The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Planning a Refit—Upfront Costs

I have had a draft of this chapter in the hopper for quite a while.  To be honest, I feared this would be a bit of a snore.

Nonetheless, the costs and time I detail here are all too real, and, since I’m committed to doing this series as completely as I can, we gotta do it.

But now that I have finished, it’s more interesting than I thought it would be…at least to me.

So let’s dig into upfront costs of buying and refitting a boat that will have to be paid before the real work gets started.

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Jakob Vedefors

Four years ago we bought a Hallberg-Rassy 42 (Old Enderlein design) from 1988 for about 80k and have spent roughly 60k+ (and only god know how many hours of our time) so far in an open ended refit.

I just read this post and slowly nodded in consensus on your numbers (even though we actually used the boat each year and have paid someone to do mayor work during winter like new teak deck, replace rigging etc.))

An important point to calculate in this refit cost is the loss of quality sailing time. It is not be underestimated to loose 2 or 3 good seasons.

Richard Elder

Hi John
I certainly can’t fault your list of tool and facility requirements for a proper refit. I did my first build from a bare hull in a plastic sided boatshed I built over a weekend directly in front of a two-car garage/shop. By throwing sand in the gears of officialdom for two years I was able to complete the majority of the build before finally receiving an eviction notice that they could make stick. So I moved it into a warehouse, sold the damn house, and moved into the warehouse office.

But in the interest of perspective we should look at what others have been able to accomplish with a fraction of the resources. This young couple cruised for four years in the Caribbean, then sailed up to the Canadian Maritimes, and across to the UK. Their boat is an old Pearson that they bought for $3,000. (a model that happens to be the worst constructed boat I personally have worked on.) The propulsion system was a $100 golf cart electric motor that they replaced their tired old Perkins with. Didn’t exactly make it a motorsailor, but it did take them through the Bra de or Lakes which are not famous for wind! Over the years they have strengthened the hull and deck, equipped it with Li batteries, quality sails, rigging, and steering system to the point where they have a boat that I would choose over most new production boats for the passage from Halifax to the UK. Certainly not a project for most people, but an example of what adventurous spirits can accomplish:

This phase of their electric motor installation is interesting in that the original motor mounts for the Perkins were held in by a handful of mat & resin and took only minutes to rip out! Like I said, quality was not the original strong point of their boat!

Richard Elder

The same boat rode out a Cat 4 hurricane at anchor in Haiti hooked to a very big Mantus.

Richard Elder

Please cancel my subscription.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi Richard,
I hope this was meant as a joke – I certainly would miss your inputs and comments.
However I can understand why John wants us to stick to the topic, and he has given the links to the other chapters where thoughts such as yours would fit better, or have already been discussed (and obviously could be continued).
In times such as these we all should try to not overreact, what issue ever.
Best regards, Ernest

Petter Mather Simonsen

.. And here is the process when the team of sailing uma is switching to a new electric engine on a saildrive.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

I wish that I only had $4k tied up in tools.  I think that your estimate is probably right for people who are not going to take on metal fabrication, joinerywork or anything like that.  Having tools is a double edged sword, the tools like a big metal bandsaw have saved me a ton of money over the years but force me to have a big shop and a high capital cost in acquiring the tools.

One thought on covers, I absolutely can’t stand working under a normal winter cover, everything seems to take 50% longer.  Barring inside storage, I think that the best solution is a temporary building if allowed.  The boats that I have worked on do this whenever they need major work and you can frame one up in a day or 2 and then they are really easy to shrinkwrap as there are big flat pieces (you do need to nail down battens periodically to keep it from panting too much).  Time-wise, it is probably 1 day longer to set up for your average Joe and a few hundred more expensive for the extra lumber but it makes work go so much more quickly and you can store all your tools in the building (assuming theft is not a concern where you are).  When it is cold, if you use shrinkwrap, it will often be a reasonable working temperature where you can use resin and paint just from solar gain but you can also put a heater in if necessary.  It is even easy to make removable panels to prevent overheating in the summer and also to allow the boat to be taken out by hydraulic trailer for a season of cruising.  In the US at least, it is generally possible to build a temporary building without a permit or with a minimum of permitting but you do need to be careful that it doesn’t blow around in storms from being too temporary.  Some boatyards won’t love the idea while others will think that it is great to keep you contained and you do have to watch local aesthetic ordanances if you are at home.  The only other thought is that if you are going to be out for the time that a proper refit takes, it is often worthwhile to build a ramp with cleats or proper stairs up to the rail, ladders are time consuming, unsafe and not good for walking up with heavy stuff.


Stein Varjord

Hi John,
About the cost of a good surveyor: Saving on that isn’t only increasing the risk of getting the wrong boat at the wrong price. Really knowing all details and problems the boat has, means that we know what there is to do. We can plan the cost and the work competently. Without that knowledge, everything we do is a shot in the dark. All that has been mentioned in previous chapters, but I think it’s important enough to have it here too.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Refitting an old boat means need for good tools. Owning an old boat means those tools will be kept active for as long as you have it. There’s no such thing as a finished boat. It’s a boat! 🙂 Good tools make each job less cumbersome and annoying. One of the reasons pros get jobs done in a fraction of the time of an amateur is that they have the right tools.

Two sayings in Norway (and probably most other countries) are:
“Good tools is job half done”, and
“Good planning is job half done.”
The logical conclusion is that with both good tools and good planning in check, two halves become a whole; the job is done! Refitting an old boat is thus a very cheap, quick and easy job! 😀 😀

Matt Marsh

At one point, I bought cheap tools. No more.

The cost of a $200 Milwaukee cordless drill/driver is $200, and I’ve been beating the crap out of mine for five years.

The cost of a $100 house-brand cordless drill/driver is $100 now, plus (when it fails in 8 months) the value of the 3 hours and the sanity that you lost from switching to hand tools mid-repair, driving to the store, arguing with the warranty desk, being denied, and spending another $100 on a new one. Repeat every 8 months.

The cost of a good set of flare nut wrenches is $35.

The cost of using a vise-grip on a stuck flare nut, damaging the nut, ordering the right new nut on McMaster-Carr, being left with an unusable fuel system for two days, and then having to get the proper tool anyway lest you risk repeating the same saga, is a lot more than $35.

Julian Beauchamp

My Daddy used to say, “There’s a tool for every job, so stop using that Stilson as a hammer”.

Edward D Simper

Good article. One comment. Some money may be saved by buying a used 20 foot container. They are available at least in Alberta at prices between $2000 to $3000 and I suspect are readily available in most port cities. No subsequent rental fees and it can probably be sold on after the refit is done.

Marc Dacey

WIsh I’d had a workshop, but instead I hauled out beside my club’s workshop for three years (now that was a negotiation!). While the container idea is a clever one, there’s the issue of getting power for lights, power tools, shop tools, etc. inside that container. There may not be power stands nearby, or they might be too expensive to bring “to code” inside a metal box, which itself might require insulation AND air conditioning to be bearable in the summer months, not to mention heat in the winter. This argues for a generator of some size on wheels to create one’s own power: stow it inside and roll it out to run it. An alternative are two ganged Honda 2200s, which can go aboard if you want and which hold value well…I just sold my 12 year old Honda 2000 for $750…still runs beautifully.

Obviously, the complexity and the duration of the refit will determine the logic here, but some desirable shop tools draw more than, say, 15 amps when you throw in a fan, a cube heater and lights necessary to do the work. Lastly, I would add that one of the best things I’ve bought for our refit process is a wet/dry shop vacuum, which has saved hours in cleanup and general tidiness of the work areas. Good ones, or “good enough”, go on sale for around $100 Cdn. fairly frequently.

Matt Marsh

I’ll second the requirement for a good wet/dry shop vac. They are absolutely essential.

While we’re on the topic of power for working on the boat….. please, DO NOT assume that the boatyard power is properly wired & properly grounded. Test it, or if you don’t know how, have an electrician test it. Make sure there’s a GFCI / RCD that actually trips when triggered. Budget for good 12-gauge extension cords (about $1 per foot). Wrap them in chafe protection where necessary, and tie them off so the ends aren’t under stress. Electrical injuries often seem like an abstract risk, very much “it won’t happen to me”, until it’s too late.

Bill Attwood

Hi John
I refitted Kinsa under cover in my marina on the German Baltic coast. Almost all marinas have halls, some heated, for winter boat storage. Very few boats stay in the water over winter because of ice. This costs about €3,400 per year, but I was able to relatively quickly start sailing during the summer seasons and continue the refitting side during the winters, so it would not be fair to allocate the full amount to the refit. I suspect that for most people in Europe undertaking this sort of refit, the difficulties of finding that unused barn, or piece of land to erect a shelter will be insurmountable, so using a marina or boatyard will be inevitable. No question that good weather protection is essential, and this is one area where I would never scrimp. Your analysis of the tool requirements was close to my experience, although I think my spend on mechanics tools was less than your estimate. I had the advantage that I have been a hobby cabinetmaker for many years, and have my own sawmill, so the woodworking tools were already there, and much of the wood material was in my store. This project will probably result in saving dozens of people thousands of beer vouchers, and reduce the number of “broken dreams” sitting unloved in boatyards.
Yours aye,
ps thanks for the info on the chairs. On reflection, I think they have more in common with Welsh stick chairs than Windsors. Either way, nice chairs and they fit well in the cabin.

Taras Kalapun

In my first year, I calculated that 3 months in summer would be the cheapest option to be out of water. In Netherlands, staying in boat yard (half time inside barn) in summer was 700 Euro. In winter it would have been 2500 Euro.
So I planned all the bottom work and re-rigging to be done in those 3 months.

Bill Attwood

Hi John,
Sorry, I should have made clear that my cost was for the unheated hall. The heated hall is quite a bit more expensive, but don’t have exact numbers. You raised an important point about some marinas not allowing owners to work on their boats. Other positive points about being inside is that power is available, and included in the price of my “berth”, and the marina has a boatbuilding firm and a chandlery on site. As I write this I am chiding myself for having complained about a small price thus year. ?
Yours aye

Alastair Currie

I shipped my boat by truck to a local inland yard with no facilities as it was near my home. It was a busy working yard (heavy duty winch service and rentals) but had space. Over the three years I saved about GBP2700 in fuel costs. A small generator was required at GBP250. Overland transport for the boat was GBP3500 total, plus 2 x GBP300 crane hire each time at the yard. I also bought a second hand cradle for stability and winter gales security at GBP750. I paid the yard owner GBP1000 for the 3 x years. One surprising outcome was local traders were happy to do some work for low prices e.g. Corian material galley tops, custom made at GBP500, all upholstery GBP750. Both of these was being flexible and me using their excess stock. The closeness to me was important and justified the haulage / crane costs.

Alastair Currie

Fuel costs saved was travelling to / from the marina where I would likely have stored the boat for refit if I had chosen that option. Kip Marina, Renfrew, Scotland would have charged about GBP2000 per year, including cradle and lift out / in with power charged as used.

Kevin MacDonald

Tekton tools are good and reasonably priced.
The cases the sets come with keep the tools well organized and save a lot of time searching for the right socket.