Rhumb Lines November 2018 Issue

Fixing the Storm-Damaged Boat

With $655 million dollars marine vessel insurance claims from the 2017 hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there is no shortage of broken boats accumulating in salvage yards. The nation’s three big damaged boat liquidators — Certified Sales, Cooper Capital and U.S. Auctions are gradually thinning out their listings from Irma and Harvey, but Florence will surely bring a new crop. But just how “salvageable” are these boats?

Unless you are a boatbuilder, repair boats for a living, or like messing around with a boat more than you like sailing, your first boat should probably not be a storm-damaged boat. The learn-as-you-go approach to boat restoration usually leads to some very expensive lessons.

Morgan 41
Photo by Darrell Nicholson

Unless you’re a carpenter, mechanic, and fiberglass repair expert, this storm damaged Morgan 41 Out Island would be a challenging project. Several nearly cruise-ready Out Island’s are on the market that might be a more cost-effective option to this salvage job.

Having restored a 31-foot Atkin gaff-rigged ketch that was liquidated from a boatyard in the late 1980s, I have a bit of experience. We bought the boat for $6,000, sunk at least five times that into it and sailed for 10 years, so it could be regarded as a success. The advantages of rebuilding your boat from the keel up is that you acquire the skills to be self-sufficient, and you truly know your boat inside and out.

Another success story was the 42-foot Endeavour Lost Boys, which served as a Practical Sailor test platform for several years. The owner, a boatbuilder, purchased her for $18,000 and invested another $40,000 in a refit (including a new diesel). If you ignore the many hours of labor, the boat sold for a profit five years later.

For the industrious sailor who has lots of time, a storm damaged boat can be an opportunity. Here, I’ll share five things to consider before going this route.

1. How much does a ship-shape sistership cost? Generally, if the storm damaged boat is not deeply discounted by 75 percent or more, you might want to rethink the project. The used sailboat market is still soft, meaning there are many good bargain boats that are in ready-to-sail shape.

2. Is the engine, rig, and essential structure — hull and deck—intact? If not, a long project is on the horizon. Look for boats with mostly cosmetic damage and no structural damage.

3. Do you plan to do the work yourself, or hire labor? If you plan to do the work yourself, expect to spend a lot more time than you anticipated. The DIY restoration project often delays departures by months—or years.

4. Is the boat worth restoring? If you aren’t in love with the boat, and it isn’t a highly ought-after cruiser, do you really want to pour so much time and money into it?

5. Expect surprises. Apart from the obvious damage, there are almost surely some hidden problems. If the boat was under saltwater, chances are you’ll not only need to rebuild or replace the engine, you’ll also need to rewire the boat—a tedious and expensive project.

An old adage says that there is nothing more expensive than a free boat—and that would apply to any storm salvage. But if you believe, as I do, that more rescued boats return to sea than don’t, then you have at least one good reason to take up the charge.

Have you got an up-from-the-ashes story you’d like to share? Send it to me at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.

Comments (6)

Worth remembering the old adage that the builder puts in 40% and buys the other 60% in equipment. So while the hull may survive in tact its the equipment that usually needs replacing. And that means replacing it at current dollar costs typically much higher than when the boat was originally built.

There was a time in the "old days" of wooden boats with little in the way of equipment when it was standard practice to repair storm damaged boats. Those days are long past us given our enthusiasm for equipment such as electronics, electric winches/windlass, engines, generators, refrigerators, etc.

Sadly the real facts are that used sailboats are now so cheap when they're several decades old that its not cost effective to repair storm damaged boats. Especially the larger ones whose size makes them attractive for offshore sailing.

Best advise I ever received over a long life of sailing the oceans was always to begin by purchasing a brand new SOLAS life raft. Then seek a boat that could survive a real knockdown and heavy weather. And if any monies were left over buy some handy equipment. Maybe an engine, refrigeration, some simple electronics.

For most buying a severely damaged sailboat to begin blue water sailing is a fool's errand. As many would be voyagers have found out to their sorrow. Especially if they have their boat inspected by a top notch long experienced surveyor before beginning their long sought voyage.

Peter I Berman
Norwalk, CT
Author: "Outfitting the Offshore Crusiing Sailboat" Parcay Publishers.

Posted by: Piberman | November 4, 2018 10:33 AM    Report this comment

Worth remembering the old adage that the builder puts in 40% and buys the other 60% in equipment. So while the hull may survive in tact its the equipment that usually needs replacing. And that means replacing it at current dollar costs typically much higher than when the boat was originally built.

There was a time in the "old days" of wooden boats with little in the way of equipment when it was standard practice to repair storm damaged boats. Those days are long past us given our enthusiasm for equipment such as electronics, electric winches/windlass, engines, generators, refrigerators, etc.

Sadly the real facts are that used sailboats are now so cheap when they're several decades old that its not cost effective to repair storm damaged boats. Especially the larger ones whose size makes them attractive for offshore sailing.

Best advise I ever received over a long life of sailing the oceans was always to begin by purchasing a brand new SOLAS life raft. Then seek a boat that could survive a real knockdown and heavy weather. And if any monies were left over buy some handy equipment. Maybe an engine, refrigeration, some simple electronics.

For most buying a severely damaged sailboat to begin blue water sailing is a fool's errand. As many would be voyagers have found out to their sorrow. Especially if they have their boat inspected by a top notch long experienced surveyor before beginning their long sought voyage.

Peter I Berman
Norwalk, CT
Author: "Outfitting the Offshore Crusiing Sailboat" Parcay Publishers.

Posted by: Piberman | November 4, 2018 10:33 AM    Report this comment

Everyone wants something for nothing. Occasionally, a bargain can be found, but normally the free market puts a proper price on wrecked boats and everything else. Even if your labor is worth nothing, marine gear is expensive. The wise person makes a work list and a required purchase list and estimates the hours and costs. It is almost always the case that a boat in good shape is less expensive than making the repairs.

Of course, if your hobby is repairing boats, go for it. Messing around in boats can be most enjoyable and personally rewarding, but don't expect the endeavour to be profitable.

Posted by: Boston Barry | October 30, 2018 9:08 AM    Report this comment

I bought two salvage boats (not storm damaged) a sabre that took on fresh water from blocked up cockpit drains) and an alberg 37 that had sea water to the salon floor. Both had relatively new engines (one with 50 hours) solid hulls and good decks. Mostly cosmetic and i am a remodeler. I enjoyed the challenge and was very
happy with the time it took and the value when finished.

Posted by: donelanc | October 29, 2018 9:20 AM    Report this comment

I am a broker. I my view, most of the heavily damaged sail boats that are over 20 years old, should be scrapped. Here on the Great Lakes where I focus, salt water boats that have not been damaged sell for much less than fresh water boats. Boats heavily damaged in salt water storms are hard to sell at any price even if they have been repaired.

Posted by: mark2 | October 28, 2018 2:26 PM    Report this comment

Rescuing storm damaged sailboats likely appeals to those who put little or no value on their labor. Few if any boatyards see profitable businesses here. And without the well honed skills of a professional long experienced marine surveyor few are in a position to carefully investigate the scope of the repairs. For most repariing storm damaged sailaboats is apt to be a "fools errand".

Historically well used sailaboats several or more decades old are selling at historical post-War low prices. Typically below $5 a pound. Given the huge supplies of used sailboats for sale we have a true "golden age" in securing boats that originally sold for $20 to $30 a pound. New England boatyards are typically chockablock full of used sailboats for sail.
Why look in Florida and not in ones own backyard ?

Posted by: Piberman | October 28, 2018 11:21 AM    Report this comment

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