Sailboat Projects – DIY or Pay a Pro

Sailboat Projects – DIY or Pay a Pro

I was recently talking to a person involved in research on boating and boat maintenance. We discussed the usual boat stuff that one does every spring – or otherwise on a regular basis – like bottom paint jobs and engine maintenance, but also about bigger projects like the ones we are currently planning: upgrades for sails, rigging, and the sanitation system. One of the questions I was asked was how much of it we are going to do ourselves, and what are the sort of things we would have a boatyard do for us. 

I think this is an interesting topic. I’ve done some boating and sailing myself and know quite a few other boaters and sailors – and have read and watched a lot of sailing related blogs and Youtube channels as I believe a lot of other sailors have done – and I’ve come to the conclusion that boats need a lot of work. A lot. In some cases it seems that the actual sailing plays a very small part in the whole business of boat ownership. 

The question of whether to do it yourself or to pay a pro, to put it simply, is an equation of three basic factors: time, money and skill. Most of us don’t have all three, but if you have two out of three, that’s still pretty good. If you only have one out of three, then you’d better hope it’s money, otherwise it’s not really going to work. 

Of these three factors, time and money often seem to be mutually exclusive. If you have a lot of money, you seldom have much time as your time is mostly spent making that money. And if you have a lot of time, it often means you don’t have a job and therefore don’t have money – or at least not enough to pay for expensive boatyard projects. If you do have both time and money, you will already be sipping your gin and tonic someplace where the water is turquoise, with your boat projects taken care of, and these equations don’t really concern you. 

We have neither a lot of time, nor a lot of money to spare on a boat refit. But if we plan things carefully, we may just make the ends meet. When it comes to skills, however, we have quite a few. I believe we can make something out of this equation. All the things we know we can do ourselves, we will absolutely do ourselves. The things we think we can do ourselves, we will do ourselves. The things we’re not sure we can do ourselves, we will try to do anyway. And finally, the things we absolutely know we can’t do, we will hire someone else to do. 

This might sound a little foolhardy, since we are very fresh boat owners and neither of us has ever worked on fibreglass, boat plumbing, rigging or many other such things. But my husband has operated a pair of 1000-horsepower engines on a Search and Rescue vessel so I believe he can figure out his way with an 8-horsepower Yanmar, and I have painted a large farmhouse so I think I can manage the antifouling paint job on a 25 foot boat. Together we have spent almost a decade renovating a 100-year-old house from top to bottom without much prior building experience, and by now we know how to operate a myriad of hand tools and power tools and to handle many different materials – and most importantly, we are already familiar with the fact that every project will turn out to be more difficult and time consuming than anticipated. 

Many of the house building skills translate effortlessly into boat fixing skills. But any skills in the “clever with your hands” category will help, whether sewing, knitting, woodwork, drawing and painting or other handicraft. Nowadays it’s easy to find how-to guides and tutorials for just about anything you want to do. For example, I have found excellent step-by-step Youtube guides on how to splice double braided lines or service the very same model of winches that our 1972 vintage boat has, and several really good instructions on various websites for plumbing the head and the holding tank and installing thru hulls so that your boat will not be flooded under any circumstance, on any degree of heel. Not flooding the boat is paramount – I guess we all agree on that! 

But no matter how handy you are, some things still call for a pro. Making a new sail is not something we would attempt to do ourselves, so that’s definitely something we will let professionals take care of. But for future adventures, being able to fix a wear or tear in a sail is a skill worth acquiring. 

Even if we did have the money to pay a pro to do all our maintenance and refit work, I think we would still do the most part ourselves. There’s more to it than getting the things done – it’s knowing how they’ve been done, and being able to do them again if something should fail at an unexpected moment in some far corner of the world where you might not find a pro to do them, no matter how fat your wallet was. Although it’s unlikely we’ll end up in a very far corner of the world on our tiny little boat, all the work we learn to do will benefit us in the future, on our future boat and future travels. It will also benefit the next owner of our little boat, because we will be able to provide a very detailed description of all the maintenance and refit we’ve performed on her. When buying an old boat, the condition of the boat is more important than the model and vintage, and the more you know about the boat’s service history, the better. 

Next week we’ll take a little break and travel in the direction of 180°. Unfortunately not yet on a sailboat – but we will see the Ocean! After that, it’s time to finally dig into the boat work and get our hands dirty.

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