The Disappearing Do-it-Yourself Boatyard

A growing shortage of do-it-yourself boatyards is impacting the sport's growth.

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As I review the preliminary results from our most recent bottom paint report, I’m again haunted by a recurring nightmare. The details change, but the scenario is the same: I need a haulout soon, but the only boatyard around is a plush affair with a swimming pool, sauna, and waterfront restaurant. I need to pay an annual membership fee to be able to use the yard, and even for members, the haulout rates are astronomical. The yards exorbitant labor rates for various jobs are boldly posted on the office wall, along with a policy that forbids any do-it-yourself repair work. I must buy my paint from the boatyard at 50 percent more than the price at the local chandlery, which already has an exhorbitant markup.

When I lived in Miami, I used to haul my boat at Bojeans Boatyard, one of the last do-it-yourself boatyards on the Miami River. It had a rock-gravel parking lot and hard-stand area, a side yard where old rigging and spars accumulated, and a small store where you could buy painting and maintenance supplies. It lacked the comforts and amenities of high-priced yards, but it was a boatyard, not a resort. And if I had a question, the owner Bob, or his wife Jean (thus, the name, Bojeans), or one of the many old-timers who worked for them knew the answer.

Such mom-and-pop boatyards and marinas are rare these days. Around the country-and the Caribbean-they are being swallowed up by chains faster than you can say “condominium.” Those boatyards that aren’t going upscale are being flattened to make way for townhomes or condos. While we can lament this loss, one can hardly blame the owners for selling out. The boatyard/marina business is not glamorous. Owners face sky-rocketing property taxes and insurance rates. Complying with new environmental regulations adds significantly to overhead. The hours are long, and unless you have an irrepressible need to be around broken boats, the payoff is hardly worth the effort.

As a result, the chance of a boat owner finding an affordable do-it-yourself boatyard is becoming less likely with each passing year. The ironic thing is that in many places where we are limited to using the yard’s staff or a short list of outside contractors, there is dire need for skilled workers. So, not only are we paying through the nose to have our boats fixed, but the people doing the work lack the expertise we expect for that price.

The “brain drain” from the marine service industry is very real, and its impact is growing as boat systems become more sophisticated. It is so serious in some states that the local marine industry councils are funding apprenticeship programs and specialized curricula through vocational schools. In some cases, state and local governments are also contributing to these programs.

Similarly, the National Marine Manufacturing Association and American Boat and Yacht Council are expanding their certification programs. Granted, a certificate does not guarantee proficiency. Some of the best pros don’t have a single shoulder patch. But if I’m going to pay big money for someone to work on my boat, you can bet I’ll do it at a place that is more interested in developing a skilled workforce than in building pools and saunas.

Do you have a favorite DIY boatyard that you can depend on? Check if it’s on our list of “Reader Recommended DIY Boatyards,” and if it’s not, leave us a comment. And if you are still shopping for a yard, former boatyard manager and past Practical Sailor technical editor Ralph Naranjo offers some smart advice on choosing a reliable yard in his report “The Do It Yourself Boatyard.” And if you don’t have the time, and don’t mind paying, Ralph offers some direction on choosing a full service yard in his report “The Do it For Me Boatyard.”

And if you do decide to tackle one a cosmetic makeover, including topside paint, deck paint and bottom paint on your own, our new four-volume ebook series “Painting Your Boat from Bottom to Top” also offers professional guidance on a keel-to-cockpit paint job, including product tests for prop coatings, varnishes, and pro tips on bringing back gelcoat.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida.

33 COMMENTS

  1. I agree 100 percent with this post. When I no longer have access to DIY boatyards then I am done with sailing a boat I can’t trailer home. The coat for maintaining a sailboat is already high, but paying someone else to do work I can do better is out of the question.

    That said we are very happy to have access to Roy Wilson’s Boat Yard in the Jarrett Bay complex on the ICW near Beaufort NC. Roy allows complete DIY in his yard. He owns his yard but Jarrett Bay was recently bought out by Safe Harbor. We don’t know what the future will bring for those of us using this small affordable boatyard. Long may it last….

    • I have been working and maintaining my 45′ sailboat at Bock Marine, less than a mile up the ICW from Jarrett Bay. Great family run business that is always helpful, professional and simply good to work with. I sail between Maine and the Bahamas summer/winter and always stop at Beaufort NC and Bock marine on my way back and forth. Thankful they are there.

  2. My favorite DIY boneyard is Saint Mary’s boat services near Saint Marys, Georgia.
    See their website at saintmarysboatservices.com
    Very knowledgeable folks and the owner, Rocky Smith is very easy to get along with.

  3. Same situation in Sydney, Australia. Land around our waterways is limited and every increasing price of land has pushed small yards out of the way.
    And the usual reason for not allowing DIY is occupational and safety issues. Best way is to be a member of a club, that has repair facilities, although most also restrict DIY.

    My experience in Europe varies. Greece , no problem , most yards will allow you to work on your boat.
    My experience in Italy , Croatia …. Similar to Sydney or USA.

  4. Same situation in Sydney, Australia. Land around our waterways is limited and every increasing price of land has pushed small yards out of the way.
    And the usual reason for not allowing DIY is occupational and safety issues. Best way is to be a member of a club, that has repair facilities, although most also restrict DIY.

    My experience in Europe varies. Greece , no problem , most yards will allow you to work on your boat.
    My experience in Italy , Croatia …. Similar to Sydney or USA.

    • I agree Paul. The RPAYC in Pittwater allows DIY and gives great support, however, I think the DIY option might be a members-only privilege. It’s great for them because, as noted in the article, there’s a serious skills shortage and they can’t get and keep enough boatyard staff to meet demand. Having owners DIY over the weekend is efficient use of their facilities.

      Outside Sydney I can recommend the slipway at Port Fairy, Victoria, where I had a couple of memorable days antifouling in the sleet in 2017, actually though a delightful town with roaring fires in the hotels to warm up at afterwards. In Hobart, Tasmania, my father and I used to go to Muirs shipyard at Battery Point and Taylors beside it. Very historical and great if they’re still going.

  5. Everything is going the way of the mighty dollar. We have a marina here in Stuart FL, that was gobbled up by big investment group. Already the quality of service has gone down the drain. Reduced staff and the pump out at every berth has been down for months, so a pump out boat is needed to call by, OH and the slip rates went up, Imagine that!

    Another way to kill boating and the jobs that go with it, even for the unskilled workers we are overcharged for.

  6. I agree with John Stone. We are near Tacoma, WA and have no yard at present to work in. We were down from 3 yards to 1 as of last year but due to a health condition of the main man in the yard, we have lost our last DIY yard. They tell us they are assessing reopening the yard to DIY, but the state of WA watches them like a hawk just waiting for an infraction so it is safer for them to stay with offering only employee services. We will likely sell the boat when we find we are limited to having the yard do all the maintenance. There is a DIY yard in Olympia and in Seattle which would require commuting daily; so add to the yard fees the price of gasoline in the car. And no one but the yard owner seems to care, mostly because no one is willing to fight the state to stay in “business”. I think the businesses selling boats better take a good look at this situation and do some lobbying or they are going to be as few as the DIY yards in the near future. We see the new boat buyer has lots of money to have someone do the work for him/her. But if there aren’t any folks like us to buy the used boats then what happens to the market? Boat brokers better wake up and get organized or the losses will be huge.

    • I agree with this. When I no longer have access to a DIY yard, we will sell the boat. No question. The DIY yard we currently use has been good, they leave me alone to do whatever I needed to do. They have the usual rules, that I always follow, and I keep a clean work area. I can’t see a yard like this stopping DIY. There are not nearly enough contractors for the work people already want, wait times are typically several weeks before anyone can show up at your boat. If DIY goes, that only gets worse. No one is going to pay $45/per day for their boat to sit in the yard waiting for a contractor to show up, while not being allowed to do the work. The yard will lose too much business that way.
      Also, there are lots of contractors who do poor work. They get you on the hook for a $5000 job that ends up costing $20k.
      I’m still climbing the learning curve, but I trust my own work and seldom hire out. When I can no longer do that, we sell and move on.
      Also, the excuse they use about environmental and safety is mostly bullshit. I can follow the rules, and work safely, as I have my entire life, as well, or most times, better than the yard. I’ve seen yard workers leave messes, and ignore safety rules. It’s just an excuse to suck more money out the pockets of rich boat owners who don’t care that an oil change costs $300.
      If they want to play this game, let’s see the industry survive on only the rich owners after they push the rest of us out. This goes for marine insurance underwriters, as well.

  7. I use:
    Underway
    29772 Clear Lake Rd
    Eugene, Oregon 97402
    (541) 463-0555
    scott@skookummarine.com

    Has a crane, lift, and boat stands. Besides DIY, staff can do rigging, painting, repair, and hauling/launching/retrieval. Mostly used by sailors on local Fern Ridge Lake, but does off-season storage and work on boats that sail out of Oregon coast ports and lower Puget Sound.

  8. One down-side of the do-it-yourself boatyard is the number of owners who either don’t know or don’t care about their neighbors. I had to cancel a day of working on my boat because the idiot upwind was grinding bottom paint with NO dust collection. It was Sunday, so the yard owner wasn’t around, so no one to hear a complaint.

    That said, the yard guys do great work, and will help with a project with the loan of a wrench (or a magnet, if you drop it in the bilge).

  9. This article is right on the mark. Oasis and Safe Harbor are on a buying binge on the East Coast. I’ve also experienced only the yard can roll paint on your bottom due to environmental concerns. Add in having a catamaran and finding a haul out location to work on your own bottom is getting very challenging.

  10. Stingray Point Boat Works in Deltaville, Va. Great yard with reasonable prices and helpful people. They have no problem with DIY and liveaboards can stay onboard while they work. They also have a wide travellift that can haul catamarans.

  11. Sad to say, boating no longer enjoyable, affordable! Back a few years, had to buy from marina yes, but allowed to do own work! No, I’m beached now, but have these ideas to get back out, retired, & all that free time!

  12. You can add Salt Creek Marina in St. Petersburg, FL to the list of remaining (for now) DIY yards. I’m a power boater that enjoys PS and decided not to up size to 40 something foot liveaboard boat due to the rising costs. I recently purchase a Sea Ray 310 Sundancer that I’m using as my large “pocket cruiser” for distance coastal cruising and living aboard for a week or two at a time. It’s the largest boat that most rack space marina’s in my area can handle and most allow DIY work except for bottom painting. The choice is to either adapt or get out of boating which is not something any of us want to do.

  13. In Northern California, the Bay Area, a DIY Boat Yard in the Northbay is Napa Valley Marina on the Napa River. Very experienced staff can help you with any kind of project or allow you to work on your own. The chandlery is will stocked and speciality items can be ordered and delivered in one to two days. Reasonable rates and top notch service.

  14. Hylebos Marina in Tacoma WA is great for DIY. Did mine 3 yrs ago and will go back as soon as they get a lift operator and start doing DIY again. The state is hyper vigilant on DIY mostly because DIY tend to disregard regs. Marina is caught in the middle. But Hylebos rocks!

  15. The very reason I installed four tubing columns on my trailer, with strap trailer winches mounted at the column tops, to easily lift my boat for bottom painting. Works very well and eliminates boatyard necessity. Also my outboard motor slides vertically on an aluminum frame, from a bottom running position to a skeg above water position for at the dock to a position high enough to pull the lower leg to service the water pump, all while on the water. The vertical slide keeps the well through my hull small even though it allows lock to lock steering of the outboard.

  16. Pail or Paul, for ‘Sydney’ try Noakes in The Harbour, very professional they DID allow owners to work on their yachts but you must have 3rd part insurance and ‘pass’ a simple safety induction test. The other options are Lemon Tree Passage or Oyster Cove both Port Stephens or Marks Point at Lake Macquarrie. If you don’t mind the journey – The Boat Works at Coomera cannot be beaten.

    All is not lost yet – but it is getting more and more difficult

    I do object to paying full rates for an apprentice to apply antifouling.

    We have not kept up to date, Oyster Cove info is current, but have used all of these yards at various times.

    Jonathan

  17. Pail or Paul, for ‘Sydney’ try Noakes in The Harbour, very professional they DID allow owners to work on their yachts but you must have 3rd part insurance and ‘pass’ a simple safety induction test. The other options are Lemon Tree Passage or Oyster Cove both Port Stephens or Marks Point at Lake Macquarrie. If you don’t mind the journey – The Boat Works at Coomera cannot be beaten. A bit further afield the slips at Strauhan on Tasmania’s west coats are criminally under utilised.

    All is not lost yet – but it is getting more and more difficult

    I do object to paying full rates for an apprentice to apply antifouling.

    We have not kept up to date, Oyster Cove info is current, but have used all of these yards at various times.

    Jonathan

  18. This is sad indeed, it REALLY frustrates me as I’m currently confined to a lake so my options are extremely limited. Thing is, we can fuss and fume, sit around drinking and lament these loses or we can start doing something about it. How much can we achieve? Who knows but do you think boating will remain viable for the 99% of us if we don’t try (e.g. things continue on the present course)?

    What CAN we do? Well here are some thoughts.
    1) STOP/REDUCE using corporate marinas. If you’re traveling and need a marina, skip the corporate ones. Need work done? ALWAYS travel to an independent when you can, even if it’s inconvenient. HAVE to buy fuel from your marina? Do NOT buy ice, beer, drinks, food, novelties from them too.
    2) Don’t buy/wear corporate marina swag – even if your girl thinks that top is “so cute!”. Don’t pay to advertise for them.
    3) Give them grief. When you HAVE to buy their parts/service never just accept it. They’re going to gauge you and screw up the job whether you’re nice or you tell them what’s what. Post a review EVERY time they screw you over and stay mum the few times they don’t. Is this fair? At a micro level maybe not, at the macro level you bet!
    4) Heap praise on the independents. As said above, independents give up because it’s a thankless job. We can directly change that by THANKING them! Give them some slack when things don’t go right. Reflect this praise through reviews and social media. Let them know just how valuable and important they are, not just to you, but to boating as an activity.
    5) TALK to your representatives! They’re real people and I’ve been surprised at how willing some of them are to at least communicate. I’m not against taking care of our planet by any means, I’ve chosen to sail after all, but compared to the assault on our oceans by the military, shipping, agriculture, and waste industries any “sins” of ours are beyond irrelevant.
    6) Accept the cost of freedom and help others do the same. Someone mentioned bad boat yard neighbors. Freedom bro. They’re free to be jerks and you’re free to do the work you need for a reasonable yard fee. I’ve got a neighbor who parks his RV on a corner by my house making it a difficult and somewhat dangerous corner. At first I was annoyed, I almost said something, but then I thought – his freedom to do that is equivalent to my freedom to do what I want. Maybe a case could be made that his particular exercise of freedom infringes on the safety of others but it’s safest for our freedoms to err on the side of – freedom.

    This may be naive, optimistic at best (it’s probably optimistic to think this will be read at all), but to those of us so inclined – we’ve got to try.

    • I appreciate the optimism, and you are definitely right to mention talking to representatives. In New Jersey, we take things like this very seriously. In many cases, there are *already* exceptions to regulations, either standing exceptions, accelerated/simplified processes, or waivers.

      Unfortunately marina owners are often unaware of the regulatory landscape, and a lot of marina owners will err on the side of caution, rather than risk potential liability under regulations they don’t fully understand.

      We have the Marine Trades Association, which acts as a unified lobbying force and a way to disseminate information to business owners, and it has worked well here to bring issues to the attention of lawmakers that otherwise would never hear about it. That may have been more effective here because we have a ton of small marina and general marine industry companies, so more sparse States might not get the critical mass to influence policy and regulation, but small businesses organizing can be powerful.

      I have never sailed too far from home, so I kind of assumed other coastal States were broadly similar, but the article and the comments paint a pretty bleak picture. Hopefully we can protect what we have here.

  19. The situation is not helped by the fact that in the NE, competition is being substantially reduced by the anti-competitive purchases of so many marinas by a single company. Further, in New York, one needs a pesticide license to paint bottoms – which marinas use as an excuse to prevent owners from painting the bottoms even in DYI yards, even if the owner has the license. https://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/45904.html. http://www.weeksyachtyard.com/dec_notice.htm.

  20. Reed Point Marina in Port Moody BC. A well run yard with strict rules to prevent damage to the environment or to your boatyard neighbour’s boats. The chandelry staff who manage to yard are very good about finding ways to help you get your job done while staying within the rules. The contractors who work on the yard are knowledgeable and helpful, even if you just want advice.

  21. Classic Sail is a nonprofit in Charlotte NC, dedicated to restoring older sailboats. Finding DIY space is a major obstacle.

  22. Sad but true. Half the fun of boating has always been hanging around a (DIY) boatyard working on one’s boat and, when needed, helping others work on theirs – or just hanging around. in California those magic places have very nearly disappeared, replaced by non-competitive, overpriced yards and chandlers with strict “no owner work” rules. Yet another quality of life casualty brought to us by progress and profits.

  23. Wormley Creek Marina in Yorktown VA. Family owned, Wealth of knowledge and willing to share. The work they do is top notch and reasonably priced. Now that I’m retired I do most everything myself and thats fine with them as well. Best of both worlds.

  24. I use the boatyard in Port Townsend, WA…lots of skilled workers available, including skilled shipwrights for wood boats. It is a DIY boatyard. They handle all sizes of boats, including some vary large boats. I never had to drop my stays, as the travel lift was large enough. The only downside, they are very busy and it might be difficult to contact them via phone or email.

  25. I used Brewers in Salem MA for a couple years and found they were too pricey, although the crew was professional. They have little use for DIY and I had some words with the manager when I was there. My yacht club clipped the windex off when stepping the mast the following year, but they do have a better crew (of which I volunteer to help haulouts)
    I found Greens Point in Ipswich MA is an awesome place to be on the hard. Andrew and his crew is top notch, dependable, communicates intent, and has the power and water available.
    Captain Steve Craft .com

  26. I will always and only use Ventura Harbor Boatyard until they sell out, which I sincerely hope they never do. Mike, Dale, and the crew have always taken good care of us, through 6 boats over 40 years.

  27. Broad Creek Marina in Deltaville Va. is a complete DIY and full service marina & Boatyard,Ship store with discounts to boat owners in the marina with prices below many retail outlets.
    As much as 20% lower at times.

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