We’ve all been there – the moment you see a low priced boat that just has so much potential. Everyone involved acknowledges there are some issues but in your eyes, they’re not that big of a deal and before you know it, those projects will be behind you and you’ll be behind the helm sailing into the sunset. I believe you will get there. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from my own boat restoration project, I also believe it will not be in any way along the path you imagined when the whole thing started. I hope that by thinking through these things below before you begin, you’ll find yourself more prepared for your boat restoration ahead.

Consider the first list of projects you make to be the short list.

The very, very, very short list. Regardless the age of your boat, you’ll uncover lots of surprises. Some of those surprises may be good and others well, not so much. At first approximation, my husband and I considered our deck in pretty good shape. It wasn’t until we started pulling down the cabin top from below did we realize just how rotten the whole thing was. Moral of the story: expect more problems than you initially identify.

How far can your finances go?

Our boat project has made me a believer that if you can stick to a strict budget for your boat restoration, you’re a magician. While it is possible to know the cost of the major items you’ll need, it’s far more difficult to estimate the exact cost of individual projects. Having a range you expect to spend on each project that includes the known cost for parts is going to be your best bet. Using ranges will allow your budget to account for things like a few extra feet of plumbing, another tube of caulking, or some extra brushes and not have you cutting corners on things like the amount of bedding compound that should be used in the name of “staying on budget.”

Don’t underestimate the cost of tools you don’t even know you need yet.

Some people have the benefit of Grandpa’s garage down the street that has decades of accumulated screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, brooms… you name it. Others don’t. Having moved across the country for our boat restoration, we fell in the second category and there have been several times we sure wish we didn’t. And if you’re lucky enough to have Grandpa’s garage nearby, it may be useful for the small stuff but there will surely be power tools Grandpa doesn’t have that will end up denting your budget if you didn’t account for them initially.

Access to free manual labor!

By this I mean your family and friends in the area willing to share their precious weekends helping you do whatever it takes to make this crazy dream of yours come true. We all have those people, but for a boat restoration, the more of them that live nearby the better. There have been several times throughout our restoration of our sailboat Whistlin’ Riggin’ that we have called on the kindness of our friends to help complete a tough job – stripping the mast of its paint and grinding the cabin top to name a few.

Your areas of experience and expertise

Honestly evaluate your skills and expertise as you decide which repairs you will do yourself and which you will hire out to a professional. There is a lot of information available to the DIY boater, but don’t make the error that information is as good as experience. This isn’t to say you should never roll up your sleeves to do work (after all, you are reading a boat restoration post!) but rather an encouragement to consider the types of projects that having little to no experience or expertise might put you or others at risk. If you hire a competent professional, not only should they know and follow best practices, but they should have experience and for some projects, that experience may make all the difference. Marine electrical is one particular area that comes to mind, as making an error here can lead to all sorts of dangerous problems such as onboard fires or bleeding electricity into the water and putting nearby swimmers at risk for electrocution.

Set your project timeline and then double it.

Think about how much time in the week you will be able to spend on your boat restoration and set your project timeline accordingly. Keep in mind that you’ll have to include setup and cleanup time and for some projects, wait time for things like the curing of fiberglass or the drying of paint between coats. For several of the many individual projects you’ll be doing to restore your boat, things like weather and daylight working hours will likely have a large impact on how much you’re able to get done. And remember that short list of projects you have? As you begin checking those off, the new projects you uncover will add days, if not weeks, onto your timeline. Accelerating your timeline when it’s unrealistic to do so will only lead to frustration, so breathe easy, take it one step at a time, and don’t be too hard on yourself to stick to a schedule.

You’ll be happy you did it.

Take heart, this is not wasted effort! The journey you’re on with your boat restoration will be worth it. Remember that free manual labor? Those are your family and friends who you’ll have shared time with who are now a part of your journey and Grandpa loved being able to give his tools to his grandkid. The memories you’ll make going down this path make the projects that took too long, unexpected delays, calloused hands and tired muscles all worth it. When the time comes to remove the dock lines and get behind the helm, you’re going to stand there a far more educated boat owner than most. You’ll know all there is about your boat – the good, the bad, the ugly – because by completing your boat restoration you unturned every part of that vessel and put it back again – better than ever.