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11 Amazing Boat Restoration Hacks!

Maybe you’ve purchased a fixer-upper, or maybe your boat is starting to look a little rough around the edges. You could even be looking to get a better price, in order to put the money towards your new dream vessel! Tackling the big job of restoring an aging boat can seem daunting, but these 11 tricks can help you get the most out of your time and money.


• Talk to other boat lovers about tool sharing

• Laundry detergent is great for cleaning the hull

• Save money on rust removers - use a toothbrush

• Clean fabrics with white vinegar, its cheaper and less harmful

• Don't get a pricey new decking, sand the old one down and re-finish it! 

• You can buff away any oxidation on an older boat

• Visit  a haberdashery to pick up cheap fabrics for recovering your furnishings

• Don't be afraid to visit IKEA, it's very cheap and suitable for nautical use!

• Don't hoard. Getting rid of old clutter can seriously improve the look of your boat

• Simplicity is classy with boat lighting, don't splash out, use rope lights or stick-ons

• Nothing transforms the boat like a fresh coat of paint. Just use what's in the shed.


Boat repairs often call for specialised tools that can be expensive. Rather than spending a lot of money on something you may only use on one project, contact your boat-owning friends or your neighbors at the marina. If multiple people chip in on a shared tool you can make sure you all have access to what you need without breaking the bank. 

A shared online document spreadsheet can help you keep track of who is storing and using each tool. You can also coordinate similar projects at the same time and share labor and expertise. If you don’t have access to a group of like-minded boat lovers, look for local boat-building clubs which may have tools for lending or renting. At the very least, a quick post on social media asking if anyone you know has a specific tool might save you time and money. 


If your gelcoat needs work, the first step is to thoroughly clean the hull. First, spray down the entire hull with a hose or pressure washer. Pay attention to small areas that accumulate grime, especially around hardware attachments. Most soap will dry out while you’re working, so by the time you’ve soaped down the whole hull, the area where you started is already dry. Instead, try laundry detergent.

Since laundry detergent is water-activated it never full dries out and you can clean the whole hull successfully. Use a large sponge or soft sponge with warm water, soap down the hull in sections, using a smooth, circular motion and then rinse the boat thoroughly after soaping. This method is best for cleaning the boat prior to waxing, as it can remove wax.


Remove any rust around your stainless-steel fixtures without buying expensive rust removers.

Rust stains are unsightly and can be tricky to get rid of. There are many rust-removing products on the market, but as is so often the case, often the simplest solution is the best. You can take on rust stains on fiberglass using a little Barkeeper’s friend or Woody Wax, neither of which is particularly pricey. Or, for a very cheap, easy solution put baking soda or salt on the area and scrub with a toothbrush. It may take a little time, but persistence will pay off! 
For rusted stainless steel fixtures, try white vinegar or more Barkeeper’s friend. Be wary of highly-corrosive commercial rust-removal products, as some will eat through fiberglass if used incorrectly. Avoid using steel wool on stainless steel as it will damage the finish that keeps the metal “stainless,” and you’ll end up with more rust than you started with.

For musty or mouldy fabrics, white vinegar is a cheap, effective cleaner that kills mould better than bleach without the toxic fumes.  This will work for general cleaning of the interior of your boat as well as for fabrics.

For carpets, always vacuum them thoroughly first. Soak the carpet with clean water, and then scrub it with a soft brush to remove dirt. Mix some white vinegar with water and soak a small area. As with many projects, this works best if you do a manageable section at a time, rather than trying to soak and scrub the entire carpet at once.

Let the vinegar mixture sit for several minutes, then scrub again and rinse with clean water. If possible, use a heavy-duty vacuum cleaner to remove as much water as possible, and then allow the area to dry thoroughly.


Don’t waste your money on getting some new flooring fitted. All you need is some elbow grease and the right tools! 
If the finish on your woodwork is cracked or discolored, use an electric sander to sand it down and refinish it. Firstly, remove all existing varnish, being careful not to damage the fiberglass and then wipe the wood down to remove dust from sanding. Allow it to dry thoroughly (this job is best done on a sunny day). 
Choose a varnish or oil appropriate for the type and color of wood on your boat, and apply several coats. Regularly refinishing brightwork is key to keeping it intact and looking great.

When the gel-coat on an older boat starts to look powdery and dull, it's due to the natural oxidation of the fiberglass. This is a normal occurence for any aging boat, but you can stave off the look of oxidization with regular waxing. However, while helpful, this is mostly a cosmetic fix. If the finish on your boat is too degraded it can actually increase the rate at which the fiberglass itself degrades.
If oxidation has already occurred, you’ll need to buff away the oxidized layer and then re-wax the surface. Buff away the dull finish using a low-speed buffer and an appropriate buffing compound. Since you’re working on a very visible and important aspect of your boat, be sure to start with a small test patch before moving on. Start conservatively with your buffer speed, compound, and pressure, and increase all three as needed. Work on a small area at a time, making sure to keep the buffer moving. Don’t expect to achieve a high-gloss surface from buffing alone—your boat will still look slightly dull. Once the chalky look is gone, you’re ready to apply new wax and enjoy your shiny boat! Wax regularly to keep your boat protected and looking its best. 

Covers, Biminis, and cushions in a damp environment can develop discoloring mildew. Most boating canvas can be cleaned using warm water and washing up soap, however, for seriously mildewed canvas, use a mixture of 1 cup bleach and ¼ cup mild soap in a gallon of water. Soak the canvas with this solution and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes. Blot the mildewed area and rinse thoroughly. As always, test a small, inconspicuous area first to be sure you won’t discolor the fabric.

Need to update your peeling leather interior? Why not visit your local haberdashery and pick up some reasonably priced fabric? Recovering your seating can instantly transform the look of your seating area which could be the key to a successful sale.  You can also pick up leather repair kits that include tints which allow you to repair the seating, and closely match the shade of the material. 


Furnishings intended specifically for boats often seem needlessly expensive. Avoid nautical mark-up by thinking outside the box: IKEA is great for boats too! Many IKEA furnishings can be repurposed for nautical use. “LUROY” bed slats can be used to make a bed in a small area, for example, or a “KALLAX” shelf unit turned on its side and used as a seating area/storage solution.

Look for ordinary household items that can be re-purposed for your needs, like using a hanging fruits and vegetable basket for hats and gloves, or a folding dish drainer to help you store small objects. Next time you see a yard sale or go by a second-hand store, look for carpets, cushions, lighting, or storage options that might enhance your boat. And don’t forget decorations, art, and curtains.


A cluttered space can really affect the overall look of a boat, particularly when boat interiors don’t tend to be particularly spacious anyway. If you’re looking to sell it or even stay for a while, living in a more minimalistic space will help to keep your mind clear and possessions well protected, when out on the water. 

From installing pull out drawers into the steps leading down into your cabin, to adding shelving right up to the ceiling to ensure that every bit of dead space is utilised, there are plenty of ways to make use of the space you have. Vacuum pack storage bags are also a great solution to storing many items into a small space. 
Raising the bed is a solution that is often forgotten. The Space beneath your bed is unused so by creating or installing a base that can be lifted; you can instantly create a place to store bed sheets, towels, shoes, or toys. The possibilities are endless! If you created your own sleeping area using our Ikea bed slat advice above, then you have even more reason to construct a space underneath as a useful storage solution at the same time.  

Installing new wiring and lighting can be expensive. Consider using rope lights or battery powered stick-on lights, as you might put in a closet. You can easily illuminate an area that needs better lighting without the difficulty of installing a new light. Marine-quality LED ropes are available at many boating stores or online, and can be cut to custom lengths. These can be installed and connected to your boat battery fairly easily.

The simplest and cheapest solution that requires no wire-splicing or electrical knowledge, however, is a battery-powered rope light. For a unique and festive cockpit, try installing colored rope lights underneath benches or under the lip of the gunwales. First, decide where you would like to run the lights and measure, to be sure you buy the correct length of lights. Next, tack p-clips along the area. This has the added benefit of making lights removable, so you can stow them away or replace them as needed.

If you’d like to put the lights somewhere that you don’t want to ruin with screw or nail holes, you can use high-strength adhesive squares, but be aware that your install will not last as long. Hide the battery pack under an edge or in a corner where it will not get in the way. High-strength adhesive strips are a great way to fix it in place. Your new set of lights will be great for giving that added flare when potential buyers come to view the interior, or will be the perfect addition to your new cosy seating area, or sleeping space.


A fresh lick of paint can produce an instant transformation to the interior of your boat. There are plenty of inspiration tips and tricks online to creating the ultimate living space. For example, leaving the beams in your cabin bare, whilst painting the wall panels in pastel shades ,will help to create a light, calm and modern feel to the place.

This also means that there’s no need to rip out the kitchen or living room and start from scratch. A little sanding, some modern handles and a couple of coats of good quality paint will be all you need to update and refresh the place. Start researching on Pinterest now! 


Check out more great tips and tricks over on our Boat Advice page here.