Booster Shots

The best $500 you'll ever spend.

For some boaters $500 is enough for a notable upgrade; for others it's merely another tank of fuel. Whichever category defines you, five big Benjamins can buy lots of things that will add a lot of value to your boat. Got a little windfall but you're not sure how to spend it? These four ideas will give you the most bang for 500 bucks.

Financial Recovery

Whether you run a center console, convertible, or aft cabin cruiser, you most likely have a vinyl-covered exterior leaning post and seat cushions. After a few years of hot sun and salt spray, the vinyl will crack and fade, making your boat look like a dingy old dinghy. Newsflash: As long as the foam and structural parts of the seats are in good shape, you can recover about 15 square feet of them in fresh new vinyl for only $500. There's nothing like new vinyl to give a boat a significant face-lift. Your boat will look as if you've spent thousands on replacements. Your leaning post, back rest, and jump seats-or your cockpit settee or flying bridge helm seats-will look and feel new. This is one minor-league investment that gives a major-league return.

Have a Blast

If your boat is less than 23' long, you can soda blast its bottom for about $500. Why soda blast? It's safer and gentler on gel coat than sand blasting or scraping, plus it removes old layers of bottom paint that add weight to your boat, slowing it down. Added bonus: If you have any unseen blisters on your bottom, soda blasting will expose them. Because blisters that go unnoticed can grow into big problems, that could save you big bucks. So instead of mindlessly slapping on another coat of bottom paint this year, spend $500 and soda blast your boat first.

Digital Dollars

Sick and tired of faulty, foggy gauges that need to be replaced every few years? Go digital instead. Both Furuno (F150, $595; www.furunousa.com) and Garmin (GMI10, $535; www.garmin.com) offer waterproof digital gauges that will interface with your NMEA 2000-compliant systems. Standard 3.5" and 3.75" sizes make retrofitting the dash easy. If you prefer to look at gauges with needles instead of digits, these units can be set to look like traditional analog gauges.

Sounds Expensive

Many boats-particularly express fishers, where the helm is often located literally on top of the engine room-produce 90 dB-A or more while cruising. According to OSHA, exposure to this much noise for eight hours or more per day requires ear protection. On top of that, cruising on a loud boat is simply miserable. Luckily, $500 will get you 250 square feet of 1"-thick 3M Thinsulate marine insulation. That's enough to soundproof an engine room or engine box on most boats less than 40'. However, have this stuff installed by the marine yard and you'll blow the budget. Fortunately, Thinsulate can be easily cut and stapled onto wooden bulkheads or stringers or, if you're affixing it to fiberglass, glued with 3M adhesive. It's an easy job any boat owner can handle, which you'll be happy you did every time you crank the engines and hear them whisper instead of roar.