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Making a Refit Manageable

Captain Bill Pike

Being a man of modest means, Capt. Bill Pike does much of the maintenance work on his beloved 32-foot Grand Banks Sedan trawler Betty Jane himself. Over the years he’s tried out numerous marine products and enjoys reporting on their efficacy. He also enjoys reporting on the products some of his friends have used or are using, whether successfully or not.

Capt. Bill’s Refit Tips:

Soft Goods: This is usually the itch that starts it all, when dated colors or tired fabrics just become unbearable. And, according to interior designer Shelley DiCondina of Yacht Interiors by Shelley, “It’s also a great budget refit because it doesn’t require tearing up the boat.”

Don’t just stop at changing the curtains and the cushions and the seating fabrics, though. Rethink the entire look, perhaps replacing drapes with Roman blinds, changing the headboards in the staterooms to match all new bedspreads, and taking advantage of new marine fabrics that have seen great improvements in both quality and wearability. Many of the new “outdoor” fabrics feel and look like expensive interior goods.

Capt. Bill’s Tip: Does your interior designer subcontract the fabrication of curtains, bedspreads, and other products? Call your boat’s manufacturer—there may be a small, cut-out-the-middleman shop that does everything on-premises. New curtains for Betty Jane cost $1,200 from such a place; vs. the $2,300 (or thereabouts) interior designers were quoting. Nice, precise job, too.

Lighting: At the same time as soft goods, consider upgrades that can be done concurrently, such as lighting. Modern LED lighting is vastly more energy efficient than halogen lights, and can lend dramatic effects to your interior as well (watch our video on retrofitting with LED lights ➤). And don’t forget mood lighting to add pizzazz to your boat at night, with rope lights tucked in overhead treatments or under furniture. Just be sure all the existing wiring is compatible first, or your costs will skyrocket.

Capt. Bill’s Tip: Some years ago I observed a nifty conversion. Two professionals removed all the halogen lights from a 2006 Tiara 3600 Open and replaced them with Imtra LEDs. The job’s grand total (for 35 lights and two dimmers) was $3,800 plus labor. Overall current draw went from 24 to 8 amps, and the quality of the light improved significantly. Cool!

Galley: Amazing as it may seem, there are actually yachts that don’t have microwaves. Oh, the horror! Updating and adding to the appliances in the galley is not just one of the least expensive upgrades, but one that is sure to please your onboard chef. But plan ahead. Just putting a microwave or convection oven on the counter is foolish: there is never enough usable counter space on most boats. Better to sacrifice a couple of drawers for an under-counter unit, or find one that combines with an over-the-cooktop fan.

Speaking of pleasing the chef, adding a dishwasher (appliance, not crewmember) is well worth the investment and you can also store dishes and glassware in the unit when not needed. New slim-line versions and drawer models also conserve space. If there’s never enough room in the fridge, consider adding a compact freezer that can be tucked in the lazarette.

Capt. Bill’s Tip: Dishwasher maven Fisher-Paykel intro’d a new model several years ago that is still both savvy and unique: the DishDrawer Tall. It stows plates etc. in a big waterproof bin (unlike a residential-style unit) that pulls out like it’s on ball bearings. $649 to $749;

Electronics: Surprisingly enough, this is another relatively low-price-for-big-improvement upgrade. The new combined GPS/chartplotter/radar packages share a single display so older dashboards don’t have to be reinvented, and they also combine the wiring into easier-to-run bundles with plug-and-play connections that reduce installation labor costs. Swapping out old and bulky tube-style TVs for HD flatscreens not only makes watching Captain Ron better, but can create sizable stowage areas, too.

Capt. Bill’s Tip:  I have a Simrad AP28 autopilot on Betty Jane. Great machine, of course. But think—I’ve blended a high level of technology with an antique (24-year-old) cable-type steering system. Indeed, having an old boat doesn’t preclude the latest in electronics. $1,053 (minus control head);

Canvas & Hardtops: Often overlooked in the rush to renovate an interior, replacing or adding canvas and a hardtop is the nautical equivalent of adding a room to your home. Enclosing the cockpit or adding a hardtop to the flying bridge with a removable enclosure creates a whole new living area for all-weather use, and can even help you enjoy more time on the water by stretching your boating season.

Adding a hardtop isn’t just for adding shade or weather protection: it can be part of a wider upgrade that might include an electronics box above the helm, LED lighting, stereo speakers, and a mounting place for electronics antennas. Properly designed hardtops also handle everything from solar panels for recharging batteries to providing out-of-the-way stowage for water toys such as kayaks and paddleboards.

Capt. Bill’s Tip:  I have lots of long-lasting, color-retentive Sunbrella fabric on Betty’s exterior. With seams fraying, I took the bimini and weather cloths to my canvas shop. Things were simply re-sewn with new UV-resistant thread (available at Replacing thread rather than fabric saves hundreds of dollars.

Heads: Another area that can make a major difference for everyone aboard is to upgrade the entire head. Whether you have older electric or manual toilets, the new and sleek electric models are both more efficient and far less fussy. At the same time, you may want to upgrade your holding tank and hoses, since overboard discharge is going the way of the dinosaurs.

Capt. Bill’s Tip: Here’s to OdorSafe Plus sanitary hose! Yeah, it costs more than low-rent stuff ($12/foot vs. $2/foot) but it’s worth it. I installed OdorSafe on Betty Jane six years ago (my yard’ll do the next install, I fervently hope) and it’s still workin’. Odor safe indeed!

Transom Platform: Like adding enclosures, a transom platform increases the living area of your boat. Providing easy access to and from docks as well as tenders, it can be your “beach” for swimming or it can solve the problem of tender stowage. Most yachts have good access to the inside of the transom so a platform is often a straightforward bolt-on project. You can get fancier (and more complex/expensive) by choosing an electro/hydraulic platform that lowers the tender into the water and retrieves it with the touch of a button.

A related upgrade might be the addition of a crane or davit to handle the tender. These require considerable bracing under the deck, so the costs are higher.

Capt. Bill’s Tip: Ever think of having a precisely perforated swim platform (with numerous, small, well-regimented drain holes) fabricated of -inch marine ply? Seal it with Awlgrip? Billy Smith of Trinity Yachts did. On his early-80s-vintage 34 Mainship II. Six years and it still looks like new. Estimated cost: $2,500.

Electrical Upgrades: Modern technology has increased our demand for electricity to power everything from the stereo to the blender, and modern yachts benefit from two improvements: inverters and transformers. Inverters, combined with a bank of DC batteries, can be used at night to supply much of the 120-volt AC needs of a yacht without requiring the generator. Inverters often include new and sophisticated battery chargers, giving you two upgrades for one installation. Transformers allow you to accept all variety of incoming shore power and convert it for use aboard your boat. One or both should be on your list when you refit.

Capt. Bill’s Tip: Inverters and transformers—wonderful stuff. But what about batteries! I’ve had three 8D Deka Dominator gel cells in Betty’s engine room for more than five years now and they’re still chuggin’ along. Gutsy, long-lasting products. $715 apiece;

A/C and Heat: Since you probably have the ducting already in place, updating your air conditioning and heating to the latest electronic systems should be straightforward, right down to the controls in the staterooms. If you don’t have individual controls, retrofit kits can add this amenity, complete with wireless remotes. New air conditioning and heating units are not just more efficient and reliable, but they also have sophisticated self-diagnostic programs to reduce service costs.

Capt. Bill’s Tip: At my suggestion a cigar-smoking marina neighbor put a Nautic Air ( unit onboard. It nixed the cigar-smoke infestation within a week, thereby saving a faltering romance. Installs are easy—you simply splice the unit(s) into existing air-conditioning ductwork, add tie-wraps, and make an electrical connection. Several sizes available. Unit compatible with 6-inch ductwork: $995;

Paint: Ah, now here’s one that can lead to more than a few of the “might-as-wells.” A straightforward paint job for one sportfisher owner slid into an exterior makeover with corroded aluminum window frames being replaced with fiberglass frames and new glass, hull ports removed, windshield frames and mullions replaced with solid fiberglass, and clunky engine air vents replaced with sleeker modern grills.

On another yacht, the owner watched as the crew prepped his sportfisher for paint and realized he could get the “Palm Beach” look by removing the forward rails, removing the bow sprit, and replacing much of the cabin hardware. It was, needless to say, a bit more than just a paint job.

Capt. Bill’s Tip: Ever consider painting your engine(s) to improve appearance and facilitate spotting leaks? Call your engine manufacturer—he’ll tell you what paint to use. Spray cans work best, after taping off hoses, etc., of course. I use an amiably priced high-temperature product from Rust-Oleum for touchups on Betty Jane’s diesel. $10;

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.