospects for
renovating an interior are nearly endless, especially
if you're good with fabrics and wood. Cost-wise, you
can get a lot of bang for the buck if you are imaginative
design-wise and can do quality work.
these kinds of project is not easy, even for professionals
who have experience and access to pricing. The first
thing to do is get your hands on a marine supply catalogue
to use for pricing. Something like the West Marine
catalogue will help, but you need something that includes
more basic materials. My usual procedure is to go
to a boat yard and beg for their old distributor catalogues.
They often don't want to part with them, but when
I'm persistent, I usually manage to get a good one
from a big marine supply house. This is immeasurably
helpful. Then I'll come back and try to make a deal
with them to make purchases for something less than
full retail price. I get them to set up an account
for me so that I can just walk into the parts department
and place an order.
You'll need to make
two estimates. The first is before you buy the boat.
This is your "ball-park" estimate that you'll
use to decide whether the boat is economically viable.
If you decide to buy it, you'll use this to then expand
the first estimate after you've taken possession,
and have the time to go through the boat piece by
Believe me, making
a good estimate is one of the most important parts
of the whole effort. In it you need to include more
than just the major components you'll need. You'll
find that the cost of all those little "incidental"
items like pipe fittings, sandpaper and fasteners
will add up to a large amount. Include generous amounts
for these things that you tend to overlook such as
caulking, cleaners and electrical components. If you
don't already have a supply of the most commonly used
things like nuts, bolts. screws, wire clamps, hose
clamps and the like you'll need to stock up. Same
goes for power tools; what tools will you need that
you don't now have?