BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau


Are Storm-Damaged Boats
Trash Or Treasure?

By Charles Fort
Published: April/May 2013

Hoping for a great deal out of Hurricane Sandy? You may get lucky, but here's what you're getting into.

Trash To Treasure?

For consumers, buying and repairing a boat with severe storm damage brings many challenges. Though CAT Team surveyors try to establish a rough repair estimate, it's not nearly as complete as if a boat were going through the normal repair process. Once the CTL threshold is reached, other damage might not even be assessed. One big challenge is simply transporting a damaged boat. An auction winner has a short time to remove the boat from the storage yard, and it has to be stored somewhere while the repairs take place. Add transportation and storage to the distressed price of the boat and it may not be such a good deal.

Photo of damaged boat washed up on a beach after Superstorm Sandy

One of the most devastating events that can happen to any boat is sinking in saltwater. All too often engines are not flushed and pickled right away after a major storm because boatyards have to dig out for days before any work can be done. Engines, which can make up half of a small boat's value, can be permanently damaged by corrosion. Saltwater damages electrical devices and connections and can wick into wires, requiring a complete rewiring of the boat. Soft goods, such as cushions, bedding, and carpeting will have to be thrown away. Wooden bulkheads may be waterlogged and will begin to rot and need replacing. Steering systems and engine controls will likely be damaged as well. It's safer to assume the worst for a saltwater-submerged boat.

Still, some people are up for the challenge. Years ago, member Dave Netting bought a 35-foot O'Day sailboat that ended its previous life during a hurricane by crashing through breaking waves onto the rocky Maine coast. Netting knew the boat needed serious repairs and didn't even bother to have a marine surveyor inspect it. When it finally arrived, he described it as a seaweed-filled hole with a boat around it. The boat, while admittedly a mess, was certainly a bargain. Dave's experience with fiberglass and woodworking was limited and he expected the project to take about a year to complete. The boat, however, had other ideas, and the job, start to finish, took a little over two years, working every spare minute of every day. The cost, not including his own labor, was a little less than half of what a new boat would have cost.

Would Netting do it again? "Looking back on it, no," he says. "We did a lot of work and took some pretty big chances."

Paying someone else to repair a storm-damaged boat is rarely cost effective. Repair yards routinely charge $85 per hour and up, and the labor can run to hundreds of hours. It can cost thousands just to rewire a 35-foot boat. Even experienced repair yards that buy storm-damaged boats can get in over their heads and find costs getting out of hand. As one boatyard owner joked: "How do you make a million dollars repairing storm-damaged boats? Start with 2 million dollars."

Still, in the aftermath of a major storm, hope often emerges, and new dreams are born amidst the destruction. Auction sites have pages of mangled boats that can be had for a fraction of their pre-damage value, and some of the deals seem too good to pass up. But before you consider buying a CTL, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the boat still a bargain after transportation and storage costs are added to the purchase price?
  • Do you have the skills, tools, time, and a storage facility?
  • Are you undaunted by large projects?
  • Would zoning or subdivision rules prevent you from parking a boat on your property?
  • Will your neighbors be OK with seeing a wrecked boat in your backyard or driveway?
  • Do they tolerate the sound of power tools late into the night?
  • If you decide you have the skill, attention span, and money for such a project, be sure to hire an experienced marine surveyor to inspect the boat before you bid. The money you spend could save you thousands of dollars and many sleepless nights.End of story marker
| 1 | 2

BoatUS Consumer Protection may be able to help you find a workable solution. If you need help, email us at or call (703) 461-2856.


 Recommended Articles
Gray rule

Thumbnail photo of a surveyor inspecting a boat hullBuying A Used Boat?

A marine surveyor is hired to protect your interests and to make sure a boat is sound. Here's how to find the best one

Thumbnail photo of men inspecting a boatDon't Fall For A Pretty Face

Hiring a professional surveyor before you buy could be the most important decision you'll make

Thumbnail photo of Scam Warning signBoat Buying And Selling Scams

Learning to recognize the signs will help you protect yourself from boat buying and selling scams


BoatUS Magazine Is A Benefit Of BoatUS Membership

Membership Also Provides:

  • Subscription to the print version of BoatUS Magazine
  • 4% back on purchases from West Marine stores or online at
  • Discounts on fuel, transient slips, repairs and more at over 1,000 businesses
  • Deals on cruises, charters, car rentals, hotel stays and much more ...
  • All For Only $24 A Year!

Join Today!