10 Easy, Affordable DIY Boat Improvement Projects


Whether you love wakesurfing, freshwater fishing is your game, or sailing across the bay is how you enjoy your time on the water, one thing is for sure: you love your boat. But no boat is perfect, and virtually every great boat could be made even better.

add more rod holders

Ready to roll up your sleeves, and get involved in a little DIY boat improvement? These 10 projects are easy to complete, low-cost, and guaranteed to boost your boat’s cool-factor.

Read to Upgrade Your Boat? Explore the Boat Finder


1. Install a Cell Phone Cradle

When stepping aboard a boat most people stow their cell phone in a glove box (where it bangs around), pack it away in a stowage compartment (you’ll have to dig it out whenever it rings, if you hear it in the first place), or sit it on top of a console (until the first big wave sends it tumbling to the deck). Wouldn’t it be nice to have a cell phone cradle, right by the helm?

These can be had for a few dozen dollars, are uber-easy to install either via peel-and-stick adhesive, suction cups, or by driving in a couple of screws, and they come in all kinds of different adjustable mounts and cradles. If you don’t mind spending a bit more (slightly over $100 in most cases) and running a power wire, you can even get one that has wireless charging built-in.

2. Add More Fishing Rod Holders

Can a fishing boat ever have enough rod holders? We think not! And adding them is very easy as long as you stick with clamp-on rail mounts, or surface-mounts. All you need to add those clamp-ons is a wrench or Allen key, and surface mounts generally get held down with three or four screws.

Prices for rod holders varies by material but even if you eschew the cheaper plastic versions and go for aluminum or stainless, steel, you’ll hardly break the bank.

add more boat cupholders

3. Add More Cupholders

Your boat almost certainly already has a few cupholders, and you almost certainly wonder how they all seem to fill up so fast. Most boaters agree that having more would be a good thing, and there are plenty of inexpensive models out there that can be suction-cupped or peel-and-stick mounted in moments.

4. Install USB Charging Ports

Sick and tired of your electronic accessories running out of juice when you’re 10 miles from the dock? The problem is easily solved by adding USB charging ports to your boat. F

or about $20 you can get a double-port receptacle that has a round one-inch cut-out (read: all you have to do to mount it is drill one round, standard-sized hole) and requires just a positive and negative power feed from the boat’s 12-volt system.

5. Upgrade Your Fish Finder

Many people think upgrading to a new fish finder is a big, expensive job, and in some cases it is. But in other cases, not so much. Many modern units can be upgraded on the cheap in a matter of minutes with a software update and a new transducer.

how to use a fishfinder

Software updates are usually free and easy to accomplish (visit your unit’s manufacturer website to determine the exact process, which in some cases is as simple as getting a WiFi link and pressing “go”), and a new transducer rarely costs so much as a couple hundred dollars. Spring for it, and your old fish finder may suddenly have new functions and features galore.

Don't have a fish finder? Learn how to use one, and then install one yourself!

6. Turn a Cooler into a Seat

Most major cooler brands offer seat-conversion kits that can be installed in a matter of minutes.

Cost will depend on the size and brand of the cooler you use, but all you have to do is screw in the snaps that secure the cushion to the top of the cooler and then snap it in place. Poof! You just gained another spot to sit down.

7. Add a Cabinet Door Trash Can

Many boats don’t have trash cans designed in and as a result, you’re always looking for a place to stow those empties.

Solve the problem by getting a behind-the-cabinet-door trash can, which costs next to nothing and can be mounted with screws or adhesive. Then, whenever you swing the cabinet door open the trash can will be right there waiting for you.

8. Get a Rear-View Mirror

boat rear view mirror

If your crew enjoys watersports But your boat doesn’t have a rear-view mirror, adding one would be a great upgrade. There are a number of models out there (most of which go for well under $100) which can be mounted to a windshield frame in moments with hand-screw clamps.

9. Install a High-Water Alarm in the Bilge

Having an alarm belowdecks will give you some serious peace of mind and expand your safety margin. And the project can be incredibly easy, because there are battery-powered units which can be mounted with peel-and-stick pads.

If you don’t want to worry about changing the batteries, just opt for a hard-wired unit (you’ll need to run a power line from the bus bar or battery). What about cost? Prices range from $20 or so up to a couple hundred dollars for hard-wired versions with both audible and visual alarms.

10. Add Multicolor LED Lighting

You wish your boat had mood lighting that changed colors at your command? Not only is it do-able, it’s easy to add. Multicolored LED rope lights that mount with sticky-back foam tape can be placed under the gunwales, around seats, and in cabins. All you’ll have to do is wire in the power supply, and get ready to wow your crew with the colorful display.

How Will You Upgrade Your Boat?

There are much larger, more expensive projects you could get involved in, like adding a sub-woofer to the stereo system or mounting a windlass at the bow. But big projects like those command a serious budget and a serious amount of time.

These 10 KISS boat improvement endeavors, on the other hand, can be done on the cheap in a matter of minutes. Choose one or choose them all, and congratulations—your great boat just became better.

Read Next: First Time Boat Owner's Off-Season Checklist

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