The DIY Age • Boat owners have always been “do-it-yourselfers” when it comes to maintenance like oil changes, varnish upkeep and bottom painting. But recently, the need to tackle projects ourselves instead of hiring workers at $90/hour has become more real. We are not going to quit using our boats, nor are we going to stop tweaking them with upgrades to make them better, safer and more fun just because of the economic downturn.

The fact of the matter is that the new boat market has been suffering during the recession, while the discounted used boat market has been doing okay and the aftermarket for gear and equipment has been doing fine. Most of us are still in the game; we’re just trying to save money where we can and we’re back to getting our hands dirty in the process. Not a bad thing, since cruising and voyaging demand that we be as self-sufficient as possible.

If you are not naturally handy, don’t be deterred from tackling upgrades and renovations on your boat. Seek advice and assistance from your handier buddies, but don’t be afraid to get out the hole saw to add a seacock or the Sawzall to cut through a bulkhead so you can run new wiring or plumbing. Be cautious and prudent, but don’t be afraid. Boats are meant to be upgraded.

Every skipper will have his or her own priorities for upgrades, but here are a few that stand the test of time:

Navigation. An integrated electronics package that includes GPS, sailing instruments, chartplotter, radar and an autopilot will make navigation easier and your time on the water safer. Add AIS if you can.

. A robust windlass with two primary anchors and a spare third anchor will allow you to anchor out in a wide range of weather conditions over a variety of sea bottoms.

Safety. EPIRBs and PLBs save lives when properly registered and used in emergencies. Add a liferaft with all the flares and signaling devices recommended by the ISAF for Category 1 sailing if possible (

Energy. With computers, smartphones and other modern electronics on board, you need to generate a lot of juice to keep the batteries topped up. Increase your battery bank to 400 amp hours or more. Add a high-output alternator; install a solar panel and wind generator; then, add a good high output inverter.

Comfort. Simple upgrades to your living space make a huge difference. Upgrade the fridge with new insulation and a modern compressor. Add fitted sheets to all bunks and pillows, blankets and covers to suit your climate. Install reading lights and upgrade to LED bulbs to save energy. Install hatch screens to keep the bugs out and Hella fans to keep air moving through the cabins. If you sail in temperate waters, add a diesel heater to keep the cabins warm and dry. And don’t forget a good blender for mixing sundowners.

You can do a lot of these upgrades yourself with a little encouragement, patience and a positive attitude. Tackled in a methodical way, the expenses can be spread out and you can still have time for a lot of sailing. Plus, with each upgrade you become evermore the master of your own vessel. For more on DYI projects, see this month’s special section on page 46.

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