Advice for Any Project

Author: Brooks Busey and Tom Owen

Our facility, Sadler Point Marine Center (sadlerpoint.com) in Jacksonville, is well known in the North Florida boating community for catering to DIY customers. The fact we allow DIYers to use our facility has given us a front-row seat to the trials and tribulations of many ambitious boat owners. We all make mistakes, often because we’re tired, in a rush or otherwise distracted. Sometimes, goofs result from overconfidence or a failure to understand the complexity of the task at hand. Traditionally, much of the allure of boat ownership included the satisfaction associated with maintaining, tinkering and customizing your own vessel. While the hands-on approach seems to have diminished in recent years, many boaters still enjoy DIY boat maintenance. Indeed, in the children’s story “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, Rat hits the nail on the head in his conversation with Mole: “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

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Boating World: What common general mistakes have you seen DIYers make over the years?

Busey & Owen: At our facility, we’ve worked with countless old salts who were wise and entirely competent with the skills required to maintain and improve recreational vessels. But there are always outliers. Wisdom is frequently the result of experience, and we don’t always have the benefit of learning from someone else’s mistakes. For this reason, “messing about in boats” often leads to what can be referred to as “learning opportunities.” Boatyards are fertile ground for these, and the annual haulout includes many pitfalls for the uninformed DIYer.

We’ll frequently find sacrificial anodes coated with bottom paint and therefore unable to perform their purpose. The result is the ruin of expensive running gear through galvanic corrosion. Overzealous owners have also been known to paint over ground plates designed to permit the operation of single sideband radios.

Seasoned experts know that not all marine coatings are compatible. Greenhorns may miss this subtlety and apply a hard bottom paint over an ablative, causing a fresh coat of bottom paint to peel away soon after application. Peeling coatings of all sorts are common, because adequate surface preparation — above and below the waterline — is regularly disregarded by DIYers as busy work. For that reason, we recommend reading and adhering to the instructions “on the can” as the best way to ensure any product will perform as advertised.

Customers also are known on occasion to move their own jack stands, something we make a point to prohibit because we provide this service free of charge. Although the task appears simple enough to an onlooker, years of experience, training and the deft touch of our yard crew ensure that our clients’ boats stay secure and upright during their stay at our service facility.

What are some things DIYers shouldn’t attempt?

We’ve seen many variants. Failing to determine what’s behind your work surface before you start cutting and drilling is a big one. We’re referring to both drilled holes and saw cuts made right through the bottom of a hull that accidentally puncture holding tanks. Sometimes, wiring bugs that persist for years will eventually be attributed to screws unwittingly driven through bundled cables in difficult-to-access areas on a boat.

Wiring can be particularly confusing on board, with both AC and DC components in close proximity. The results of lack of familiarity can be drastic, so our techs are always on the lookout for things such as overloaded circuits frequently betrayed by forbidden wire nuts. A general familiarity with American Boat and Yacht Council standards is essential when working with any of your vessel’s wiring. There’s good reason professional marine technicians follow them.

We often notice an issue before it becomes unduly problematic and have become adept at discretely alerting our customers. Many times we’re able to do so in a manner that not only avoids unfortunate circumstances but also permits clients to retain their dignity.

Occasionally, issues escape unnoticed until it is too late. We experienced one incident involving an owner who mounted his starboard propeller on his port shaft and vice versa. Upon launch, he cheerfully waved goodbye and shifted his engines into forward gear to pull out of our haulout slip, only to find he was in reverse and quickly approaching our concrete bulkhead just a few feet from his transom.

What is your advice for DIYers?

In today’s world of instant information and communication, there’s little excuse for not researching a project before starting. In this way, even inexperienced folks can tackle projects provided they properly prepare themselves with the right tools and knowledge. We’ve seen customers gain confidence as they progress through projects of increasing difficulty. Learning to work on boats can be rewarding to both your pocketbook and your ego, so long as you appropriately prepare yourself.

Besides the obvious resources available on the Internet, take the time to ask for advice at your local boatyard. Share what project you’re working on and your plans to go about it. It’s best to do this before you buy parts and materials. Despite your reluctance to do so, you’ll always feel better learning your lesson before a project than after it. Most yards have an old timer or two who will be happy to share their experience, even if they don’t care to divulge how they came about it.

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