12 Small Boat Projects that Made Large Improvements

Sometimes it is the little things that can make a big difference. Most of the posts here cover our projects and improvements, and while many are serious undertakings, some are simple, quick and easy, but once finished, solve a problem or shortcoming we have encountered. With any new boat, there are always those little things that drive you crazy sometimes. Here are a few things we felt needed doing that paid off.





Changing the raw water pump impeller can be challenging at times when tied to the dock, but when underway and in certain conditions can be downright harrowing. We have had impeller failures in some strange and unplanned circumstances. The last thing one wants is to have to be in the engine room after running for hours, deal with the heat while the boat is rolling in a seaway, and have to take any more time that is necessary to change the impeller and get moving again. Been there, done that. I have serviced boats over the years that had the SpeedSeal raw water pump covers and always liked the ease in which the impeller could be changed. So this was a natural solution should we be in that situation again. It makes the change fast and easy with no tools necessary and no worries on replacing gaskets. We really like this option.

You may or may not consider this a small project, but after our first oil change on our Ford Lehman 120, we knew that our old practice of sucking the oil out through the dipstick tube was just not going to work for us. Once again, I relied on past experiences while servicing other boats, and we installed the X-change-R oil change system. It took some work, since first we had to get all of the oil out of the engine using the suction method. Then the drain plug in the bottom of the oil pan needs to be removed. A line is run from where the old plug is in the oil pan to the oil changer pump. Finally, power needs to be run from the breaker panel to the pump. It can take a day or a weekend to complete, but in the end, we found it has paid off big. The oil change now takes minutes, and the mess is minimal. The oil can be extracted from the engine and then the engine filled from the oil containers. No pouring and spilling. 

We are not big on air-conditioning when cruising, although with all of the 100 degree days here in the Chesapeake, it has been nice at the dock. While traveling or at anchor, we prefer to have the boat open as much as possible. We have been in places where the mosquitoes were large enough and aggressive enough to carry away a small animal. We have been in places where no matter what we did, the cabin was invaded at night with either mosquitoes or no-see-ums and we had to lather down with repellent. Needless to say, screens are a must, and we have had to get creative at times to have a screen in the entry way so that we could get in and out faster than the bugs. Traveling through parts of the ICW, the dreaded green-headed flies that bite make screens an absolute must. We cover the entries, opening windows, ports and all opening hatches.

The side door on our trawler presented us with a slight problem. It slides aft to open, and there is a space between the door and the side of the cabin of a little more than an inch. Now this does not seem like much, but in fact, an inch can let in all manner of creatures - from creepy spiders, to bees and other flying insects, to small rodents, which we have never had and never want to have. We needed something to fill the space, but also allow the door to slide and not chafe against the side of the cabin and leave marks. The answer came to me standing in the weather stripping aisle in a hardware store. A common door sweep for the bottom of a door to keep out drafts was perfect. It is an aluminum strip with a piece of rubber inserted, and if properly placed along the back edge of the door, was just the ticket and it looked like it belonged there.

If you have the screens up, the natural next step is to have fans to circulate all of that air that can now get into the cabin. We have found that the 12-volt Caframo fans give the most bang for the buck, or air if you will. They move the most air for any 12-volt fan we have used, and at around $30.00, are a great deal. We have run them 24/7 when in the Caribbean, and they last for years. They are also very quiet, which is important when you need them at night and also need to sleep. The draw on the electrical system is only about ½ amp, and they have a two-speed setting. We prefer the model 757, but there are several others. These can be strategically placed around the boat to give you full circulation in every cabin. They also help circulate either cool or warm air from the heating or air-conditioning system.

On our cruise from the western Caribbean to Texas, we spent a lot of time anchored along the Gulf Coast ICW. We found that the tug and barge Captains traveled day and night, and often they passed us as we were anchored. We always display an anchor light, but often wondered what else we could do to make ourselves more visible. We had read on a few boating forums about boaters that had used the solar-powered garden lights for anchor lights. While we do not feel comfortable relying on these as anchor lights, it occurred to us that they might help with getting us seen at night in addition to our anchor light. We placed four of the inexpensive lights we purchased from Home Depot at four corners on the boat, on the rail down low enough that they would be easily seen from the water. They recharge themselves during the day in the sun and will generally last from sunset to sunup. We are not sure how effective they have been, but in our cruise from Houston to the east coast, we were passed by a lot of commercial traffic at night, but none ran over us. We have had several put a spotlight on us, though, as they passed by. We simply attach them to the rail with a hose clamp, and if placed properly, will also give you some light when moving around on deck at night. 

And while we are considering lights for anchoring, our anchor light is also another important item we had to replace on this boat. The old Perko anchor light had corroded and pretty much fell apart. One item we had looked into quite a bit was a photocell to turn the anchor light on and off at dusk and dawn. Too often, we came back to the boat after dark when socializing lasted longer than expected and had no anchor light on or, if we knew we would be back late, had to turn the light on in the afternoon and have it use up precious power during the day. Doing some research brought us to the website for Bebi Electronics. They make an anchor light called the Owl which fit the bill perfectly. It has a built in photocell that is just what we wanted and as a matter of fact, once we installed it, we turned on the breaker for the light and forgot to use the breaker again to turn it on and off. Two other benefits we found was that when we turned the light on, our battery monitor showed almost no amps being used, and it proved to be considerably brighter than any of the traditional anchor lights we have used in the past. It is made of PVC and encased in epoxy, so there is little to corrode other than the connections we made to the wiring.

Safety when moving around the deck underway has always been important to us. We have had to deal with sails and rigging in gale conditions and anchors during late night storms. A trawler with a flybridge is a new experience for us, and running up and down from the flybridge was a concern. The steps are teak with stainless hand rails and we like our teak finished. If they are wet, they can be slippery, and a fall could be serious. A simple and logical solution is good old-fashioned vinyl or rubber stair treads. But boy are they hard to find anymore. We first tried to apply them with outdoor carpet tape which is sticky on both sides, but as soon as the sun warmed them up, they slid off the step. Our solution was to use aluminum strips like those used at the edge of carpet or vinyl flooring to secure the treads. This worked out better than we expected, as it made the steps even more slip-proof. It also doesn't look too bad.

Another safety issue is moving around the interior of the boat at night. Our new boat has a cabin down forward and a cabin down aft. We wanted a way to light the steps without being too bright or obnoxious. Small LED lights mounted just at the doorways so they they can be turned on before going down the steps were a good addition. These lights are not terribly bright, and they draw very few amps. So if we want just a little light, they do double duty. They also make excellent lights for inside hanging and storage lockers where you might need to find items at night, or even during the day.

Another project that might not be considered small is adding stereo speakers. It all depends on the complexity of running the wires. For us, this was fairly easy, and the Clarion Stereo we installed allowed us some options. It has a six disc CD changer and audio inputs that allow us to run our TV sound through it. With the four speakers mounted in each corner of the main salon and the stereo set to Aux, we have surround sound that sounds really good and we don't have to power a 110 audio system or find a place to mount all of that equipment. We also have a pair of speakers run to the flybridge so we have to be careful to turn them off or all of our neighbors will know what we are watching on the TV.

Previously, we have written about installing the vents in various places throughout the boat. This has proven to be a very good modification. It has really dried out the inner parts of the boat that normally stay damp and can generate mold and mildew if left as is. The odors that these dark and damp places generate are no longer a problem, and the items that are stowed away are less likely to rust, corrode and just get nasty. We are very pleased that we made this decision.

Finally, it is amazing how a small item like door latches can make a big improvement. We learned long ago that the standard latches most builders put on a boat will not keep the contents in the lockers once the boat gets rolling or if you find yourself in some heavy seas. One particular cruise off the coast of South Carolina found the entire contents of most of the cabinets in our main salon on the cabin sole. These cabinets also had finger holes that needed a single finger inserted to open the locker. This begged for a broken finger in a seaway. That is when we discovered that a simple hook type latch takes minutes to install throughout the entire boat and kept all of the doors securely closed no matter the motion of the boat.

That is about it for now. We certainly hope we have offered a few ideas that might help on board your boat and make life aboard a little more pleasant. We certainly would like to hear any ideas you might have and I am certain others would also. Just click on the comments following this post and leave or read what others have to add. Happy Boating!

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