There are plenty of cheap and easy ways to improve your powerboat to make it (and your boating experience) better. From taking the time to label your wires (honestly, this makes you feel good), to upholstering your seats in new fabric, or simply updating your equipment list with fresh flares, lifejackets, electronics or even ropes. It all makes a fundamental difference to the way you feel when you set off on the first half-decent day of spring. If you, like me, are a DIY halfwit, you ought to find the following 10 powerboat upgrades particularly rewarding.
(1) Wakeboard tower
Adding an after-market wakeboard tower to your powerboat is easier and (with prices from less than £1,000) much cheaper than you think. A universal tower from the likes of Monster Towers will fit most boats. If you want a custom job matched to your specific craft, those are also available. But why stop there? Once it’s installed, you can add board racks, bimini tops, loudspeakers, a video camera, remotely operated spotlights or whatever else takes your fancy. It won’t just enhance the versatility of your boat. Done well, it will also enhance the looks and the value.
(2) Keel band
Pulling up on a secluded beach for a family picnic is one of the greatest pleasures of boating. It’s even better if you can do it without fear of damaging your hull. Over time, scrapes to the gelcoat can allow water to access the fibreglass laminates, so it makes sense to invest in a keel band that runs at least part way up the stem. Of course, you still need to do your homework (tides, gradients, beach materials etc), but with the band, adhesives (and if required, screws) costing little more than pocket change, it’s a very modest outlay for a substantial improvement. For a little inspiration, see: UK boating destinations: 10 of the best.
(3) Camping solutions
An all-over camping cover can be one of the highest value boat investments you will ever make. Whether you erect it over the aft cockpit, the forward bow space, or both, there is almost no form of boat that wouldn’t benefit from it. I’ve loved it ever since I first tried it on a ZAR RIB and it’s becoming increasingly common. In fact, even Neil Holmes (ex powerboat racing world champion) has created a removable canvas section for the bow of his narrow-beamed, 70-knot Phantom Evolution race RIB - turning an outright speed machine into a serviceable cuddy, and all for well under £1,000.
(4) Power-free coolbox
It might not seem like a major upgrade, but a high-spec coolbox with a lid-top cushion will change your boat life far more than you think. Look for tie-down straps and brackets (for anchoring it to your deck), plus wheels and telescopic handles (so you can carry it like a suitcase or pull it like a trolley). Add in some easy-drain plugs, sturdy handles and a long warranty and a good coolbox will reward you with assets (an additional bench, food store, boarding step, drinks cabinet, fish chest, watertight compartment and removable picnic seat) way out of proportion to the costs. Check out my recommendation for the Yeti Tundra 33 at number nine on this year's Christmas gifts list.
(5) Electric auxiliary outboard
An auxiliary outboard is a vital safety measure for family boating. If your boat is of modest size and weight, the time may have come to ignore internal combustion and opt for an electric model from Torqeedo (see Interview with Dr Cristoph Ballin of Torqeedo). Just imagine not having to carry a ‘compact’ outboard engine that weighs the same as a small horse. Imagine not having to bruise your shoulder and spill oil down your back every time you attempt to lift it. Okay, so the electric route might seem costly, but these things are brilliantly light, clean, quiet and compact. Their portability also makes them much more secure than a permanently rigged auxiliary.
(6) Impact mitigation
Those keen to treat their bums and backs to a more comfortable experience at sea have lots of options. There are seating units with adjustable levels of travel to absorb the vertical impacts. There are entire deck consoles, complete with internal seating and helm controls, that keep you isolated from the worst of the impacts. And if you want to provide impact mitigation underfoot, Wolf Shock decking offers a series of close-packed, vented air pockets, sandwiched inside a Hypalon-style fabric, that can be topped off with any finish you like, from Treadmaster to Flexiteek. The only drawback is the price. While Scotseats seem uncommonly affordable, impact mitigation does tend to be a rich man’s pursuit.
(7) Shrinkwrapped electrics
Aside from running out of fuel, electrical failure is far and away the most common cause of breakdown at sea. That is an even more pronounced truth with small, fast, affordable planing boats, where physical impact and water ingress are relatively frequent. The answer is simple. Replace any tired wiring with a new length, route it properly with protective tubing and regular clips (so there is no possibility of snagging) and then use water-resistant heat-shrink connectors wherever a permanent connection is appropriate. It’s by no means an expensive job and it also enables you to properly label all your wiring, making any future additions or upgrades much easier. For more engine wiring ideas, see: How to secure cables and hoses in your engine room.
(8) Humble heads
You don’t need vast reserves of space for a separate full-height heads compartment. If you have a platform of 18 feet or more with a small cuddy at the bow (or even with some modest canvas curtains) the addition of a compact portaloo, tucked away inside a seating section or beneath a folding step can transform your boating experience by convincing your family that a full day at sea doesn’t have to be a logistical quandary.
(9) Propeller upgrade
Finding the right propeller is an art so dark and mysterious, it almost defies common sense. Yes, each type exhibits a set of tendencies that may or may not match your boat, engine and activities, but finding the ideal combination of diameter, pitch, blade number and shape can involve a great deal of trial and error. So take refuge in the fact that aluminium props are cheap, bendy and inefficient; and steel ones are stiff, sexy and fast. If you think you’re content with your alloy prop, buy the steel equivalent and prepare to witness just how much better your boat can be. But if you really must know, here's my guide: Boat propellers: choose the right one.
(10) Clean hull
Let’s finish simple. A planing hull can easily lose more than 45 per cent of its pace and efficiency if it’s wearing a beard of shellfish or weed growth. Do yourself a favour and polish it up to a glittering shine, before taking it from its permanent mooring and promoting it either to a trailer in your garage. Better still, use one of the many Dry Stack facilities now cropping up throughout the UK. A life of jet washes, forklift launches and secure, clean storage will mean trouble-free days out, optimised hull performance and a better resale price. You can’t say fairer than that. Read Boat cleaning: how to care for your hull for some handy tips.