View Full Version : Beginer Questions.....

08-13-2006, 03:55 PM
I am newly interested in this industry and have alot of questions. I would like to gather some info regarding the ability to actually make a living as a beginer. Any and all comments in respect to entering the business/passion of wooden boat building/restoration would be extremly helpfull to me and my family.

Thank You,

Luke Findley

08-13-2006, 04:03 PM
The best way to make a couple of million dollars building wooden boats is start with 4 million dollars.....no joke....

S/V Laura Ellen
08-13-2006, 04:10 PM
No jobs for beginners. There is a lot of amateurs with tons of experience. The best bet is to get some training and then start to apprentice. See IYRS (http://www.iyrs.org/) as one example. The Wooden Boat magazine is full of ads for training outfits and offers courses themselves.

08-13-2006, 04:12 PM
Well thanks for the harsh truth/humor. I'm not looking to make millions though, just enough to pay the bills, put some food in the fridge, clothes on our backs and have some left over to send my daughter to college. It is good to hear from a veteran in the industry though.

Thank You

08-13-2006, 04:27 PM
The only ones really making any money is the architects/engineers,the owners of the companies and the materials suppliers.After that,there isn't much left. The reason the owners are making it is because they mostly hire cheap labor. One skilled amongst maybe 10 laborers or skilled laborers making substandard wages. Not speaking of the wood boat industry specifically but the boating industry as a whole. Take Lazzara yachts for example where one journeyman will have 20 vietnamese low wage laborers that get to do all the ugly work.I know a guy that was working there and pay raises were far and few between but the working conditions weren't too bad as long as you don't mind being just another #. If you love boats,being in the industry is a fast way to get over it.

Dave Fleming
08-13-2006, 04:49 PM
You ask us to help you yet you provide no info on your self in your profile?

Tar Devil
08-13-2006, 05:36 PM
If you love boats,being in the industry is a fast way to get over it.

Substitute "airplanes" for "boats" and it rings equally true.



08-13-2006, 08:00 PM
sorry - i just signed up here - i'll fill out my profile asap.

Tom Hunter
08-13-2006, 09:38 PM
I am not in the industry, but I pay em. :rolleyes:

Seems like it is possible to make a living if you can develop a valuable skill, like a beautiful finish coat of varnish, or a #!@$! diesel that will start and run consistently after you have worked on it. I would bet that the USA based guys who can and will fix a plugged marine head get good money, all 4 of them. :D

Wooden boats are very clubby, everyone knows everyone else and if your good (or bad) everyone knows it, or knows some one who they can ask. If you good this is good for you, and if your not you won't be on this forum in 2010. But hopefully this is good for you and I have been a bit encouraging. Do look at the schools, they are excellent.

08-14-2006, 07:06 AM
Moneys not in building them its in repair.

Cecil Borel
08-14-2006, 07:40 AM
Luke: are you headed for the Cape Fear Community College boat building program? If so, they will help you make the connections to get a good job in boat building.

08-14-2006, 08:30 AM
I had a four year stint in the industry back in the eighties, I was working as a electrician/refrigeration mechanic. I loved every minute of it because I was working alongside some master boatbuilders and doing some cutting edge things. The senior Bush and his %&^*# luxury tax took us from 3 years of orders to six weeks overnight.
From then on it was a sideline or I filled in when things got busy in a couple of yards. Once in a great while now I do some repair/ install or some custom work but with 3 young ones at the time I knew It was chancy to pursue it as my main career. I would have stuck with it if I didn't have family obligations but its like trying to have a family in the military which when I served I wouldn't dare do. Good luck to you if you choose that path but understand the sacrifices you will need to make and make sure the wife supports that.

Steve Lansdowne
08-15-2006, 08:01 PM
There was a rather long post/discussion on this topic several months ago as I recall. You might use the search function to see what you come up with.

Charles Burgess
08-20-2006, 11:19 AM
Some community colleges are offering classes in boatbuilding. Either way you go, get some education through a school to learn the basic skills and tools. That can get your foot in the door of an apprenticeship with a boatbuilder.

When work is slow you can also make ends meet in repair work...harder work to do than building a new one, but at least keeps your skills sharp and expands your awareness of good and bad building methods.

BTW - never badmouth someone else's work, doing so ruins your own reputation, and by refraining you'll improve your reputation. Don't badmouth their boat. Politely defend wooden boats when the subject comes up.

I design and build, and only 10% of the cost of the vessel is the design fee. A third of the cost is materials, another third is for labor, and what is left over pays the taxes and overhead...with a little for the owner of the business.

donald branscom
10-11-2006, 09:59 AM
If you want to make money thats a different animal.
Go to business school. Universities look down on "entrepreneurs*."
Universities are geared up to send you to work for Proctor and Gamble.

I have met expert sailors that can't tell you anything about how a boat is built. Or why. To them its just a toy , a sport.

When you really get to know a lot about boats I think you sort of fall in love with all the aspects of the whole deal.

A very wealthy person once told me that to make money you have to sell things that cost a lot.
I don't know ANYONE that makes a lot of money that "works" for a living.

10-11-2006, 12:31 PM
Wow. Talk about a negative vibe :-)

Based on conversations too numerous to count, it's absolutely true that the wooden boat field is very, very tough to get into if you want to make high wages. By definition, you would have to be a Respected Yard Owner, as the workers don't get paid that great. And to be a RYO you would have had to have a father or grandfather who did it all his life. Or have enough bank to do it for 5 - 10 years doing spec work and having unreliable income. You would also need to have waterfront property and a yard setup, or at least water-near property and a great hauling system and deals with local marinas. And so on. This is all assuming you want to ultimately have steady, reliable, good paying work.

If you went to the IYRS in Rhode Island (International Yacht Preservation School) and gradumicated, by the time you were done you would know more about Wooden Boats than 95% of the people here on this forum. So the short answer is: If you REALLY want to do this, you should get the 2 year certificate from the IYRS. During that process you'll learn what you have to do, what people you need to know, and names of suppliers, other yards, and the economics of Wooden Boats.

If you are unsure, you should take some workshops at one of the trade schools, like http://www.thewoodenboatschool.com/. That will give you enough exposure, and you'll be able to talk to some old salts to decide if you want to invest years in education and apprenticeship, as well as capital or loans to finance a yard.

All that being said, there are cottage industries taking off here again, based on the simple fact that massed produced stuff, while cheaper, is almost always shyte. Folks are realizing that at the end of the day, they have nothing worthwhile to leave to their children, and no legacy. In the old days you would have had furniture, tools, clothing, property and other chattel. These days you're lucky to even be able to afford to leave property, and if the furniture lasts as long as you do. Because of this, custom furniture makers are starting to do much better in the niche market. People are realizing that a $5000 dining room table made by hand from beautiful tight grain cherry actually gains in value, and is an heirloom they can leave to their grandchildren, whom could cherish it and leave it to theirs. Sure, thats a lot more than the $500 for a mass produced piece of junk, but people are starting to pay for that difference in furniture, jewelry and other things like that. Eventually I imagine that will get to boats, if it is not already.

I mean, People are actually building wooden boats commercially and making money at it, unlike the gray misty times of the late 60s, 70s, 80s and most of the 90s. Harold Bingham (Essex, MA) just launched a new wooden pleasure boat in August, for example.

It's like my dad always said "If you don't have a lot of money, always buy the very best, or do without. Don't waste money on junk." He also said "Being frugal is getting what you want for the least money, not settling for junk because you can't afford the good thing. That's called 'being a consumer'." He was a machinist for 40 years and let me tell you, he knew the value of a dollar. ;-)

10-11-2006, 12:47 PM
Herald bingham out of essex mass. just launched a new wooden pleasure boat.----------

I hope he didn;t name it- the essex, that was the name of the boat out of essex mass. that mobby dick sank.
The true story is far better then the movie version.
They need to redo the movie mobby dick and make it historically correct....

Brian Palmer
10-11-2006, 01:18 PM
If you haven't done so already, read "A Unit of Water A Unit of Time, Joel White's Last Boat" and "Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard."

They offer good insights into the operation of yards building wooden boats and the people who work there.

-- Brian

10-11-2006, 01:30 PM
<snip> I tell them what I'm telling this guy, "go to school". Don't get me wrong, I love this stuff, but unless you do this kind of work for a living you can't judge me.:)

So did I mate! Did you see the IYRS thing? Anyhoo, I'm not judging you mate. Just commenting on the vinegar you spilled! ;-)

Honestly, learning how to survive in a niche market is a specialized skill. Not only in the craft itself, but in the general mode of how you do business. Its tough and unforgiving, which is why few people do it. It's also rewarding in ways nothing else is.

My wife, for example, finished the Professional Jewelry making and repair program at http://www.nbss.org , the best program of its type on this continent, in March of this year. That being said, after spending almost 2 years, full time every day at the bench, and shelling out tens of thousands of dollars she is currently working for $16/hour for four days a week to make her bones. And she was lucky to get that. She wants to be a designer, of course. But that takes time, money and experience. Having been to NBSS, she has connections into the business and access to knowledge people off the street have no concept of. She has already made three sets of Platinum wedding bands for private clients and a few other pieces on spec. She's amazingly good and loves her work, which is all you can ask! Not only that, she knows where the dinero is in her field, which is why long term she wants to own a workshop and design firm, not be a bench jeweler. If she had gotten a degree in Communications she'd be making $12 an hour after $100k invested and 4 years.... she got into jewelry because she loves beautiful things and had the fine motor skills to be excellent, so she thinks she is doing better :)

Hence my (and your) point. If you go to school for it you (1) get mad skills in your field and learn if you can stand the work and (2) make mad contacts in the field that you can leverage for knowledge and position as you gain in ability and experience.

donald branscom
10-11-2006, 03:13 PM
I am newly interested in this industry and have alot of questions. I would like to gather some info regarding the ability to actually make a living as a beginer. Any and all comments in respect to entering the business/passion of wooden boat building/restoration would be extremly helpfull to me and my family.

Thank You,

Luke Findley

Ask yourself Luke.... If you won the lottery today, and you could do anything you want, what would you do?
Would you like to build a boat?
Would you go into a marine business?
Would you work on airplanes?

What have you ever dreamed of being? That is the question.

donald branscom
10-11-2006, 03:20 PM
Some community colleges are offering classes in boatbuilding. Either way you go, get some education through a school to learn the basic skills and tools. That can get your foot in the door of an apprenticeship with a boatbuilder.

When work is slow you can also make ends meet in repair work...harder work to do than building a new one, but at least keeps your skills sharp and expands your awareness of good and bad building methods.

BTW - never badmouth someone else's work, doing so ruins your own reputation, and by refraining you'll improve your reputation. Don't badmouth their boat. Politely defend wooden boats when the subject comes up.

I design and build, and only 10% of the cost of the vessel is the design fee. A third of the cost is materials, another third is for labor, and what is left over pays the taxes and overhead...with a little for the owner of the business.

Yeah well all the business owners i knew all had a major rule.
The golden rule. Better get a union job with the city,state county or federal gov't so you will have some retirment to add to your social security. Or become a lawyer or doctor so you can work untill you are very old.

Peter Eikenberry
10-12-2006, 12:08 AM
Around the Office of Boating Safety we used to say, "good boatbuilders usually aren't very good businessmen and good businessmen often don't build very good boats". Also "the only people making money in the boat biz are those who buy and sell boat companies".

It's a tough business. You not only need to know how to make good boats, you also need to know how to run a business, so while you're getting some schooling in building boats also take some business courses. At least enough to know if you're making a profit or not.

The Coast Guard has video about this called "So You Want To Be A Boat Builder?" call 202-267-0984 and they'll send you one.

Wild Wassa
10-12-2006, 12:28 AM
The first thing that I do, when doing mobile repairs or an on site restoration (and often determined by the spin of the client) is to take the rudder off the boat and take it home ... to my home and do the rudder restoration there, even if it is not needed.

That is a definite guarantee of full payment for my labour. Handing the rudder back to the owner of the boat that I work on, is a must when 'they' are ready. The last thing an owner want's to do when their boat is ready, is fork out several hundred dollars more or several thousand dollars more and wait upto several months for a new rudder.

I used to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that their payment would be prompt, but sailboat owners think that the wind is free ...so why should professional labour not also be free. When the rudder is off their boat they don't stuff you around with payment after the work is done, not one iota. The wealthiest guys with the biggest boats are the most disappointing when squaring up financially ... unless you have their rudder.

It isn't too hard to tell who will be difficult payers once you have been doing the job for a short while. This is only one aspect of the job of course, but the aspect that allows you to keep moving.

Powerboat owners generally tend to be good clients. They don't stuff you around. They expect to pay whenever their boat moves because they are used to it.

I worked for a long day on an new expensive yacht recently redoing the hydraulics for the keel and the owner gave me a case of beer and said he was good for the money ... and then asked where was his rudder. Big boat owners here, think that they know how to hustle. They are slow learners ... with a small 'h' compared to a small boat H-restorer.


10-12-2006, 01:30 AM
Rudder story is funny. Here in Seattle sailboat owners have the same reputation.

I work mostly on small 20ft or so runabouts. Until a few years ago, I had my own shop. (shut it down to join the dot com bandwagon.) Having a shop simplifies things when it comes to paying up. However, they can still jerk you off mightily by ignoring requests for a payday or "forgetting" his checkbook when he does show up.

An aside.....if there is a worse job for meeting babes, I don't know what it is. When a woman shows up at the shop, almost always she is the guy's wife and 95% of the time she is p!ssed that hubby is spending so much money when she knows where it should go. I have had a women client only a very few times. Maybe less than 5 in thirty some years. If I recall correctly, they've been all been great clients.

Lately, I've been working at the client's location and doing better not having to pay a landlord. Light industrial space in Seattle is expensive!! And for the last few years my clients have been pretty darn good.

Wild Wassa
10-12-2006, 02:08 AM
pcford, that's why I like this site dearly. Our women are so similar.

When the owner says, "I'm bringing my wife to show her the boat on the weekend" the blood drains away quickly and I always suggest midweek. Jobs go along so well and totally hastle free until the little woman shows up. I cringe when the wife shows up. They are so unthere hydrodynamically speaking ... and think that they set the pace.

All unwritten contracts between males need to be explained in painfull detail and accountability ("Well, I'll give your wife one of my kidneys if she will just go away. Why would I ever be so vain as to think that I could need two?") and if the wife turns up and you are drawing a breath, having a glass of water, swaping sandpaper on a longboard (of all things) and not sweating profusely because I've just changed my shirt ... they are looking for a serious discount because you appear slack.

Being a boat restorer is hard work, with long hours, sometimes the best part of seven days a week without the goal posts changing. Your days are all about balancing the late finish of jobs against another over committment but when the boats are finished or repaired, it is worth it.

One small professional tip. Every-now-and-again, try not to lose to the boats that you restore and look surprised when they don't beat you racing. It guarantees your watery life style.

It is really surrealistic when racing against boats that you have workrd on and being beaten by them. I've faired or spent time tuning boats to perform better than they did before. If you do this well and also race against them and you can't beat them ... you win twice.


donald branscom
10-12-2006, 02:38 AM
Brian, I'll keep my eyes open for those book, they sound interesting. But I think that they might be a little out of touch with the current scene, at least where I live. There are hardly any wooden boats around anymore so making a living repairing them would be marginal at best. Sometimes I see guys repairing ferries or old fishing boats but this is surely not what one has in mind when one enrolls at IYRS.
The median price for a house here is about 350,000. A truck,20-30,000, real estate taxes 6,000 and up. The list goes on and on.If you think that knowing how to sister rib a Beetle Cat is a realistic start to a viable career then you had better have made some good contacts back in boatbuilding school coz yer gonna need em.:)

Right on!!

Bill Lowe
10-12-2006, 04:56 AM
The Wilmington area many boatbuilders and Cape Fear Tech a good boatbuilding program. Their are 3 builders within 5 miles of my boatyard on building cold molded boats to 65'. they all need help now and again and so does our boatyard. One man about 20 miles from Wilmington has purchased a 36' Chris and a Mathews for restoration. E-mail me at bill@anchorsawayboatyard.com

10-12-2006, 08:48 AM
Do what you love, the money will follow.

Also marry a Dr or a Lawyer, it helps pay the mortgage. And being married to a Dr is handy when sick. And a lawyer saves you legal fees.

Seriously, IMHO, it is tough to make a living as a small woodworking business. Cabinets, Doors, furniture, or Boats. The overhead of material ( I always felt like I was working to pay Lumber products or Disdero), electrical, machines is high. And the competetion of foreign made products is hard to beat pricewise.
Take the old timer's advice.

10-12-2006, 09:46 AM
doctors and teachers may be bad.....but add PREACHERS to that. I sat in the islands for two summers....with all my electronics test equipment on board...I learned in short order to keep the main electronics units on my boat, and set a time for full installation and testing aboard the subject boat, a day in advance with a bill waiting to be paid.....and no checks.....
I was burned pretty bad doing radar work on 2 charter boats and given bad checks until I put mechanics liens on them...luckily I ran into one in Annapolis....

Wild Wassa
10-14-2006, 11:10 AM
Yesterday I had a chat to two sailors one in the morning and one over lunch. In the morning a chap asked me if I was the guy restoring the 10 Tasars. I asked him if he would like to see them.

We are walking around the boats, the boats are all on new launching trolleys looking smart under their new boat covers. Every boat got talked about in various levels of detail.

We start looking at Phoenix. Phoenix along with five of the other Tasars has been given a new flowcoat surface. Phoenix is below. He then comments on how nice Phoenix is.


Then we move onto Sidewinder (she has Tasar sail #8). This is Sidwinder, she has an International Perfection topcoat on her, I said. He examined Sidewinder is some detail. In her second race after her restoration old Sidewinder beat home a fleet of 16. Then we move onto the final boat, Fearless.

I told him that a bit of effort has gone into Fearless and I explained in detail the amount of time that has gone into the boat and I said this is Fearless' new Imron topcoat. I explain in great detail how Fearless was painted, and told him that her paint was still a bit soft to cut and polish at this stage and in about 4 weeks from now she will be cut and polished and that she will be the class act of the ten and better than Phoenix. He asked, "Does Fearless have sail number 2188?" Fearless doesn't have her signage back on her yet. Tasars also have their sail numbers on their transoms, and this guy knew her sail number? He then said, "I campaigned Fearless in the 1984 World Championships. The chap was Rick Longbottom who is still ranked 4th in the World. At lunchtime Martin Linsley who is ranked 6th in the world examined the Tasars, and said he had sailed all ten of these Tasars and they looked very good.

It isn't all about the money, or even "Do what you love, the money will follow." It is do each boat better than the last. If you work on boats, show your clients that you can win on then too. Doing well guarantees the work. It is Sunday morning in Oz and I can't wait to start work. I'll get five hours of work done by the time I need to rig the boat before this afternoon's race.

My Skipper and I are trying to win the Lake Burley Griffin Regatta, it is the final race today and we are doing OK. The winds during the race yesterday were gusting to 40+knots and the race was run in 25-30 knots. Only 8 boats ventured on to the course yesterday, normally we would expect 70+. Yesterday was wild, there were more safety boats on the water than competitors. In yesterday's race, a Sonata 6.7 went around the course in the wrong direction, but then they are only floating caravans. Two Hobie Tiger Skippers asked if they were going in the right direction, but they had gone before we could answer. Two light weight Australian 18ft Sharpies both got hammered, one of them had a catastrophic failure but their speed was impressive and there were three class acts ... all Flying Fifteens. A stack of big boats rigged up, made it to the water's edge and then their Skippers thought better of it.

Today's prediction is for gail force winds and I thought yesterday was totally outrageous. We got hammered yesterday. We got knocked down twice, and nearly lost the boat on at least several other occasions. At no stage during yesterday's race was my Skipper in real control nor did the maisail work at any stage, not even when free running ... the spinnaker was the only thing that worked. The safety boats couldn't keep up with us. It was a lot safer running with the wind yesterday than to any other point of sail. I helped the boom on each jibe and didn't rip my arms off (normally I do) ... the potential was there with the gusts to do damage to my new prosthetic arms that I had fitted during last week.

After the race I went and checked the wind speed readouts ... as I always do. I checked the readouts before the race and all I could see on the moving scale was 40+. The Canberra YC has a good weather station.


Wild Wassa
10-15-2006, 05:01 AM
Did the sound of sustained hard work scare the chap off or was it the fact that being self reliant is time consuming or that the financing of boat restorations is expensive (unlike working for wages) before the possibility of a client's default payment ... rattled his bones? He didn't appear to last long, just like all of them who ask questions like his.

Back to this boat restorer's marketing program (just in case he is still lurking); We came third in the Lake Burley Griffin (combined clubs) Regatta. 60+ boats raced today, the wind was very healthy and remained spirited all arvo. The safety boats made only one recovery within the race fleet. The recovery was made before the race started because of gear failure to a rudder pin. The boat did return to the water after a change of gear and quick repairs. The four safety boats despite not attending to the fleet spent all afternoon rescuing members of the general public who got their boats into difficulties in the sturdy winds.

We sailed to the second mark in today's race before the first mark. We mistook a B course flag for a port rounding flag but corrected our error and rounded the first mark in about 55th place. At the finish after clawing our way back against many boats we got to within one metre of the line then through the boat about and sailed back to round the third mark because we had missed the third mark ... but we had done enough yesterday to gain third spot in the regatta.

Learn to sail Mate, our skills went awol today but we will practice a few times this week for many hours. Unless you are doing it, you are only a virtual Skipper. It is the same thing, there is nothing virtuous in wanting to work on boats.