How to upgrade and improve your yacht
Rupert Holmes looks at improvements that will transform the comfort, efficiency and handling of any boat.
December 18, 2020
Creature comforts on board a boat can make the world of difference to the overall sailing experience while adding value and preventing damage as well. Whether you experience cold weather, hot weather, damp or difficulty sailing in strong winds, there are steps you can take to improve your yacht.
1. Protection from the elements
Decent protection from the elements – whether it be the intense sun or the cold rain – can make a huge difference to life on board. For many a sprayhood is the obvious first step, although if your sailing is predominately in warm and sunny weather, then a bimini may be a better initial investment. Complete cockpit enclosures that combine both these elements, as well as adding sides and a back panel can be a real boon, creating an extra living area in borderline weather. When it’s really foul, wet weather gear and boots can be left here, instead of cluttering up the boat’s interior and adding even more moisture to the main living areas.
2. Upgrade the galley
Sadly the galleys of many production yachts are designed to be cheap to install, rather than ergonomically efficient. British company GN Espace has developed a range of top-quality fully integrated cooking, food preparation and storage systems that increase working space in confined quarters as well as improving flexibility and convenience. All are designed to fit typical galley dimensions, as are the company’s gas cookers, which are designed to bring the advantages of a domestic cooker to the boating world. For those of a practical nature, but with smaller budgets, a similar set up can be created using Ikea’s modular systems for washing up and food preparation.
3. Improve stowage
For similar reasons many boats suffer from a lack of properly organised stowage space. However, with careful planning there’s often much that can be done to solve this problem. A skilled carpenter may be able to convert open shelf space into useful lockers for only a few hundred pounds, while a sailmaker or cover maker can create fabric storage pockets along the edges of bunks. Again, if you’re on a tight budget, anyone with practical skills can carry out these modifications themselves and often create as much usable stowage on board a 32-footer as would be found on a standard 37ft model.
4. The benefit of decent sails
Are you stuck with a boat that is difficult to handle and next to impossible to control in gusty conditions? In many cases, renewing the sails and improving the sail handling systems is all that’s needed to instantly transform the boat.
The problem with old Dacron sailcloth is that it becomes badly stretched, so in strong winds it’s impossible to achieve the flat profile needed for efficient sailing. Even worse, in gusts the material stretches still further, making the shape even more baggy and increasing heel without giving any extra forward drive – exactly the opposite of what’s needed.
New sails therefore aren’t only for speed freaks – there comes a stage at which they will radically improve the handling of any boat, significantly reducing weather helm and the tendency for the boat to screw up into the wind in gusts.
It’s also worth investing extra money in low-stretch cruising laminate materials. These now have much greater longevity than in the past – there are plenty of examples of boats that have completed circumnavigations without problems. The key advantage is that these materials will keep their shape throughout their lifespan, whereas conventional Dacron cloths tend to lose shape relatively quickly, taking you back to square one after a few seasons, even though there may be ample strength left in the cloth. For a more in-depth look at the benefit of buying new sails, see: Choosing the right sailcloth.
5. More efficient deck gear
Better sail handling systems will also help to improve a boat’s handling. If it’s not easy to ease the mainsheet in gusty conditions, for instance, then you have to reef right down in order to steer a reasonably straight course. The easiest way of controlling the mainsail is with a mainsheet traveller – if you don’t want one across the cockpit race boat style, it can be mounted on the coachroof, or on an arch that can be combined with a bimini support, or mounting for solar panels. Make sure the control lines are placed within easy reach and that you minimise friction in the system as far as possible. For a full discussion of this tope, take a look at Easier sail handling: 5 steps to a better deck layout.
Easy mainsail reefing is another huge advantage – it should be possible for one person to tuck a reef in any boat under 45ft within around 90 seconds. While many boats are now set up with single line reefing for the first two reefs, this still leaves a problem for the third reef – which is just the time at which you don’t want to have to carry out major deck work. The easiest solution is a downhaul pennant on the luff cringle, led through a block attached to the side of the mast ahead of the gooseneck, and then taken aft to a clutch near the companionway.
6. Heating and ventilation
For boats used in British and other North European climates, an effective heating system will transform life on board, including during inclement mid-summer weather – don’t underestimate the extent to which even just a little background heat will dry the boat out as well as helping keep the crew warm. By the same token it will also help to make best use of any fine sunny days at the ends of the season, when the clear skies allow overnight temperatures to plummet. For more on boat heating systems, see: How to choose and install boat heating.
At the other end of the spectrum, many older designs of boat have poor ventilation that can make them uncomfortably stuffy in hot and sunny weather. This can be improved with the addition of a windscoop over the forehatch to funnel any cooling breezes into the accommodation. It may also be possible to add a vent or opening port above the cooker – it’s shocking how few boats have one as standard.
Adding a couple of strategically positioned 12V fans can also help significantly, either near the galley, or in confined aft sleeping cabins. Caframo’s Ultimate series is by far the quietest and most efficient – for anything other than very occasional use it’s easily worth the additional cost.
7. Comfort at night
There’s no reason why the bunks on your boat should not be just as comfortable as your bed at home – custom made interior sprung mattresses don’t need to be expensive. At the same time you can also have bedding made to suit the often idiosyncratic shape and size of a yacht’s bunks.