Total boat restorations can be a lucrative, if laborious, project in the wake of fires, storms and water-borne debris.
By Maura Keller
The majority of boat owners live in locales that are susceptible to storms—from hurricanes to tornados, from classic nor’easters to historic Pacific storms. In addition to storms, fire and other potential hazards—both floating and stationary—can wreak havoc on marine vessels.
The team at Afton Marina in Afton, Minn., knows all about restoring damaged boats. Tom Matson and Brian Schroeder, along with a team of fabricators, handle all of the intricacies involved in determining the level of damage a boat has incurred, and working with many insurance agencies to determine if a boat is a “total loss.” In addition to fire, some of the most common causes of boat damage include striking a submerged or floating object, weather and collisions with fixed objects, such as a dock.
Baptism by fire
As Schroeder explains, Afton Marina has done several full restorations over the past several years. “This includes fiberglass repair and paint or gel coats, as well as complete interior redesigns,” he says.
A few years ago, Afton Marina worked on a boat that was at another facility and it was dropped. “Our estimate for repair was almost 70 percent of the value of the boat,” Schroeder explains. “The insurance adjuster with whom we worked said that we were close to the point where they were going to total the boat. They didn’t total it, and we got the job.”
Matson also worked on a boat that was being docked in King’s Cove Marina, a 400-plus slip marina in Hastings, Minn. A fire broke out at the marina and the boat that Afton Marina worked on was located on the fringe of the blaze and not completely engulfed in flames. “We spent a lot of time evaluating whether it was worth fixing the boat or if it was totaled,” he said. “In the end, the insurance company didn’t total it and we repaired the entire boat.” More recently, Afton Marina has worked on a Sunseeker yacht that incurred wiring that was completely fried. “We work on everything from complete renovations to replacing canvas because of structural damage to repairing more minor damaged parts,” Matson says.
Afton Marina is a repair facility more than a rebuild shop. The crew there has fabricated extended swim platforms and custom hard tops for customers in the past, and they also work on restoring boats as they age, as well as if they succumb to storm damage or fire.
“As boats age with exposure to water in the marine environment, wood stringers can break down, and then we rebuild them,” Schroeder says. “Anytime you get cracks in the gel coat or the paint of a fiberglass boat, water can get into the core and start to soften or delaminate the fiberglass.”
Afton Marina has a lot of customers who take their boat to the shop every winter and say, “I would like this done this year, or I want to spend ‘X’ amount this year.” “We have a punch list that grows and changes each season,” Schroeder says. “We are fortunate to have some really talented fabricators in our fiberglass, metal and canvas shops that work with our customers and can give them what they want. It is easier for them to spend $10,000 to $20,000 a year than to spend $100,000 to $150,000 all at once.”
Cost of repair vs. end value
While Schroeder stresses there are too many variables to say when a full restoration is needed, Bob Neuberger, a State Farm Insurance agent in Plymouth, Minn., who offers boat coverage, says the first step to take is to establish the damaged boat’s value, compare it with likely repair costs, and determine whether repairs are economical.
“Other than that, there are not any specific steps a boat owner can take to determine if a boat can be restored or is a ‘total loss’ after being damaged,” Neuberger says. “Rather, they need to rely on marine fabricators and restorers to determine the amount of damage.
“We advise boat owners to do their homework on the potential marine restorer that they are going to hire,” he adds. And marine fabricators need to familiarize themselves with key boat-insurance policies so that they can help a boat owner evaluate the potential loss incurred.
“Boat insurance policies can vary widely in what they do and do not cover based on a number of considerations, including the type of boat, the waters it will traffic, and how many months of the year the boat will be used,” Neuberger says.
Schroeder says one of the most common mistakes he sees boat owners make when it comes to repairing or restoring a damaged boat is not knowing what they want.
“It’s really important for us to communicate with the customer throughout the entire process of restoring a damaged boat,” Schroeder says. “What might seem important to us, might not be to the client. Working with a quality repair shop that listens to and gives the customer options that they may not know were available is key.”
Maura Keller is a freelance writer from Plymouth, Minn.