Boat restoration: Tips for a successful refit

Restoring a boat means taking your dream of sailing or motor boating into your own hands. What’s more, it’s during a restoration that you really get to know your boat or yacht. Before you embark on your own refit adventure, we want to give you practical tips and strategic approaches in this blog, which we also used to successfully restore our used sailboat. As a highlight, we’ll tell you how you can still equip your boat with autopilot, navigation, AIS & Co. without buying lots of loose instruments. 

Restoring a boat: what is a refit?

Boat refit is the term we use to describe all the work that needs to be done on a second-hand boat to restore it to its original seaworthy condition or to modernise it completely. However, you should not be intimidated or restricted by this.

So restoring a boat also offers the opportunity to carry out technical modernisations, e.g. in the computer technology or the electrics, in order to make the boat easier to operate and to ensure your own and other maritime vessels’ safety in accordance with current standards.

Moreover, it is simply unbelievable fun to put your own time and passion into a project that gives you years of freedom and unbelievable moments of happiness.

Boot vóór de refit.

Typical work involved in a boat refit

Depending on the condition of the used boat, more or less work is required. When buying a boat, you should therefore compare the condition of the boat with your own craftsmanship and your budget for the restoration.

The less work you can do yourself, the more budget you should plan for the refit, as you will then have to, and should, call on the services of professionals.

Exterior work that is part of almost every refit project:

  • Restoration of the underwater area with antifouling paints or an osmosis restoration. The main problem areas are the steering gear, the propulsion system, the propeller and the keel.
  • Restoration of the hull walls. Repair of superficial gelcoat, paint or deeper laminate damage.
  • Preparation of deck and cockpit. This includes all deck coverings, blocks, lines and railings, but also the windows, doors and hatches.

Work indoors might include:

  • Renewal of the boat’s electronics and electrics: these include the battery systems, lighting, wiring, navigation equipment, the autopilot, internal sensors for battery monitoring or environmental sensors such as depth gauge and barometer.
  • Maintenance and renewal of sanitary facilities.
  • Repairing the galley.
  • Redesign of the living rooms and bedrooms: headlining, bulkheads, flooring, furniture, upholstery, cupboards and wardrobes.

Depending on the size, construction and propulsion of your boat, further work may be required in the following areas:

  • Maintenance and cleaning of the engine, the engine compartment and the fresh water and fuel tanks.
  • Inspection and repair of sails, masts, booms, winches, etc.

As you can see, there is a handful of work waiting for you when restoring a boat. It’s worth noting that this list is far from complete. The important thing for your refit project is that you are aware of all the necessary steps.

Even before buying a used boat, it therefore makes sense to consult an objective expert and draw up a clear list of all problem areas and tasks. This will enable you to negotiate a realistic price in the first step. Afterwards, this list will be the basis for the overall planning of the necessary steps to restore your boat.

Slijpen van de stalen boot.

Restoring a boat: strategic considerations before the start

Before you embark on your refit adventure, you should have a strategy that will guide all your steps. In a nutshell, you need the right boat, a detailed plan of all the steps and materials, and a realistic budget. In the following, we will go into more detail on these and other points for a successful boat restoration.

Finding the right boat for a refit

Actually, it should be: find the right boat for you. You’ve found the right boat for sure when your heart skips a few beats when you see it. At least we have always been able to make good buying decisions on this basis. Be aware, however, that emotions should guide your buying decision but not steer it completely. Rational considerations also play a role:

  • Be true to yourself: choose a boat that meets your needs and purpose.
  • Buy in the neighbourhood: if you find a used boat in your neighbourhood, it will facilitate communication during the sales process and save you the time and expense of a transfer trip. You could also benefit from the fact that a berth is already available.
  • Used boats with a pre-refit: these are clearly lucky finds, but they do exist on the used boat market. And they always exist when a previous owner has already completed the restoration, but changes in life plans force you to sell. Boats with a fresh refit are a bit more expensive, but all you have to do is give your new boat your own style.

Plan, plan, plan

Let’s be honest. If you don’t want to deal with details, buying a new boat is probably the better choice. All others who are serious about restoring their boat need a proper plan of all the necessary steps with realistic timelines.

Especially if you outsource certain restoration tasks to professionals, they need to know the exact scope of work and the time frame. The more accurate this information is, the more likely it is that you will stay within your budget and time constraints.

Stay as true as possible to your original plans

No one can make an absolutely perfect plan, especially when it comes to restoring a boat. Along the way, you will always think of new things that you could do or have done. This is where it pays not to lose focus.

Whenever you have a new idea while restoring a boat, first ask yourself whether the innovation is really necessary. If so, check the idea in terms of budget and time. If there is no room for manoeuvre, then let the idea move on.

Set a realistic budget

Always keep in mind that a boat refit can be as expensive, or even more expensive, than buying a new boat. Your goal should be to budget the restoration so that the costs don’t get out of hand.

Using the steps from your planning, you derive all the costs for materials, tools, external specialists, shelter rental, etc. and set the budgetary framework for your boat refit.

Finding a suitable workplace for the refit

The perfect workplace for restoring a boat is a dry, covered place with almost constant temperatures. Many operations such as painting, preserving or glueing benefit from a constant ambient temperature and dryness. Find out about such locations in your area.

Renting is a cost, but it has advantages in terms of keeping to the time frame and the quality of workmanship of different materials. It’s also a place where you can store your tools and access them at any time. There have even been people who have set up home right next to the workplace so that they really don’t waste any time!

Nieuw staalwerk boot.

Tender out areas of responsibility to external experts

When refitting a boat, it can happen that you don’t want to deal with some of the work steps or simply lack the necessary knowledge. This is not a disgrace, but just a compromise that should be made to the detriment of the budget if an external professional would be better suited for a certain task.

Typical work steps that people like to outsource are the overhaul of the ship’s engine, parts of the electrical system and large-scale welding work at crucial points on the underwater hull. If you decide to outsource the work, it is worth contacting several parties to negotiate a better price.

Order components in advance

If you have planned well, you should have a complete list of all the components for your boat restoration. Never underestimate the length of delivery times in the maritime sector.

Companies for boat and yacht accessories do not always have all parts in stock and wait with the new order until another series of items has been produced by the manufacturer. This can delay delivery times. This is especially annoying if you spontaneously need a new part. Therefore, try to order all components as early as possible.

Regular meetings with professionals during the restoration process

The more steps you outsource to professionals, the better the coordination you have to manage must be. This means more time for you, but you ensure an important factor in the boat refit: that everyone involved always knows what the others are doing.

To do this, you organise a meeting e.g. once a week and update all the skilled workers on the schedule, the costs and any delays on the construction site. Especially the latter is immensely important for follow-up work. If, for example, the boat electricians do not finish on schedule due to missing components, the carpenters can be informed in time and the installation of the new furniture can be postponed to a new date.

Redesign instead of refit

If you’re one of the lucky ones who buys a used boat whose previous owner has already restored it, take it easy. Limit yourself to a redesign.

With a redesign, you focus on the look of the boat. Fresh coats of paint in your favourite colours, tweaks to the storage compartments, upholstery and furniture to your taste and new interior lighting work wonders and don’t have to cost much, but add a very personal look and feel to your new boat.

Limit complexity – stick to the basics

Especially when your budget is a little tighter, minimalism becomes a virtue in boat restoration. The perfect starting point for this strategy is the structure and design of your boat or yacht. Focus on the most important systems during the restoration: Propulsion, safety and functionality of all technical aspects.

If you have restored operability here, nothing should stand in the way of the first sail. And that is what the first step is all about. Everything else can be done little by little. That is also the beauty of a boat restoration, it is never really finished.

Motorruimte boot oude situatie.

Practical tips for restoring your boat

After the strategy comes the practical implementation. In the following section, we’ll talk about an all-in-one solution for all the important instruments such as navigation, autopilot and AIS on board and the visual design of the interior of your used boat.

Boat system: All-in-one solution instead of many loose instruments

With used boats, you will often find broken or outdated instruments and electronics. Replacement is therefore inevitable. The most common and important are chart plotters, GPS and compass for navigation, an autopilot for comfortable self-steering, VHF radio and AIS for communication with other maritime vessels and ports, and various environmental sensors (e.g. a depth gauge). The technical boat accessories provide safety and comfort in a modernised maritime environment, but even the basic equipment can be extremely hard on your wallet. If you also buy all the instruments you need separately, you or a professional will also have to take care of the wiring and internal communication.

Instead of adding an extra burden to your boat restoration, you can opt for an all-in-one solution like the AyeAye® boat system.

Bootschroef restauratie.

Bringing light into the dark: Window management

Used boats from the 60s, 70s and 80s are often equipped with a few small hull windows below deck. Together with dark wood, this results in a rather dark affair in the living area that seems anything but inviting. A first step to create more light and quality of life in the interior of the boat refit is to install additional windows in suitable places in the hull and ceiling.

But be careful, a hole is quickly sawn, but when it comes to making the whole thing watertight and airtight again, this step separates the craftsman’s wheat from the chaff. If you are not absolutely sure about these things, you should seek the help of a professional when building windows and hatches. After all, you only want to let light in and not wake up one day freezing in a puddle of seawater and rain.

Spatial effect: symbiosis of old wood and new light surfaces

Tastes are different and every restorer has a different opinion about the visual interior design. Personally, we are fans of the symbiosis of old woods and brightly lacquered surfaces. By treating the frame woods with natural varnish and repainting larger areas in the interior, a nostalgic warm feeling is achieved on the one hand and the light surfaces make the space below deck appear more inviting on the other. In addition, you can create your own personal visual style with your favourite paint colours. If you have a preference for wood, light-coloured woods such as maple, birch or pine are ideal for interior finishing. With special wood varnish for boats, you can preserve the surfaces afterwards to make them more resistant to maritime environmental effects such as salt and water and make them more durable.

Shaping character with fabrics

When restoring your boat, you can also establish your own personal style by choosing fabrics for curtains, cushion covers and upholstery. With the design of the curtains, you can set complementary colour accents and introduce additional cosiness into the design of the living area. When choosing fabrics and combining them with the rest of the interior, follow a few golden rules:

  1. Balance: ensure a balanced arrangement of colours and shapes in your interior design. Balance light and heavy colour accents using centre lines. Besides design reasons, a balanced arrangement of furnishings also has a positive effect on the overall balance boat.
  2. Contrast: with contrast you show the difference of elements in a room and can additionally increase the haptic feeling of certain surfaces and shapes.
  3. Repetition: when adding a new colour to your interior design, try not to use it just once, but to have it reappear in several places. Repetition creates identity, unifies and strengthens the design.
Het schilderwerk van de boot is voltooid.

Conclusion: The advantages of a restoration over buying a new boat

The decision to buy a second-hand boat first and then convert it into a floating dream suitable for leisure is desirable in many ways.

  1. Used boats from the 60s and 70s have a very stable base. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, polyester as well as steel  boats from this era had a much thicker quality. This resulted in a level of workmanship that is rarely found today, making it a perfect starting point for a boat refit.
  2. If you spend weeks, or more likely months, restoring a boat, you become deeply immersed in the technical matter and structure of the vessel. On the one hand, you gain practical craftsmanship skills that can be of great use on a trip, for example when repairs are needed or components have to be replaced. On the other hand, you get to know your boat and every little detail. You may even have had every screw and every cable in your hands yourself. This is how you create a bond that goes far beyond passion.
  3. The term refit also stands for the restoration of the original condition. Even more, a restoration is to be understood as the resurrection of faded splendour and past glory. Old sailing boats from well-known shipyards or famous designers are actually true treasures that are just waiting to shine again.
Het uiteindelijke resultaat.
Features AyeAye® boat system