Introduction: Buying a Boat Online: Adventures of Lil Putt Restoration

Picture of Buying a Boat Online: Adventures of Lil Putt Restoration

Step 1: Lesson 1: Too Good to Be True?

Picture of Lesson 1: Too Good to Be True?

A friend of mine found this boat online for $1500, so we went to have a look.  Initially, it was going to be a flip, but upon laying eyes on her, all entrepreneurial ideas went out the window.  My girlfriend and I fell in love with her and after some discussion about her present condition, purchased her on the spot for $1200.   The previous owner, Frank, stated that the 'Vessel ran great before he replaced the injectors'.  At the time, reality was no where to be found as our minds were envisioning hours of pleasure cruising up and down the Gulf Islands.  In hindsight, the appropriate question to ask should have been, "if the engine ran so great, why replace the injectors?"  But alas this was not to be, so we gave him a wad of cash,  hooked her up to the truck, and took her to her new home.  Remember, always find out all you can about the boat BEFORE you buy it!!

The vessel's name is 'Lil Putt' and was built on Vancouver Island.  There were 5 similar vessels built but I have only managed to track down 2 that are still operational. She is 14ft long, has a Volvo Penta MD4b Diesel Engine, and was built in the early 60's across from Mill Bay in a fellow's garage. 

Step 2: Lesson 2: Diagnosing the Isses... the Fun Begins

Picture of Lesson 2: Diagnosing the Isses... the Fun Begins

When we returned home, we launched her in the water, got out the tools, and began the battle.  After hooking up a battery, putting some diesel in the tank, and checking the oil, it was go time... or not.  While we knew she wasn't operating properly, our first thoughts were she just needed a little TLC and we'd be off and running... putting rather.  While Frank couldn't say exactly what the issue was, he was kind enough to leave sticky notes all over the vessel to identify fuel shut off valves, master switches, and odds and ends that might come in useful... if she ever started.

She sounded as if she just might turn over, laboured as it was, hope was in sight... until she preasure locked... or so we thought.  Hand cranking it seemed to unlock the little Volvo and we employed this method multiple times until the hand crank joint snapped off.  We still had the battery so for the next two days we tweaked everything from the timing of the fuel pump to the alternator but it was a no go.  She just wouldn't start, and then she locked up completely. 

Faced with the reality of this situation (ie.  We wouldn't be sipping cocktails Putting through the Gulf Islands anytime soon), it was time to pull out the Volvo and identify the issues... we still had no idea what was wrong. 

Step 3: Lesson 3: Have Lots of Friends

Picture of Lesson 3: Have Lots of Friends

When buying a used boat, it is important to have lots of friends to help with towing, lifting, troubleshooting, and sharing a case of Lucky Beer when you just can't figure out what the hell is wrong.

On a sunny spring afternoon, we finally lifted all 400 pounds of the 'little' Volvo Penta onto the dock and loaded her up.  Again, the key point in this lesson is friends and beer... (lots of both).

Step 4: Lesson 4: Be Prepared to Be Frustrated

Picture of Lesson 4: Be Prepared to Be Frustrated

Step 5: Lesson 5: Carefully Examine the Vessel Before Operating

We were now ready to fire her up... but we couldn't seem to find neutral on the stick. While playing around with the 'gear stick', another friend, standing behind the vessel on the dock, and having the sun light shine down at just the right angle, discovered that the blades of the prop rotate as we move the stick up and down. Eureka! We have a feathering prop, what luck!

VOLVO Penta MD5 Marine Diesel

Side note on the feathering prop:  One can come into the marina at full speed, drop the feathering prop into reverse, spin Lil Putt on a dime and dock her like Capain Ron.  For more information on this very appropriate and acceptable manouver, please see below!

Step 6: Lesson 6: You Don't Need Alot of Money

Picture of Lesson 6: You Don't Need Alot of Money
Being on a shoe string budget, it was time to clean her up and add a few gadgets:

- Old Color Depth Sounder (found at the local dump)
- Old VHF radio and antenna (traded to Grant for other old electrical equipment)
- Salvaged Fenders and life jackets (floated in on the tide)
- Flood lights, electrical panel, wiring bits and pieces (discount bin at the local Marine supply store)
- Paint (some donated, others not so cheap)
- Battery Charging regulator (not so cheap at all, but somewhat mission critical)
- Salvaged paddles (came in handy too many times before battery charger installed)
- Salvaged Captain's Chair

Here's a few links to some boat wiring diagram:

With a fresh coat of paint and all electronics installed it was time for Sea Trials:

Step 7: Lesson 7: Enjoying the Finished Project

Picture of Lesson 7: Enjoying the Finished Project

After all the effort, Lil Putt was a sucess!  Since the restoration, she has been put to work as a towing vessel, salvage vessel, delivery vessel, and pleasure vessel.

While the diesel tank is only 70 litres, I can honestly say that this is enough to run her for weeks.  We had a great summer Putting all up and down the Islands and in hind sight couldn't have had a better project.  Of course non of this would have been possible if it wasn't for Dan, Hal, Mr. Futs, and countless others who contributed knowledge, parts, and labour along the way.  THANKS!

As for spring 2011, a new list of repairs grows in the back of my mind,
- Replace running light that got ripped off towing a 20 ton sailboat
- Repair hull scuffs acquired practising Captain Ron Manouvers
- Install air intake pipe through roof to reduce noise
- New Casing gasket to prevent diesel fumes from filling cabin
- Install towing cleat so Dan doesn't have to sweat so much
- New bottom paint
- Convert Diesel to Bio Diesel (idea from Tbonestone  instructables member)

Until the spring... and perhaps another project vessel.


4WantofaNail (author)2015-09-27

hey mate, don't know if you still fancy this site, just wanted to drop you a line and say that i thought your instructable was a joy to read. Thanks for having posted it.

stormy0314 (author)2011-02-26

I love this, but... It is a wonder you were able to get any help at all serving that kind of beer. Shudder, shudder.

This is just the type of boat I would like to have. What was your total cost to get her in the water? What did you have to do to the engine? Really nice boat. Thanks for the 'ible.

abadfart (author)stormy03142011-02-26

i don't know if its that bad i get bought off with pbr for everything from engine work to installing radio gear

SIRJAMES09 (author)abadfart2011-06-26


I didn't know they still made that stuff!! I used to use that to bribe the kids with! LOL got a lot of work done that way. Personally, I think PBR is some nasty stuff, but if you're happy with it, then so be it.

I love that boat BTW, just the kind I would like to have. 8=D

stormy0314 (author)SIRJAMES092011-06-29

PBR gave me my worst hangovers in all my years. And, station420 being from Canada has some of the best beers in the world close at hand.

Not sure of the exact total, perhaps $1600 including paint, electrical wiring components, and the motor. Plus transportation costs to get her on the ferry ($100). Basically we took a whole bunch of parts from the 2nd engine and installed them on the first, mainly all the gears and the fuel pump and a couple other parts that we in poor condition.

This is a really nice boat. I have built and repaired a total of three boats from 12 to 20 feet. I think a little light weight portable cabin end to catch heat from an aftermarket heater would make this boat just about ideal. You could fish and travel in comfort in winter. Are you from Canada?

SIRJAMES09 (author)2011-06-26

sounds like somebody had a lot of fun....BEFORE it made it to the water. LOL

Wish I was so lucky to get a boat like that....but I'd want one that's a wee bit bigger so I had some place to live besides this suburban apartment....I hate city life.

I wish you & the family the best with your new toy! LOL

dla888 (author)2011-05-16

A color depth sounder from the dump???!!! I need to start visiting my local dump!

bpfh (author)dla8882011-06-23

My thoughts exactly :)

nasd9 (author)2011-05-10

I have an rc boat that kinda looks like that

JCoffey (author)2011-05-06

May I ask what style of boat thats called? I would LOVE to have a small vessel just like that one!

Not too sure! Haven't seen any others like it.

cbjjbc (author)2011-04-23

Your instructable is the only one I've commented on. Some one's prayers where
answered. Good luck.

juicymoose (author)2011-04-15

wish i had one like it but im 3.5 hours away from the nearest lake or the sea grrrrrr. anyway fab boat

SpecializedRabbit (author)2011-02-25

I love your boat! Whats the cruise speed?

about 6 knots with a clean bottom

I always make a point of keeping my bottom clean...

ilpug (author)Mr. Potato Head2011-03-17

good man.

playfulplans (author)2011-03-09

One of my favorite Instructibles.

I'd like to build a battery-op toy version for my website...

let me know when you do!

SinAmos (author)2011-03-07

'Vessel ran great before he replaced the injectors' - so, what was the problem, if there was one?

Some of the teeth on the gears had broken off and locked the gears so she wouldn't turn.

Ty for answering and sharing. Take care.

lucek (author)2011-03-05

"Convert Diesel to Bio Diesel (idea from Tbonestone instructables member)"
I know you probably already know this but be ready to replace or clean everything that can get clogged. An old fuel tank will have a ton of crud on it. The kind of crud that biodiesel is a perfect solvent for.

That said it's a nice little vessel. Hope she lasts you many a good year.

kought (author)2011-03-03

Awesome project, those little old diesels will literally go forever. Most diesels will, especially a Volvo. Running biodiesel is probably the best thing you can do for it too, it's basically like 2-stroke mix, the bio is super lubricating (compared to diesel) and will make your cylinders and pistons last for forever x2. Sweet boat too, I dig it.

sodiumcanine (author)2011-02-27

Hard to find small boats with Diesels, The MD5 is a
Tough little Diesel.
Working with a Charity I have come across a few donations that where.....Donated.... Now I am working on Selling
2 Lifeboats for them, With an Instructable on how (or not) to
do it

cool lifeboats, where are they at and how much?

They are Lying Wilmington,Cali

30 ft Loa 10ft Beam

7500lbs Left one, 2 Cyl Lister Aircooled Diesel

6000lbs Right one, Oars, and Manual push pull

Heavy Fiberglass, Sink-resistant,Stable.

Could be Converted into Houseboat,Sailboat,HotTub,Pool,Planter Or?................
Reasonable Offer.
Historical Note: Pembina WasOllie North's Iran Contra Ship.

TX, MikeMcV

mattbesquare (author)2011-02-27

I am sitting here in my living room about 9:00 at night yelling "oooh" "OUCH" "AAHHH" as I click through each picture. I have so many painful lessons learned this way it is hard to count.

I have some cold beverages over here if you want to help me pull a block out of an old shouldn't take long at all. ;-)

I'll be over in 5

certos (author)2011-02-28

man I would LOVE a project like this. I wish I could find a boat in Ontario to work on.

porcupinemamma (author)2011-02-27

Perhaps we should ask the company who made the blue bumper to take a look at your rockin' Instructable and hope that they will donate a set of brand new ones for the upcoming season. West Marine also has contests :0)

Which company are you refering too?

lol ;0) The company who made the blue bumpers on your cool boat. My husband has blue bumpers for his boat. They look quite spiffy ;0)

bpfh (author)2011-02-28

So what was the main problem with the engine in the end (or did I miss somthing?)

If you are concerned with fuel economy, you may be interested in attempting to add an air swirler (like a fan but flxed so the air is whirled around it) just before the air intake into the injection chamber:
Modern diesels are designed so this happens as standard (it breaks up the injected diesel spray into smaller droplets and you get more bang for your buck).
Biodiesel is a good idea, as mentionned above, but you could also add cooking oil to the fuel (just filter any food lumps out of it!!). You could probably run it on pure cooking oil (I love the older diesel engines, you can do a lot of DIY with them!), but you may need to add a tad of white spirit to fluidify the oil, but if you are not using a lot of fuel, mix with diesel and you are good to go...


Foehammer358 (author)2011-02-27

awesome.just awesome.

That little thing can tow a 20 ton sailboat?

where did you find the ad for the sale?

mcgary911 (author)2011-02-27

I think you could have titled this one "How NOT to go about Buying a Boat Online".

Ideally, you'd want to have the vessel surveyed by a qualified marine surveyor. In the US, the 2 main surveyor societies are SAMS and NAMS.

If you're looking to get your boat insured at a later date, the insurer will likely insist the vessel is surveyed.

Even if you don't go the survey route, insist on a sea trial, or at least make sure you see\hear the motor run. IF you know you're buying a non-runner, guess this wouldn't matter as much. Also test all the systems and controls. Check for rot and water damage as well. You can find rot by lightly tapping on the hull with a non marring hammer.

All of these things will let you know whether you're buying a runner, or a project that may be beyond your financial or mechanical capabilities.

Thankfully, you seem to be pretty handy, and had the support of some helpful friends. Most importantly, you're now enjoying your boat. Heck, it even looked like you and your friends had tons of fun getting her sea worthy.

I'd suggest not skimping on the safety stuff. If you broke a running light, fix it asap. It's a quick, easy and essential fix. Make sure you carry things like flares and the proper lines. Find some new lifejackets on sale. Something that floated in may not be the best route there.

You didn't mention it, but make sure you have a working bilge pump. Your worst day boating will be showing up at the dock on a nice day only to find your Putt on the bottom. Another thing that can fail on an older boat, is the stuffing box. New packing is pretty cheap (it's basically waxy rope), and you can repack your stuffing box in less than an hour. Great insurance.

Make sure your sacrificial anodes are in good order (zinc or aluminum, depending on salt or fresh water). They'll save the metal bits all over your boat.

Wow. Guess this is a long reply, but just want to share a few thing I've learned during years of boating.

That thing sips diesel, you'll really appreciate that with the price of fuel these days.

Enjoy your boat.......sounds like you have that part nailed already. ;)

Calorie (author)mcgary9112011-02-27

agreed. Instructable projects tend to be a bit more on the "flight of fantasy" side. I was horrified when they stated the life jackets used were found floating in on the tide. That water is cold and you wouldn't last long treading water.

menahunie (author)2011-02-27

Cool; but if your going to keep the boat and it looks like it I would consider looking around for an outboard to hang off the back for backup engine; just in case..

Huzudra (author)2011-02-27

I can't help but notice you didn't mention anything about a good loud horn, it seems like a fairly critical safety item. I don't mean to spam, but I have this bad boy crammed into my car and its LOUD even behind a bunch of plastic bumper. I would imagine that in more open air its even more impressive. The tone is lower than the product demo video, more like that of a boat or semi tractor.

Here's how it actually sounds when installed

You should be able to bolt the trumpet on the outside of the boat vertically facing down with a simple baffle in front of it to prevent water entry and just add a hole for the air line to pass through the cabin, mounting the compressor inside the cabin with a little box over it and the relay to conceal it. The compressor itself is not noisy at all, it will be drown out by the engine and horn easily. Its not the prettiest and shiniest horn, but its loud, stainless steel, and cheap.

I think I also missed exactly what was wrong with the engine, I see broken parts but that's about it.

Actually I should have mentioned the horn, its a little 12 volt horn, quite loud though not as loud as yours! Would love to put a train horn on her!

porcupinemamma (author)2011-02-27

Rock on!!!!! Oh my goodness! WAY TO GO.
I'm forwarding your excellent Instructable to my husband and all his friends that spend hours online looking for "the perfect boat". Loved your pictures and "Captain Ron"

HOTBEEMINBOY (author)2011-02-27

thats a cool little boat

axiesdad (author)2011-02-27

Thanks Station420, this "ible" was a fun read. It left me with some questions though. What was wrong with the engine? How did you fix it? There was a vague reference to a second engine, where did that come from? I think you may have enough material here for a whole book (think Farley Mowat's "The Boat that Wouldn't Float") and with the writing style you have shown, I think you could do it.

BtheBike (author)2011-02-27

yep , often the price makes 1 think its 'ship shape' . A low price or free gets more skeptics than buyers on craigslist and the like . BTW,..Where the heck are your Trolling Poles bub? =)

gevertulley (author)2011-02-27

Technically, there's no conversion necessary to start using biodiesel. The two fuels are so compatible, you can "splash-mix" them in the same tank. Our truck and car are both biodiesel, but when we can't find the good stuff, we just put regular diesel in the tank..

bart416 (author)gevertulley2011-02-27

Bio fuels often have a few things not quite the same as regular fuel. Most newer car engines are designed to be able to run on such fuel anyway so it's not much of an issue. But an older engine might have issues, it's not uncommon for the rubber components of the engine to be damaged by biodiesel. Another thing you should consider on a boat; biodiesel can damage brass and zinc components as well.
So yes, a conversion is needed in this case most likely.

cyndisc (author)2011-02-27

Lil Putt ~ what a beauti! Thanks for the morning humor Captain. Wishing you and yours many enjoyable adventures on the Lil Putt! Cheers!!!

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