Taboo Topic – Boat Restoration Cost!
In an ongoing series of taboo topics in the classic boat hobby, today we are talking about the cost of a classic boat restoration. Or as one restorer put it to me years ago..” If I told them what it really cost, they would never restore the boat.” The sad truth is that I have heard this very statement from several sources. But is it true? Yes and no. Like everything in our little world here, it all depends on what you are starting with. The right boat? the right mind set? The right restorer? The right support system? The right information before you start, and the biggest one, the right attitude! As I have stated before and will do it again. WE ARE SWITZERLAND on this topic. We have been burned here bad, and we have had wonderful experiences. We have seen the worst and the best out there. So its not an easy call. We speak from personal experience. I will confess here, in front of the planet…I spent over $150,000 on one restoration job! There I said it. Actually I honestly have no real idea how much, I stopped counting at $150,000 so I would not kill someone, or my self. I thought I was alone. I am sadly not. In fact, I am in a huge crowd. It’s the dirty little secret of the hobby. I wrote it off as the cost of an education into the world. And that has played out true. I changed my attitude, and mind set, and I am OK, in fact I would do it again. The process is priceless, bad use of that word I suppose.. But its a fantastic feeling bringing something back to life. And with the right company, a ton of fun. I am still pals with all the folks that worked on my boat, and to be honest again, would have never done it if i had known what it would cost. So, I suppose they were honest from the start. I was boating on the river denial!
Is it a rich mans game? Absolutely NOT! Is $150K a lot of money. It’s INSANE MONEY! But think for a second, $150K for a new boat is not all that much. Try a new sports car? Actually in the grand scheme of things its not bad for a fun midlife deal. RIGHT MIND SET! A new boat will loose half its value in the first couple years. your classic boat not at all. Surprisingly we found that many folks get into classic boats because of the low cost of entry, and can do much of the work themselves thus saving a ton of cash. IF THEY DO IT RIGHT! I know a ton of folks that have $20K in a cool classic boat that is safe and fun to use, and compared to a 150K new plastic boat, kick its ass! So, what can you do to protect yourself, or make a open decision as to how to move forward.
GET AN ESTIMATE! I did not. I was $5K into the restoration and the boat had not been flipped. Once the boat is disassembled you are all in. No turning back. Your $30K boat is now worth $5K in a bag of parts. So you are screwed at this point without an estimate. The slow death march began. I am not alone here. This is a reoccurring conversation behind the scenes. Some have spent far far far more on less. After all,
Wood is wood, labor is labor. It’s the shape that it goes into that makes the difference. It’s not the restorers fault that many of the big money issues are hidden and can only be found after the disassemble.
Be prepared. ALL CLASSIC BOATS NEED FRAME WORK! All Classic boats need NEW WOOD! Once you fix one thing, it makes everything else look like crap! In my case the one good move I made, was it was a collectable boat. Are these costs crazy? It’s not the restorers fault that my boat needed all new frames, thus the sides had to be taken off. It’s not the restorers fault that then the covering boards needed to be fixed, and while you are at it, a new deck, new leather… it’s a massive can of worms.
Consider all the expenses, my bottom job was not all that bad, it was all the other stuff that killed me. It adds up fast. Super triple carb fast. Leather interior, 8K, Motor $7K wood, 3K trailer 4K chrome $3K and thats just a start.
Talk about it with others. The point of this story is to talk about this in the open. There are some fantastic honest restorers out there. We feature them here on our site. They are good honest folks that follow the simple rule of treat folks the way you would want to be treated. They are long term players that do honest amazing work. They back up what they do. Thats why they have been around a long time. Do your homework, ask around, compare and see who is the right guy to help. It’s well worth the trip to the other side of the country to do the job right, and in the end the money spent of travel, will be less than having to redo a crap job. Go to shows, talk with club members, go up to guys that have nice boats and ask who did there work, ask if they are happy and would do it again, 9 out of 10 will be happy like you should be. We are here to just make sure you are not that 1 guy who is not!
Please understand, this topic is red hot and a bit of a third rail, it can get rather personal rather fast. We are not out to hurt anyone, or anyone’s business. In fact the opposite. If you have a positive experience, tell it here. We are pro restorer here, we are all about doing the job right the first time with honest and fun folks.
Matt: All good points. Being on the lower -er poorer end of the hobby, I would never evenconsider a boat that I had to pay someone to do work on. In the 8 years of dubbing around with wood boats I started the learning curve without any knowledge and have learned as I went good and bad. But I did learn if you have to ask what something costs to restore you cant afford it.
Boy 9:06 and still nothing? Everyone really must be affraid of this topic.
Its the third rail of the hobby, but if we cant do it, no one will.
Naïve, ignorant and stupid all wrapped up in fantasy describes my state of mind when I got into classic boating. Alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear when the boat had to be brought to the restorer in a box truck because it wasn’t sound enough to be put on a trailer. Even when he told me that next time I should bring him a boat with more parts I didn’t hesitate. At the time I was unaware of ACBS, CCABC, WoodyBoater or even anyone else that had anything not fiberglass. I was so caught up in the fantasy of this project I got no estimates, surveys or learned opinions. After all how much could it cost? 5G? 10G at the MOST? I cannot fault the restorer, his fees were fair (I realized later) and he did what I asked him to. I’m happy I did it but would never do it again. When I see what I can but turn-key for less than the cost of my restoration that is what I will buy in the future unless I learn the skills to do some of the work myself. To this day my wife to her credit has never asked what the final $$ amount was, and I love her for that.
With the wife gone I can now post some $$. Bought what there was of the boat (1950 17′ Sportsman) for $1200 and spent $30,000 on the restoration. Fair price for what was done and not approaching big numbers, but not again.
I wanted to start a “professional restorers association” that had a “code” members followed to protect boat owners AND restorers from communication “lapses”. It would include a guideline for the restorers that included what minimum communication would include, i.e. written estimates up front, restoration progress pictures on a certain agreed upon schedule, shop rates, agreed maximum per month billing, if appropriate, escrow deposit to hold place in line for restoration to be held thru resto, ballpark time frames in written estimate, and so on. There is the other side of this too, when an owner brings a boat into the yard for resto and expected parts promised are missing holding up progress as well as owner responsibilities for providing certain things agreed on like providing or purchasing prop(s) or missing hardware or a new or refurbished trailer.
And when your asking for a restoration are you, the owner, expecting an engine rebuild? Just because a restorer can do the wood work is it fair to think he should be responsible for the engine work? And if the engine is sent out for rebuild and comes back to restorer whose responsible for the proper running/fine tuning of that rebuilt engine at the water test? Depending on the size of the shop, if its full service, that’s one thing, but a smaller shop needs to be clear or you’ll have some finger pointing at the end of what may have started out on good terms and ended badly because the owner is expecting a fully functional boat, but a small shop restorer is stuck with debugging/fine tuning an engine job he’s not originally responsible for especially if it doesn’t run as expected.
As a contractor (restoration whore, if you will, I work where needed) I’ve seen this happen in small shops and its caused some hard feelings both with boat owner and restorer being caught in the middle. A full service shop would deal with all the problems but that ramps up your cost as this obviously requires time and resources.
Honey I want to buy this boat. It’s a rare 69′ SS. OK. Really? Great we’ll just use it this year then decide what to do. Looked decent and was running when we/I brought it home but two weeks later nothing but pieces. Three years later I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Cost of a glass boat is probably less than a woody but it is still expensive even doing much of the work myself. What do I have in it? I have no idea and don’t want to know. But if I did not have it I would have never met Alex or Chad so that helps. 🙂
Addicts need an “enabler”.
We are all both PUSHERS and ADDICTS.
Steppenwolf line from The Pusher in Easy Rider.
Lord, he’ll leave your, he’ll leave your mind to scream
Thanks, maybe this conversation can turn into an 12 step program!
Matt, you are always looking for new and innovative, cutting edge ways to improve this site. Nows the time, I have lots of ideas on developing a ANGIE’S list for engine , and restoration shops.
Just had surgery yesterday and will be laying around for a month, so would be happy to email you idea’s and formats, after I get off the pain meds.
I guess the question is will a wood boat site have the gut’s to stand up and develope a site like this, and have a good list of pre restoration do’s and dont’s to go by so each commenter can give informed ratings.
You have the talent on staff probly, whereas I do not.
I guess being in advertising and not wanting to piss people off may cause you a dilima. As far as I’m concerned not addressing this issue is one way for just the wealth to play in the sand box alone, as the hobby shrinks and dies. The car hobby never will but this hobby has a LONG way to go to get to the car hobby point.
We tried here to have reader rated links. It was cool for a week, and then it got personal and nasty. This conversation is great, lets keep it going
I have to relate this story as I was on a training trail run around the lake, got lost and finally got out to a main road where I came upon 2 guys “restoring” a 35′ CC cruiser, starting with the bottom. He was set up in an unused part of a parking lot under a blue tarp and his helper was an out of work dry waller. I’m always interested in resto’s especially someone who wants to take on a big cruiser. They were being paid by the owner, God bless that poor bastard, at least they weren’t using dry wall screws, yet. I didn’t see any fairing battens, string lines, or levels anywhere. Oh, well back to the run, hope it floats and runs straight (and floats).
Floyd’ good post, by the time I had taped out my little post thought the fog you wrote a good book for me.
God bless ya
This subject is out of my league. I have only ever paid some one else to haul and paint…the rest..falls to me…
That is why I am still stuck in the bilge with one manifold and riser yet to go.
but I will soon GO BOATING…and the poor mans kind.
John in Va.
Once done you are lucky if it is worth 50% of your investment. We don’t do it as an investment, we do it to hang around with people like MATT and TEXX and others we see at shows or meet on blogs. We do it to be different.
We’re all here because we’re not all there!!
Matt you can have little or restricted comment area, and have more of a star or number rating for categories and a rating of knowledge the rater possesses, is that spelled right, oh well I’m on WB:)
That would reduce nastiness, and give much needed info to at least start with.
I got to get me some more of these pills, although the way I am having to type,read, erase and retype I would not suggest them for Internet sex.:)
Still in Hessel. Now post-blizzard. Second “snow day” in a row. (For you deep southerners, that means second day of cancelled school.)
Heading home today. Will weigh in on this topic tonite. Starting by surveying the damage, doing a body count…
Great. I now have something to chew on all day. Other than my 3 cabin feverish iKids that is.
PS. This resto topic isn’t that hot Matt. Try the one raging in my family these days. iDevices vs reading a book, building snow forts, doing chores, doing ANYTHING that doesn’t involve a screen.
Alex, when you figure out the iDevices problem please share, I’m in the same “Boat”. When I was young I would have killed to have a dad with a hobby like ours, but my kids show little interest. They do enjoy boating, a lot, so there is still hope……
LOL, in the same boat here as well. I actually find myself hoping they misbehave so I have an excuse to take away anything with a screen.
Except that those devices are now integral in doing their homework, including a smart phone, of which I am paying for 2 but have never laid a finger on because they belong to my “kids” used as wireless hotspots instead of paying for additional network connections for college.
Jim who said anything about investment, I’m talking about fairness, and honesty, things my mom and Dad taught me.
I thought everyone knew ANY boat is a money pit not an investment. It’ the Good people you me that is worth the effort.
When a boat owner and a boat restorer are on the same page from day one, it is a beautiful thing. The boat comes out of the shop looking like a million bucks(at hopefully a fraction of the cost) and the owner is all smiles and so is the restorer for he knows that no ad space in the world is better than the looks that boat will get as the owner drives the boat smiling and waving like a lunatic to all the passerbys jealous of it.
That being said, there’s nothing like a boat thats been brought back to life by a novice, do-it-youselfer who’s spent countless hours in the garage learning by trial and error. They know the ins and outs of their boat like no other. They can tell you how many screws are in the SS rubrail or how how many prayers or shots of whiskey the did before they started stripping the boat knowing there was no turning back now. Their smiles are just as wide as the other guy’s(except for maybe a few more bags under the eyes).
Those pinnacles of shear joy lead us sometimes to the depths of madness(and the medicine cabinet for blood pressure meds) when a restoration is sent out to a so called professional and the boat comes back looking not what you had intended or agreed upon. Whether it was a miscommunication here or an assumption there or someone biting off more than they can chew it’s a bad deal with frowns all the way around.
I’ve been apart of all three scenarios. I’ll end my thoughts with this, people will ride on any boat regardless if it’s a pro or average Joe restoration job or if its a show stopper or not. as long as the captain is smiling. No one likes a grumpy captain.
After racing car$, then re$toring old Por$che$… I bought my fir$t Greavette in 2003 from a well known Mu$koka builder. We had a long conver$ation on what I wanted to accompli$h and what resource$ I had available.
He $old me a 1959 Greavette 21′ Project runabout and $aid if his $hop did the woodwork he would di$count the (low) purcha$e price again$t the re$toration. Furthermore, $ince resource$ were $kint, he would roll the boat in when he wa$ $low and out when he wa$ busy.
E$timate for the job (on thi$ boat he knew) wa$ $ 6,000 in $tructural plus refini$hing. Thi$ wa$ an awe$ome deal and IMO a very nice ge$ture to help me get in the hobby. I gave him half upfront $o he would not be out on materials and I re$tored the traile$o it would not be any trouble to him.
For many rea$on$ he could never get my job in the $hop. I gave him the other half of the money for the woodwork in hope$ he would $peed up a bit. 5 year$ pa$$ed (2008) when he finally moved to a new $hop and promptly announced that my e$timate wa$ now $ 30,000 plus refinishing. He kept mo$t of my money…I got the boat out of hi$ $hop immediately then, gave it away.
I bought my 2nd Greavette in VGC from an long time ACBS member that did all of his own work. It needed refre$hing so I engaged the $ervices of an experienced yet non-Mu$koka builder that works from hi$ back yard $hop. I wa$ given an e$timate of $10,000 which was exactly what it co$t me.
It’s not the be$t varni$h job but, the hull, transom, $tringer$ and 1/2 the frame$ are new. It’$ $olid, watertight and $erviceable. We’ll addre$$ the varni$h i$$ue$ next time.
I subcontracted the interior, wiring and power to $peciali$ts in each di$iplineand have done trim and any mechanical I could by my$elf. I’m $till “in” for double the value.
1) IF you have the dough, a reputable high end one stop shop is the way to a perfect boat.
2) Just because someone has been around a long time (and has some refrences), does not mean they are a good shop
3) get it in writing.
4) tradespeople outside of Mu$koka (or insert fashionalbe expensive area here) are just as capible as the big dollar “Mu$koka” guys and offer greater value.
5) Not everyone can do everything well…seek out sub contractors that specialize for a better job at each stage.
6) Manage you own restoration. Then you have nobody to blame.
Ok…I’m going to go out on a limb here and speak up from the other side.
As a small restoration shop I have been re-thinking my role in this whole thing. On the scheme of things my hourly rate is cheap. I have a friend who’s a plumber and he charges $90/hr. I wish I could get that. I was talking to a famous restorer in Michigan the other day about this same topic and he used the analogy of an oil change. Forty dollars for 15 minutes? $160/per hour? Who’s got more talent? What about car repairs? I’d argue that 70% of my clients are driving extremely nice cars and I shudder to think what it must cost per hour when the DB9 is in the shop, or the Maserati or the…you get it. I’ll also argue that there are very few, if any, restorers who can say they actually charge for every minute of time spent on a boat. At least not a restorer that has sent a boat to Tahoe or any other high level judged event. These guys are perfectionists who recognize there name and pride is on the line. There are definitely bad guys out there screwing people and there will probably always be. But even though the resto costs a ton of money I don’t know any quality restorers getting rich from doing this. Some started rich but I don’t think restoration got them there.
I shall finish with one of my favorite quotes…”The best way to make a small fortune in boat restoration is to start out with a large fortune”
Good topic Matt…..it will be interesting to see where it goes…..
MikeM, I totally agree with your comments, we are in a similar situation, just trying to get our name out there. Our current Ventnor/customer project we quoted a labor price in advance. Will let you know in a year how that worked out! We knew it would be a total rebuild but well worth it.
As an aside, we have a friend who purchased a very nice looking barrel back on line for big money. We tried to convince him to get a gray boat for a few thousand and expect to replace most/all of the wood. Do you think he called us before buying his project?
Noooooooooo…ooooooooooo. So now he is into the boat, new bottom a given. Stringers oil soaked and rotted, new stringers. Chines cracked and weak, new chines. Transom and gar boards split/rotten, new wood there. Deck appears to have been replaced at some point, might as well replace it again and do it right. Maybe he can save the side planks…of course they have probably been sanded thin through the years. That gray boat is starting to sound pretty good right about now.
We had a potential buyer/customer come out and look at a 20′ Riviera that we have in inventory, not a gray boat but still a substantial full restoration/re-build. They thought it would be in better shape. What do you want for 5K? (This guy had a wafer thin gold watch on his wrist that probably cost more. I notice these things.) We were honest about the potential cost of restoration. Needless to say, they didn’t bite. Maybe we shouldn’t have been so forthcoming? Notice how I worded that one…
Stepping off the soap box now, but I do love these hot topics.
There are lots of folks out there today who have a horror story of their own to tell but may be reluctant to share their story for a number of reasons.
However there are also folks out there who are currently in the process of considering a major wooden boat restoration project. Your horror story (or positive experience if you had one) may help your fellow Woody Boater avoid a horror story of their own, so as a group lets try to help each other with some basic tips or “Things to watch out for” when starting a project.
This subject makes my blood boil… More later.
Having spent time working for a shop, it was my experience that the owner was honest and true with the customer and with what needs the boats had. There are materials and labour costs that just cannot be pared down so the true cost of having a boat restored is going to be expensive.
Maybe what needs to happen today is when Grandad makes up his Will to decide who gets his wood boat, a Boat Trust should also be included. In the Trust, those monies could only be used for the preservation of the boat and nothing else. And that somehow that Trust follows the boat if it is sold, with the same restrictions. Owners would also be required to reinvest into the trust to keep it going.
The end result is a boat with it’s private fund to ensure it continues to exist and avoid the burn pile.
As we are all convinced that few 30 y/o in the future will want to spend money on a wood boat, this Trust idea would ease the pain and perhaps keep and attract more enthusiasts.
I am sure that there is a smart lawyer out there that could make this work.
I’m 27 and I’m dumping every penny I have into my little 16′ GarWood. We are eating Ramen noodles every night to save cash but at the end of the day it’s worth it to have the boat
To pick up on Texx’s comment, we here at Woody Boater started this site to help folks new to this world. So they could be in a place that is an open independent community to learn about who is good and who is not. Like any business, yes even Dr’s there are loosers and winners. ASK AROUND! You will be happy you did. One happy boater is the best marketing tool for the hobby!
First off: B-reak O-out A-nother T-housand.
If you are not going to do the work yourself, then it is extremely important that there be candid, (documented if possible) coversation on the part of both parties before the restoration starts. The owner owes the restorer a clear picture of his/her desires and plans for the boat, the restorer owes the owner a candid assessment of the condition, likely “hidden” issues and a ballpark $$.
I’ve said it before and will again now that anyone who goes into this hobby thinking they are investing in anything but fun, adventure and the opportunity to spend time with some great people is fooling themselves. (See Jim’s post above)
To me, the measure of a great restoration is if it pleases you, the boat is safe and useable and you walk away with more friends than you started with. When the final result is stunning, correct, 100 point, so much the better – if that was your aim – and if it is, likely you chose a restorer that is at that level and you knew what you were doing.
As for “how much” – That is why I occasionally get my wife out to the boat show. One look at the current prices on even a wakeboard boat and this hobby gets put into perspective real quickly.
We get the opportunity to play with some great boats for about the same $$’s as the sales tax on the new ones – and I think we have cooler, better boats…
I have done a couple of major restoration projects, and retained different professionals to do the work. In both cases, I can unequivocally state that both of these men were honest, they did not mislead me at any point and their work is excellent. Both of these boats won major judged events – that is a testament to the work they did, and nothing that I did. It shows pride in their work, and neither the boat nor I were viewed as just wallets. The importance of pride and accountability on the part of the restorer simply cannot be overstated.
Both my cases were unique and different, as were the final costs. My Gar is virtually a one-off and was a total restoration and a very complex boat to boot. There was no estimate done – it would not have been fair or possible to estimate custom work like that. A routine bottom job is another thing, however. This project ended up costing over $200k for everything – and though it was a financially a losing investment, the process took me to school. I made the decision to proceed on it knowing that I was going to burn money – this is a hobby for me, not a commercial endeavor. I was unhappy about the final cost (who wouldn’t be?) but not terribly surprised. I love the boat. I learned a ton and I will never do a total restoration again.
With Barnwood, I did get an estimate and it was a preservation project, so not much real restoration was done. It cost much less. The final bill came in very near (within about 10%) of the estimate and that is good enough for me. The wild card on that was the engine, which as a Scripps is a very expensive rebuild – but they are what they are and one has few choices on how to proceed if they want to keep it original. This was a big job and the end result was exactly what I wanted – preservation to the best extent we could manage. I have not one complaint about that job, either.
Yes – it is expensive to restore boats properly, but no one has ever claimed it isn’t or should not be. I was treated fairly and I believe I also treated the restorers fairly as well. We all kept up our end of the deal. I would use both these guys again at any time and would recommend them to anyone who asked.
I was fortunate that my first wood boat was unknowingly bought from a very prominent person – Dick Werner – former ACBS Pres and the Symposium guy. I knew nobody in the hobby at all – none. Dr. Dick is honest and always steered me right. Through Dick I was introduced to the quality, trustworthy people that he knew and dealt with and I was never let down. The MOST important thing is to go into ANY project or job with your eyes open and at least one or two strong recommendations from people who have been there. That is easy enough to do in this day and age and the ACBS, WB, CCABC, Century Boat Club or other marque clubs can help people make informed choices. There are too many good, honest quality restorers out there to risk using anyone who is not. Any decision to spend the money required to get a particular desired result is a personal one an owner makes and the circumstances or motivation for that choice should not be the concern of others. But, an owner needs to make sure he is making a fully informed choice on which restorer he uses, and that the guidance and advice he receives from the restorer is sound. Aside from individual success or horror stories, I think we can easily agree on what ingredients are needed for initial project objectives to be met, and to make any restoration project rewarding for all involved. It is not rocket science, just be careful. I bet the advice found in car restoration circles is very similar.
This is a great topic, by the way. There are horror stories, but also many success stories.
First, I think Jim Staib best summarized why most of us are involved in this hobby, and what we get out of it. It surely is not for an investment. I was fortunate enough to grow up around wood boats, and have some basic knowledge of what it takes to replace a plank and lay down a decent coat of varnish. That also has helped me to define my limitations. I did my own work for the first 10 years that I got back into wood boats. However, when my 17′ CC Deluxe needed a complete restoration, I was fortunate to find a small shop in Michigan that did an excellent job for what I think was a fair cost. I have developed a freindship with the owner and his son over several years, and I am now working with them on a second boat reatoration. I guess I am therefore endorsing restoration by a good shop, but have also heard many horror stories. I think the trick is to really do your homework, and talk to a lot of knowledgeable people before you select a shop to do your work. However, if you choose to do the work yourself, I have the highest respect for you, just make sure you do it right. No restoration has to be a 100 point boat truely give the owner the satisfaction and enjoyment that come with ownership and regular use of a classic wood boat.
First of all, this is not some political ad campaign or hobby promotion – It’s how I see it based on my experience.
It’s all about “risk” and “expectations” – and these issues must be clearly identified before you move forward with any wooden boat restoration project.
But first – you have to find a qualified restorer to work with and who is willing to work with you, not against you. There are lots of very qualified wooden boat restoration companies out there that do magnificent work, and do it in a reasonable time frame. It’s your job to find them.
1. If you think you have found a restorer you can work with, ask for references and actually follow up on the references. Phone or visit the restorers past customers and ask them about their experience. Don’t rush this process. Wooden boat restoration projects should never be “rushed.” Ask around at your local club or ACBS Chapter, or at a boat show. Do your research – It will save you a great deal of pain and suffering later.
2. Ask the potential restorer what the time lines or schedules are in terms of taking on your project. Take a few minutes to document the results of your discussion with the restorer for future reference. If the restorer wants you to give him a cash deposit just to get your project in the production line a few years later – run!
After doing all the research, now that you have found a restorer that you think you can trust to and work with, ask a few more questions.
Who takes on the “risk” when it comes to completing your restoration project? How do you minimize your “risk?” Ask the restorer for three specific things.
1. Project Cost Estimate
Will the restorer provide you with a detailed cost estimate which breaks down each section of work including labor and materials? There are many unknowns when it comes to old wooden boats, which may not be clear until the work begins. The restorer won’t be prepared to take that “risk” – and quite frankly why should he? If that’s the case, ask him to prepare the cost estimate to the best of his ability (based on what he can see up front) and also pin down what the potential unknown coats may be, and how these will be addressed. There will be extra costs, guaranteed. But you need to know this going forward so there are less surprises later. Document everything.
Also confirm who is responsible for managing (and paying for) the outsource work such as upholstery, engine work, instruments, etc.
2. Project Time Line
You need to identify what the realistic time line is for the proposed restoration work to be completed and what happens if the project falls behind schedule. You also need to identify a protocol or method of communication between yourself and the restorer to determine how key restoration decisions and outsourcing decisions will be addressed so you are not holding up the process. Some outsource work requires advance planning.
3. Project Payment Arrangements
The restorer is in business to make a profit, and you want him to make a fair profit so he will be there to provide you with service down the road. Restorers need to know they will be paid for their work, that’s one of their “risk” factors. Another reason for an agreement in writing (e-mail is fine).
If the restorer wants money in advance for cash flow and for materials / outsourcing, this must be accounted for on a monthly basis with a detailed account of billing and must be consistent with the original cost estimates / agreement.
If the restorer asks you for a 25K advance and then suddenly takes his family to Mexico for two weeks – That’s a Red Flag!
If the restorer asks for a deposit for outsource costs, but the company doing the outsource work does not require a deposit – That’s a Red Flag!
If the outsource company calls you directly looking for payment on an item you have already paid the restorer for -That’s a Red Flag!
If the restorer wants a deposit to purchase wood but isn’t prepared to provide you with paperwork or documentation of the purchase – That’s a Red Flag!
The most important aspect of any successful wooden boat restoration project is ensuring that both the restorer and owner have a clear understanding of what his and your expectations are in terms of the restoration objectives – Before the project moves forward. And follow those objectives throughout the entire process.
If you are new to the hobby and not sure what your objectives are, today there are many resources within the hobby to help you with that. Some restorers may try to direct you towards one method vs another based on their own personal preferences or profit centers. Listen to them and also do your research so you don’t get de-railed.
In my view, the term “restoration” is misused and extremely vague. Lake boat restoration, user boat restoration, show boat restoration, concours restoration, as delivered from the factory restoration, factory correct restoration. I heard a new one the other day “near concours restoration”… What the hell is a that?
As I said earlier, there are many high quality wooden boat restoration shops out there that have good reputations, understand the process and deliver great work, some even on time and on budget. Just do your homework – minimize your risk and clearly identify your expectations.
(I am Texx and I approve this message)
I don’t expect a restorer to order thousands of dollars of materials for me on his account and front the cash for any length of time – I always either pay directly or pay the restorer quickly once the material is on hand. But, on small items or routine purchases of less than a thousand dollars or so, I don’t like to be billed in advance. It is a warning sign to me if a restorer cannot or will not obtain a few hundred bucks worth or lumber or various supplies in respect of a job. Either he doesn’t trust me or does not have the credit or resources to do it himself and that is a potential concern. Trust works on both sides of the fence.
I am the recipient and I agree
Hate to get off subject, well its till sorta on topic. Can anyone email me a photo of a 56-62 chris craft express cruiser 21′ kit boat? Just saw the plan dated aug 56. Kind of wierd it was done with a i/0
Randy – Can you send the photos you have of the kit boat?
This was my Dad’s 1957 Chris Craft sports express 21′ kit boat. Outfitted with the outboard option, powered with a 100h.p Evinrude. Flying bridge was an added custom feature.
Every boat project for me always has me asking the same question. What in the heck was I thinking? Then I fight my way through it, scrape up the funds, do what I can do to minimize outside expenditures and try to slowly move forward. I find that the end result most always gives me a satisfaction that is hard to put a monetary figure on evin though I spent twice what I had figured! Very few boats that I own or have owned have I made money on. I do it for the love of the hobby and the ties to the historical significance of the boats and how they relate to my childhood.
I also find it interesting when your are trying to purchase a project boat and you discuss what it will cost to restore or get running and the seller will look at you like you are trying to inflate what it actually costs. I just spent $150 on new preshaped hoses for my 327 Gray Marine engine. I have just come to the conclusion that anything fun is going to cost you!
From the restorers point of view, I have seen that first hand. I assist a one man restoration shop and see how tough it is to keep his doors open. I help launch and retrieve customer boats for him in the Spring and the Fall. He drives his 3/4 ton truck five miles to their storage buildings, move stuff out of the way to get at the boat, maybe air a tire if it needs and haul back to the shop to prepare for summerization. Uncover, fuel, charge batteries, clean, soak if need be, fire and make sure it will float. Then haul 5 miles to the ramp, run to the cottage, put in hoist, (making sure the electrical works on the hoist). Cover and then haul trailer back to storage building. You charge the customer $300- $400 that includes the fuel and they complain at how much it costs. Before you know it you have 35-40 miles on you vehicle and its not alot of money making proposition. Insurance, property taxes, fuel, heat, electricity etc. So when you look at your bills, you can maybe start to understand how much in materials and other costs add up. Nothing is cheap in this world, but the joy of taking that evening ride in my boat is alot is my best blood pressure medicine!
Can’t take it with you!
Excellent comments all the way around. My little Sweet Mahogany featured a few weeks ago in Woody Boater has seen it all. The first guy I took it to, an old salt out in Deal MD, took about 6 times longer to refurbish than what we originally talked about. I picked it up and it looked great. After one outing I noticed a small blemish, and thought, damn I must have hit something, yeah right. The second time out and there after more and more paint peeled off until nothing but primer was left; when I went a calling to the shipwright (I use the term generously) that worked on the boat, hmm I heard that he apparently retired after my project. Some years later it’s time for a seasonal varnish and that guy left me with one spotty finish. I have now found a great guy out in Easton MD who is honest, charges a fair rate and does great work! So if you’re getting into the hobby, no mater the size of your boat definitely seek out multiple opinions, check out the shop, talk to the perspective restorer and perform due diligence before acting; you’ll be happy you did!
The cost of restoration is hitting me right now. I have a project boat that I bought 4 years ago and have done nothing with. And bought a “restored” boat a year later. It had been a Clayton winner etc, etc. I decided to put on a 5200 bottom the boat this year. Worked it out with a shop. Got it there and several months later I get an email once they got my bottom off and basically every piece of wood is trashed and needs replace. You can see all the bad work. So it was $11,000 for the 5200 bottom plus another $10,000 to fix it and not refinish the boat or another 25,000 or so to fix it and refinish the boat. Those are crazy numbers to me as I’m just starting out in life. I’m only 27. My yearly salary is $22,000. I have mortgage payments car payments. And I’m getting married in september( you’ll remember the story Matt did about my fiancée and myself having the woody boater wedding) so need less to say I’m going to be very poor for a very long time…I have sold off everything I own that has any value. I sit and roll change every week to get every penny I can for the boat
Hi Kevin – I’m sorry to hear that your boat restoration is currently a financial burden, I can assure you that I understand how you feel.
From what I have read, you are certainly committed to finishing it and hopefully one day you will get over the hump and complete the restoration work so you can get out and enjoy it with your new wife.
The only advice I can offer is – Try not to let it take over your life or become even more of a burden, or you will end up hating the boat. That is a terrible way to end what is suppose to be a fun and fulfilling project.
Your case is all to often played out wtih many “restorers”
Very sorry to hear this happened to you. I wrote about this subject on WB some time ago. Perhaps Texx or Matt and link up to it again.
I believe most people get screwed on their bottom job because of the old bait and switch i.e. quote one price and then all the sudden once the bottom is off you are screwed.
When a boat goes in for a bottom it should all be replaced especially if it is 50+ year old wood.
I’ve been in the hobby for 20 years and I would be hard pressed to name more than half a dozen people I would feel good about sending people to.
See the link to Don’s story below with the Riva Ariston photo.
I was fortunate enough to fall into the perfect situation with my first restoration four years ago. I found the boat I was looking for 60-70% done and stored in a barn next to an highly-regarded restorer near my cabin. The owner had passed away a few years during the restoration and the widow was happy to sell it at a very fair price. All the hard work had been done, except for the engine, and I was able to enjoy the process. Sherwood did excellent work and other than a few inevitable delays, it was a great experience.
72hornet, I know I can’t take it with me. That why I bought so many boats. Don’t plan to take cash. Just the boats. But now you’ve made me nervous. They do come with me, right?
Wow, this thread really took off, neat responses…read them all…..
It is subjects like this, when embraced, that indicate just how many folks are active in the hobby and adicted to this great site! Keep em posting.
Stuck in the bilge….
John in Va.
Alex, at one time I would have told you that only the Donzi’s go with you, but now I think even the Centurys, Chris Crafts and the rest will follow! I see it now, “Shootout In The Sky!”
Actually I hope that will not be for a long time!
As for Kevin, all I can tell you is to hang in there! You will survive and look back at this time as a great learning experience and will give you a great sense of pride! I went though the same thing with my first restoration. I was sick, but learned an awful lot. If it is any consolation, I think it happens with each project I have ever done! You will learn that you have abilities that you never knew you had. All out of necessity. The project will test you, but it will also move you out of that comfort zone and give you a great feeling of accomplishment! Keep us posted, you have lot of friends out there pulling for you!
Thanks guys…I’m not doing the work myself on this one. It’s actually at a well known restorer. I couldn’t bring myself to tear into it. I’m a full time antique auto restorer and the last thing I want to do when I’m home it’s more restoration. Guess that’s why I have taken so long to finish my personal car. It’s not lack of determination it’s a lack of funding to keep going when you’re starting out in life and have very little luxuries are few and far between. I was fortunate to have parents with similar interests that encouraged and funded my hobbies which turned into career. If my GarWood didn’t mean so much to my fiancée and me as well I probably would have sold or traded it but at the end of the day she loves it and considers it like a child to us so that’s where our money goes. I should be fixing roof leaks and dripping sinks instead I fix a leaking bilge
In reading the above, I feel so fortunate with my experiences re this topic. This isn’t to say I’ve dodged all the bullets. Just that they haven’t pierced as deep. Here’s why.
As a longtime summer resident in Hessel, I needed no introduction to Tommy Mertaugh (Classic and Antique Boats). I had hung around his family’s shop since I was a young kid — messing around in our family’s boats (and theirs). As such, I grew up knowing Tommy to be likable, kind-hearted, knowledgeable, skilled, and a man of his word.
This is a prelude to saying there was no “choice” to make when my time came to select a restorer. My choice was being made for me, bit by bit, year over year in my entire lifetime. I guess I just never realized this until I read today’s story. I’m certain many, many people in our area (The Les Cheneaux Islands) feel exactly the same way as I.
Reading the above experiences of others, I am reminded how easy that made things for me. No research to do. No references needed. No leap of faith to make. And no need to watch my back. Please, I’m not bragging. This is pure gratitude.
I consulted Tommy before purchase #1, and have consulted him before each and every subsequent purchase (except “HAL,” which was low $, and too quirky to explain). Not only did he guide me when it came time to buy, he has waved me off several boats over the years and continues to do so, including boats he would profit extra from (by getting a selling commission on top of the restoration work). That’s got to be rare.
He also continues to tell me what can and should wait (including bringing up the cosmetic condition of our 25′ Sportsman, “Marion E” — an expensive proposition). There’s no surer sign that things matter more than just the money.
There have been two potential tests of our relationship. You know, where either party could get testy.
1) I asked him to come in on a half-done restoration of our XK-18 (“Super Fly”). The original restorer had already blown my schedule out of the water, had used up the entire budget, and was, at best, mid-way into the project. Communication with him re what was going on was terrible. So I pulled the boat from him, trailered it to Hessel, and asked Tommy’s crew to complete it.
The cost of completion turned out to be nearly the cost I had been quoted out east for the entire restoration! But I knew this wasn’t Tommy’s doing. The guy out east had set me up. Despite the end tally on this boat, I knew Tommy was being beyond fair with me, I knew the work was done expertly, and I knew the decision to have it completed locally certainly saved me from far worse. [My decision to sink tens of thousands into a fiberglass boat that markets for about 75% less? Let’s not go there.]
2) I bought a second 25′ Sportsman (which was to become “The Majestic”) with no water test, and where Tommy was unable to inspect the boat in person. Yeah, yeah. I know.
He told me, from the photos I sent, the boat needed extensive work. But the magnitude of this only became apparent when I brought it back to Hessel, we ran it, and then flipped it and ripped into it. I remember the string of “it’s worse than we thought” emails. Thank goodness for my WoodyBoater buddies who talked me off the ledge.
Ok, truth is it wasn’t THAT bad. Why? Because Tommy had previously given me best and worst case ranges, so the news I received was within previous guidance. Floyd r turbo, Slats, and Greg Lewandowski all mentioned “communication” in their above comments. Here’s a perfect example of how important that was. Good communication meant I learned my bottom job was going to cost on the high side of “between X and Y,” rather than being blindsided by news it would be “2X” some number I’d been given. My heart goes out to people who are unpleasantly surprised in this situation, because there’s no need for that. Lesser restorers do what lesser builders do. They give low estimates just to get the jobs. (Disingenuous real estate agents do the same thing to get listings. List high to excite the seller, and then keep lowering the price to get the deal done.)
“The Majestic” became a money losing proposition mainly because I changed the end goal. It moved from “let’s make it nice” to “let’s make it completely show-worthy.” Two things have softened the blow when I returned to the planet earth and added it all up. 1) I love this boat model passionately. If I’m going to have an expensive mistress, at least she’s one I find beautiful. 2) The boat commands a pretty decent price in the marketplace. Meaning, I spent a lot on a boat other buyers are willing to spend a lot on to own.
But you know, it does sting quite a bit to count up the equivalent, non-recoverable Disney trips that went into that boat. (Shhh. Don’t tell my kids that.) So the aim is to help the kids enjoy it deeply, so they get their Disney memories aboard.
Like Paul H, though the restoration of The Majestic was a highlight of 2011 for me, I’m saying “never again” to doing something this expensive. (Though Paul, Sean Connery said that about playing Bond, didn’t he?)
Sorry for being long-winded. Though my experiences with restoration are largely positive, I hope there is a tidbit or two in them to help others make the right decisions re extensive work on their boats.
Today’s story and all the comments are invaluable to people entering this hobby! I certainly hope it does not scare anyone away. NO ONE among us regrets being a classic boat owner, am I right? NO ONE among us doesn’t absolutely love the total sensory experience only a classic boat can offer, am I right?
Some of us would just want to do some things a little, or a lot, differently.
Profit from our hindsight.
Hi Kevin. In Hessel at the Show last summer, I overheard a boatstruck young couple on the dock say “let’s sell our house and buy a boat.” No kidding. It was sweet because I could tell both of them — husband and wife — felt the same.
Keep the faith!
Alex. i actually barrowed against my house to buy this boat, then barrowed moremoney again to put money into the bottom and pay for our wedding. the wedding took the bulk f the second loan and i had just enough to do the bottom…my fiancee works part time at sams club and they are always doing fund raisers there she joked that maybe she culd do a fund raiser to get the boat done. I know it a raw deal on the situation it had me down for a little while but i moved on accepted it and just pressing to have the boat done for the wedding
the following picture is only the start of what im dealing with. the stem and keel both need replaced as well as the transmission mount was cracked in half. frames were broken, and countlessother pieces broken. the hull and bottom were all refastened in 2000 so all this damage is in the last 13 years
here is some more aftermath
Kevin, I don’t get too excited about how bad certain peices of the framing on the boat are. You will be replacing it anyway, so all is good! Its the old glass half empty/half full thought process. Since you restore autos, then you have the right mindset, that and the special woman in your life shares those same dreams. My ex always called me a “Dreamer”, my response to that was if, “If you fail to dream, then your dreams never come true”.
Alex, the 25 Sporstman is one of my favorite models. So user friendly! Two of my dear friends have these and they are such a great elegant boat.
Kevin, Maybe we need a “woodyboater bake sale!”
I found the link
Here is the link to a story fellow Woody Boater Don Ayers prepared for us on his experience with wooden boat restoration & restorers in May 2011.
It’s called NO SURPRISES – IT IS POSSIBLE FOLKS
Over here in New Zealand any attempt to restore one of these woodies is met by a blank stare and a then comments like ” its one of those James Bond boats right?” or ” So its a Chris Craft Riva or something aye?”
Enjoy the knowledge base you have at your front door. Its a hundred times harder here.
While Im at it, heres a shameless plug for Sheila who always find the boys for me when I call, where ever they are in the shop, Angie who trusts that I will pay, Lou for always having the time to talk to me about anything boatwise, Joel for being so damn knowledgeable about my boats and particularly Jeremy who is my go to guy in the world for keeping my boats running. These people make this hobby a pleasure. Thank you Antique Boat Centre.
We try very hard to be open and truthful when dealing with all of our customers. Alex has been so great to work with, and he wants to be involved with all the aspects of the restoration, which is very helpful too. It is much easier to show the issues we are faced with, than to explain them after the fact. I have tried not to lead anyone on ever. It is a hard thing to stand and peer over the gunnes of a boat and come up with a restoration cost. It is even difficult to do it after disassembly. Our policy has been to fix it right the first time. Also to communicate with the customer thru the project, in which it is so much easier to do now with the modern communication devices. No one likes a surprize. I have tried to be honest even if the truth hurts. Alex can attest to that. We have had a great open relationship, and I equally value his judgement in all of our communication. I know every restoration project cost the boat owner alot of money, and hopefully it will provide them with many years of enjoyment. I do feel the days of restoring these boats to make money are gone, it more has to be done for the love of the sport. Mike said it well, that none of us restorers age getting rich doing this line of work, but I know we here feel it is a great way to earn a living and we do love what we do. Plus you make many friends along the way, and get to meet alot of great people. It has been great being able to do this all of my life. I have learned alot, and there is still much more to learn. We are restoring a 1929 38′ Chris-Craft Commuter this winter, which I have learned alot about the bigger Chris-Crafts since we started this project. It was always “beat” into me from day one, You be nice to people and treat them with respect. I remember on a few occasions of being hauled, by the scruff of the neck, to a person that I was not so nice to, and having to appologize, and that was not so fun… You learn fast under that type of embarassment….
I understand one of your many “repeat” customers just dropped off a 20 Grand Prix for a little “freshening up”.
How is “Pinky” coming along? Any chance both will be ready for August?
Hey Folks, If you were not spending your money on restoring boats, what would you do with it? OH, I know, I just bought a 32 Ford Highboy roadster too ! Now I know what else to spend money on !! I must be insane, or maybe I’m just ten years old going on 63 !!! Scooter
Having worked for different small restorers, one whose restorations always get best of show but working with him has been a PIA because he is very realistic with owners telling them real costs and he will not be pushed by time lines (theirs) and risk quality control issues. Also, he will not allow any subcontracting of work except interior or engine. This is to control his quality. And he does not do, “do the wood work and I’ll do the rest” or “just hit it with some varnish and we’ll get to the repairs when I get $$$”. His reasoning: he does the woodwork and someone else does a horrendous job on the stain finish and makes his work look sub par. Same with just throwing varnish on a boat, the varnish will not last on a boat with questionable structure and will crack varnish and degrade quicker and then the restorers work gets blamed. So this restorer only does complete “restos” and brightwork on “his boats”. Sometimes he’s a while between jobs but he’s got low overhead and doesn’t bother him.
I have heard and read about the “hidden” costs of restoring a boat. Let’s take a bottom restoration and a “refinish” job (strip to final coat of varnish) as an example.
First, if a restorer has worked on this type of boat before (let’s use a production boat with many built such as a U-22), that person knows what it costs to replace every component, such as the bottom, frames, keel, stem, etc. There is a finite number of boards on the boat; x frames, x keel, x chines, etc.
Second, they should know with a degree of certainty how long it takes to make said frame, planks, etc. They have done five or ten or 30 before yours came into the shop.
Therefore, they should be able to give an estimate to the costs of said work. Such as a new bottom costs x, but if I have to replace each frame it costs x per frame (and his experience may also say that it is typical that x number of frames may need replacing, or that the chines would be toast after 60 years, etc)
Therefore, the cost will be x, plus x for each frame, and x for the keel, etc
This would equate to a minimum cost of x and a complete “everything” of Y. This should be an accurate assessment for budgetary purposes that would not exceed a certain number. A person could tell the restorer that they can not exceed a certain budget and make the next decision based on that agreement.
Refinishing should be much more accurate. I have done my boat for 20 years; I know how long it takes me for every step.
For a new bottom on my U-22 the estimates, based on a complete bottom, frames, chines, keel, has a variance of $20,000 between restorers. These restorers are people that all of us know and are respected, to others that are not as famous and respected. On a U-22, that is a BIG variance. I do not believe the work is two times better at one than the other. But who knows….
Point is that when I hear numbers for work that are in the stratosphere and are justified by “we did not know until we opened her up”, I pause and wonder how it could exceed the cost of replacing EVERYTHING on the bottom?
When it comes to truly one of kind or rare boats, with original everything and exotic engines with finishes that are truly “a work of art”, then I understand. One is paying for many things, including a skill set with minimal applicants.
For my boat, she looks great, and she is used like she was intended when built. I look for value, and I have a “value” boat (U-22)
Kevin – Thus the title “Taboo”
Kevin – I had the bottom replaced on my barrel back this winter, and the final cost of the job ended up being within less than 10% of the estimate. I was very pleased by that, no one can expect more accuracy I don’t think. As many on this thread have stated, there ARE good restorers out there who are experienced and will stand by their work and that experience – which is what allows them to know the costs you allude to.
What you are suggesting should be done with common boats (a 19″ BB is not terribly common but nor is it by any means rare) can be done and a package price for some of the more common repair jobs should be on offer to a customer. Of course, if you open it up and more work is needed, the end costs will have to rise. But, the unit costs of the material and labour for easch aspect of that variable or previously unknown work should be known in advance and communicated to the client. Best and worst case scenarios can then be contemplated beforehand. Be warned that the costs for a high show or concours level restoration are very much higher than for everyday user boats. Unless a person wants to specifically show the boat and have it judged, such levels of preparation (which almost certainly vastly exceed the as-delivered appearance and quality of the boat when new) are just not necessary.
You are correct on the Grand Prix. It was dropped off, and we are beginning to get the layers of road salt off. I think we now found the boat was made of wood, it looked like a brown salty snowman when he pulled in the yard!! (He said there were 2 other “woody boats out in the inclement weather on the trip too). Pinky is coming along. Yes the boat will be ready, but we still need a 1958 vintage motor for her with controls… I would like either a Mercury or Johnson of that vintage. 35 HP ish. I think the Grand Prix will be close too!! There is still alot of work to do on the schedule before spring, like another 22U bottom. Also we still need to install all the hull planks on the 38′ Commuter and get it in stain… DO you still have the gold Javlin??
Your name has been on it since last summer. We should have thrown it in JK’s Burb.
It’s interesting to hear that this is not a rich man’s sport in the same article that talks about a restoration costing $150,000. The median income in the Province of Ontario, our most populous province, is roughly $71,000 per household. Sorry, but there ain’t no way that average family is spending 150K on a vintage wooden boat. This IS a rich man’s game, and therein lies one of the biggest risks in preserving vintage wooden boats. The organized wooden boat community is not generating enough new enthusiasts. That is a consequence of attitude more than anything else. The average person can’t afford a vintage woodenboat, and the community is not an inclusive as it could be.
I am not suggesting that any one do anything more than what they want to do and say but vintage boat restoration by professional shops is not for the average person.
I totally agree with you Peter.