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Deciding What Boat to Build

it's official, you want to build a boat!

How do you decide what kind of boat to choose AND what kind of boatbuilding method to use?

There are many ways of choosing depending on your temperament but in practice you will have to answer a few questions. This will set the criteria for your boatbuilding project.

Deciding what boat to build, BASIC QUESTIONS.

Answer these questions truthfully and you will increase your chances of success hugely.

  1. Why do you want to build a boat
  2. Is your sweety on board. Or at least tolerant of a boat project?
  3. Can you get materials where you live and what is the boatbuilding budget?
  4. Do you have tools?
  5. Where will you build
  6. What is your skill level, including stick-with-it.
  7. Where will you sail or do your boating? How will you get there?
  8. With whom will you sail?
  9. Will anyone help you build?
  10. Do you have a dream boat or a special boat ideal?
1. Why Build a Boat
If you want to build a boat because it's cheaper, you will be surprised to find out that you can buy boats very cheaply on Kijiji or Craigslist. Usually cheaper than you can build. Checking out boat clubs at the end of a season will often turn up a usable boat for less than you can build one.
If you want the experience, or the satisfaction of building a boat then it's a good reason to do it. Another reason is wanting a specific type of boat that is unique and simply not available, or very expensive, or modified in some way.
Some people like to share a project with their kids or grandchildren, boatbuilding is a good candidate.
Some boats are very hard to find because there is not much demand. For example getting a good rowboat can be challenging. Many boats can be rowed, and rowing shells for use in quiet waters are available, but non competition rowboats for wavy water are not common and most are not long enough for real rowing performance.
2. Get your Partner on Side
Boatbuilding takes a lot of time, energy and focus. It can also be expensive. it's much nicer not to have to fend off an unhappy partner who feels neglected. It's hard to sneak a boat project past a partner who is not on side.
If you can manage it, choose a partner who enjoys sanding ... just thinking out loud here.
3. Can you get boatbuilding materials, and can you afford them?
Materials are not readily available everywhere and are often bulky and expensive to ship. Boatbuilding supplies and parts are often surprisingly costly. Simple stuff like sanding disks and disposable gloves really add up. Most plans will have a materials list which will allow you to price the main parts. You will then have to add hardware, fasteners, finishing supplies and materials. Added to this is the rigging, safety stuff and cleaning supplies. Here is a link to my apple pie tender cost. it's lower in the page and gives you an idea of some of the costs. It includes a simple mast, and sailing rig. ($60)
If you have trouble getting materials you will need to choose a boat that uses materials you can get, or you can order one complete boat kit. Don't discount boatbuilder's kits as not real boatbuilding. You will have a great deal of work to do. It will save you having to source materials and often only the main parts are cut out. That's all. Kits are sometimes cheaper than buying the materials separately because the kit-makers get quantity discounts.
4. Do you have Tools?
You can get away with a very small assortment of boat building tools but there are a few that are essential. You will need a table saw or someone who has one. Often the wood shops will cut to size for a small fee. You will need a drill, a random orbital sander, a jigsaw, measuring tape and ruler, utility knife, clamps, clamps, more clamps. A vacuum cleaner helps. A router is useful sometimes. A block plane and the means to sharpen it is really useful. Some people like belt sanders but I find them a bit too fast for my skill level.
The plan you get will have a list. If you use a kit then the boat building tool list is shorter.
You can build a boat with less but these are the tools that I like to use. I have a page on what I consider essential and the most useful tools for boatbuilding
5. Where will you Build you Boat?
The answer to this question will often determine what kind and size boat you can build.
It is a major criterion in deciding what boat to build. You need an area that is warm enough to use epoxy (if you plan to use it). It should be safe, large enough, and pleasant enough to make the boatbuilding experience pleasant.
This is where having your partner on side is important because you will take over a fairly large space for a fairly long time. I built my Skerry in my living room. Sweety was mildly annoyed and mildly amused. He was much more impressed when it started coming together and looking like a real boat. He has a sitting/TV room of his own so I was not taking too much of his space away.
There are many options, garage, living room, basement, back yard, lofts with big windows, balconies, barns. If you have very small space you can build a small boat or a sectional boat that can be assembled when you sail.
6. What is your skill level and temperament
In order to build your boat you will have to cut wood, drill, measure, clamp, plane, screw in fittings. You should be comfortable doing these things or at least have someone around who can show you.
Many boat plans are designed for beginners with very little skill. The designers will tell you frankly what they expect you to know. Kits require less skill because most of the cutting has been eliminated.
Some methods of boatbuilding such as stitch and glue can be very simple and forgiving for beginners.
More important than skill is your willingness to complete a project. it's not a very rewarding thing to start a boatbuilding project and never finish it. Designers will know how long it takes to build their boat and will tell you. You can then go online in boatbuilding forums and check how long real people took to complete similar boats.
What is your boating skill. Maybe a more complicated boat will be more interesting than a simple rig. Do you like to fiddle and adjust or do you just set it and go?
7. Where will you sail and how will your boat get there?
A boat needs to be suited to the waters you will be boating in. Safety is maybe the most important criteria in choosing a design. This will help you in deciding what boat to build by setting the size and type of boat that can be safely used in these conditions. If you will be in the ocean you want a boat that is large enough. If it's very wavy or choppy you want a boat that can deal with waves. Are you looking to canoe in a small river? Do you want to go duckhunting in shallow swamps? Are you a rower who wants to break speed records?
How will you get your boat to the water? Will you need a trailer? Will you cartop or fold the boat up and put it in the trunk? What is the maximum weight you can handle comfortably when you are tired after a boating day? Will you leave the boat at a cottage, or a boat club?
8. With whom will you boat or sail?
Answering this question will tell you how big your boat needs to be, and how complex your rigging and sailing, or paddling, or sitting requirement will be. It will also help answer how large the boat can be if you don't have help to move it around.
Solo boating is fun but you have to be set up to do it safely and easily. Some boats such as Kayaks are well suited for solo boating. Others such as some sailboats are almost impossible to solo safely.
9. Will anyone help you build your boat?
it's possible to build boats alone with no help whatsoever. it's easier to build if you have help. Often another set of unskilled hands occasionally available is all you need. I have not found that boatbuilding is that difficult since most of the parts are quite light. It's nice to have someone around to encourage you or help you figure out confusing or mysterious instructions. There are several boat building forums that are goldmines of information and good cheer.
10. Do you have a dream boat?
It is not a wise person who ignores his dreams. You have to want to build the boat you have chosen. As you build you keep the vision in your mind and when you get discouraged and think everything is terrible the vision brings you through.
It might not be the logical boat for you but it's hard to ignore a dream!

If you are looking at a boatbuilding project check out my Boatbuilding Resources page. I have a lot of articles and good links.

There are dozens of boat designers out there. Have a look at the plan link page on the side bar for some boat plans. Many will have wooden boat plans for beginners.

There are many free boat plans available. You have to decide if this is for you. Often but not always these plans are not complete, or the instructions are very poor, or the model is dated and have been improved. There are very good plans offered free. I have links on side bar for free plans.

Also on the side bar is a number of links to my pages on various types of boats such as faerings, peapods, skin on frame. Have a look and this will help you decide what kind of boat to build.

One of the most useful things you can do in deciding what kind of boat to build is to make models. The model can simply be cardboard and tape. It really helps visualize the boat.



email me if you have any questions or if you find mistakes, I'll fix them and we'll all benefit: Christine