What is a Boat Refit?

Refitting a boat is one of those activities that can include everything on the boat, or one feature. It can be a major or a minor project or a critical project vs a just-want-to-upgrade project. Refitting is a broad term that covers the process of renovation, repairing and/or restoring boats. A refit project can include everything on the boat – essentially gutting the boat and starting over – or leaving the interior intact and repairing and repainting the hull. Here’s a practical warning though – a small refit project can turn into a large refit project. Like a house remodel, one thing leads to another. Suddenly the budget is destroyed, and the boat is unusable because the project isn’t done.

That’s why it’s important to let an expert marine surveyor, like those listed on Mariner Exchange, assess the boat before starting any refit work. It’s well worth the money and can save you money in the long run. The following sections discuss if you should refit or buy a boat and when you should hire a boat refit contractor.

Should I Buy a New Boat or Refit an Old One?

Deciding to refit a boat involves a lot of decisions. Most major refits are done on aging boats or classic boats. Sometimes, a refit project is undertaken just because the boat owner wants to upgrade something, like electronics or wiring. There are also refit projects undertaken to complete major repairs, like a damaged hull or deck. The first decision is whether to move ahead with a refit.

Refit or Buy?

One of the first and most important decisions you will need to make is whether to invest in a refit of a boat (yours or one you admire) or buy a newer boat. It’s reminiscent of the “lease or buy” decision in business. Refitting should only be undertaken when assured of ending up with a quality boat that retains some value or a boat you couldn’t afford otherwise. There are three options:

  • Refit a boat you already own
  • Buy a boat that needs refitting
  • Buy a new boat or used boat that doesn’t need any major work

Since this discussion is about refitting, the third option of buying a new or newer boat is not discussed further. Instead, the focus is on deciding whether to refit your boat or buying that older boat that needs some work. There are some things to consider up front before making that decision:

  • Structural integrity of the boat
  • Cost of refit project vs cost of buying a newer used or new boat
  • Post-refit value versus resale value
  • Specific components that need refitting
  • Age of the boat
  • How much work you want to do yourself and whether you have the time, ability and tools
  • How quickly you want the refit completed
  • Whether the refit preferences fit the boat’s style and space
  • Resale value of the boat after the refit (though some people just love their vessel so much that resale value is unimportant)
  • Size of the boat (anything bigger than 30 feet should be left to professionals)

Some people say that you also need to determine your patience limit because refitting can be a tedious, time-consuming process. If you decide to complete a refit, there are three decision paths to choose among:

  • Do all the work yourself
  • Let a marine refitting specialist do the work
  • Combination, meaning you do some work, and the marine expert does some work

Sometimes, boat owners are able to do some work to save money, but quite honestly, many DIYers end up taking their boat to a professional who has to redo some of the work the boat owner did. It adds to the cost of the project. It’s not easy to fix fiberglass, replace wiring, upgrade machinery, replace rigging, and so on. Remember the common expression, “eyes are bigger than their stomach”? It applies to refit projects. You may think you can manage a refit project when you aren’t able to.

Boat Refit Checklist

There are three major points to keep in mind once you decide to undertake a refit.

1. Get a professional marine survey – Some boats may not be worth refitting, like a boat with deteriorating coring. There are stories on forums in which people discuss the fact they didn’t recognize signs of water damage to the hull or didn’t know how to identify serious engine issues. A boat surveyor knows to check all systems and components – electrical, heating/cooling units, engine, plumbing, hull, rigging and so on.

The surveyor also has the expertise to recognize problems or developing problems, the boat owner may not, like hidden corrosion. A marine survey is especially important if buying an older or used boat, but it’s always recommended for every refit project except the very small projects.

2. Cost of refit vs buying a new or newer boat - You need to be able to produce a reasonable cost estimate for refitting the boat. One of the biggest issues with any refit is that it often leads to more work being involved than originally planned. Be sure to include the cost of hiring marine technicians to do the work you aren’t comfortable doing or able to do.

Another thing to consider is the resale value of the boat after the refit if there is a possibility you will want to resell the boat within the next few years. Yet another consideration is whether you will have to cut corners in terms of the materials and components you need to purchase. If you have to cut corners and buy cheap items for the refit, you are likely better off buying a new or newer boat.

Sometimes, the refit is not financially feasible. What it costs far exceeds the value of the boat, so it’s better to visit your local boat dealership. Some people may go ahead with the refit, despite everything pointing to canceling the project, when the aging boat is the “boat of their dreams” or the only way to own a classic boat.

3. DIY versus hiring a marine contractor – Many refits are managed with both the boat owner and a variety of marine contractors doing work on the boat. The boat owner does what he or she thinks can be personally managed, like repairing small fiberglass cracks, repairing vinyl seating and refinishing below deck woodwork. Major technical projects are then left to one or more contractors, like replacing an engine, installing new windows and redoing electrical systems. It’s important to think about safety too. You may watch a YouTube video on replacing wiring, but the video leaves out the part where the faulty amateur wiring job burns up the expensive electronics. You can find boat refit contractors near you on Mariner Exchange.