As the new season approaches, finding the cash to make boat improvements has never been tougher. But fear not! Pocket change and a bit of spare time is all it will cost to make the following improvements to boatspeed, maintenance, electronics and more...

Counting pennies

There is an art to making your boat budget go as far as possible. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /


1. Weightwatchers: the penniless performance boost

You can make your boat go faster by 1-3mph, without spending anything. What you will need to provide, however, is some elbow grease. First, get rid of all excess weight aboard your boat. Unless you’re going on an extended cruise, pump the freshwater tank out until it’s just a quarter full, get rid of all the gear you thought you might need one day but never ever use, and pump the holding tank dry. You’ll be shocked at how much faster the same boat goes when the load is lighter.


2. Caress her bottom

As obviously rude as that may sound, if your boat has a painted bottom, there’s more you can do to get a speed boost. Bottom paint isn’t very smooth, and rough surfaces cause speed-sapping turbulence as they move through the water. Make ‘em super-slick, and you’ll gain another 1-2mph.

Wet-sanding will do the trick. You’ll need both 220 and 400 grit sandpaper; start with the 220-grit paper, and work your way from stem to stern, lightly sanding the bottom of your boat—but forget about that circular sanding motion. That’s for removing the paint, and we just want to smooth it out a bit, with all the micro-grooves that sandpaper creates oriented fore and aft. So you’ll need to make each and every stroke parallel to the centerline. After you’re done, start over again and repeat the process with 400-grit paper. Be sure to smooth out any noticeable bumps or imperfections as you go, and when the job is complete, your boat will be a bit faster.

3. towels of thrift

Towel tubes

Towel tubes: Just add water

The next time you’re in the chandlery (or on Amazon) pick up a tube of towels. Yes, I said a tube. These uber-condensed “magic” towels are the size of a 10-pence piece, but they unfold and expand to the size of a regular dish cloth. Different sizes and numbers can be had for different deals, but on average these things cost 5-10 pence each, or £3 for 50.

Of course, we already keep rags on our boats. They are, after all, the staple tool when it comes to shining up a helm or cleaning off a windscreen. But ask yourself: how many times have you delayed cleaning a spill or wiping down a window because there wasn’t a rag close at hand, at the moment? It happens all the time, especially when the boat is in rough seas. Meanwhile, your boat’s appearance grows shabby and in the long run, may be stained or marred. These little dot towels are the solution.

Break open the tube, and put a couple of dots in the glove box. Then hide a few in different galley drawers, place two or three in a drawer in the head, and scatter a couple through the salon. You get the idea. The dot towels are small enough to easily hide, and once they’re hidden throughout your boat, you’ll always have a rag—a cheap rag—close at hand.

4. Cost-free electronics upgrade

DSC radio

Unless your VHF has an integrated GPS, chances are you’re not taking advantage of DSC. That’s a shame, because doing so would be FREE!

Although you almost certainly have both a GPS and a VHF radio on your boat, they probably aren’t interfaced—denying you DSC capabilities. Why should you care? Because if you ever have to call the Coastguard in an emergency, having active DSC means they will know exactly where and who you are, as soon as you hit the panic button and transmit. That’s a hefty boost to your safety margin, and a significant electronic upgrade for your boat.

Interfacing a modern GPS and VHF is usually as easy as attaching the NMEA output wire of one to the NMEA input of the other. There’s a chance your units won’t play nice, but if they were made within a few years of each other they probably will via either NMEA 0183 or NMEA 2000 protocol. It’s easy enough to find out if your GPS and VHF will speak the same language; just Google it. Remember, however, that if they’re made by different manufacturers the plug ends almost certainly won’t match, and you’ll have to splice a few color-coded wires together. Again, Google and an online owner’s manual will make this a piece of cake. In some cases, you also have to enter the menu on the GPS and tell the unit to send out the data stream.

5. Go through with it

How many times have you gone around the boat with a screw-driver, and tightened up one screw after another? Chances are this is a regular event—either that, or parts of your boat regularly fall off, when the screws vibrate loose and back out.

Any boater who’s owned his or her boat for more than a few seasons has been down this road more than once, but there’s an easy way to end the agony of endless screw-spinning. Simply buy a handful of bolts and aircraft-style nylock locking nuts. Then spend an hour or two replacing all of those screws with through-bolts that won’t ever back out. When you can’t get behind the fastener to attach a bolt, at least give the screw a dab of Loctite.

6. Great lines, gratis

Your anchor rode and dock lines are old and stiff? They look pretty raggedy, too, but buying a completely new set would eat up a pile of dough. No problem. Follow these instructions, and you can make those old lines look and feel like new.

First, find an old five-gallon bucket and fill it half-way with warm water. Then, add a cup of fabric softener. Coil your line(s) into the bucket, and let them soak for two or three hours. Finally, find a cool, well-ventilated, and fully-shaded area where you can lay out the lines to dry. You’ll find that after this treatment they’re soft, pliable, and better-looking then they’ve been in years.

Wait a sec—don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. You still need to check the ends of all the lines for fraying. Cut off any stragglers, then whip the ends or use the burn-and-tape method, to keep those braids together.

7. Shush when you shut

Isn’t it annoying when you drop a fibreglass hatch, and it makes a loud CRACK as it slams shut? But there is an easy—and cheap—fix to this problem. Buy a roll of sticky-back gasket material, put strips on the fibreglass where the hatches slam shut, and the next time you let one fall shut, it’ll be shushed.

8. Scentillating solution

Does the toilet and the holding tank on your boat stink? Yeah, we thought so. Most do. Without good venting, anaerobic bacteria goes wild. And it’s the anaerobic bacteria that create the stink. Quite often, venting the holding tank is a mere afterthought to the boat-builder. The solution to your stinky situation is in improving that ventilation.

Increasing the diameter of the hoses and vents is one fix, and it may come to that. But this move would cost money. Before you pry open your wallet you may be able to solve the problem. Simply check all of the vent lines, looking for sags, bends, and arches. All of these reduce the vent’s ability to breathe, and surprisingly often, are significant enough to make a big difference. Trimming length and straightening the runs is often good enough to end those offensive odours.

9. Getting tired yet?

Believe it or not, one of the best ways to make your boat stand out in a crowd is to stop at any car-parts shop and spend a few pounds on a bottle of tyre cleaner. You may even have one already, if you bother cleaning your car now and again. That tyre cleaner gives any rubber surface a coal-black sheen which looks great. Dab some on a rag and rub it across rub rails, window gaskets, rubber tension latches, and everything else of a rubbery nature.

10. 'App'solutely free

Okay, we admit your mobile phone isn’t exactly a part of your boat. But chances are you have it with you every time you cast off the lines. So, why not utilise it, and become a better boater? All you need to do is download one of several free yet extremely helpful weather apps, which will give you access to the latest weather predictions, Doppler radar, and wind and wave states. There are a slew to choose from, but read 4 handy weather iPhone and smartphone apps, and you’ll make a good pick.

And don’t forget, you could turn that little pocket communicator into a full-blown navigational wonder, if you were willing to spend a few pounds. Skim over 10 top iPhone and smartphone apps for power boaters, or Top 5 apps for sailors to learn more.

Well, there you have it, folks. 10 ways to better boating without spending big bucks. But there’s one more way we think you can make boating better, without breaking the bank: stay right here, on the editorial pages of Check out our boat maintenance and DIY articles. Have a look through our How-To videos and features. Spend some time perusing the boat reviews and tests.

Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.