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The Business Of Boat Building Page  2, Page 1

The major reason why many beginning boatbuilders fail, is they forget they are running a business!

Purchasing: Not everything you need may be available locally. Sometimes you have to order business supplies over the internet or by phone. Many businesses that supply the materials you need offer discounts if you buy in volume, or if you pay cash or pay within a set amount of time.  Make sure you ask your suppliers about this. It will save you money.  For instance suppose you are purchasing boat nails.   If you need a gross of boat nails for one boat, but know that you're going to be building ten, you will save a lot of money if you buy 10 gross and get the discount.  Also, repeat customers are often given a discount so try to establish a steady relationship with your suppliers.  Also, if you register your business with the state (the requirement varies from state to state, but it's good thing to do anyway) then you will be assigned a business tax number. With that number you can buy wholesale from your suppliers and not have to pay sales tax.

Purchasing and cost control for Small Business:
A web page about purchasing.

State Registration of Business Name and Licensing:  Why should you register with the state?  Because then your business name becomes yours.   No one else in the state can use the same name. You can get it trademarked with the Federal government and then no one else in the USA can use it. 

US Patent and Trademark Office http://www.uspto.gov/

Some states require collection of sales tax. If you sell the boats yourself then you must collect the tax.  If you sell them through a dealer, then the dealer has to deal with the tax. This is not the same as a business license.  Many cities, counties or states require you to have a business license for certain types of businesses. Mostly this is for retail sales but it varies from state to state. Again, check your state government web site.

Warranties on your product:  If you offer a warranty on your boat you should know about the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.  It is a Federal Law that states your responsibilities as warrantor. Basically it says that if you offer a warranty, you must honor the terms of the warranty.  The warranty must be in writing and you must give a copy to the customer. This sounds obvious but unfortunately the boating industry is notorious for how badly it handles warranties.

Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act

You also have a responsibility under Federal Law that requires you to correct safety defects or defects that create a substantial risk of injury.  See the link to

Defect Notification Recalls.

There is an article in Professional Boatbuilder Magazine Number 103 Oct/Nov 2006,  titled Fine Product. Failed Startup. This is a good example of someone who is a great boatbuilder, but didn't take all aspects of business into consideration. See;

Professional Boatbuilder.

 The state of North Carolina has a very good guide to starting a business.  Much of what is in it applies anywhere you wish to start a business.

NC Guide to starting a business.

Remember this.  A boat builder thinks he is in business to make boats.  But, a business man knows he is in business to make money.   If you are not in business to make money, then you are not going to be in business very long.

Other Business Considerations:

Paying yourself and others:  Now that you have made a profit, you have to consider what you are going to do with the money.  The first consideration is, are you going to pay yourself? How much are you going to take out as salary? Obviously you have living expenses, especially if you have a family. Like all of us, you want to provide for them, and save something for your future and your children's future.  But, is it better to take it out now or to reinvest it into the business to make it grow?  This is something only you can decide. You have to take into account your financial situation and decide the best course of action.

On the other hand, if you want your business to grow, you need to reinvest in the business. Maybe you need a bigger space, or a piece of equipment that will save you labor? Maybe you have an order for a bigger boat and need materials, supplies and equipment you don't have?  Possibly some piece of equipment has worn out and needs replacing.  All of this has to be taken into consideration.

Taking on employees:  Now you're business is growing.  You can only  fill so many orders, and you have more orders than you can fill?  What do you do? Do you hire labor to help? If you do, then you need to know the following.

What wage will you pay?  How much is labor going to cost you and will your business still be profitable? Do you know the fair labor laws in your state? Many states have laws about hours, overtime, breaks, what you can and can't ask an employee to do, and some states have laws about wages.  In addition to that there are the Federal Minimum Wage laws.

Federal Minimum Wage laws

States wage laws

How will you pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for yourself or for an employee?
Self Employed:


Will you be able to offer employees any benefits such as life and medical insurance? You should be aware of your responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act (ACA):

If you have less than 50 employees you are not required by the ACA to provide medical insurance, but if you do then there are provisions of the act you must comply with.   If you offer medical insurance you may need a;

National Standard Employer Identifier (NSEI) from the Department of Health and Human Services. 

See also Affordable Health Care Act

You will need to find out about deducting Federal and State taxes and how to report them. You may need to get a Federal Employer ID Number.

Federal Employer ID Number.

If you decide to hire immigrant labor how do you make sure you don't violate laws on hiring immigrants?

Laws on hiring immigrants

Pricing your Product:   If you have been tracking your costs, then you have a pretty good idea of what it costs to build the boat.  But did you keep track of your labor?  How many hours of your time went into the actual building of the boat?   Most businesses also add overhead costs to the cost of producing a product.  How much of that are you going to add.

Your cost   =   Materials + Labor Cost + overhead.

Your price  =  Your cost + markup for profit. Only you can decide how much a markup there should be for profit.  This is known as Profit Margin.

Typically in a volume production fiberglass boat manufacturing business, profit margin is about 5% to 10%.  The smaller the business and smaller the volume the higher the profit margin must be to make any money. Do you add 50% or 100%?  You have to decide what you can live with.  Profit Margin is how you earn money on your product, so give this serious thought.  Ask other builders how much they markup their boats.

While you are thinking about how much you will charge, also think about how you are going to collect payment. Too many boat builders have lost money because a person ordered a boat, and then changed their mind after it was built.  That is money out of your pocket.   Are you going to ask for cash up front?  Many boat builders ask for half up front, and half on delivery.  Make sure you get the terms of the deal in writing. See;

Legal Considerations. 

In the contract, provide for any changes the customer might make while the boat is being built.  You need to specify how these changes will be paid for.  Have an attorney draw up a contract for you.  Or if you are brave enough, there are simple contracts available online that you can modify and use.     This is not an endorsment of these services.  I would have an attorney write a contract.


Paying Loans or Credit:  Where are you going to get the money to start your business?  If you get a loan to finance your business, part of your cost of doing business is repaying the loan. Obviously how much this is depends on the amount of the loan, the interest rate , and how long you have to pay off the loan.  Some people mortgage their homes to get business loans.  This is not a good idea. If the business fails you are still held responsible to pay off the loan. If you can't make the monthly payment, the bank can take your house.  So be careful about getting loans. If you need collateral to secure the loan, try not to use your home as collateral.  Try to get what's called a signature loan.  A signature loan does not require collateral.   You still have to pay it, but you won't lose your home.  Many small businesses finance the startup of their business with credit cards.  They usually end up maxing out their credit.  The interest rate can be considerably more than a bank loan but they won't ask for collateral. But, you may spend many years paying off the credit card debt.   If you do use a credit card for your business, use it only for your business! Never use it for personal purchases!  Keep your business credit separate from your personal credit.

Others have financed their startup by borrowing from family and friends.  If you succeed, this can be a good way to get started, but if you fail it's a good way to lose family and friends. Only you can make these decisions.

Inventory and Inventory cost:  One thing that any manufacturing business must consider is how much inventory to keep on hand. There are two kinds of inventory. One is the materials, parts and supplies you purchase to make your product.   The other is the product you make, called finished goods.

Materials, Parts and Supplies: Most large companies today keep minimal inventory on hand, only enough to get them through an emergency for maybe a day or two.  This is called Just-In-Time inventory management.  It means that they place orders that arrive just in time to be used up until the next order arrives.  Inventory arrives on a daily basis.  This allows them to eliminate storage and management of inventory.  However this is hardly practical for a small business. Is there a better way?

Many small manufacturing businesses and job shops use bins.  You have two bins for each item in inventory. When the first bin (the working bin) is empty you place an order to fill that bin and work out of the second bin. Now bin 2 is the working bin. When the order comes in you fill the first bin, but keep working out of the second bin until it is empty. Then you order more to fill the second bin and go back to working out of the first.  You can do the same thing by having one bin and ordering when it is half full but it's easier to know the order point  if you have two bins.  Over time you will learn how long each bin lasts and can adjust so that your order comes in just before the working bin runs out.  This way you can reduce inventory cost by purchasing only the amount you need.

Another way to reduce inventory cost is to reduce the amount of waste.  Waste is simply what you don't use.  There are hundreds of ways to reduce waste and most of these just require a little thought. For instance, if you are building a boat using plywood panels, how many pieces can you get out of each panel?  If you are working from someone else's design they may have already figured this out. If it's your design then it will save you money to spend some time determining how you can use all of your material. If you are building fiberglass boats you should have already determined exactly how much glass and how much resin goes into each part of the boat. Resin price fluctuates with the price of oil so it is best to know just how much you need. If you have left over wood, don't toss it out. You may be able to use it for small parts in the boat or in another boat.  You might be able to sell left over wood as scrap to someone else.  The point is to think ahead and purchase only what you need to keep on working.  You don't need to be standing around, or have workers standing around doing nothing for want of material to do the job. So make sure you have only what you need, but also know when to buy more so that you don't run out before the job is finished.

Finished Goods: Another kind of inventory is the product you make. If you only build to order, that is, you take an order before you build, then you would not have unsold inventory at the end of the year.  But if you decide to do production line manufacturing, it is likely you will have unsold inventory at the end of the year. The best practice is to not have any unsold inventory if possible.  Some manufacturers who sell through dealers, have dealer meetings in the winter and take orders from them for the next year's production.  This minimizes unsold inventory.  But if you sell factory direct, that is you have your own showroom and sales staff, then you must learn by trial and error how many boats you will sell each year and try to project ahead so you minimize the amount of unsold inventory. Why?  Unsold inventory takes up space and there are costs associated with storing it.  It must be listed as inventory on your taxes.  It is also money you have spent but have not recovered by selling the boat.  So it is best to keep unsold inventory to a minimum. Of course, if you have your own showroom then you are going to have some unsold inventory, at least the boats that are sitting on the showroom floor. Inventory management is another thing you can learn by taking business courses.  Most basic business courses include an overview of inventory management, and there are college courses that teach only inventory management.

Record Keeping:  All of the aforementioned items require keeping records. Prior to the computer age this meant lots and lots of paper files.  Some transcations most of it can  still require paper files, but be stored digitally.  But if you store files digitally, make a backup! 

How long do you need to keep records?  It varies with the type of record.  The IRS recommends keeping tax records ten years. The US Coast Guard requires you to certify a boat meets the standards for ten years as well, which means keeping records of first purchasers for ten years.  But it is better to not to purge anything. In the case of a liability law suit having records back to the beginning of your business to show due diligence, will help your attorney defend you.

Keeping records on a hard disk, dvd, or other media does not require a lot of space and cost is small.  There are on-line services that will do it for you including providing the storage.  These should be selected carefully mainly for security reasons. You don't want all your financial records stolen by some hacker.

With thanks to BMI Imaging Systems  for suggesting that record keeping be added to this page.


IRS on Recordkeeping: https://www.irs.gov/businesses

Document Retention Best Practices: https://bmiimaging.com/document-retention-best-

The Shred It Guide to Document Retention: https://www.shredit.com/getmedia/13d09690-db28-4798

The CPA.net Record Retention Guide: https://www.cpa.net/resources/retengde.pdf

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American Boat And Yacht Council  Boat Design Net  Wooden Boat Foundation
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