An image of a Dennis Boatworks' expert craftsman repair damage on the outside bow of a yacht.

This Old Boat: Sailboat Restoration

Are you someone who wants to buy a boat to fix it up for yourself or for a client? Are you a boat captain asked to restore old boat or yachts? Are you a yacht captain who appreciates sailboat aesthetics, good craftsmanship and wants to help create a floating masterpiece? Whether this is a do it yourself project or it is for your client, this is what to know before restoring a boat. Here are some easy tips for boat restoration and questions to ask yourself if you are considering buying an old sailboat.

“A sailboat is a big hole in the ocean that you throw money into.”

That is the saying. It is a cautionary tale of the passionate lover of sailboats that has his intellect overpowered by a dream. You know that you could see your dream boat and by swayed by its potential more than its actual value. It could turn into a money pit fast. It doesn’t have to be that way. Do these things before you buy or recommend buying a boat project.

Image of master craftsmen in progress of completing a custom structural design by Dennis Boatworks.
Structural Design With Master Craftsmen

Kick the Tires

Evaluate all parts of the craft. First impressions matter. Ask yourself if this boat is closer to perfect or a craft that has seen better days. Does it look like the previous owner took care of it well? If there are major cosmetic flaws then there are probably major mechanical and structural flaws too. Here are the top ten things to check out on the perspective sailboat.


Whether it is wood or fiberglass, knock every few feet along the hull. If possible, use a soft rubber mallet. Listen for sound changes that would indicate damages to the hull beneath the surface.


Is it smooth? If it is wooden, does it have cracks or raised boards? Walk to every part of the deck and feel and listen for problems with its structure.


If the boat is equipped with an engine, be sure to hear it run. Does it start right up? Does it run rough or smoke? Is it big enough to move the boat the way you want?

Mechanical and Electrical

Be sure that the steering, all the gauges, switches, and running lights are in working order.

Mast, Rigging, and Sails

Is everything there that should be there? Are the ropes and sails in good condition? Remember that full replacements could cost thousands.

Photo of a Dennis Boatworks employee screwing a custom panel into place on the dashboard.
Acrylic Craftsmen From Dennis Boatworks

Safety Equipment

Does the boat have all the required safety equipment such as life vests, emergency equipment, and life rafts? Are they expired? Does the safety equipment meet the requirements for the size and type of craft? If the Coast Guard boarded this craft today, would it pass inspection?

Navigational Equipment

People will sometimes remove the navigational equipment when they resell a boat or buy a new one for themselves. Take note of what it has and if it is modern enough to be of use.

Service Records

Just like a car, the maintenance of the craft should be recorded. If those records are not available to you, then you should assume that proper maintenance was not done. Additional inspection could be justified.

Ownership documents

Perhaps we should have asked this question first, but does the person selling the boat have the authorization to do so? Make sure that all the ownership documentation is in order and that there are no liens on the boat.

Dolce Far Niente - name boards for yachts boats and vessels
Dolce Far Niente – name boards for yachts and vessels

Does it float?

Ask to see the boat both in and out of the water. If you can only see it out of the water you can’t check for leaks or other problems that might only show up once the boat is launched. If you can only see it in the water, you may miss something like an ugly patch on the hull from when it ran aground.

Don’t take any excuses from the current boat owner. If the boat is covered in barnacles and they claim it is “fine” underneath, then tell them “Fine. Then clean the boat and show me it is in good condition.” If they won’t accommodate such a request, they are either hiding damages or they don’t want to sell the boat very much.

Evaluate All the Costs

Make a list of what needs fixing. Price out parts and labor before you actually buy the boat. If the costs to do all the necessary repairs are more than what it would cost to buy a fully restored boat, then maybe you should just buy a different boat or a fully restored boat.

Check Yourself

Can you really do it yourself? Do you have the expertise and experience to make the necessary repairs by yourself? Which parts would you need help with doing? Do you have the time to fit in working on the boat? If you don’t have time or expertise, hire a qualified sailboat restoration specialist. Are you good at refurbishing sailboat interior? If not, hire a company that refitting sailboat interior is their specialty. They can take that project boat and get it done right and in a timely manner.

Maybe you already bought it before you priced everything out. You love it and you just had to have it. In the case that you already skipped all these steps, just hire a professional.

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