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The 8-Layer B̶u̶r̶r̶i̶t̶o̶ Boat

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Boats are big funny things. They look funny; they move funny; they smell funny. If you’re not used to boats, there’s a lot in them that probably seems rather odd to you.

Like anything, a boat is a mere collection of simpler components. If you’re thinking about buying yourself that little sloop or want to understand better what makes up a boat, I offer this simple guide on how to think about all that you see aboard.

The 8 Systems of a Boat (and the eight skillsets), in order of importance.

  1. Hull and Deck (fiberglass and woodwork)

  2. Rig (rigging)

  3. Engine (mechanics)

  4. Electrical (electrical)

  5. Plumbing (plumbing)

  6. Furniture (fiberglass and woodworking)

  7. Paint (painting)

  8. Canvas (sewing)

See if you can find something on the boat that doesn’t fall into one of these buckets. Dock lines? Rigging. Cushions? Canvas. That thru-hull? Fiberglass and plumbing. The toilet? Plumbing and maybe some fiberglass.

What about this order of importance? Every system may not rest precisely in the correct place on the list for your boat, nor apply to every scenario, but they are close. Ensure the hull is sound, as you would a foundation in a house, before concerning yourself with the cushions. That is probably obvious to you. Ensure the electrical system won’t burn the place down before fretting over the tattered sail covers. Maybe that sounds obvious as well, but what if those holey sail covers are protecting a few thousand dollars worth of sails from UV damage? Take the sails off the rig and out of the sun and address any fire (electrical) and sinking (hull and plumbing) concerns first.

Thinking about a boat in this way can help demystify the complex vessel before you and guide your thinking regarding your skills and prioritizing of projects. For every fulfilled dream in a marina, there are ten broken ones in the neighboring slips. Being prepared for the beauty and the joy and the pain and the sorrow of boat ownership will help make you that one in ten. One day, one project, one layer at a time.

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