Nov 8, 2018

Engine ReplacementA recent conversation with a fellow contractor got me thinking: With all of the information out there, including: Websites showing repairs, YouTube tutorials, Instagram pages and snapchat streams – let alone books, magazines, service manuals, and years of practical experience – how does a boat owner know which method(s) are ‘right’, who to trust, and who to hire to do the job? In short: How do you find and select a contractor?

Unfortunately, most people are forced to hire a contractor due to a circumstance where something has broken or failed, or the task is simply beyond the boat owner’s skills or knowledge. This could include woodwork, fiberglass, electrical, plumbing or mechanical (engine) repairs. It is often a time of uncertainly, angst and anxiety. The overriding concerns are almost always: Who will I find to fix this? And - How much will it cost?

So – lets figure this out. Start with:

Where do you find a contractor?

1) Dealers and recommended installers. If you have a specific product, you should look to have it serviced by a contractor who deals in this type of equipment. They will have access to the correct service information, original/correct replacement parts, and the specialty tools necessary to complete certain tasks (that not every contractor has access to).

2) Insurance company referrals. Your insurance company may be able to connect you with a reputable contractor that they recommend. An insurance referral, if you’re able to get one, is generally a reliable one.

3) Internet search. There’s a catch: You’ll miss out on a lot of contractors. We seem to be so busy doing work, that a lot of us haven’t spent the time or energy in focusing on digital marking and search engine optimization.

4) Ask your neighbors. Try to come up with a list of contractors who work at your marina or yacht club. The bonus: you’ll be in touch with contractors who are familiar with your club/marina, and who you know are willing to work there.

5) Message boards at Marinas/yacht clubs and at marine stores – many stores, clubs and marinas have bulletin boards for contractors to post ads or leave business cards
6) Boat and trade shows: Meet contractors in person and talk about your job one-on-one!

Hull repairHopefully this list will allow you to find a contractor. So, what questions should you ask? Here’s a brief list:

Is the contractor you’re hiring competent to perform the task? Do they have knowledge of the area that you require work to be done?

Does the contractor have the necessary resources? Access to specialty tools or equipment, manufacturer specific parts, and wholesale pricing on supplies and materials?

Is the contractor willing to provide references, and to show photos of past work?

Is the contractor insured?

What methods of payment does the contractor accept? Credit cards, e-transfers, cheques, cash? Do they propose a payment schedule?

Does the contractor provide a written estimate? What are the terms and conditions (if any), and what are your rights and responsibilities (as the boat owner)?

Now that you have information, try to compare apples-to-apples. The best price may not always be the best deal. Other factors are just as important as price:

Does the timing of the work (and of payment) suit your needs?

Will the quality of the finished product meet your needs?

Is the contractor reliable (through references and photos)?

In the case of a dispute, problem, damage, accident, break, or a larger problem discovered in the course of work: Do you have a backup plan? Will the contractor work with you to solve any issues that arise? Will your insurance company be able to work with the contractor if issues are escalated?

A final note: I hear from many new customers “I’m glad I found you, marine mechanics are tough to find!”

The articles that I have read in recent years all agree: The marine industry is shrinking, not growing – and contractors are becoming more difficult to find. Those that can be found (especially sole-proprietors) are often busy and hard to get ahold of. Some patience and persistence may be necessary from your end to find and hire the right contractor for you.

Contractors in the marine industry come in all shapes and sizes: Some are ‘backyard mechanics’ that work out of the back of their trucks part-time. Others run multi-million dollar yards. And many fall between the two spectrums. It’s important to find the ‘right’ type of contractor to fit your needs, project, timeline and budget. But it’s also important to do your due diligence before money changes hands, to ensure that your project is completed to your expectations.


Andrew McDonaldAndrew McDonald is the owner of Lakeside Marine Services – a boat repair/maintenance firm based in Toronto. Andrew has worked in the marine industry for 12 years and is a graduate of the Georgian College ‘Mechanical Techniques - Marine Engine Mechanic’ program.

Questions or comments for Andrew? Email him directly via: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.