6m Bertram centre console fishing boat

Bertram runabout project boat

42-year-old Sydneysider Sean Killgallon says he knows a thing or two about fibreglass boats and how much torture they can take — after all, he spent 22 years in the Australian Navy on a 720 tonne, 54m fibreglass mine warfare vessel.

“If we didn’t strap ourselves into our bunks at night in a big sea we’d be tossed all over the place,” he says. “I could feel the whole boat flexing in big seas like that, and that’s when I realised how strong fibreglass is.”

22 years in the navy also taught Sean a thing or two about small boats and which of the many on the market are fit for restoration. “I’ve always liked Bertrams,” he tells us. “Though to be honest I didn’t intend to rebuild this one when I bought it from a guy in Nowra, NSW, about six years ago,” he says.

“I believe the boat is originally from Tasmania but I’m not sure, in fact I’m not even certain of the model designation. I think it’s a Caribbean but I wouldn’t put money on it. In any case, the idea of rebuilding it grew on me I guess, and of course I was egged on by mates who thought I could really do something with it”.

It was “one of those things” he says. “It kinda just happened.” And “kinda just” did most of the work himself — very little was handed to specialists. But here’s the thing. This wasn’t a ho-hum rebuild. Sean has totally reconfigured the Bertram and it’s no longer a modest runabout. The windscreen is gone, and the seating and helm controls have been shifted to create a very spiffy and practical centre-console. That’s rebuilding on a scale of magnitude you seldom see in a DIY project. The unbelievable part? This Bertram boat restoration was achieved on a budget of around $13,000.

 Sean says the Bertram was purchased “because it was a Bertram”. He always had a high opinion of the brand and when he saw this rare and unusual 20ft Bertram runabout… well, he just couldn’t resist. He isn’t sure of the boat’s lineage but it might be a rare specimen from a limited run of about 200 Caribbean boats, built by Bertram before it ditched its trailerboat ambitions and concentrated on big boats.

The transom initially appeared to be okay but when Sean started poking around he found that much of it was rotten. It looked like a rendered wall that had been machine-gunned, so numerous and haphazard were the engine mounting points.

 An enormous amount of work and determination went into restoring the integrity of the floor, fitting new decking, and making sure everything was beefed up to take the centre-console, which Sean also made himself. The rebuild took so much of his emotional energy, he says, that at times he couldn’t think of anything else.

Sean took a minimalist approach to marine electronics. The Lowrance HDS-7 fishfinder shares dash space with a VHF radio and OMC engine controls. Then there’s a Sony marine stereo and Fusion marine speakers. Outriggers, two livebait tanks and two large killtanks help when the pelagics are on — so much so that Sean now believes he owns “the perfect fishing boat”. 

The engine is a 1986 Evinrude 140hp outboard motor, still going after all these years. The old girl’s never been a problem but is certainly overdue for replacement. Sean says he’d like a 200hp Evinrude E-TEC… “if someone would give me one”.

Bertram runabout project boat specs

Length 6m

Engine 1986 Evinrude 140hp two-stroke outboard motor

Owner Sean Killgallon

Favourite fishing spot Browns Mountain, Sydney Heads

Target species Yellowfin, blue-eyed cod and gemfish


 Bertram runabout project boat cost

Purchase price (pre-rebuild) $9000

New outboard motor Not yet

Battery and marine electronics $3000

Stainless work $6200

Trailer work Zero

Seats and trim $800

Painting $900

Fibreglass, timber, resin $2000

TOTAL COST Approx. $21,900


6 project boat restoration tips

From Sean

1. Get permission from the Minister for War and Finance first. It might save the marriage.

2. Do your research before buying a boat.

3. Ask every question that might be relevant.

4. Join a boating or angling club where you’ll meet like-minded individuals. 

5. Talk to boat restoration experts, “particularly those with a wish-list”. 

6. Set yourself a budget and stick to it.

Originally published in TrailerBoat #270, June 2011. Why not subscribe today?