First Time Project Boat

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by BoilerTFU, Apr 23, 2012.

  1. BoilerTFU
    Joined: Apr 2012
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    Location: Indianapolis, IN

    BoilerTFU New Member

    I am interested in refurbishing/rebuilding an old fiberglass boat. My plan is to find something small to start off with, maybe 15-20 feet. For my project, I plan on completely stripping down a fiberglass boat and rebuilding it from the ground up. I have quite a bit of experience with automotive repair, carpentry, and wiring. The main issue I have is with the fiberglass. I don't know enough about fiberglass to know which hulls are going to need a lot of work and which ones won't. The other problem I'm having is finding a marine surveyor in my area. I have no problem paying for an expert to tell me what kind of work it's going to take to restore the boat, but the closest ones I can find are hours away. So here's my question.

    How do I evaluate the fiberglass hull? Any advice based on the little information I've given so far?

    I'm just starting to get an idea of how little of my knowledge is going to translate into this project, but I'm okay with that. I know that I'm going to run into all kinds of problems, but I'm okay with that too. I'm more worried about starting in the wrong place than I am with running into problems that make it difficult.

    I know I haven't been excessively clear. Any advice/questions are welcomed and appreciated.
  2. messabout
    Joined: Jan 2006
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    Location: Lakeland Fl USA

    messabout Senior Member

    There are sailing clubs around the Indy area. You might find some experienced builder types among the members. A few phone calls might get you some hands on critiques from fellow boat people. It shold not matter whether your boat is a sailboat or powerboat.
  3. GTO
    Joined: Jul 2007
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    Location: Alabama

    GTO Senior Member

    Up front so you know, my experience level is based upon internet searches.
    But to get you started, here's some things to think about.

    First, with your 0 level of experience, I doubt you can make an accurate assessment of a boat's condition - but you stated you wanted to work on a small boat so that really shouldn't matter. An old 15 - 20 footer (powerboat?) should be available for nearly nothing, so the cost will be your time and materials. If you're in it for the learning experience, that should be okay too.

    Given the size, and assuming an outboard powered boat, the hull is probably solid fiberglass.
    Possible fiberglass encapsulated wood components include the transom, deck, and any "furniture" in the boat (wells, benches, the floor, that sort of thing).

    Fiberglass can absorb water. This can result in an acid that eats the fiberglass. Symptoms include blisters or delamination.
    The encapsulated wood components can rot if exposed to water by unsealed holes (screws and installed hardware). The wood and fiberglass matrix is compromised and strength is effected.
    Hull damage by dropped items or ramming docks allow water entry. See above.

    How can you tell if there are problems?
    Wood/fiberglass components become mushy if wet. They might even dent under pressure applied by hand. The wood (core) should be replaced. If it's the transom, it really should be replaced.
    See any blisters in the fiberglass? May or may not need to be repaired. Search for fiberglass blister repair.
    Hull damage might be indicated by cracks or entire sheets of the fiberglass hanging off. With cracks, the extent of the damage should be determined.
    A skilled person with a moisture meter could help determine if the hull's water content is too high.

    Do some more searching and reading. There are a lot of articles on fiberglass repair/problems.
    Keywords: fiberglass blisters, rotten or saturated fiberglass cores, fiberglass cracks and delamination.

    Hope this helps a little.
  4. Petros
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    Location: Arlington, WA-USA

    Petros Senior Member

    post above is good advise; if both inside and outside of all fiberglass surfaces are soild, not rotten, blistered or soft, you are likely okay. Tap on hull in questionable areas, or just except to cut it open and do fiberglass repair in those area.

    If you are doing this as a fun project for yourself, than on a boat that small you will not have too much money into it, but lots of labor. Shop carefully and enjoy the project.

    If you expect to make money on it by selling when it is done, than stick with cars. Few are willing to pay top dollar for a used boat from a back yard restorer. Market is very different for used boats since they are mostly a recreational purchase.
  5. philSweet
    Joined: May 2008
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    Location: Beaufort, SC and H'ville, NC

    philSweet Senior Member

    No one knows how long fiberglass will last. It hasn't been around long enough to dissolve yet unless it was done horribly wrong to begin with, and you aren't going to fix that.

    Find a boat with one serious issue that just isn't in the owners ability to deal with, but otherwise is in good shape. A pinholed fuel tank in a fifteen year old skiboat might work. A boat that sank at the dock yesterday might work. You need to survey the owner first, then the boat. There is a decent little book on surveying FG boats intended for owners. Try Amazon.

    I wouldn't pay over a $100 for a 20' boat/motor/trailer that was in working order last week. At least I never have done.

    The most important thing is to get it straight in the water and play with it. If it doesn't inspire you, pass. I once poured a gallon of epoxy on some carpet squares and splotch-patched a 21'er and launched her. She just didn't do it for me and that's as far as it went.

    Getting the boat on the water will organize your to-do list better than any amount of pondering.
  6. tunnels

    tunnels Previous Member

    wow a newbie !!

    First what are you looking for minor or major or some where in between ?? Power boat or sail boat ??
    The glassing between the two can be quite differant !!
    Most production boats will be polyester for sure !!!
    Most production boats have lots a wood used throughout and the wood will be wet and soggy and heavy .
    Powerboats will have stringers and transoms and floors made with wood stiffeners etc etc so you are looking at a major probably reguardless of the boats size .
    A yacht could be a little or a lot differant .
    Age of the boat ! thats a difficult one !. Old is hard to get parts for if you decide to restore !!, later models could be easyer to get info about and or even boating clubs that have specialized in that particular boat .
    So its really up to you !!
    Every one here will be watching and waiting for the next post to see where your at !!
    Happy looking !!:p
  7. BoilerTFU
    Joined: Apr 2012
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    Location: Indianapolis, IN

    BoilerTFU New Member

    Plans and Ideas So Far

    I appreciate all of the suggestions, ideas, and questions.

    The boat that I'm looking at now would be free. It has been sitting in a yard of my neighborhood, and I asked if they would be willing to let me take it off their hands and they were. It is a 15-18' older model outboard fiberglass boat. Having been outside and uncovered for a minimum of a decade, I'm expecting (and looking forward to) completely stripping it out and rebuilding it back up.

    I have no issues replacing any of the wooden structural components, and I don't think I will have too much issue with the upholstery, wiring, or mechanical. I know they will all be time intensive, but that's part of the reason I picked this as a hobby.

    I'm mostly worried about the fiberglass. My knowledge is admittedly limited, and all theoretical with no practical application. I still haven't picked up this boat and brought it home, because I don't know if the hull is salvageable (is there a point where a fiberglass hull can't be patched or repaired, and must be scrapped?). I would rather have to do as little to the fiberglass as possible, but the more I look into this hobby the more I see the unlikelihood of that.

    I might sell it at some point, but that is not my end goal. I would only sell it in order to have some extra cash to start on my next project, and I wouldn't be concerned about a profit.

    I am interested in a powerboat, and I wanted to start out something small. My end goal would be to eventually refurbish a large live-aboard, but I want to get my feet wet with something smaller first. My goal for the smaller boat is to get it rebuilt back up to deck level. I don't expect to be able to reuse much of the old boat besides the hull itself, and as I mentioned before, I'm even concerned about that.

    I'm going to take another look at the boat today, and talk to the owners again, hopefully get in and get a good look at the hull from both sides and the framing etc.

    Once again, thanks for all the input, it all helps.
  8. tunnels

    tunnels Previous Member

    Pictures !! post lots a pictures !!

    Understand !!
    You have a job and a bit on you hands thats for sure but i am sure its salvagable no mater what state its in !!
    AS a fist time project you will learm more about glass in a short time than most people will learn in a life time you will see the good the bad and the ugly side of not doing things peoperly and what last and what dosent !!.
    So when you ready there a swag of helpers with itchy keyboard fingers !! Photos and lots of them !,good pictures so we get a good idea of what you are getting us all into !!. so !!
  9. Stumble
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Location: New Orleans

    Stumble Senior Member


    Fiberglass itself is pretty much immune to the ravages of time. Absent structural impacts, like being hit by a bulldozer (sad story post Katrina) no fiberglass is beyond repair. Where many people draw the line is that it can easily be more expensive to repair a boat than to buy a boat in better condition from the start. If the goal however is to learn about fiberglass than this isn't a concern.

    First a primer on fiberglass boat construction...

    Fiberglass is heavy, really heavy, and ideally boats should be light, it is also very strong in certain regards, but not incredibly stiff. So designers in order to make boats stiffer (a very good thing) had two options, either add more fiberglass (stiffness is pretty much a function of thickness) or add a core of lightweight material.

    Because of the advantages of a core, most designers went this method. Since it is cheaper, stiffer, and lighter than a solid fiberglass structure. It just has one big problem. When water gets to the core, it will cause the core to rot. And it doesn't matter if the core is wood, foam, or something exotic, they all rot (by different processes though) in the presence of water. When the core rots, instead of two layers of fiberglass bonded by a core, you just have two thin layers of separated fiberglass, which are too thin to support the loads required.

    Here is where you join the story. On an old boat it is almost definite that there is core rot somewhere. Your job will be to identify where it is rotten, cut open one of the fiberglass skins, replace the old core with new, then patch it back together. This can be acomplished in a lot of ways, but fundamentally is a labor intensive process that takes a lot of time, but is not beyond the skill of a competent back yard builder/home repairman.

    Starting with a junker boat is actually a great idea. This way once you have learned the process and done it a few times, you will be much better equipped to determine if the rest of the boat is worth saving, and won't have a financial investment in the oat itself. It is completely likely that part way through the restoration process you realize you are going to have to recore most of the boat, so instead throw it away, and find something that just needs a transom repaired. But now you know how to do the work...

    In short treat this boat like a piece of scrap lumber when setting up a table saw. Make sure everything is set up right, then run the good wood.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2012
  10. philSweet
    Joined: May 2008
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    Location: Beaufort, SC and H'ville, NC

    philSweet Senior Member

    I addition to pictures, a little bit more on what your concept of restore is. Based on what you've decribed so far, the value of this project to you lies in learning the process and the techniques that you don't currently have. Don't waste and time on appearances. you need a pressure washer, 36 grit sanding discs, and maybe some 50 grit sheets on a sander. I wouldn't buy a store bought 2x2 for this boat. Do it all out of scrap. Glue with cheap epoxy and learn how to modify it for the task at hand. You need to aquire the trailer, motor, tanks, and dash/controls before you do anything to the hull. the hull just holds all the junk in place.

    If you really want to restore something, as in a ten point car restoration, Find a little boat being advertised as "recently restored". Buy it for 1/10 of asking price. Take it all apart and redo everything. This little Dumphy is probably still looking for a home. The owner tried for a year to sell this boat very cheap, never got a nibble.

    Attached Files:

  11. BoilerTFU
    Joined: Apr 2012
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    Location: Indianapolis, IN

    BoilerTFU New Member

    I appreciate the input. I got some pictures of the boat I'm thinking about tinkering with. As I said before, it's been sitting in a yard uncovered for over a decade and is in pretty bad shape.

    She's around 17'. She has standing water in the port aft, but only a few inches at the time I checked it. The interior is covered in leaves and debris, and the decking/upholstery is trashed. The engine and most/all components are gone. Minor damage (pictured) on the bow on both sides. There is a sticker on her bow for a marina permit from 1989, so I'm assuming that gives a timeline for how long she's been abandoned.

    The pictures are here :

    As far as what I'm planning, I guess it really is like scrap lumber. I just want to dive in so I can see what kind of problems I run into before I even consider considering to plan anything serious.

    In any case, I would appreciate any thoughts on using this particular boat and issues I may run into.
  12. upchurchmr
    Joined: Feb 2011
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    Location: Ft. Worth, Tx, USA

    upchurchmr Senior Member

    I think I would do it.
    No really big blisters I could see.
    Transom didn't look obviously bad.
    Even the plywood decking didn't look obviously bad.

    We still can't see as much as you will be worrying about.
    Are you going to try to use it? Motors are expensive.

    Good luck
  13. PAR
    Joined: Nov 2003
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    Location: Eustis, FL

    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    I wouldn't suggest you touch that boat. 'Glass has a memory if left in a distorted position for a long time. A decade is a long time and you can bet that hull is distorted. Find a better example, as that one is literally landfill food.

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but it is typical for many of that vintage.

    You can find a $500 boat, less then 20 years old that just needs some repairs. A few hydraulic lines, electrical connectors, flushed fuel system, tune up parts, new cushions, etc. You hit the boat with a buffer and some compound, fix the stupid stuff and have fun while you explore what BOAT actually stands for.

    Simply put in terms you might understand, this is a body off restoration, with no engine, transmission, electrical or suspension. You'll spend countless hours for a project you still couldn't sell. A bit like a full up, body off restoration of a 1972 Maverick 4 door.

    Most 20 year old boats are showing signs, that force their owners to run. The engine doesn't start without the choke on all the time, the outdrive doesn't go down any more, etc. These are usually simple fixes, but they haven't a clue (neither do you) so they sell it. You can find these everywhere, but you need to know what to look for, which simply takes experience, so bring along a boating buddy and find a better candidate for a redo, as this one is a time and money pit just waiting to eat you up.

  14. Howard N
    Joined: Apr 2008
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    Location: Anchorage, AK

    Howard N New Member

    Last I heard it was:

    B Bring
    O On
    A Another
    T Thousand

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