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October 15th 2018. By Alex Smith.

Improve your power boat

We look at a few simple ways to upgrade your powerboat.

While updating your equipment list with fresh flares, lifejackets, electronics or even ropes can have a rejuvenating effect on the way you feel about your boat, there’s no doubt that the upgrades you choose are directly linked to the way you want to use it and the kind of boating you most enjoy. For instance, those who want to fit a wakeboard tower, stereo systems, video cameras and remotely operated spotlights will tend to differ in their ambitions from those who value revamped upholstery, upgraded batteries and an AIS unit. But if you’re looking for satisfying ways to upgrade your boat, the following 15 ideas offer major results for relatively minimal expense and effort.

If you’re looking for satisfying ways to upgrade your power boat, here you have 15 ideas.

1. Revamp your dash

While many boat owners develop an interest in revamping the physical set-up of their helm stations with regard to repositioned throttles, new helm seats and retrofit foot braces, even quite basic alterations to the dash can bring big rewards. For instance, you can fit upgraded analogue dials from a company like Faria or install an Italian leather-trimmed sports steering wheel from the likes of Osculati. You can go even further and give your dash a fresh coating of matt, anti-glare fabric or a new set of LED-equipped marine switches – but whatever you do, as the primary point of interaction between you and your boat, the dash is a great place to focus your efforts.

2. Look into a loo

While water, energy and space are all at a premium on a boat, it doesn’t take much to factor in a cassette toilet. A compact cuddy or walkaround (or even a Centre Console RIB or day boat) can generally accommodate a portable cassette toilet inside a seating section or beneath a folding step – and with a bit more space for a dedicated heads compartment, that cassette toilet can be properly integrated into the boat and plumbed into the water system. A pump-out toilet is of course a more complex, requiring a separate holding tank, a bigger boat and more generous budget but, in all cases, a boat with a loo is infinitely better than one without – and with prices from less than £100, the family will consider it money well spent.

3. Sanitise your heads

Those who already have toilets tend to wish they were a bit more civilised – and yet the smell that emanates from so many marine loos is in fact a consequence of decomposing organisms trapped in the oxygen-deficient pipes of the water intake – and that can be remedied at source by installing a Sea Smart Toilet Sanitizer. Operating by means of its own independent power supply, it connects to the feed pipe, injecting an ‘intelligent’ dose of disinfectant as close to the seacock as possible, ensuring that, whether you’re on board or not, your toilet’s flush water is clean and scent-free. Installation is simple and while the price of around £130 will increase over time with the cost of replacement disinfectant and batteries, it’s a valuable solution to a heinous problem.

4. Go ultrasonic

While once, we were required to daub our boat hulls with toxic paints to ward off growth, modern ultrasonic antifouling works by emitting pulsed frequencies via transducers on the inside of the hull. These are designed to create a layer of moving water molecules over the hull’s underwater profile, preventing the colonisation of microorganisms and cutting off the problem of bearded hulls at source. Such systems can seem surprisingly expensive, especially on large boats, as you need to use several transducers and provide a reliable electrical feed. And rather like galvanic isolators, it can grate a bit, forking over money to buy a posh looking box that, on the face of it, appears to do nothing. But once you factor in the annual savings in lift-outs, scrubbing and fuel, it makes a compelling case.

While once we were required to daub our boat hulls with toxic paints to ward off growth, modern ultrasonic antifouling works by emitting pulsed frequencies via transducers on the inside of the hull. Photo: Diego Yriarte

5. Fit underwater lights

Yes, I know – underwater lights don’t appear to serve any practical function other than to encourage swarming moths and to mark you out as a fan of bling. But the fact of the matter is that they look great and, when you’re sitting in the shallows or alongside at night, they attract all kinds of subsurface life, enabling you to spend your evenings gazing at views that would otherwise remain hidden. While they can be expensive to buy, there are options to suit most budgets and, despite the fact that your boat needs to be out of the water for at least part of the job, they’re relatively simple to fit.

6. Build a ‘Camping Cuddy’

A lot of open boat owners harbour ambitions of spending long weekends aboard their boats and, with a set of purpose-built canvases, it’s actually very achievable. While some boats, like ZAR RIBs, come equipped with factory-fit solutions on the accessories list, there are plenty of specialist marine canvas companies that can provide what your boat needs. Whether you erect it over the aft cockpit, the forward bow space or both, they can be created with full standing headroom integrated windows, mosquito nets and curtain flaps. Yes, it’s still camping (and stowage of the canvases can swallow up a major portion of your storage space) but in many ways, it provides a better weekending experience than a purpose-built Weekender.

7. Install a bow ladder

It’s amazing how many open boats come without the last few gadgets that might help expand their usability with virtually no outlay. A bow ladder is just such an item, enabling you to use the forward (as well as the aft) zone as a watersports hub, enabling you to climb in and out of the water at your leisure and enabling you to dip the bow into a beach without having to jump for it. In fact, if you combine a bow ladder with a stern anchor and a keel band (see below), you have pretty much the perfect beaching boat…

A bow ladder enable you to climb in and out of the water at your leisure.

8. Fit a keel band

If you’re content with the idea of beaching your boat, your potential for recreation in and around the UK’s fractured, estuary-rich coastline is immediately increased. And while people with polyethylene or aluminium boats are able to enjoy such regions with carefree impunity, those with finely moulded fiberglass bows are understandably reluctant – so it makes sense to invest in a keel band. The band, adhesives and (if required) screws are easy to fit and cost just a few pounds, which means that, if it fits your boating lifestyle, it can be one of the highest value upgrades you can make.

9. Fit a multi-purpose cool box

A high-spec, power-free cool box with a lid-top cushion is a brilliant asset. A well-chosen model from the likes of Igloo can operate as an additional bench seat, a food store, a boarding step, a drinks cabinet, a fish chest, a watertight compartment and a removable picnic seat. Look for one with easy-drain plugs, sturdy handles and a long warranty and make sure you look for the right accessories to make the most of its potential – not least, tie-down straps and brackets so you can anchor it to your deck; and wheels and telescopic handles, so you can carry it like a suitcase or pull it like a trolley when you disembark.

10. Invest in auxiliary power

An auxiliary outboard is a vital safety measure for family boating – but 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. 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 – and their portability makes them much more secure than a permanently rigged auxiliary.

Read more about:

Marine engines

Engine maintenance

If your boat is of modest size and weight, the time may have come to opt for an electric model.

11. Explore impact mitigation

Impact mitigation now comes in all kinds of forms. 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 – because while Scotseats (www.scotseats.co.uk) seem uncommonly affordable, most forms of impact mitigation are uncompromisingly expensive.

12. Install a fridge

If you didn’t spec enough fridge space when you bought your boat, or you bought a used boat and it simply came without one, it’s a relatively straightforward job to remedy that. Even on a small boat, it’s usually quite easy to find a cockpit locker that will serve as a receptacle for a new fridge. Pick one with a nearby power supply and enough space for the necessary insulation and compressor, as well as adequate ventilation. Marine fridges from specialist providers like Dometic, Isotherm and Coolmatic come in a wide range of sizes and while marine-specific models aren’t cheap, it’s feasible to get the entire job done for around £500.

13. Rework your wiring

Aside from running out of fuel, electrical failure is far and away the most common cause of breakdown at sea – and 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.

Replace any tired wiring with a new length, route it properly with protective tubing and regular clips and then use water-resistant heat-shrink connectors.

14.Trade alloy for steel

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 simple fact that while aluminium props are relatively cheap, bendy and inefficient, steel ones are relatively stiff, efficient and fast. If you think you’re content with your alloy prop, buy the steel equivalent and you will be astonished at just how much better your boat can be.

15. Install heating

A diesel-powered heating system is a wonderful thing on board a cruising boat – and if you have a petrol engine, don’t despair. A diesel-powered air heater is still a very realistic option. Not only does it enable you to dehumidify an enclosed helm station in difficult conditions but it also enables you to go boating in the winter without being dependent on a shore hook-up at the marina. It can be a complex process though and to get the best out of it, a lot of preliminary thought needs to go into the size and location of the heater, as well as the route of the ducting and the number and location of the warm air outlets – so take advice at the planning stage and, if in any doubt, pay a little extra for professional installation.

Alex Smith is an ex-Naval officer, with extensive experience as a marine journalist, boat tester and magazine editor. Having raced as a Pilot in the National Thundercat Series and as a Navigator in the inaugural Red Sea RIB Rally, he has now settled in the West Country, where he lives and works as a specialist marine writer and photographer from his narrowboat in Bath.