Wood Boat Pre-Restoration Assessment – General

People always ask why it takes so long to restore an old wood boat.  My response is that unknown problems often lie beneath the boat’s gleaming varnish.  Many structural issues cannot be seen until the Boatwright is well into the dis-assembly procedure.  After restoring dozens of Chris-Craft runabouts and utilities, along with surveying numerous more, I discovered some common indicators of problems lurking in the boat’s frame structure.  The following information can be used to survey the general condition of similar mahogany planked boats.  As with all wood boats, they will degrade over time and eventually require a complete restoration.  In my experience, every boat has had different usage, storage, maintenance, and repairs; with some of the work performed by previous boat owners and other by hired individuals or marinas.  Unfortunately, much of the work has been a “cheap patch and scratch” in order to save money or simply to survive one more summer of boating.  Other boats appeared to have been given a quick mop and glow shine for the purpose of resale.  These types of quick, short-cut restorations give professional wood boat restorers headaches.
After asking the boat owner for all available boat history, including past owners, usage, storage, repairs, and maintenance, the first thing I do when a boat is brought to me is walk around it to get a general feel for its condition.  Within this first look, I can survey the hull’s straightness, the fit and finish of hardware, correctness of interior appointments and mechanics, and determine the boat’s general overall condition.  On the boat’s topsides I look for short planks, an indicator of past repairs, bowed planks and loose bungs, showing broken or loose fasteners, and surface rot.  When looking at plank fairness and fit on the boat, dried out planks will show large gaps between them, and cupped or bowed planks may indicate foreign material between the plank edges.  Dark stains in the wood may indicate boat refastening done with steel or stainless steel screws.  These cheaper wood screws will degrade over time in the humid environment and stain the deck and boat side planking.  After locating a problem, I look closer and poke the wood with an ice pick to detect how much of the planking is affected.  You would be surprised how deep rot can travel and disintegrate framing under the mahogany skin.