Think Restoring A Fiberglass Classic Is Cheaper Than A Woody Boat? You May Want To Sit Down When You Read This.

Pumpkin bow

Pumpkin cost a lot to restore. Of course we went a little over board. And it was worth every RPM

A new fun trend out there is the classic boat culture is finding cheap fun fiberglass classic boats to run and have fun with. We are in this camp as well. But one of the myths about this is that somehow its cheaper to restore a fiberglass boat than a Woody Boat. Here  is our thought process, and of course you are free to shoot holes in it if you like.

pumpkin bottom

YIKES. It all needed replacing inside the hull. And good luck finding another hull, You have to buy a donor boat

1.No bottom needs to be replaced on a fiberglass boat so its cheaper. Well, its never that simple. many of these old glass boats has stress fractures in them, and the wood build into the hull is usually shot.. From being wet and encased in fiberglass over the years. This can be costly, and in many cases needs professional assistance. Boston Whalers are a wreck with the duel hull thing and a foam that basecly rotted away. Pin holes in bottoms can wreak havoc on a Whaler. This by the way is a very expensive repair. I would rather put a new bottom on a 17 runabout than tearing apart a whaler bottom and redoing it. There are countless cases of guys dumping a crap load into there classic whalers.

pumpkin B 5

no Varnish, just 3 coats of pearl orange with clear. Yikes

2. No Varnish. Yup, but you have gel coat, and most need re gel coating or painting. And there are fractures in fiberglass and soft spots. And fiberglass also needs maintenance. Not a huge money saver here either.

3. Parts – Nope, in fact if you have a shot fiberglass hull, you are screwed and need to find a complete new hull. No new this or that. Sure you can patch stuff. But it still all adds up in cost. Wood can be shaped, sanded and all sorts of stuff. Need a air scoop of a whatever year glass boat? Its just as hard to find if not harder since each year was different in some cases. Chrome is chrome, so no savings here either.

Pumpkin engine

500hp doesn’t care what its put in.

4. Engine? Nope, Engines are engines, and in fact some of the fiberglass boats had more exotic engines or out drives. So in may cases it can cost more to do your fiberglass classic engine right.

pumpkin interior

5. Interiors? Nope, vinyl is vinyl, and time to do the job is the same. Some of the vinyl materials are impossible to find, just like Woody Boats.

We think you get the point. The only real difference of a woody Boat and Fiberglass boat from a cost of restoration is subjective and by a boat by boat case. We know that in some cases, $80,000 and up has been spent on restoring fiberglass boats. So if you are thinking that a Woody Boat is to expensive to take on, a classic plastic may not be the solution, buying a one thats been restored and saving the cost that the other guy spent is the most cost effective way to go. Unless you are like us and enjoy the journey.


Pricelss, just like a Woody Boat

21 replies
  1. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    Boat Def:

    A boat is a hole in the water surrounded by wood (or fiberglass, steel, aluminum, whatever) into which one pours money.

    BOAT Break Out Another Thousand

    Cruisers are spelled BOATT Break Out Another Ten Thousand
    (I don’t really believe that last one, but than again I am in denial)

    If you really want to talk expensive talk about boats that fly.

  2. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    My own experience with somewhat restoring an old 1956 Glasspar 13-foot Club Lido was somewhat fun. I somewhat patched both chine areas that had cracked and replaced the fiberglass covered plywood flooring and most of the wood framing that made it somewhat flat.

    One secret was using Polyester resin, the material that was used in the day. The epoxy resins don’t stick so well to the original work. The patches held us well, but I used paint in lieu of gelcoat on the bottom.

    The decking on this little boat were in somewhat fair shape, although some areas looked much like a roadmap with hairline cracks in the gelcoat; couldn’t see them from a distance though. I re-striped the plank-like deck detail and the boat somewhat good, and was useable. She was too small for playing on the Mississippi River but was fun on small lakes in the area.

    In all I somewhat enjoyed the journey of making the boat useful and somewhat cute without braking the bank.

  3. John A Gambill
    John A Gambill says:

    Oh yah, doing a glass boat is so much easier, nothin to it. Get your 40 grit out and spend a month taking all the old cracked up blistered gel off the entire top side of a 23 footer. Then try to find all the hundreds of hair line cracks in the fiberglass after all the gel if off and take a die grinder and grind all of those out and fill and fare them all back in properly so the cracks don’t show up after the final top coat finish is applied, hold your breath and pray you got them all!! If you didn’t the cracks will show through the final finish.
    The only way you can save is if you do the work yourself like me, if not just keep a really fat check book handy.

  4. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    I have worked on glass boats and some fiberglass boats are worthy of restoration. Not for me. I hate grinding glass, working with resin and can’t stand acetone. Too many chemicals involved. Depending on condition, could be cheaper than wood, but in my opinion a lot less fun and never as pretty to look at.

  5. Gary
    Gary says:

    Years ago I decided I wanted a single after using a fiberglass quad. The quad leaked due to stress cracks. Now after using a single for years my wife said she would call the coast guard if I went out in it again. Last year I almost bought a donzi but thumping the hull, it really sounded different than other fiberglasses, I decided sticking with wood and varnish was the better choice. Besides, you can see what is under the varnish. Gelcoats don’t tell you anything!

  6. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    It all depends on to what level you want to take it, and I have had one fiberglass boat and a number of wood boats restored. My Glastron was a very sound survivor that had no rot, but we replaced the floor anyway but no real structure was replaced. We re-gelcoated the entire boat, which was very challenging due to textures in the surface. Mercruiser engine and drive were easy and fairly inexpensive. Interior had to be custom ordered and was equivalent to a custom order for any other project. Overall it was much cheaper than wood, though I have never done a 16’6″ wood boat.

    Overall, a basket case glass boat can be just as or almost as bad as a basket case pattern or gray wood boat, but a great many glass boats have survived without descending to that level of near irredeemable degradation – many more than have wooden examples.

    I wouldn’t enjoy grinding on glass and using chemicals either, but some guys do and they specialize in it, just like wood working shops prefer their medium. On balance, I believe it is much easier to return an old glass boat to use than it would be an old wood one, though an “old” wood boat is now likely at least 50-55 years old and the glass boat can be almost any age up to that.

    The glass boat will require much less routine maintenance once it is back in the water – there is no question of that. There are many good reasons that glass quickly superseded wood construction as soon as the technology was adequately refined. These reasons are no less valid today than in 1960.

    The example boat, Pumpkin was done to an extremely high level with little concern for costs as far as I recall, like many wooden boats that are taken to Concours level. Any Concours restoration will be expensive and with absolute certainty, these costs will exceed the value of the finished item. I think my Glastron restoration cost about $20-$25k, all in. The bottom alone on a 19′ can cost close to that…then you have to do the rest of the boat. I would argue that a reasonable user level resto on a glass boat will be cheaper almost every time.

    • Dave Nau
      Dave Nau says:

      I was hoping this topic would come up and now it has.

      I agree that restoring fiberglass can be a ton of work. In my book, the trick is to find one that is still in good shape.

      I like old MFG boats – in particular a 14′ 4″ Niagara, 15′ 8″ Westfield or 16′ 6″ Edinboro. All have pressure molded hulls that almost never crack, decks that rarely get stress cracks, and all have fiberglass floors and stringers. The only wood is sandwiched in the transom (which can and does rot, but is a relatively easy fix), seat frames, and wood behind the dash panel. There is foam under the floor, so if the boat has sat unprotected from the elements, the rubber in the well nuts used to secure the seats to the floor deteriorates and then water saturates the foam, leaving major work to do. Trick is to find a good one, but they are out there.

      All are outboards and it’s not hard to find good used outboards as help is often available from AOMCI members.

      I got this 1966 MFG Niagara for $2600 in late 2013, including original canvas. It was stored in a garage under a cover its whole life. All I’ve done is clean it up. It has original everything.

      To me the thrill is in the hunt of finding a good one, rather than restoring a basket case. Definitely a whole lot less expensive. It can take a while, but then a complete restoration takes time, too.

  7. Nautilus
    Nautilus says:

    First of all, you have to choose your battles. If a fiberglass boat has a really bad hull or a million spider webs in the topside gelcoat, you simply pass on it, the same as you would a rotten wooden boat. Doing the bottom on a well-cared-for fiberglass boat is WAY cheaper and easier than replacing a wooden planked bottom. I can generally restore a fiberglass runabout for the cost of replacing the bottom on a mahogany runabout.

    As for engines, flatheads cost a lot more to restore than modern V8’s. Parts are harder to get, valve jobs are a real pain to do and there are just about zero bolt-on performance options. Professionally rebuilt (and guaranteed) performance V8 long blocks (especially 350 Chevys and 351 Windsors) can be had for less than $3,000 and all the bolt-ons are cheap and readily available. I can build a 300 HP 350 with performance bolt-ons for less than $4,500…and I’ll bet Matt paid a lot more than that to have Wecatchem’s flathead done.

    Gelcoating is desirable but not necessary. Generally, I paint fiberglass boats with PPG products. (It’s good enough for Corvettes!)

    Bottom line: A “damned nice driver” restoration of a mahogany planked runabout will cost triple (or more) the cost of the same size fiberglass boat. I’ve done enough of both to know.

    • Paul h.
      Paul h. says:

      It cost about $3500- $4k to do a full rebuild on the original 4 cylinder Chevy/Mercruiser 120HP in the Glastron, and to fully service the drive. Not sure how much it would cost to do a 4 Cyl CC B or Gray Marine (I have never owned one and probably never will) but I suspect it would be quite a bit more, for half the horsepower. I think many people re-power from B’s and the like these days.

      I rebuilt (or had it done) the 130HP M in my BB from top to bottom, along with a trans service a couple of years ago and it was around $12-$13k so you you are bang on with your cost assessment. To fully do a flathead CC/Hercules 6 I have to assume that you will be $10-$15k all day long. I think the MEL/CC 430 V-8 in my Conti was about $7500, with the trans being another $2500 due to specific challenges of that model. OB’s are cheaper, obviously. Lets not even talk about specialty marine engines like Scripps or Kermaths….that gets into insane numbers. Please do not ask how I know.

  8. Dennis Mykols
    Dennis Mykols says:

    I agree with Paul, if you go balls out to finish a fiberglass boat like they did with Pumpkin, then yes, the costs soar.
    But like Dave Nau writes, if you find a good starter boat to work with, and then restore her to a good user boat, the costs are a lot lower than redoing a woody.
    I found this 1959 Lake N Sea, and knowing all the bad history of this marque, I kinda knew what to look our for. It was a real servitor, and it was ALL there. Bought it on the spot for $2900.00 and after changing the color to my liking, restoring the 1959 Mercury and then fixing up the springs, and tires on the 1959 Gator trailer, I have a great looking show boat to take to any classic car or boat show. ALL for $8000.00 total.
    Did I go overboard on this project? Yes, if one considered I did not HAVE to repaint the top deck. There were no stress cracks, or fade issues, I just did not like the color. My choice to spend that extra money, but I made it to my liking.
    I would like to do another project, and got my eye on a couple of models that I find have interesting style, and bring back memories. This project was fun, and knowing I was not throwing away tens of thousands of dollars on a project, made it even more fun.

  9. Sean
    Sean says:

    Well, if you’re restoring these boats with a pen and your check book then it might be a little closer depending on the size/type of the boat and the level of restoration. But, the fiberglass boat is still much cheaper. I recently priced out a total cosmetic professional restoration on a hull/deck of a 1965 Donzi Ski Sporter at $8,500 CAD. Plus there was no shortage of those qualified to do the job. now, structural glasswork (replacing stringers/transoms) is not a nice job but, it is easily accomplished by a beginner and can be completed at a high level of quality & competency too. If you don’t like how it turns out; just grind off and do it again. After that, it’s just down to rigging.

    It is true… an interior is an interior and they cost the same but, there’s usually far less chrome on an FG boat. As for engines, again depending on the chosen unit, the parts are readily available and building a SBF, BBF, SBC, BBC, I4, 16 or v6 Chevrolet is downright simple. plus, there’s lots of help available…. it simply is much less expensive than a flathead. My 4.3 V6 was under $2,000 with a whack load of performance parts!

    Further, if your FG hull is financially beyond a reasonable restoration, I know someone that is currently building a mould from their desired boat and will be starting fresh with new everything. To help pay for it… he can make hulls & decks for others AND sell the mould when he is done. (okay, he’s an exception) but you can’t do this with a woody.

    Truthfully, if you’re willing to roll your sleeves up a nice FG total restoration can be completed under $25,000. I have neither the tools or skills to do that with a wooden boat and am therefore at the mercy of the high priced wooden restoration industry…. even my plywood Greavette was well over $30,000 to finish with me doing what I could.

    Check this guy out… excellent results on a very low budget and he does this hobby for FUN (not a dealer)!

  10. steve in the woods
    steve in the woods says:

    Just like machines that fly; it is all expensive, whether wood or glass…I would rather pull splinters and breath sawdust as opposed to itching and dealing with glass fibers

  11. Brian Flaherty
    Brian Flaherty says:

    I am days away from completing my repaint of our ’69 Chris-Craft Cavalier (fiberglass) and I must say any restoration can cost as little or as much as you want… I am about $3,000 into this portion of refurbishment but the costs have all been on the same kinds of items as any wood boat rebuild: windshield, all new aluminum trim, vinyl for dash, paint and painting supplies. Now I am doing all the work myself, learning as I go, and that has kept most of the costs away! Will it be concourse level? Absolutely NOT!! Does it already look better than it did? YES!! Plus, I get to be proud of all the work I did, that’s the best part IMO. Overall in our 6.5 year “usable restoration” we have probably $8,000 invested, with initial purchase, motor work, vinyl interior, prop, and now paint and trim… So I feel we’re way ahead of the curve from other boat projects, and unlike wood boats, if I or a family member mess up and scuff or mar up the paint, it only takes a little sandpaper and a roller to fix it!! It’s far easier to spot repair paint on fiberglass than it is to spot repair wood-stain-varnish…

    Over in the Northwest Classic Boat Club, almost all the boats are fiberglass, and some of those guys do concourse level restorations and their boats are truly stunning!! But they can often sink $20,000 into a boat that will only ever hope to sell for $10,000!! Granted for them, like many here, it’s really about the money but rather the enjoyment and pride in completion.

  12. Cenger
    Cenger says:

    Forget anything with an I/O pre 1970 they are miserable contraptions with very expensive and hard to find parts.

  13. Bill Anderson
    Bill Anderson says:

    Sorry I couldn’t post yesterday very seldom can you get by with out doing a transom drill a small whole from inside and see if wood is dark[wet] or light and dryalso we grind it all down to cloth then rebuild,,I don’t want cracks to come back in 6 months and they will,,like restoring a car with a rusty frame get it done then it comes back to make you mad,also if done right it is not cheap Bill

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