Boat Restoration: The First Place You’d Better Sweat is Your Brain

Boating is one of the universal pass times of mankind. From the first time someone thought, “Hey, I wonder if there are more fish out there than there are on the beach,” boats have been a big deal. And a classic dream in our modern culture is expressed wonderfully by Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption as, “I’ll buy a worthless old boat, fix it up new, and take my guests charter fishing.” Unfortunately for most of us, the reality of fixing up a boat is nowhere near the romantic vision of ‘sweat equity’ we carry wistfully.

Sweat equity is a term that describes physically laboring on a project, with the intention to receive an eventual payoff. And when you’re actually coating in sweat-stained grit, with blisters and little cuts all over your hands, you get an appreciation for how easy the real professionals make it look to fix something. As a rehabber of houses, I have some first hand knowledge of this basic concept. I recently began researching boat refitting (“refit” being the nautical equivalent of house rehab), just out of intellectual curiosity.

There are only two reasons I can imagine an ordinary citizen wanting to buy an old boat and fix it up: you either want to use it yourself, or sell it to someone else. If you have a third reason in mind, go for it – you might be truly innovative… or stark-raving mad, which some would argue aren’t so different from one another.

As a rehabber and thus an obsessive, delusional, self-loathing maniac, I’m going to give you a last-ditch effort to either spare yourself some pain (by doing this properly), or spare yourself a lot of pain (by not starting if you know you’re not going to finish):

Are you going to buy an old boat that doesn’t need structural repairs or extensive rebuilding?

Are you going to buy a type of boat that’ll actually be desirable IF you finish refitting it? Do you know what that “something” is that makes an old boat into what they call a “classic”?

Do you think you will make a profit on the resale, after sinking (pardon the pun) all the necessary money and time into buying and refitting the boat? Have you actually run the numbers?

Do you have enough cash on hand to accomplish this little hobby of yours?

Do you honestly believe you can do it all yourself, and make it extra-cheap? (Hint: this is a trick question, as most people’s version of DIY boat refitting makes “cheap” rhyme with “crap”)

Do you realize that however long you think something’s going to take, it’ll actually take about four times as long?

Do you understand that the lowest-priced contractor will do a pretty poor job?

Do you have the time and physical ability to put in 25% of the rehab cost in sweat equity?

Are you willing to walk right by all the cheap materials and components?
If you answered “Yes” to every single one of those questions (possibly excluding the trick question), you just might be able to actually complete a successful boat refitting. Just think long and hard about it – I answered a couple of No’s, and I’m going to stick to real estate. At least I can’t sink it.

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Comment by Nathalie Paige on April 19, 2010 at 3:12am
Hey, I'm actually planning to buy a used boat, get it repaired and everything, and sail on the South Shore. I'm looking to buy a European boat because they're classy. Should I need to modify and refit it? I'd like to make sure that I'll stay with the provisions and directives that the boat's CE mark logo do follow. I guess I shouldn't rush into buying a boat, and take some time building my boat options.

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