Boat Building Choices

IMAG0392If you’re like me, you will have a very difficult time choosing which boat to build. It is half the fun of boat building, but it can also be very frustrating and overwhelming.  The Internet is a wonderful place, but is there such a thing as too much information? It is like going out to eat at The Cheesecake Factory. The food is great, but the menu is like a small novel. It takes 30 minutes just to read through the whole thing let alone trying to decide on just one dish. I find a similar problem with decided on a boat. I want to build them all, but I need to pick just one.

Here are some questions to ask yourself that should help.

What will the primary purpose of the boat be?

There are many hull types and sizes dedicated to different uses.  For example, I built my skiff to be used as a dinghy to get out to my sailboat’s mooring.  I wanted a flat bottom for stability because I would have the kids in it.  I am building a Bobcat sailboat for my daughter.  I chose it because the rig is fairly simple and because catboats are notably very stable and tough to capsize.  Figure out what you’ll be using the boat for and look at boats to suit your purpose.  If you are just building it for fun and plan on selling it, then build something popular.

How will you power the boat (row, motor, or sail)?

This is very important as boats are usually designed with the power source in mind.  Some boats can do them all, but you will find that the more that the boat can do, the less it will do each one really well.  At least narrow it down to one primary power source.  For example, maybe you want a sailboat that can accept an outboard kicker or a power boat that rows well.

How many people do you expect to have in the boat (and how much do they weigh approximately)?

Boats have capacity limits.  Do yourself a favor and don’t even get close to them.  If the capacity is 500lbs, try not to go much over 400lbs when loading her up.

Where will the boat be stored?

This is not as much of a problem in choosing a boat as in choosing how you will finish the boat.  If it is stored outdoors, make sure it is coated in fiberglass and or epoxy.

How will the boat be transported?

Are you going to need a trailer or is it a car-topper?  Car-toppers are convenient, but do you have the strength (or help) to hoist it up there?

Will you have any help moving the boat in and our of the water?

They are always heavier than they look.  Pay attention to the weights of the boats you are looking at if it is something you are going to have to drag down the beach every day.

How much can I afford?

This is a big question.  How much can you afford?  If there is no budget, go out and buy the best materials possible.  Seriously.  The better the material, the better the quality of the boat.  Doesn’t the builder determine the quality of the boat, you ask?  Absolutely.  But if you have a professional builder put together a boat with junk plywood, then you have a well-built, junk plywood boat.  If you switch those, then you have a decently constructed boat with marine-grade materials.  Personally, I will take the latter.  I only say this because I have built boats.  It is easy.  I have faith that if you are interested enough to read this blog, then your boat is going to come out beautiful.  Pick up some Okoume, sitka spruce, western red cedar, mahogany, teak, or white oak and have at it!!!  Now, if you are on a very tight budget, then get whatever grade materials you can afford.  A scrap wood boat is better than no boat at all.  Do yourself a favor.  If you use Excel, make a list of everything you will need and add it all up.  If you don’t use Excel, use a pencil and paper.  You may be able to phase the purchasing for different parts of the build so you can afford better materials.  Either way, at least you will have a plan for when your wife/husband comes storming into your shop waving the credit card bill in her hand yelling, “You spent $200 on just 3 sheets of plywood!?”  I encourage the following response, “It was on the material list that we discussed sweetheart and it’s ‘marine grade’ plywood  I’d explain, but it’s really complicated stuff.”  Make sure you do the air-quotes for ‘marine-grade.’

How skilled are you at woodworking?

That last question deserves its own 2 paragraphs. First, let me discuss “kit” boats. I for one, do not believe in kit boats except for the greenest of green carpenters. If you have never worked a saw or lifted a hammer, buy a kit and get your feet wet. If you know how to operate a saw, buy the plans and build it yourself. I feel as though a kit boat is not your full expression of a boat. The general shape of the boat is already cut for you and has none of your labor in it. IT is like a pastry chef buying a box of Betty Crocker cake batter and frosting and then claiming that they made the cake. Sure, they assembled it, but they did not “make” it. That is my $.02 and I am sure some of you will disagree.

The second paragraph is in relation to time and difficulty of the boat you choose. If you are looking to throw a boat together just to see it float or maybe you are working with a young child, then go get the easiest boat possible. Kids have the attention span of a gnat and if you choose something that’s going to take 2 years to put together, you will be building it by yourself within a month or two. Kids need to see progress and results every time they work on it. Two weeks of lofting and building forms will kill that bonding opportunity in an instant. Otherwise, if you are building a boat that you plan on using regularly and maybe passing down to your kids or selling at some point, pick something just a little bit out of your comfort zone. I am not saying to go build a 30′ cabin cruiser, but maybe instead of some square, entry-level dink, you choose something just a bit more elegant and challenging like a small skiff or dory.

Here are a couple of places to get started in choosing a boat: – Bolger Designs.  Excellent plans and instructions – Proprietary Designs.  Also excellent plans and instructions (and kits)

In December I plan on releasing a Resource Guide.  It will contain links and explanations for all the resources I use when building a boat.  Sign up to receive a notification.

Thank you for reading!!


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