Five things to consider when you decide to DIY your boat

The boom in popularity of the narrow boat and its widebeam cousin as homes has been well documented in the press over the last decade. As long term liveaboard boaters ourselves we have embraced it. Over the years we have seen many, many new boaters joyfully ripped out the existing fit out of their new to them boats only to get bogged down and overwhelmed by what they thought would be an easy job.

It is certainly is possible to do a DIY refit your boat to a beautiful standard! The problems / frustrations seem to arise when expectations exceed skill, and that’s likely to happen unless you have specifically worked on boats before or you’re willing to be gentle with yourself and learn as you go. Here are our list of the top five things you need to consider before you start tearing down the bulkheads.

  1. Time.

Ask any boater, all things on boats take a lot longer than you think. Regardless of the size of the project, be generous when you allocate time to get it done, and then add some contingency. It will almost certainly take longer than you think and if it doesn’t, you can be smug!

  1. Your skill level.

All skills are learned. Some skills, like cutting a straight line, handling power tools and problem solving transfer very well, and are essential in boat DIY. Even the best carpenters can still struggle when it comes to getting things right on a boat. Boats are not houses. That sounds obvious but it’s often overlooked. What we mean by this is, because boats float and they have very few right angles even simple shelving requires a bit of math and planing.

  1. Tools.

Every profession has its set of tools and the boater “refit” tool box will be no exception.Unless you’re cutting everything by hand or are fortunate enough to have mains power on your mooring, chances are your going to need a generator, you’re also going to need a substantial chain lock for that generator if your planning on doing works in an unsecured area.

Tools can be quite an investment, so think about whether you need them for just one or two small jobs or if they’re going to be something you use over and over and spend accordingly. Some tools take up a lot of space and it’s tempting to leave them out overnight to save yourself time, however we’d suggest packing them up each night and out of sight so they don’t go missing.

  1. Accessibility.

Accessibility is not something someone new to boat life often thinks about. In our experience, it’s simply a new concern they’ve never had to consider. All boat ownership requires some level of DIY. Eventually you’re going to have to replace your water pump, a pipe fitting will leak, fuses blow or you’ll want to change your lights; all of these are jobs you can do yourself. How hard or easy these jobs are, is largely down to accessibility.

We’ve seen beautiful looking wet rooms in boats (and homes) done by proud first time owners; and we’ve had a them message a couple of months later when they’ve discovered a leak. Unfortunately, because they often haven’t built in a simple access panel that can be unscrewed, the only option they have given themselves is destructive. It’s such a shame. A bit of knowledge and planning for access would have saved the time, effort, materials and cost. Be sure to plan for the inevitable repair or replacement of consumables.

  1. Living with it for a year.

The one piece of advice that we’ve been given and tend to share when the subject of to refit is broached by a new boater is – “live with it a year.”

The boat life learning curve is enough, without adding DIY stress. Additionally, if you’re lucky enough to buy a boat that is an original fit out, things will have been done for specific reasons even if it may not be immediately obvious. One day you’ll have that “ah ha” moment and marvel at the ingenuity. Boat builders, having built 100s of boats do things with purpose.

If you’ve lived with the “issue” for a year and are still determined that your space and boat would be better for the change you want, then go for it! If you decide you don’t want to DIY you can always give us a call.