The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Are Refits Worth It?

JHHGH1-1030442It seems like a logical way to own a good offshore sailboat. Buy an older and a bit rundown but fundamentally decent boat and refit it. But does it really work? To explore that important question, I have a true story to tell you.

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  3. Buying a Boat—A Different Way To Think About Price
  4. Buying a Cruising Boat—Five Tips for The Half-Assed Option
  5. Are Refits Worth It?
  6. Buying a Boat—Never Say Never
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Hey John. About a year into a refit here. So far we’ve repowered and just finished completely gutting the electrical. Going to replace all rigging and sails before leaving to cruise. No electronics so to speak. Will replace stove (convert to propane). Already replaced the head. We kept a very very detailed cost budget and so far we’re 50k into it including purchase price on a W32. That isn’t bad. The fact of the matter is that we aren’t rich people and want to go cruising before kids. Our only option seemed to be getting a boat cheap and then making it safe and comfortable but NOT PERFECT (accepting that). We just don’t have the time/money to save up the 100+K it would cost to buy a boat turn key ready that we liked. The refit time is fun for us so we don’t consider it a cost. Its a hobby for the weekend.

So far our estimates have been right. And we were honest with ourselves from the beginning asking… “What if we have to replace EVERYTHING?” I think that is key, going in with eyes open initially. Second thing that has helped us greatly is that we know the boat will not be perfect or bristol. Our goals are Safe/Comfortable. Thats key to us right now.

Obviously we’re not done yet so we can’t give a full report but hopefully it works out!


Thats really the crux of the matter. To figure it all out you have to destroy the boat, but to destroy the boat wouldn’t be worth having it all figured out. In the end we bought a boat known to be stout and friendly for cruisers though slow and old. Its a dice roll. Lets hope it pans out.

I like the quote about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Falls in line with my favorite rule… The 80/20 rule. If the last 20% costs as much as the first 80% of a job it usually isn’t worth doing. (Unless its safety related.)

Ken Gillstrom

Hi John
We went the start from scratch route and built a 45′ aluminum cutter designed by Ted Brewer. Buying used and doing a refit scared me, as there are too many unknowns. We took 11 years to build her, but that was the schedule, and launched in 2010. Total costs were just over 300,000 and somewhere around 5500 hours.
We are leaving Georgian Bay in June and heading to the east coast of Canada, then wintering in the Caribbean.
I teach Intermediate and Advanced Cruising, which enabled me to sail 1000’s of miles on other peoples boats while constructing my own.
Whether it be a refit or complete build, keeping motivated and being able to sail during the project is key to its success.
Check out the results of our labour at or on Facebook
Your website has been a great resource throughout the project.
Thank you!

RDE (Richard Elder)

Hi Bob,
Great to hear that your second boat marriage turned out to be all sunshine and trade winds. However every good director should have alternative scripts in mind in case story line changes in mid filming.

Bob: Alt. Script:
After recovering from his financially devastating experience trying to turn the Fastnet 45 into the ideal cruising boat, Bob went looking for a brand new boat at the Annapolis boat show. There sitting on the used boat brokerage dock was the perfect boat. Sturdy aluminum hull with gorgeous lines that made all the new boats look like ugly ducklings. Ten feet longer than the Fastnet for little more than he had put into the earlier boat. Sure she needed paint on the topsides and new standing rigging, but weren’t those teak decks pretty? Passed survey with flying colors. Of course the surveyor didn’t climb the mast, and when the rigger went up with microscope in hand to measure for the new rigging he found numerous cracks in the mast track and spreader areas. Perfect time to replace it with a carbon mast for only 50K more. A few weeks later the bilge pumps started working full time. Hauled her out and stripped the bottom to bare metal. All those black peppercorns in the metal that you could push a screwdriver all the way through? Of course the surveyor couldn’t have been expected to strip the fairing off the bottom or trace out every ground from the generator and shore power AC system—–.

Moral of the story: Beware of Boat Lust! Fat chance of that— that’s like telling guys to not look at pretty girls.


ciao John,
my approce to a new boat is a little different from a refitting route,i try to buy the best custom (for my very personal taste) new hull and rig i can afford and do the basic systems myself,i usually do not thrust profesionals,live with a moked up interiors untill my bank account is a little happier and than little by little make her into a fully finished boat.i could write about the pro and cons for hours but my english not is not good enought.The final budget might be a little higher then a yard finished boat but the experience and the knowledge of our floating,’baby,, is immense

Andy Fennymore-White

Hi John,
A great story with I guess a predictable Bob, but was it that bad for you? Knowledge, experience and wisdom are hard earned! And you are now wiser and older but you are still going sailing.
Like Ken we have also gone down the new build aluminium route. It has been a hard and long- six years with perhaps 6 months to go. But what I would say is that we have enjoyed every day of it. My wife has learned to be a professional varnish sprayer and we have had the chance to work together three or so days a week- We know the boat inside out. It should never be about saving a buck. It should be about enjoyment, some folk’s are happy to charter a boat for their whole lives, others want really know their boat but they both go sailing.
Enjoy the wind, it is still free.

Jacques Landry

As Andy said, Bob (or John, Jim, Bernard and all the others) are still sailing today. If they had not bought that fixer upper (as I just did) they might have bought a summer camp (in need of repair) because they just could not afford a new or almost new boat. Buying an older boat and refitting it is what most of us can (or think we can) afford, and it allows us to dream about sailing the seven seas (or just one).

Bob’s problem was more that he wanted the perfect boat, and for that you have to build from scratch (like the Model T, now Adventure 40) or be filthy rich. Ok, just very rich as there is nothing filthy about being rich.

I can’t afford a new boat large enough to sail around the world, but could afford a decent boat in need of some fixing, so from now on I’ll spend half my time sailing around the world, and half fixing the beast. Better than working another 10 years until I can afford a new boat, but be 65 and in such a bad shape that it will have to be a trawler (or a Catamaran ;-).

Yes, I heard that thought, and yes I have changed the standing rigging and overhauled the engine to get these reliable at first. Priorities are safety, seaworthiness, and maybe one day creature comfort.

Don’t wait till you can afford a new boat, be a Bob and go for it. However, if you read the information on this site (the best there is) you might be luckier and do much better than Bob because many Bobs are generously sharing all of their knowledge to prevent some of us from doing the same mistakes !

Thanks Bob for such a great story. But you did not manage to scare me (it was too late anyway ;-).


A new boat was never an option for us. We simply did not have the money to buy new or even new-er. We ended up with a 30-year old Tartan 42 that needed a lot of work. We’re living on the boat 1/2 the week and working on her as we go along. .. 12 months to push off the dock and go cruising. Whatever is done then is what we have.

Thanks for a good post though. There certainly is a point at which some have to cut their losses and move on. I’m hoping we don’t get to that point.

S/V Kintala

Jacques Landry

I enjoy every bit of the retrofit, as much as I enjoy every bit of the sailing. Not much sea mileage on my own yet bit I am learning, and a fair bit from your website. Keep it up, it’s really appreciated.

As for being honest and talking about the cost and problem of retrofitting, here is my story so far:

I bought the boat a year ago (that’s my fifth boat, all others smaller as I was on a lake in Canada) and I had some experience with fixer-uppers, as this is what I can afford. I always sold the boat for what I invested in them, most of the time not including my time, but that is what I call gaining knowledge and experience. Let say I am better at it now than 20 years ago.

So, bought a steel sloop in the Caribbean, 38 footer designed by Sylvestre Langevin, that was built in France (Meta, they are know to do it well) and that was definitely finished and equipped well. The boat went around once, and was maintained good for most of it’s life. 20 years later, it was quite fine but the first owner, quite older by then (only 77, but decided that golfing was more appropriate) had been a little sloppier with maintenance. Not a good thing for a steel boat. But overall, just some rust, and nothing that a younger dude could cope with. Being the young dude (53) I got the crap out of it in little time. Now I do know that “little time” means that I will have to put that much every year to keep it up, but that is steel boat unless you did as good as your other story!

Anyhow, beside it being steel, it was a good deal probably. The previous owner told me what to expect, what had to be done and he was pretty good and honest I think.

OK, you all want numbers! I paid 25K$ for the boat. All sails (Genoa 140, 120, 100, storm main, storm jib, spinnaker and reacher) were like new (some unused) but the main I replaced (1600$ from fareastsail). The engine has 4000hrs, but it’s a Perkins 4.108 so can probably do twice that much! I did a good overall on it and it all seem good now. I has a Honda generator (mostly new), a KISS windmill (50$ was my cost to rebuilt it in half a day), and mosy of what you need for a circumnavigation, including spares (too much of these I would say). All systems are just fine. The ocean rated liferaft has been due for testing for 5 years, but I plan on getting a new one in a canister. I got a new bimini cover (500$) and spent 2500$ on a new Caribe inflatable to replace the hard Boston Whaler (too heavy to be practical) , but the 15hp mercure is quite fine. Changed the standing rigging (it looked good, but the insurance did not like it’s age) for another 3000$. All electronics is quite good (ok, the HAM is an IC735 so not the latest model) but the sextant work like new!

I don’t like the color of the cushion but what the heck, can change that at some point.

Overall, got more boat that I could afford, and I am hoping that I don’t gt as many problems as Bob did. On the other hand, I hope I will have as much fun and exciting adventures as Bob did!

By the way, not a drop, a very dry boat. Even the bilge is dry. The previous owner did not even install a bilge pump! I did, as I could no believe it. But no wet bunk yet.

I am In Martinique for a while, if you come around I’ll be glad to show you this beauty. Rust included !

Derek H

This is a great post and blew me away because just this morning I saw an ad for a Cape Dory 36 for just $49K, or about half market value. I caught myself fantasizing about checking it out and buying this boat, fixing her up and selling her on. I knew it was a fool’s dream but still….then I read this post.

Since AAC is, hands down, my favorite website and since I have learned far more from you than I have contributed over the years, I will give you my experiences with numbers since you asked.

We have done two refits. My first was my first boat, a Cape Dory 33, 1981 vintage purchased in 1996 for $45K. She was a great boat and in fair condition but had only been used as a weekender. As my ambitions were more of the blue water type, I spent two years (weekends mostly) and another $45K to get her up to snuff: all new standing rigging (Staylok), new running rigging, converted her to a cutter and added two roller furlers, new anchor and chain (no windlass), sea anchor, propane and new Force 10 stove, Icom SSB, new dinghy + o/b (Avon), new liferaft (Avon) and a Monitor windvane.

Result: she was the best equipped and most beautiful CD 33 out there – and the most expensive. I sailed her for 2 years around Long Island Sound – Nantucket and then another year and half in the NW Caribbean. I finally sold her in Florida for….$45K (!).

Our second boat was a Tayana 52, 1988 vintage which we purchased for $185 K in 2001. She was also in great shape but required work to take offshore. This time I was with my wife so we spent more on making her comfortable than I did on my bachelor boat above. Over again, a 2 year period, we spent $50K putting on new teak decks (we were in Thailand at the time and it was cheap), new standing rigging and lifelines, new life raft, converted her to a cutter as well with a roller furler, new propane system and F10 stove, new dodger and bimini, new RIB dinghy + 15 hp Yamaha, new Trojan we cell batteries (1,000 AH) + Heart interface and Heart inverter/charger, new upholstery and cushions, new toilet (electric – the wife demanded it!), new curtains, all new freshwater pumps, sump pumps and bilge pumps and probably a few other things I can’t remember.

We sailed her in total for about 3 years, living aboard the whole time, from Asia to Europe and finally sold her in Barcelona, Spain in 2005 for…..$185K!

What have I learned from all this? Well, my refits are getting cheaper considering the size differential in boats. I also think that “losing” $50K on the second boat after living on her and cruising through so many great countries for three years with my wife on our honeymoon was a price worth paying. Would we do it again?

Well, we just bought our third boat, an Oyster 53, 2002 vintage that requires some work. Hopefully, not much work and hopefully it will be worth it. I will let you know in 5 years or so…


Derek H


It is worth it. I saved for 10 years hoping to buy an expensive boat in pristine condition. I backed out of a deal on one at the last minute when I realized that I was about to spend five or six years worth of cruising kitty. So instead of a 120k 45 footer I ended up with a 2k 30 footer that needed a total refit.

I am in the throes of that refit now. I have to say that your friends experience does make me think wth am I doing?!? I have actually thought that since the very beginning but I plod forward anyway. I knew going in that I was going to replace everything from sole to masthead. In the end I will put about 25k to 30k in a boat worth 5k but hey, I will also know that boat very intimately and I did not spend my life savings!

Your friend bought a great big, soft boat that was rode hard and put up wet. He made some bad decisions like the rebuilt engine for instance. He obviously was not prepared for the task and in this case probably would have been best served buying a new boat.

It is very interesting to read the experiences of the other commentors. Thank you for raising this discussion.


john forsyth

I think there are some essential truths about successfully buying old and doing a refit :
(1) buy QUALITY of original construction—and by that I mean don’t be too concerned about its age and don’t be swayed by advertising hype or current popularity —I think boats from the mid-to-late ’80s were over-built compared to todays charter-specials and thats what I went looking for
(2) have it COMPLETELY SURVEYED (as a newby I paid for seperate surveys by (a) a marine surveyor (b) a marine diesel mechanic (c) a qualifed ships rigger and (d) a sail shop and have had no surprises even after 7 years
(3) BUDGET for your upgrades/refit so you are not too starry eyed —I think a rough estimate is to expect to pay about 50% of your original cost in upgrades & refits
(4) accept that YOUR REFIT DOLLARS ARE LOST FOREVER—realize and accept the fact that most if not all of your refit/upgrade dollars will never be recovered when you resell—it is and always will be an older boat that will appeal to a limited market and now all those refits that you did are again now old and in need of replacement
(5) DO IT YOURSELF—take courses and learn and don’t be afraid to try and do as many repairs yourself as possible —sure you will make some mistakes but thats how you learn and most likely they will NOT be fatal and finally
(6) DON’T WAIT —if you wait to get it all done or to save up for that ‘perfect’ boat then the only cruising you will be doing is on a cruise ship
—Anyhow that my 2 cents worth —1986 GOZZARD —bought for about $100K, sunk about $50K into it over 7 years (not counting my own time or things like solar panels, liferaft and a watermaker —which you won’t find included in a new boat price)—boat was recently surveyed and in these tough times still has a market value of about what I paid for it
Besides if you are too overly concerned about the dollars you’ll be spending then you won’t go cruising in the first place —nobody has ever said that cruising made economic sense!!
Fair Winds
Foothillsailor —in Mexico

Dick Stevenson

John, Interesting read as it so mirrors my experience. Early on when cruising with 3 children on a Sabre 28 was getting a bit cosy, we happened along a LeComte Northeast 38 (Bill Tripp design and, in looks, a sister ship to a Bermuda 4o, but sails much better) which had sunk and was a complete insurance write off which we bought in auction. We re-fitted her mostly ourselves and I learned a ton. We coastal cruised that boat very happily for 15 years, but ran into some of the issues described. This was easier to bear as we bought it much cheaper. It was on our first serious off shore passage that we discovered that it was not (no longer?) an offshore boat, again in the ways Bob described. We then bought a 2 year old Valiant 42 on which we have lived for 10 years, a boat which fit our criteria of being much stronger and smarter than we are. Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Colin Farrar

Thanks, John. We’re thinking about trading up to a larger boat for extended cruising with our family of four. I will remember this post every time I consider purchasing an older boat with an eye towards “fixing her up.”

Eric Schlesinger

Dear John,
Bought an unfinished wooden Gillmrer 32′ gaff rig ketch! $25K. Spent two years and a few thousand dollars getting her ready to launch. Sailed around Nantucket Sound for 3 summers. Back on land: re did the interior to our liking a job which continues (should mention that I am a professoional cabinetmaker married to a professional painter). Sail and live aboard every summer. Some “problems” still vex us, ie. extreme prop walk under power (help?). We have gone coastal crusing for 12 years, perhaps 35K and some years of work invested. Of course nomal maintenence continues too as it would for any boat.
Sounds like we were just lucky.
ps. what surprises me are adverts for good boats like a 5 year old Morris with a factory refit of 200K: what happened?
cheers, Eric and Sue

Gene Gruender

We’ve owned 2 sailboats, the first was a Hunter 37 Cutter which will bring groans from most everyone here. But we refit and cruised on a slim budget while many at the dock still talk about going 20+ years later. The second, which I’m sitting on as I type this, is a Cheoy Lee Midshipman, far from new. We still regularly make repairs and upgrades. If we’d had to put out the funds a new boat costs, we’d have never gone anywhere.

But the real reason for this comment concerns new boats. I have friends who’ve bought some fairly nice boats, and I’ve delivered a few. My experience has been that a new boat is no guarantee that things will go well. And you’re going to have to be real careful of which yard and who in that yard does installations or upgrades or you’re no better off.

Ann Bainbridge

A refit worked for us. We bought a lightly-used boat with ‘good bones’ (1981 Baba 35) in 2008 for $75k. It had been refitted a few years earlier for a circumnavigation which didn’t happen. So, most systems were there and were top-quality, but, the maintenance had been let go and quite a few needed repair and/or upgrading. If you’re new at it, I think it’s easier to understand and repair/replace something that’s already there rather than try and install from scratch.

Boat sat at the dock for two years while we finished up work commitments. Then, we took absolutely everything off the boat and spent four full-time months putting it back together. We spent about $50k. The biggest expenses weren’t on the boat so much (that was mostly just our labour), it was all the new offshore gear i.e. windvane, liferaft, epirb, para-anchor, storm jib, flares, AIS, spares etc. (about $15k) and professional help for things we felt we couldn’t do ourselves. We spent about $12k on a diesel mechanic, $7k for upholstery/canvas work and $5k for a cabinetmaker. We also replaced chainplates and running rigging.

Our shake-down was a 51 day North Atlantic crossing. We only had three problems, we blew the mainsail out in a F9 (luckily only 200 miles from landfall), the diesel generator died and we also took on a lot of water. In hindsight, we probably should have replaced the sails rather than just cleaning, restitching and adding a third reef. Otherwise, the boat felt safe and performed as expected. The unhappy realization though, was that it is a cold, wet boat in the high latitudes. Insulation and passive heat are hard to retrofit properly, so, we’re resigned to it. If we were to do it again, that would be the highest priority item we would look for. The other top priority would be a metal hull. Having said that, reading some of the other posts about maintenance issues on older metal boats would make us really nervous about buying somebody else’s rustbucket….


Very interesting post and I believe there are many Bob’s among us. Just one thought though to make it even more interesting. Some of you have touched this already:

Is a “new” boat perfect when you get it? How much does it cost to make it perfect? I know of a few very recently bought boats where a complete survey would have revealed some serious problems and where the owners have fought expensive legal battles to no avail. Fixing has again been costly. Some say that an old boat have many of it’s possible weaknesses found, known and sometimes corrected. A new boat is still untested.

Also, I guess that the bigger the boat, the more difficult to save on a refit. Does anyone agree? So if a smaller boat is even a option, could that change these dynamics, or is that just wishful thinking..?


I was 10, my kid brother was 7.. It was a Saturday and we must have been going thru our Mother like “a dose of the salts”.. She told Dad to get us out of the house, “Now..!!” He took us that Saturday afternoon to the local theatre to see Walt Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson” and man—that was it..!! Since that day, my life-long dream has been to sail to the South Pacific, finish out my days living in a “Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse”..

While I was in high school, my best friends father owned a 33′ Morgan.. During the summers of my junior and senior years, we sailed from our hometown in Sarasota, Florida down to Boca Grande, 10,000 Islands and into the Florida Keys.. Pound for pound, probably the best days of my life..

After 27 years of chasing a career in the entertainment business, living on 4 of the earth’s continents, I came home 19 months ago to find my Fathers health failing and battling Alzheimer’s, my Mother diabetic and in the latter stages of Dementia.. I pulled the plug on my career to stay home and look after the both of them..

It seems now more than ever, my childhood dream is alive and calling.. I have time on my hands to be working on and preparing a vessel that can help make my boyhood dreams come true.. But most certainly, not the kind of money that this article is speaking of..

4 years ago I began researching / internet shopping and veiwing vessels 1st hand while still living overseas.. In 2010 alone I viewed 37 vessels located thru out Florida.. In my opinion, only 3 really could “cut the mustard”, carry me safely to a South Pacific destination.. All needed work..

After reading this write up and all of the replies to “Are Refits Worth it..??”, in all honesty, I feel somewhat devastated, bewildered and disillusioned by the article itself and the replies.. Refits must be worth it, they have to be, I simply refuse to believe that they aren’t..

The vessels most all speak of, are the size of AmTrac rail cars and dump astronomical amounts of cash and lterally thousands of hours and years refitting / outfitting / repairing before setting sail.. I always thought the “name of the game” wasn’t to get in “way over your head” with a behemouth that sucks the life out of you, stuck “on the hard” or tied to the dock but, to be out sailing—living the dream.. Big boats, big bucks.. Small boats, much smaller bucks.. Why aren’t more people “scaling down”..??

For me, a new blue water vessel is not an option.. I must buy an older vessel, refit / repair / upgrade.. If the Polyinesians could discover new continents while sailing outrigger canoes and the average vessel that is now circumnavigating is between 24 to 27 feet in length, well, I’ll “go small”, prepare as best I can, roll the dice and say a ton of prayers along the way..

“Dream big and big dreams happen—if one only applies himself and never gives up..” I think John Forsyth’s reply is right on the money.. #6: Don’t Wait.. All one can do is prepare the best one can and I don’t have the kind of money and years left, that so many here have spoke of..

Matt Marsh

Getting emotionally attached to an older boat can make it hard to assess things objectively. And objectivity is critical when considering a potential refit.

I’ll make reference to smaller power boats, since that’s my field. My favourite boat for many years was my grandfather’s 1986 Peterborough runabout. It was a sleek little thing and a good workhorse; it’s the boat that took us to the family cottage, that all of us learned to ski behind, etcetera. A few years ago, its Cobra drive sheared a shaft (in the middle of a nearly deserted lake, of course).

After that repair, my grandfather and I took stock of the current condition of everything else in the 20-year-old boat. There was some spongy plywood, corrosion on the fuel tank, the wiring was starting to fail, spare parts for the sterndrive were no longer available, and you had to remove the flame arrestor and pour two tablespoons of gas down the carb throat to get her to start if she’d been sitting more than a week. From what we knew about her construction, she’d likely need new stringers and a new transom if the drivetrain were to be replaced.

So Grandpa made the call- the memories and sentimental value of that boat couldn’t justify a refit that would cost more than an equivalent new boat.

I’m currently working on a new boat for my wife and I. We have a weird mix of requirements that aren’t met by anything we can find at a reasonable price, so we’re building from scratch. There will probably be about $30k in materials and equipment, and about that much again in our labour, that goes into the boat. We’re designing her with 15-20 and 30-40 year refits in mind: there will be conduits for easy replacement of wiring and hoses, there will be sole hatches larger than the tanks they hide, there’s easy access to the back side of all the deck hardware, and there’s space to swing a tool behind every piece of equipment on board (except for the bilge pumps).

It is not hard to design a boat with refits in mind. It’s just that if you’re building a thousand of them, it’s cheaper to put most systems together while the joinery’s on the shop floor and the deck is still hanging from the crane, in which case many obvious access and maintenance problems will go unnoticed.

Jerry Levy

Is it worth it? I’ll offer my answer below, but first a little story.

For years and years I dreamed and saved for a boat. I had an excellent idea of the boat I wanted, but – no matter how I saved – I couldn’t afford it. And here I’m talking about buying a used boat – a new boat was way out of my income zone. I thought: be patient, keep saving, eventually you’ll buy the boat you want.

Then – on August 28, 1997 – something unexpected happened. I had (for the first time ever) chest pain and then a pain in my left arm. I was, at age 43, having a massive heart attack. Happily, I survived the ‘widowmaker’ – a LAD blockage. (No, I wasn’t overweight, my cholesterol was good,my blood pressure was normal, I didn’t drink much, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t have diabetes, there was no family history of this, etc. ). So, there I was in a hospital bed in the critical care unit with lines in both arms all hooked up to heart monitoring machines and I said to myself – “This is crazy! You’ve been saving up for years for a boat and you almost died!”. So, I made a vow then and there to look for a boat as soon as I got released from the hospital and then live aboard that boat (at .least during summers) beginning the next summer.

This I did. I bought a boat (a 27′ Danish-made fiberglass sloop) less than two months after being released from the hospital. Instead of looking for an ‘ideal boat’ which I couldn’t afford, I re-set my goal: buy a smaller boat which you can afford NOW. As I knew what kind of boat I liked, once I made that decision the rest wasa pretty easy.

I’ve had a couple of other used boats since (my current boat is a 35’9″ steel sloop) and have spent the last 13 summers living aboard and sailing singlehanded 10-12 weeks per year, mostly in New England. I figure I’ve spent roughly 143 weeks at sea over that period and about 910 nights at anchor.

Well, I’d rather be sailing full-time but I need to work to pay for the sailing and for the health benefits. It’s not the ‘ideal’ solution, but it works for me. (yes, I’m a ‘teacher’ – a ‘college professor’ actually).

And, that gets me to the question you asked – ‘is it worth it?’.
This is a question which can’t be answered just in dollars and sense because it also involves *time*: time saving and time refitting. For me the answer was: buy a boat now which you can afford and doesn’t require a lot of spending and time now to re-fit. There have been some financial bumps along the path adopting this philosophy, but it got me out on the water quicker doing what I love to do.

Before you think about spending years more saving and/or refitting a boat, remember the cruel jokes life can play on us. What would you rather do – go sailing now or die while your bank account grows to the desired goal? Carpe diem!


Hi John,
Nice article here. I have done two refits and now we are having a new boat built in France. The first refit took 6 years of weekend work and it was tough to do as it was so drawn out. The second boat a Mason 44 that had just completed a 9 year circumnavigation was in pretty good shape. The log books showed a lot of work had been done throughout the 9 years. But nine years means big refits, new rigging, lots of new wire runs, I put in a new engine not because it needed it, 4000 hours but because the newer engine same HP was smaller and a lot easier to work on and maintain and of course we put in all new electronics. That work took about 1.5 years half of it full time 8 to ten hours a day. The good thing was that 80 % of spare parts were on board that were needed for extended cruising so that saved a lot of money. Always check out your spare parts when buying a used boat and make sure they are in good condition and come with the boat. We got the boat for a steal, 90 K less than all other Mason 44,s on the market at same age. So we put that 90 K into her and felt great about leaving port. We actually sold her for 6000 more than we paid and put into her when we got to NZ. We were lucky as all other boats that crossed the pacific that year up for sale went really cheap.

But what I would like to say to those thinking about buying a new boat for extended cruising is that you must understand that a new boat costs a lot more than the selling price. That selling price is a base price with no add on. It is amazing at what the cost runs when you start outfitting a new boat for blue water cruising. When you add on from the factory to install extras and you will need the extras prices seem high but remember factory labor is included to install extras. Next one must figure out what spare parts they will need as the boat will not come with spares like a used boat normally does when sold. No 80 % of spare parts in a new boat. After you pick up your new boat most likely you will need a new dink, motor, dishes, electronics, pots and pans, blankets, custom fit sheets and just let your mind run wild. We figure that we will spend about 1/3 more than base price. We were lucky that we talked with cruisers that had bought new boats before and were prepared for what a new boat really costs. In buying a new serious cruising boat I think one just about puts as much effort into it as rebuilding a good older boat just not as dirty or as tough on the knuckles. We are also very lucky to have a great consultant who speaks boat French and who understands the type of boat we are having built. The extra cost of a good consultant will save you lots in time and effort and cost in the long run. Just a heads up for those thinking about buying a new boat, do your research first and figure out where you stand before signing the contract.
Good Luck on your old or new boat.

RDE (Richard Elder)

Congratulations on your new Boreal! And I second your comments about using the services of a consultant, especially when one as knowledgeable as Colin is available.

Nick Kats

So many paths to, hopefully, a good sea boat. These paths are defined by personality, skill & experience, determination & the depth of one’s pocket-book.

I spent a lotta dough – I never divulge how much, sorrreeee Bob! – on a 20 yr old Colin Archer. This boat was built by one man, showed superb craftsmanship, consistency & thoughtfulness throughout, had everything I wanted & much more that I discovered afterwards, and I brought her on the spot without a survey. Truly dumb, but my instincts were right on. Refitting after 4 yrs of ownership was negligible.

Refitting consisted of a 2nd salt water pump to increase engine coolant circulation, an alternator, 4 anchors, 2 hand held GPS, a fish finder, a drogue & 2 US military surplus chutes, various bits of stainless steel ironmongery custom fabricated, an EPIRB, 2 dinkies, interior lighting, fishing tackle, crab traps, paper charts & tubes, ropes. The biggest problem was dry rot in the upper third of the main mast, and I scarfed in the replacement at a do-it-yourself yard.

It helped that long ago I learned to ignore the materialism of the US yacht industry that promotes all sorts of must-have stuff. Boating magazines made no sense & held no interest. It helps that I am impervious to advertising. Racing & yacht clubs are of no interest. I hardly ever got to sail others’ boats so have not been exposed to, & ‘educated’ in, what’s in fashion.

Compared to the writers on this site, I have a Neanderthal approach to sailing & navigation. I’m self taught & mostly figure things out on my own. Authors that resonate for me are Roth & the Pardeys. Fishermen, not yachtsmen, are my guide & their coops are my preferred source for needed paints, parts, foul weather gear etc.

My boat is way overbuilt by yachting standards. Fishermen who hate yachts love her. With such strength throughout, the margins are huge & this helps minimize replacement/refitting.

I sought a boat with my style in mind (Neanderthal not Cro-Magnon), knowing that compatibility would minimize refitting. It took a year of Internet cruising, then bingo.

Guess I was really lucky. Though 40 yrs of hacking around in boats & 15 yrs of carpentry & boatbuilding made my luck. A lot of dough up front, and pretty much nothing ever since for a boat in which I have enormous & growing confidence for serious adventure.


Well I have to jump in here again. Too many comments about getting surveys for me to ignore. Since we were transitioning from a 27′ Compac to a 42′ Tartan, we paid dear money (nearly $3K) for a full survey required by Boat US for insurance, a mechanical survey done by Crowley’s in Chicago, a rigging survey done by a contract worker hired by Crowley’s, and had some spreader bracket welding done by a welder contracted by Crowley’s to repair some cracks that came up in the rigging survey. It was ALL wasted money. The survey was a joke and to tell you the truth I don’t even know that the surveyor actually got on the boat. Much of the equipment he listed as being on the boat was not there at all or was a different brand. I later found a copy of the survey from 2 years before ours and was able to see that he had just copied the equipment list from that survey. The mechanical survey was a joke as most of the interior lights didn’t work, the sump box pump was shorted to ground, the fresh water pump impeller was toast, there was a quart of oil in the bilge which was full of water to the floorboards, the heater didn’t work, the head was falling off the base, there were holding tank vent hoses just cut off and laying in the v-berth lockers, the welding repair looked like swiss cheese…and on and on ad nauseum. The point is that we did everything right – we hired professionals who supposedly knew what we didn’t know to tell us what was wrong with the boat, but the fact remains that they didn’t do their jobs so we’re paying the price. I just don’t know how you avoid that situation other than through luck since we researched the boat yard and surveyors and all of the people involved came with high recommendations. In the end, you find a good original build quality boat in a price range you can afford, and roll the dice.

S/V Kintala

RDE (Richard Elder)

A few comments on the many informative experiences shared here:

1- For many of the ex-middle class purchasing an older boat is the only way we will ever be able to live our sailing adventure. 2-As soon as the budget reaches the level many commentators have spent on refits, a new purpose built K.I.S.S. 40 footer would be far more economical in the long run.
3- Rid yourself of the idea that small necessarily means economical. If you are not convinced, find the best wooden boat builder on your continent and have him bid on building an exact sister ship to the Pardey’s engineless 30 footer. At least $250,000 —.
4- Change the theme “Small is Beautiful” to K.I.S.S.
5- Before considering such an undertaking write down John & Phyllis’ mantra:

What Really Matters
Keep the water out
Keep the crew on the boat
Keep the keel side down
Keep the mast up
Keep the rudder on
(plus: Keep the anchor hooked up!) RDE
The rest is small stuff.

Tape it over your bathroom mirror and read it every morning before you start looking for your project boat!

Then look for the largest boat you and your partner can comfortably handle that fits within your budget after upgrading to satisfy John’s mantra with 100% confidence!

Is a functioning refrigeration system along with the generator, solar panels, wind generator, alternator and controllers to keep it running at a cost of $10,000 to $20,000 more important than new standing rigging with Sta-loc terminals and a bulletproof staysail? Cold beer is nice but a standing mast is nicer!

My impression is that 80% of most refit budgets go to trying to make the boat just like home with all the latest comforts and sophisticated electronics rather than to prioritize the essentials and cast off the dock lines.

ps; When I was berating poor Bob for lusting after the perfect boat and relying upon a surveyor I should have used a different “moral of the story” . “Trust but Verify” —President Ronald Regan.

I’ve encountered surveyors far more competent than I who uncovered things I missed, but many are at best glorified clerks or boat salesmen. Would you buy a packaged MBS from a Goldman Sachs broker without first tearing it apart microscope in hand? Didn’t think so! Fool me once——.

Jacques Landry

I had the same experience as Deb described. I surveyed the boat myself before buying it while it was out of the water. Rented a meter to check hull thickness (a steel boat) and dismantled about every panels I could to check it throughout (yes, for rust, but also for electrical, plumbing, insulation, etc.) and verified all systems. I spent 2 days going through it, slept on it, we got the boat in and went for a sail in 20 knot wind, all with the help of the owner.

I bought the boat as what I found needed fixing/improving was on the list provided by the old man, and was acceptable to me. I felt he was quite honest, and still think so a year later.

But the insurance company did not trust MY survey and asked for a REAL survey to be done. By then the boat was in the water. This guy was recommended by the insurance company (he was the only surveyor on the island anyway) and spent two hours on the boat, asked for a copy of the previous survey, looked around, asked to be raised to the top of the mast (a 230 lbs dead weight) to look at the rigging, and took a few photographs.

He found NOTHING on the list the old man had given me while I did. He filled a several page document with description of the “systems” which he took from the previous survey, he even had the nerve to present a thickness survey of the hull ! Remember, the boat is in the water ! Maybe there are new technologies that could allow that, but it would require for someone to get in the water, and definitely have a tool in hand !

As Deb described it, the list of instruments was partially wrong as some of the equipment had changed from the previous 10 years old survey. Then came the time to decide on the value of the boat for insurance purpose. Took him out for lunch and got an an extra 20K$ in boat value.

The cost of the survey was 650US$.

I got a survey, and got insured. Believe me, that is not what I use as a guide on what need fixing/improving on the boat. The only thing he got right was the need to change the standing rigging … because it was 20 years old !

To make this story funnier, my 20 years old Perkins 4.108, the original, was listed as a Yanmar !

Unfortunately, most can’t survey a boat themselves, so have to rely on a surveyor. But look at what they do, and if they don’t remove any “harder to remove” panels, find a proper way to look at the chainplates from below, don’t turn on each and every instruments, run the engine, and some more, it’s useless. Even if you know nada, look for yourself, ask friends, or that “know it all guy on the dock”, might cost you a few beers, but will give you some pointers on what the surveyor should see.

Poking around with a pointy tool is weapon number one for finding rot and masked rust. A rubber mallet is essential to spot rotten core and even osmosis blisters.

My last recommendation : DON’T give them the last survey !! This way you can compare the two and see if this makes any sense.

On the other hand, if you know nada about boats and how to survey them, maybe a fixer upper is not for you.


Hi Gents,
great site !
great posts on this subject, it is all so true, here is our short story :
in 2009, i woke up on a morning, and decided to surf the internet and realise one of another of my unreasonable dreams (i have many feasible unreasonable dreams), being to get my own sailboat,
experience : only sailing dinghis when … younger, the ocean : yes, that’s actually my job,
Money available : no,
Bank loan budget : say abt 50k euros for a start,
Nr of kids : 5 ! (between 3 and 18 by then),
Wife’s approval : yes (that’s reality of life…),
so i went surfing (the net), and enjoyed the crazy offers of 50 footers in the caribean, or more exotic palces (i’m not afaraid of distances … i’m a seaman),
Then i got lucky :
– my collegues/friends / sailors convinced me to start under 40′,
– my wife reduced my (start) budget to 35k,
– i love strong boats (that’s my job, again), but having chipped too much rust as a cadet (even if loving great today epoxi coatings), i obviously redirected day by day to (old) aluminium,
– i love old out-of-fashion lines and designs,
– i was the lucky one to discover a boat of which the price had just dropped abt 30% before other guys interested realised,
– to get my offer accepted within an hour,
– get a used, dirty, half abandonned, but basicly healthy, and basicly but decently upgraded 10 years earlier, … boat,
– fall in love with a renown design of a very smart and renown designer, sharing the same basics in life as i do as i finally realised (i’m very KISS and rough and seaworthy),
– being the cheapest alu design of her age available on the market, (some suffered electrolysis in the keel-bilge sections),
then, i was so crazy :
– to make an offer by email being (at work) 10.000nm away,
– to let it survey by one of my sailor mates (as crazy as myself), instead of an “expensive” prof-alu surveyor, as my banker and insurer did not requested for such a “Quote : “cheap boat – reduced loan” Unquote, (the relativility of the world), and the difficulty of finding one in a remote place (abroad of course) …
– that the Mate said : well, yes, i would do it too, but you know me …
Conclusion :
– i’m in love with her (a basic),
– she is beautifull to my eyes (another basic),
– i feel safe in it,
– i have plenty job on it, even if everything had been kept almost original and simple,
– i do it all (almost) myself (my wallet reminds me i’m actually quite capable, and i could do it), every day on the boat every one new thing, but try to keep her always ready to sail in the Ria, to run away when fed up of upgrading,
– i realise every day how much i had to learn abt (sailing) boats (i’m 25 yrs at sea on M/V’s), and their systems, and how easier (and cheaper) it is to learn that on a 34′ …
Final conclusion :
as so many said here in their own way, and like so many things in life :
if i had known before, would i have done this ?
maybe no because it is not reasonable, but it would have been a real pity to be too reasonable !!!
So YES, refit IS definitely worth it !
She is called Moscatel, as she started het life in Spain,
and she is a 34′ Romanée, (enjoy the site we created),
as Philippe Harlé’s designs all called by a wine or liquor,
actually, she would still be a good base for an “Adventure 34′”, as some requested …
Bon vent à tous, as we say,
and see anyone of you passing Coruna-Betanzos-Sada Rias


From someone who has just found out… health issues will prevent the dreams. Go with whatever you have, old, new, crappy, perfect, small, large, too large etc. Just go now before you can’t. Thanks John or Bob, you missed the important point because you already went.

David Metzler

You mentioned purpose built cruising boats better than what you first bought. What models did you have in mind?

Dennis Fechner

I built a 24 foot boat from scratch 35 years ago. After I was finished I knew were all the bodies were buried in production boats. I had a fiberglass hull (c-flex) and a wood epoxy (T-88) deck and cabin. I sailed that boat and showed it no mercy….down to Mexico from California. I hove-to off Cedros Island in a force 8 in total comfort for two nights.
I spent $36,000 on materials and some outside labor…more than any production 24 boat was selling for!! I had NO repairs in 17 years, nothing broke, and the boat looked like NEW the day I sold it for $27,500.

When I went looking for a bigger boat I spent all my time on how the boat was built, could I access everything easily, how were the bulkheads put in. I can honestly say that most boats failed including a Fastnet 45 I looked at. When I found my current boat, a custom Rival 32, I knew I had found a special boat. Perfect structural shape after sailing the Atlantic and Pacific. No keel bolts, hull and deck fiber glassed together, massive hardware, stout mast etc. and the best bonded in bulkheads I had ever seen in any boat except for the older 70’s Swans. Plus no core in the deck to be rotting out.

I paid $35,000 for the boat and spent another $40,000 on it including a new Volvo 2030. At the end I knew every part of that boat and I trust it completely…plus is has NO leaks. I have had zero problems with the boat but I know that when I go to sell it I will be lucky to get $40,000 for it..if that. I could have bought a Pacific Seacraft 34 but the cost was $120,000 new at that time and then I had to outfit it and what is that boat worth now?

Cruising boats are expensive. However, I have found that if you live on the boat instead of an apartment you save at least $400 a month…or $4,800 a year for a 32 to 35 foot boat. Add this up over a 15 year period and bingo…the boat owes you nothing… you have to live aboard a boat full time for it to “pay”.

Don’t ever think a new boat is without problems….unless it is built properly from the start and few are….this is why you, John, have such an interesting project going with your 40 footer. My 24 footer proves your concept…do it right from the beginning and you will have few is any problems…..

I planned my 24 footer over 3 years and thought about everything before I began the project and finished it in 18 months!!! So your 40 footer has the potential to be a great deal.

One example on my Rival: The wood compression post is set in a damn that goes across the hull and filled with an industrial epoxy. After 40 years that compression post is like new. So many masts are stepped on the keel and sit in water….ugh…at the boatyard I worked in we had to fabricate many new mast steps on boats that were breaking down or rusting out and the base of the aluminum mast usually had to have a 1/2 inch cut off due corrosion. This is why I have never liked the mast stepped on the keel…and there are other reasons as well.

Is is worth fixing up an older boat? Only if you like working on boats and know how to do it….but you have to start with the right boat because there are some things that are just too expensive to fix in an older boat as your friend found out.