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5 Easy Sailboat Exterior Upgrades


Simple, inexpensive improvements that take an hour or less.

Few sailboat projects can be described as quick, simple, and inexpensive. New canvas and sails are costly. Polishing, waxing, and painting are time-consuming. Happily, there are a few exterior upgrades that cost little to nothing and are readily affected by even the most work-shy sailor. Here are five ways to refresh a well-loved yacht and show her at her best.

Drying lines

After washing, hang lines to dry or tumble in the dryer. (Photo: Fiona McGlynn)

1. Clean The Lines

Dirt and salt make lines unpleasant to handle and shorten their lifespan. Fortunately a quick cold-water run through the washing machine is all that's needed to make nylon and polyester ropes look and feel like new . Optionally, presoak rope in a bucket of water for a few hours. Be sure to coil the rope or pile it into a pillowcase prior to washing (unless of course you're a Gordian knot enthusiast). Hang ropes to dry or tumble in the dryer on low heat.

Stanchion rust

Rust can easily be removed from fiberglass with a dab of oxalic acid. (Photo: Fiona McGlynn)

2. Remove Rust Stains

Nothing mars the image of crisp white sails or gleaming fiberglass like an unsightly rust stain. Fortunately, these are easily eradicated with a small amount of oxalic acid, often sold at hardware stores as wood bleach. Simply dab the oxalic acid onto the stained area to soak for a minute, then rinse with water and repeat as necessary. No elbow grease required! Beware that oxalic acid can bleach and discolor if left on for too long. It's also toxic and corrosive, so take the appropriate safety precautions and avoid rinsing it into waterways.

Shining metal with sock

"Stainless" steel is a bit of a misnomer. (Photo: BoatUS)

3. Restore Stainless Steel

Despite what the name suggests, stainless steel does in fact rust. Oxidization or "surface rust" can be removed with baking soda paste or a metal polish. I've used a product called Nevr-Dull (about $10 for 5 ounces through Amazon) to great success on our stainless-steel pulpit and stanchions. Regularly hosing down your stainless steel with freshwater will also cut down on oxidization.

Install lettering

The boat's name may last forever, but the vinyl lettering isn't. (Photo: BoatUS)

4. Replace Peeling Vinyl Lettering

Replacing scratched and sun-damaged vinyl lettering is a quick and satisfying job. Most graphics can be removed by applying heat with a hair dryer and peeling back the vinyl by hand. Use a razor blade to carefully scrape away any tricky sections. Once removed, thoroughly clean the area with an adhesive remover before applying new lettering. BoatUS members get 10% off BoatUS Boat Graphics & Lettering and 50% off duplicate graphics .

Sailboat at dock

Time to clear the decks! A cluttered deck makes it challenging to quickly maneuver onboard. (Photo: Fiona McGlynn)

5. Clear The Decks

This old adage comes from the times of wooden ships, but is equally salient on today's cruisers. Taking the time to clear and organize the deck will make for safer and more pleasant sailing.

  • Remove any cleats, winches, or rope guides that are broken or part of legacy systems.
  • Add rope bags to help tame mess in the cockpit. They often come with pockets for winch handles and cup holders and are a convenient place to stash sunglasses, phones, and sunscreen.
  • Stow empty fuel jugs, fenders, toys, and fishing gear in a secure locker.
  • Consider an inflatable kayak or paddleboard that can be brought below while underway rather than stored on deck.
  • Secure any deck cushions or upholstery in place with hook-and-loop tape or snaps.

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Fiona McGlynn

Contributing Editor, BoatUS Magazine

BoatUS Magazine contributing editor Fiona McGlynn and her husband sailed their 35-footer trans-Pacific for two years. Now living north of 59, she’s part of their local search and rescue team and edits, a millennial boating website.

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10 Best Winter Upgrades for Your Sailboat

Best Winter Upgrades for Your Sailboat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

No matter what time of the year, a sailboat will always be a sailor's top priority. In most cases, the amount of time you spend on the water during winter is limited, so it's the right time to make the most of this time and get some winter upgrades for your sailboat. If anything, you've perhaps been postponing the upgrades for the fear of losing a good and adventurous day on the water.

Upgrading your boat once in a while is part and parcel of the boating lifestyle. Whether you're looking to add fun, comfort, value, style, functionality, or something that reflects your personality, there's arguably no better way to soup up your sailboat than with the best winter upgrades. In most cases, these upgrades are so impactful not just in terms of enhancing your sailing experience but also in ensuring that your sailboat is at its best when the time is right to hit the waters.

Whether you're a full-time race or a casual cruiser, there's no shortage of the best sailboat winter upgrades that can enhance the look, functionality, and safety of your sailboat. One of the biggest winter upgrades for your boat should be, without a doubt, new sails. You can also upgrade your battery system, heating system, motor, seat upholstery, smart devices, solar system, deck flooring, and many other parts that will make your sailboat much better while enhancing your sailing experience.

To be very honest, you've perhaps been postponing some upgrades that will enhance the functionality of your boat. So instead of lamenting that you're unable to take your boat to the waters because we're in the middle of winter, it's time to give your sailboat gifts that really count: the best winter upgrades. If you're still wondering what you can do, here are the 10 best winter upgrades for your sailboat.

Table of contents

Best Sailboat Winter Upgrades

One of the most important and probably the biggest winter upgrades that you can give your sailboat is finding her some new sails. We all know the benefits of having crispy and well-working sails, so you should never leave your sails to turn into those yellowing rags and still convince yourself that they're still good enough to serve you just right. In short, old sails that have been stretched out and full of patches will never be efficient. So if you're in a situation where you have to crank down your sails until they create a huge crease, it's time to ensure that getting new sails is a number one winter upgrade priority.

We don't want to sound unrealistic and we are fully aware that new sails are quite expensive. However, we believe that you truly care about your sailing performance, and getting new sails is certainly well worth the investment. With new sails, your sailboat will sail a lot faster and efficiently in all weather and water conditions. Better still, new sails will enhance your safety and that should always be your number one priority.

Sail Handling Systems

It would make much sense to sacrifice and invest a lot of money in getting new sails only to rely on sail handling systems that will let you down every time. You do not want your sails to fold, flak, and drop as this can be very frustrating. Worst still, it can leave you in a precarious situation particularly in rough conditions.

But to make your life easier and more fun when it's time to hit the waters, you should seriously consider getting a new roller furler to your boat's Headstay. With this, you will kiss goodbye flaking, dropping, and folding of sails, especially in critical sailing moments. Again, you won't have to crawl onto a pitching foredeck just to pull down your boat's headsail. The new roller furler will make work easier as it helps you roll and unroll the headsail with a line pull from the safety and convenience of your boat's cockpit.

You have to keep in mind that there are lots of roller furlers out there on the market today. As such, make sure that you do your research and go for the most perfect unit for you in terms of your boat type, budget, and intended use. Additionally, you can also go for other units such as an elaborate in-boom furler and a canvas stack pack system if you want a complete sail handling convenience.

Automated Identification System (AIS)

Purchasing a VHF or GPS with AIS capabilities is another easy winter upgrade for your sailboat, especially if you're looking for ways to enhance your safety while out there on the water. This is essentially a fully automated tracking system that is of great importance in identifying and tracking other visual vessels on the water. This upgrade is essential for positional awareness and avoiding possible collisions. An AIS system can send and receive signals and information about your course, size of vessels, and speed. The fact that information is transmitted over VHF frequencies means that the unit will never be affected by islands or mountains, so it can see around corners and in faraway horizons.

Today, AIS is mandatory in all commercial vessels but it's still gaining ground among recreational boaters. As such, this is the right time to make it a priority and stay ahead of the sailing game. There are lots of AIS units out there but make sure that you go for a unit that offers a fully-functional GPS. It should also be compatible with a Chartplotter as well as a smartphone via Wi-Fi. The AIS can also be ideal in helping your friends and loved ones in tracking your whereabouts online. All you have to do is enter your MMI number and you'll be good to go.

The struggles with seasickness, fatigue, and anxiety are real and affect most of us while out there on the water. Although the Seakeeper is a relatively new kid on the block, this innovative device is a stabilizer that has calm-inducing effects. It is said that it can mitigate almost 95% of boat roll, seasickness, anxiety, and fatigue. This device will allow you and your guests to enjoy a high level of stability like never before.

Ideal for vessels measuring 23 feet and above, this unit runs on modest electrical power and has no appendages meaning that it can be installed anywhere within the boat and it will work excellently. So instead of counting down the days until your next trip to the ocean now that it is winter, you should get a Seakeeper installed on your sailboat and forget about the constant motions that sailboats are known for. In essence, a Seakeeper will make your boating adventures more enjoyable.

Battery Monitor

A battery monitor is unquestionably one of the best winter upgrades for your sailboat. This is because you do not want to run out of battery while out there as it can seriously infringe on your fun. Almost akin to a gas gauge, a battery monitor will tell you how many amps hours you have in your battery bank. In short, a battery monitor is of great importance in mitigating guesswork and is essential in improving your boat's energy consumption. A battery monitor will not only enhance your boating experience but will also ensure that you never run out of power.

Seat Upholstery

One of the most used places in your boat is probably the seat upholstery. Whether you're always sailing alone or with friends and loved ones, your seating upholstery will undergo the most wear and tear. From dirt, sand, water, and food, they'll all affect your boat's seat upholstery and will take a toll after a period.

While care can be essential in prolonging the seat's lifespan, it may reach a point where the seat upholstery is in a bad condition and the only solution is to replace it. You do not have to replace your existing seat upholstery if they're still in good condition. The best thing to do in this situation is to invest in some seat covers. On the contrary, you won't have much of a choice if the seat upholstery is damaged. You can replace it by upgrading to a much better one.

Remember, having the right seat upholstery will augment the value and aesthetic appeal of your sailboat. You should, therefore, never underestimate the importance of having a better unit.

The importance of a good-working motor can never be downplayed. If your boat's motor is faulty it would not make much sense to repair it because the costs of repairing the faulty one are almost the same as the costs of a new motor. With a powerful new motor, your boat will have more performance, speed, torque, and fuel efficiency.

This means that a new motor will give you more boating opportunities, enhance your boating adventures, and improve the functionality of your vessel. A new motor will ensure that your engine is much better and that's certainly one of the most important things if you want to enhance your boating adventures.

Heating System

Today, sailing around the Pacific Northwest seems to be an all-year-round activity. It may be quite cold but why get bored if you can put some of the best winter upgrades on your sailboat and hit the waters? Well, one of the most important upgrades for all-year cruisers is the heating system. With a properly working heating system, you'll be able to cruise in some of the coldest places in the Pacific Northwest without feeling the cold pinch.

With that in mind, you should look for an innovative heating system; a unit that will allow you to have instant hot water for showers or for washing the dishes. With a heating system, you won't have to run the diesel heater to warm water. All you have to do is flick on a switch and you'll have instant hot water. Such a system should be low on energy consumption to keep your energy consumption low.

Solar System

You've probably noticed that many boaters are now installing solar systems on their boats. As a source of clean and renewable energy, solar is gradually becoming very popular, especially with boaters looking for environment-friendly ways of cruising around the boats. While many boaters still use a generator or an engine to charge their batteries, you may be forced to stay at a given place for extended periods. But with a solar system, you get the flexibility of charging your boat's batteries from anywhere.

Smart Devices and Stereo Systems

Let's be honest here; many recreational sailors are out there to have fun on their boats and music is a huge part of this fun. This is why media control, smart devices, and audio outputs are becoming highly popular in the boating industry since they enhance the boating fun. So if you've been looking to make your boat more comfortable with some of the best winter upgrades, you might want to consider installing one of the best and modern deck speakers.

And because most stereo systems are controlled by smart devices, you can consider getting one of the smart devices on your boat to enhance your entertainment experience while cruising around the waters. You'll, of course, have to install USB ports or even get a portable charger as well as any extra device to keep you entertained.

In essence, some of the latest electronics are one of the best winter upgrades to have on your sailboat. After all, the last thing that you'd want when out there sailing is the frustrating sound of the engine as it goes through the water. With smart devices and a stereo system, you'll keep everyone entertained.

Bonus: Beautify Your Boat

There's nothing so appealing than having a very attractive boat. In most cases, not many people will appreciate or even notice your boat by the virtue that it performs so well. Instead, they will be attracted by how gorgeous it is and this should be one of the main things to consider for your winter upgrades. Whether it's a new paint job or an additional design, just make sure that your boat looks clean and attractive at all times.

In conclusion, we must admit that the rapid pace of innovation in the marine system is revolutionizing the types of upgrades that we might bring to our boats. Whether your boat has a problem or you just want to enhance its performance and aesthetic appeal, there's no better way of doing it than with some of the best winter upgrades. All you have to do is stay on the lookout and you might learn about a proper winter upgrade that might make your next sailing trip a much better one.

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I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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