Fixing a Used Boat

I’ve owned more boats than I have fingers and all of them have been used. In fact, I’ve never owned a brand new boat. Oh, I commissioned dozens of new boats during my yard management days, but I don’t covet a new boat. Given depreciation and added equipment, you can usually get a better value for a lightly used boat. You might even be looking for the proverbial fixer-upper.

Not too far from my house is one of those boat and car donation centers where people donate their old beaters to charity. I can’t help myself; every time I pass by, I’m checking out the inventory. It’s weird, I DO covet a brand-new luxury car but not a boat—give me a boat with a problem and I’m motivated.

Boatyards often have abandoned boats for the cost of yard expenses; boat-donation programs like these pictured above are also a good source of economical fixers.

Of course, I only have a few friends who understand my pride in fixing a used boat. I’ve given it life, a second chance…but don’t tell my wife I’ve got another one. Fixer-upper boats usually have more than one problem, and they take time and money to repair—no matter how handy you are. So it might sit awhile in your driveway while you search for parts, and the energy to dive in.

I have my favorite parts stores and internet sites to find what I need, along with boat-owning friends who enjoy telling me how they replaced some holding tank or solved some other boat maintenance problem.  You probably won’t make any extra money taking on a fixer-upper, but you should enjoy sailing it after it is re-launched or you’re not really getting the idea of it—it is about overcoming adversity, a challenge, or attaining a goal, and how that makes you feel—pride of ownership.

Here are my rules for a fixer-upper:

  • Have a convenient place to store your boat for free while you work on it
  • Know what it would cost to fix the problem(s) in a professional boatyard
  • Empty it, clean it, and cover it before starting work
  • Make to-do lists of projects and parts needed to help visualize the project
  • Never sell your boat until it floats again

Here’s the good news about parting with a fixed-up boat. You’ll know it is time to sell when you start peeking into the donation lot to check the inventory.


  1. George Boase says:

    My first boat was a 1927 Belle Isle Bearcat I rescued from rot in a boat shed. Cost $0. Two years of restoration had it cruising in Lake St. Clair MI and turning heads everywhere she went.

    Boat #2 was a 1938 Chris Craft with pretty much the same story. This one had a small cabin that I lived aboard for several years.

    I’m currently on my third fixer-upper and loving every minute of it. There’s an saying among custom car builders that goes, “It’s not really yours unless you built it.” I think the same thing goes for boats.

    When you spend the sweat equity in getting a boat back in shape and enjoying a second life on the water, she truly is YOUR boat and no one else can ever really own her. There emerges a kind of symbiotic relationship with that boat. It’s made of wood, fiberglass, fabric and you.

    To my good fortune, my current boat didn’t need any functional repairs to be seaworthy. I’ve been sailing her for years now, and working on her while also enjoying sailing. It took the first two years to get her to the point where we could spend the weekends aboard, and this year I was able to spend some quality extended stays aboard. She really is MY boat.

    The wind blows, the boat moves and the universe is in sync.
    George Boase

  2. michael sciberras says:

    hi i am look for a passenger seat for a Regal 2006 model 2000 fastrac the seat is white and has red infill can you help

  3. Kerry says:

    I have just restored a Pilot 18 complete with a 1979 SABB 1 cylinder 10hp Marine engine
    It is a joy to take out on the estuary and handles the conditions without any concerns
    I recommend restoring a boat as an interest.It is a labour of love

  4. Lizz says:

    My husband and I are in the middle of restoring a 1976 Trojan. It was love at first sight.

  5. Tina says:

    i need help looking for a 1992 Baja 208 Islander windshield. If any one can help me find one.

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