What is Included in a Boat Refit?

The major refit categories are mechanical, structural, electrical, electronics and cosmetic. Following are brief discussions of the types of refit projects boat owners undertake.

Wires and switches and the connected systems – There is a lot of wiring on boats today, unless you have a small boat with a single outboard motor. You can replace a harness, replace the existing panel, install a new circuit breaker switch panel, upgrade and add LED lights, upgrade old wiring to wiring that is less likely to corrode, add a second dedicated battery for starting the engine and add a dedicated battery for powering equipment like the electric winch or windlass or a bow thruster. This is just a sample of the type of electrical refit work done on vessels.

Pumps – The bilge pump is a critical component and may need replacing. It must be maintained in pristine condition because it could easily make the difference between sinking or safely making it back to the marina. However, there are other marine pumps to keep in mind for an upgrade – engine water pump, engine cooling pump, macerator pump, toilet pump, bait tank pump, air conditioner pump, freshwater pump and washdown pump. All pumps are eligible for upgrade/replacement during a refit.

Plumbing – Yes, pumps can be considered part of the plumbing. But plumbing includes tanks, seacocks, hoses and tubing, pipes (if found on an older boat), and anything else involved in moving water and waste. A plumbing refit would include activities like replacing old hoses, upgrading the toilet and shower systems, switching to a fresh water flush system, adding or upgrading appliances like a refrigerator or stove, replacing sewage lines and so on.

Steering and controls – This is just what it sounds like. You can replace the helm, steering cable and engine connections and install a state-of-the-art steering wheel. Experts recommend staying with the same type of steering originally installed on the boat. Replace hydraulic with hydraulic, for example. Same is true for rotary and rack steering systems. If you decide to retrofit a different system, the project becomes a lot more complex in terms of fitting the components into existing space. There are also concerns about how a different steering system will impact steering performance.

Electronics – Many refits of electronic equipment are undertaken because new devices offer amazing technologies the boatowner wants to access. It can be a refit for fun – you just like being in the forefront of technology – or for a very practical reason – like wanting to take the boat offshore and needing better and more suitable equipment. You may want to add sonar, radar, thermal imaging and chart plotter, AIS, or special weather instrumentation, for example. New electronics may require upgrading a data backbone, installing new wiring, adding batteries, and changing old breakers and an old panel for newer units.

It’s difficult to mix-and-match old electronics with the sophisticated new electronics, and it can be costly. It’s better to upgrade the entire electronics system, and it’s definitely better to let a marine electronics expert do the refit.

Decking – Sometimes, wood decking needs repairing or replacing. This includes sanding and caulking, changing damaged planks, replacing rotted deck, and restoring wood decking like teak. Fiberglass decks may be repaired if there are cracks or resurfaced, if the deck is worn. Resurfacing decking is a big project and should be done by a professional. It requires removing all the deck hardware and wax and grease; sanding the entire deck; repairing large cracks in the gelcoat; applying a couple of coats of primer; replacing the nonskid pattern; painting the deck; and applying a topcoat. In between many of the steps is grueling sanding.

Seating and vinyls – Boat usually have marine vinyl cushions, and they will eventually fade (if in the sun), get worn or ripped, mildew and have seams that come loose. Often, the final step in a refit is replacing all the upholstery with marine grade vinyl that is mildew and UV resistant and designed to withstand the weather. Vinyl may be found in other areas too. For example, some yachts may have vinyl headliners.

Components and systems – Using this as a catchall category, it includes replacing windows, stanchions, waste water tanks, water tanks, fuel tank and masts, to name a few components. It could also include activities like repairing the generator or installing new stainless steel poles.

Rigging on a sailboat - Running rigging and standing rigging on an older sailboat will need replacing. Normal aging weakens and stretches lines, cables and wires. The many components of rigging will all need replacing too – fittings, vangs, shrouds, blocks and all the other pieces.

Sails – Sails are touted as lasting for decades, but usually they need replacing every few years. The characteristics of the material used for the sailcloth determines the life of the sail. A sail is meant to be durable, not stretch under a load so it holds its shape and able to catch the wind. Eventually, sails wear out and seams come loose, or the wind or a storm tears the sail or sail fibers weaken that were melded together to ensure the sail can catch the wind.

How quickly sails wear out depends on the material, frequency of use and the type of sailing you do. If you’re buying your dream older sailboat, you can count on having to replace the sails. Otherwise, you will need to replace your sails on your current boat periodically. During a refit, you can decide on the type of sailcloth you want, i.e. polyester, aramid, nylon, Ultra PE fiber, etc.

Engines – Replacing an engine with a new one is more expensive than rebuilding one. It can cost up to 70 percent more to replace an engine. Beyond the cost, the decision rests upon other considerations, like the condition of the engine to be rebuilt. If the goal is to get more power, then consider whether the boat’s infrastructure can withstand a bigger engine.

Canvas – Canvas is another material commonly found on boats. Canvas wears and tears and ages over time. It can also get mildewed or moldy which can weaken the fibers. Canvas is used for console covers, cockpit covers, aft curtains, Bimini tops, bow covers and convertible tops. There are many different types of marine fabric canvas, and they come in a huge variety of colors. Like sail material, you will need to select the marine grade canvas. You can order premade canvas tops and covers, but many people choose or need to let a company with experts in marine sewing do the work.

Hull work – Deteriorating deck cores, stringers and/or bulkheads should be repaired by a professional, assuming they are worth repairing. Serious damage or deterioration of a boat’s hull components needs careful evaluation as to the whether it is worth the expense. If it’s a matter of repairing small fiberglass chips during a refit of other components, then go ahead with your DIY job or hire a professional. However, if it is a matter of replacing through-hull fittings, repairing large amounts of fiberglass damage, doing structural repairs or repairing serious hull damage from groundings, please hire a professional boat refit contractor! You will thank me later!

On sailboats, the keel needs special consideration. It is bolted to the hull, and the bolts can waste where they can’t be checked visually – between the keel and the hull. If there are signs of rust streaks or corroded bolt heads inside the boat, the keel must be removed and repairs done. Also, if restoring a wood hull boat, you may need to repair the wood (i.e. a hole in the hull), and repaint with the appropriate materials. One thing to consider concerning hull work is whether the boat needs to be lifted out of the water with a davit or crane, bottom paint blasted off or stripped, repairs completed and new paint applied. This is a very labor intensive job, so if you want to actually use your boat within a reasonable timeframe, then hire a marine contractor (unless the boat is very small and sitting on a trailer).

Fiberglass and gelcoat repair – Repairing fiberglass and applying gelcoat to fix minor blisters, stress cracks and crazing could be a DIY job. However, some jobs require professional repairs or renovations, like fiberglass is delaminating. Some boatowners will periodically let a fiberglass technician go over the whole boat and do repairs.

Interior refinish – The interior of the boat has many components. Replacing cabinets, countertops, tables, carpet, curtains, etc. Refitting can include any redo of the interior. If you get the impression a refit includes anything and everything on a motorboat, sailboat or yacht, you would be right! Some refits involve literally gutting the boat, while others address specific things needing replacing, renovating, upgrading or repaired.

Finding the right boat refit contractor to manage your refit can make life a lot easier. The contractor can fix leaks, change electronics, upgrade battery banks, install new appliances, repair the deck, replace sails and rigging, repair fiberglass and make dozens of other improvements and upgrades. The marine contractor has the tools, a network of suppliers, the time and the expertise, and can give you a realistic estimate of what all this will cost. It begins with a marine survey to ensure you know what you buying if looking at an older boat refit or what you need to get your current boat refitted to your satisfaction.

Tips for Boat Refitting Projects

Refitting projects can go smoothly or turn into an expensive nightmare. That’s just the honest truth. There are ways to ensure it goes smoothly which is really every boat owner’s goal. Following are some tips and hints:

  • Careful planning is essential – make a list of what will be repaired and replaced and attach a cost
  • DIY projects require a lot of specialized tools, probably requiring you to purchase tools you might only use once
  • Consider the time and effort the project will take if you try to do it yourself
  • Remember that upgrading one thing may impact other systems (i.e. wiring)
  • There is always a good possibility an unknown problem will be discovered
  • Carefully research the value of boat of the brand you are refitting
  • Remember that shortcuts never pay off and can cause a lot of trouble later on, i.e. don’t try to refit the electrical on a boat without taking it out of the water because you’ll need to access every little dark corner where the electrical is run (nearly impossible if afloat).

Do due diligence on boat contractors if you decide to let a marine contractor do all or some of the refit. The contractor must be a good communicator, adhere to the agreement for work, be willing to coordinate with other contractors and have a good reputation in the community and the industry. You can get recommendations from your insurance agent who has insider industry information.

When hiring marine technicians, consider using experts certified by the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) and technicians certified in repairs of the engine and electronics by the component manufacturers.

Here’s a closing quote to keep in mind as you consider a boat refit. George Washington said, “We must consult our means rather than our wishes.” So true! Hire the Experts!

Finding the experienced marine pro who can ensure your refit goes smoothly is assured when you use Mariner Exchange. There are thousands of marine businesses listed that are located across the United States.