Skip to main content

DIY and the IKEA Effect

For my money, there’s no greater satisfaction in a boat owner’s life than the act of pouring blood and sweat into a project worth doing.


When I was growing up, our 31-foot Hunter sailboat was a member of the family. As one would take the dog to the vet for annual shots, we would take Ragtime for her annual haul out. Actually, we referred to this pilgrimage as annual, but it was more like every year and a half, since we had divers scrub the bottom on a monthly basis, and it took about 18 months for the ablative bottom paint to wear thin and need replacing.

Each time the haul out came around, the big decision was always whether to have the boat serviced professionally or to do the work ourselves. We routinely considered our options, including the venerable practice of careening the boat (an idea that, while a fun thought, never came to pass because of environmental regulations). One year we finally settled on doing the job ourselves at a local boatyard that allowed owners to do their own work.

On the appointed day, Dad and I watched the Travelift pluck Ragtime from the water, revealing several bare patches on the hull and many rust stains on the iron keel, which clearly needed treatment. After waiting a day to allow the hull to dry, we returned with an old Ford station wagon full of enough sanding gear, epoxy fillers, paintbrushes, rollers and other tools to open a hardware store.

We topped off our coffee tumblers and went to work.

Sanding the hull was straightforward. Treating and preparing the iron keel was another story. After two 12-hour days spent sweating under the South Florida sun, we finally finished the prep work. Looking like a couple of blue Smurfs with little white faces where our painters’ masks had been, we headed home for showers, questioning whether our decision to do the work ourselves had been a wise one.

The third day, we returned to complete the job. Cutting in and rolling on the paint was a breeze, and our reservations from the previous day evaporated as we frequently paused to admire the way our boat’s bottom job was coming together. With a final stroke of the roller, we stood back and basked in the results. Ragtime looked as good as the day we’d bought her. Better, really.

With a deep sense of pride, we returned home, not quite as Smurflike as the day before, though all the more exhausted. Attaboys were doled out. Celebratory beverages were consumed.

As boaters, most of us are no strangers to doing things ourselves. It’s almost implied in the bill of sale. There’s just something about applying a bit of elbow grease that makes the completion of a boat project all the sweeter. I call it the “IKEA effect,” in honor of the Swedish manufacturer whose wares typically arrive with major assembly required. The process can be a clusterfest, but the gratification you feel when the job is done can be immense.

For my money, there’s no greater satisfaction in a boat owner’s life than the act of pouring his or her own blood and sweat—and sometimes a healthy measure of four-letter expletives—into a project worth doing as we mess about in our little prides and joys. I say bring it on.

AP shot