Good Fit and Finish Counts - 06/18/2008

Good “Fit 'n' finish” Starts at the Top

Good “fit 'n' finish” starts at the top, not with the QC inspectors at the end of the production line.

See video of Formula Production VP Grant Porter explaining the secret of his company’s “fit 'n' finish” success.

Hand Sanding is Still King

Bob Long, owner of Marine Concepts that tools many of the boats ultimately built by America’s boat builders, told us recently that even though he has eight five-axis routers, hundreds of hours of hand sanding must go into perfecting every hull plug he makes. That means a human being is sanding, shining a light on what one day will be the hull of a boat, and is taking out the wiggles by eyeball, much as was done in 2300 BC by the pharaohs’ boat builders.

A Plant Tour is Instructive

The days of walking around a boat plant and ending up with “fiberglass snowshoes” on your feet are pretty much over. Today, builders with the best “fit 'n' finish” have clean floors and clean air. This is where the notion of doing things right is started, and in well-managed plants workers tend to do things correctly and clean up their mess before moving on.

For example, during our interview of Jeff Kruschek, General Manager of Larson Boats (a rapidly rising star in U.S. quality boat building) told us that any worker on his production line has the authority to reject the work of someone up the line.

See video of Jeff Kruschek, GM of Larson Boats, explain how his company builds in good “fit 'n' finish”…

To have good “fit 'n' finish” at the end of the line, it must be built in with each step of the construction process.

If a boat builder leaves quality control up to the QC Dept. at the final stage, it is too late. Good “fit 'n' finish” is more than skin deep. The QC inspectors at the end of the production line can look for problems with the fiberglass work, upholstery, cabinets, plumbing, gel coat, gauges, etc. But if the boat was not engineered from the beginning to fit together perfectly, and if management accepts anything other than the best, there is little the QC inspector really do to appreciably change things.


But final QC can make sure the boat is cosmetically tip-top. Make sure the QC has done its job. You may not be a stickler for details or a “nit-picker,” but when you go to sell your boat, you never know what kind of personality you will encounter. Better to have everything shipshape and Bristol fashion in the first place, then all you have to do is maintain it, not repair it.

In many cases you are paying more for your boat than you would a world-class sports car and you want it be just as flawless as something coming out of Torino, Italy, Stuttgart, Germany or Hamamatsu, Japan. You know what to look for in a car, here’s what to look for in a boat—

“Fit 'n' Finish” Check List

  • Whether you are in a showroom, boat show, or outside, sight along the hull sides of the boat. Move back and forth so the light plays across the surface so you can see if there are ripples, and if so their magnitude. If the hull looks like your great grandmother’s washboard, move not only to another model but to another brand altogether. You have just learned all you need to know.

  • Thirty years ago we used to see a lot of “pattern print-thru.” The industry now knows how to avoid it, but you should still check for it just in case. The “pattern” you are looking for is the 24-oz. woven roving of glass embedded in the resin of the hull. Again, if you see it, move on down the road.

  • Gel coat finishing is a fine art. All gel coats are not the same. The best is expensive, and needs to be applied carefully and to a precise thickness. When you see a boat that has high gloss gel coat, it is not by accident. Conversely, if the gel coat is dull when the boat is new, it will never get any better.

Note this small chip in the gel coat. This is easy to fix.

  • Calking silicone or other bedding material oozing out from under stanchion bases and metal fixtures on deck. Sometimes you will even see a dirty smudge on deck where someone has tried to clean up a mess. Such things are indications of the “good enough is good enough” approach to boat building.

  • Screws, sawdust, wire clippings and candy bar wrappings in the bilge. You are more apt to see this on bigger boats than smaller ones. Not only will this material eventually clog up your little bilge pump, it's a good indicator of factory management.

  • Rough edges on any metal trim. This should never happen and we see it too often.

Note that the tread material has not been properly bedded in the middle. This is an easy fix, but where was QC at the factory?

  • Sharp corners. You will bump into or fall on that sharp point sooner or later. This indicates poor design that was not corrected at any point in the gestation process of the boat. Not encouraging.

  • Stanchions that are not solid. Take a stanchion in hand and see how far you can deflect it. If it is solid you will know it. If not, it probably does not have a backing plate under the deck – something that you should check for behind every cleat and stanchion if you can see or feel it.

  • Deck deflection. How heavy are you? If you are a normal weight (for an American) of, say, 150 lbs. to 210 lbs. the deck shouldn’t deflect when you walk across it.

  • A wavy rub rail, or one that doesn’t have a clean bead of silicone on the underside. Sight along the side of the boat and you’ll see what we mean.

  • Blemish or mold marks in the gel coat, which sometimes result from a dirty or cracked mold. Although these do not affect the structure, the mold marks are unsightly. The standard fix is a simple sanding and buffing of the gel coat surface.

  • Crazing or stress cracks. A new boat should never have them. If it does, the boat might have been dropped at the factory, in transit or the dealership. Just say no because there could be structural damage that you can’t see.

  • Misaligned or loose gauges and missing or loose screws. These aliments are common. Ask your dealer to fix them before you take delivery. Most dealers are used to fixing minor things on a new boat. Don’t be bashful about letting him know what level of fit 'n' finish you expect.

  • Electrical equipment not installed or working properly. Don’t assume that it is working. Test it all before taking delivery. As President Reagan once said, “Trust but verify."

  • Scratches on surfaces including glass or countertops.

  • Fiberglass edges in compartments, under lids or consoles that have jagged or sharp edges. These days the best boats have hatches that are injection molded and both outside and inside are smooth and well-finished. Lower-priced boats typically do not have this level of quality, nevertheless, there is no excuse for the builder not grinding away all rough fiberglass.

  • Storage doors and lids that are not properly aligned. Remember, as your boat racks and rolls and settles these issues will only get worse.

  • Carpet edges that are cut short, or not glued or attached properly.

Note the edge of the carpet hanging down, a small matter, but why not do it right?

  • Seats that are not mounted straight or wobble. The wobble is sometimes caused because the manufacturer does not re-enforce the mount with a backing plate to add strength. Helm seats rank #1 on’s list of complaints from our “Rate Your Boat” owner reports.

  • Engine mounting holes not aligned properly. Another problem is inboard engine “sag” on boats that have been sitting in a cradle for a year or so. These problems are hard to detect by just looking at them. If they are not correctly done you will discover it after using the boat, as you will have vibration and performance will be adversely affected.

Note the weld that has been hashed up and the discoloration on the deck. Good welds will always have a texture but there should not be “gobs” at joints.

  • Upholstery that has staples sticking out, or crooked seams. Staples should be stainless steel. The solid backing structure should be something other than wood. If it is wood, chances are your boat has the advantage of being lower-cost.

  • Unfortunately, poor quality stainless steel hardware will usually not be identified until after delivery. Bleeding, or a streak running down below the part, can easily identify the problem. The discoloration is sometimes very difficult to remove. Walk the used boat section of your dealer’s property and see if the problem exists on owner boats that are stored there or boats he has taken in trade of the same brand.

  • Check your boat for listing to port or starboard. The best way is to view the boat dead on is from the stern. Note the boot stripe and the waterline at both port and starboard quarters. Is the distance from the waterline to the top of the boot stripe the same on both sides? Getting a boat balanced is not as easy as you may think.
The Dealer Can Make it Right

The last 10 years, or so, the quality of boats, building materials, techniques and parts have improved considerably. We suspect that since all boats are largely hand-built, one can find something somewhere on virtually any new boat that could be fixed or improved. Go over the boat with the dealer prior to delivery, identify and document the problems and get a time schedule for the repairs. A conscientious dealer will quickly correct them.

This gives you a sampling of many of the “fit 'n' finish” issues that are associated with new boats. As you can see the manufacturers’ attention to detail needs to be exceptional, to ensure that their boats are of the highest quality.

If you have your own pet peeves about “fit 'n' finish” we’d love to hear from you. Just write us in the handy box provided below. It will only take you a minute.