How to build a boat: Essential guide to building your first kit boat – Practical Boat Owner Magazine

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You don’t have to be a boatbuilder to learn how to build a boat. You can row, paddle or sail these elegant boats even if you’re a beginner, says Roger Nadin…

On the upper reaches of the Thames, a rower slides gracefully along in his skiff. Meanwhile in Dorset, a dory sets sail with a crew of three, keen to explore Poole Harbour.

Upon the Norfolk Broads, an open boat with a lugsail glides past the refurbished windmill. Near Bath, along the broad Kennett and Avon Canal, a newly-built pram dinghy heads east for a family camping trip.

Nature is much easier to access from the water, and in the UK few of us live more than a few miles away through a river, canal, lake or sheltered stretch of coastline.

Article continues below…

Fancy building your own Nigel Irens-designed 14ft rowing/sailing skiff? Nic Compton explains how to get the plans for free

There’s a great way to own a new boat on a budget – build it yourself. We followed five builders…

Rowing, to many associated with us, conjures images of muscular men and women racing along in the shell of a boat. But look back to the particular Edwardian era and you’ll find thousands of folk in rowing skiffs enjoying a day out on the river.

Today we can enjoy this same freedom on a cost-effective craft that can often be rowed, paddled or sailed – or even motored, if you get tired, with an almost silent electric outboard.

Unlike most Edwardians, we almost all have cars to carry or tow our boats wherever all of us want – what freedom!

Choosing an open boat

But how do you acquire such a boat and what choice is there? A website search will reveal hundreds of small boat designs from around the world: dories and skiffs; whitehalls plus wherries; pram dinghies and faerings; guide-boats and catboats.

Your difficulty will only be in choosing which boat is best for your particular requirements. These boats are all based on traditional boat designs, usually working boats that years ago served the working men of harbours, hunters out in the wild or fishermen out upon the sea.

These old boats were built using traditional skills plus methods which today tend to be hard to find and costly to use. Fortunately, modern boat designers have found ways to design plus construct these same boats using up-to-date methods and materials that require far less skill.

Your choice is to (a) have your boat constructed for you, (b) buy plans and a manual to develop what you want, or even (c) buy a kit of pre-cut parts plus follow simple instructions.

In terms associated with cost, buying plans will be the least expensive option, but the next cheapest – a kit boat – will still give you the thrill and satisfaction of building a beautiful craft that will give you many years of pleasure.

At the end of this article is a list of oar, paddle or sail vessels. This is just a taster of what is on offer (apologies to any designer who has been left out). Visit the websites linked below and you will be spoiled for choice.

There are designers all around the particular world and, in most cases, a great support network provided by each developer. Where you are really doesn’t matter since plans and kits are available just about anywhere in the world.

So, you’ve decided that you want to learn exactly how to build a boat. What’s next? Ask your self a few questions:

  • How many people do a person want to carry in the boat?
  • Do I want to use a trailer or to carry my boat on a roof-rack?
  • How much do I want to spend?
  • Can I afford the time that it will take to create a boat?
  • Should i want a vessel just for rowing, for paddling, or would We like to sail as well?
  • Do I want to enjoy camping on board?

There are usually lots of ‘off the shelf’ glassfibre boats on the market but wooden boats built using modern materials and methods can prove to be as long-lasting plus a real pleasure to own.

Building a boat: 5 popular methods

If the pleasure and satisfaction of building your own attracts you, then there are designs available to suit all levels associated with skill. Methods of creating vary. Let’s take the look at just a few examples of available row/paddle/sail craft:

1. Stitch and tape

In this method, marine plywood panels are temporarily stitched together then fixed using glassfibre tape and epoxy.

An example through French designer Françoise Vivier is the 5m Doris Dory. Doris (French with regard to ‘dory’) is intended in order to be a simple home-build but is also available professionally, built to a remarkably high quality (see steinboot. at ).

Doris Dory

She is the reworking of the traditional Banks dory – an 1850s fishing boat on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland – but with more stability, and is equally good as a sailing or rowing boat.

Another even simpler craft from New Zealand designer John Welsford is his Light Dory. Easily carried on a car roof-rack, this particular light, seaworthy iteration of the ubiquitous dory can carry plenty of equipment.

There are also open canoes that can be paddled and sailed. Some require the addition of floats on either side associated with the hull, which can be cumbersome, but Michael Storer in Australia has designed two canoes that encompass the stability of a dinghy with the particular speed and lightness associated with an open Canadian canoe. The Viola 14 and his larger KOMBI sailing canoes are well worth checking out.

Viola 14

2. Ply on frame

This technique involves the construction of an inner framework, which is after that covered in ply panels.

The Drake 17 by American designer Clint Chase is a 17ft fixed-seat rowing vessel, available both as programs or like a kit. It’s a boat for serious long-distance rowing and is usually capable of downwind sailing.

Also from the US comes the 15ft Jeff Spira Cape Cod Rowing Skiff. This offers great capacity and is definitely particularly simple to construct. It looks like the good project for the particular first time builder.

Shawl Code Rowing Skiff

3. Glued lapstrake

With glued lapstrake, pre-formed ply panels are epoxied with each other.

UK developer Iain Oughtred is well known for his beautifully proportioned and attractive motorboats. His 15ft Elf Faering is based on a historic Norwegian design.

Another option through Doug Hylan in the US is the solid and seaworthy 3. 55m (11ft 6in) pram dinghy, named Oonagh after the Celtic faery queen.

Oonagh. Photo: Benjamin Mendlowitz Marine Photography

4. LapStitch

This trademarked system of accurately cutting and joining plywood planks is used in the Passagemaker design from John C. Harris. A 3. 5m (11ft 6in) pram dinghy, it’s similar to other prams, but its light build makes it an easy boat to carry and attach to a roof rack.

5. Skin-on-frame

This is an ancient method of creating a motorboat using a framework covered with a waterproof fabric. Originally constructed using animal skins or waterproofed canvas, the Baidarka ‘Eskimo’ kayaks are possibly the best known. These were originally constructed using bones for the particular frame and seal skins for the cover.

Skin-on-frame (SoF) is a very quick and cost-effective build method giving a lightweight but rugged vessel. These days, the craft is covered by modern ‘bullet-proof’ polyester plus resin.

Adirondack Guideboat

Brian Schulz’s Guide Boat is based on traditional hunting and fishing boats from your Adirondack Mountains in the US. This elegant rowing motorboat weighs just 17kg (depending on length) and looks like a joy to own and row.

Another SoF craft can be the US-designed 18ft rowing wherry Ruth. Available from Dave Gentry, at just 21kg this is another lightweight boat that’s furthermore light around the pocket.

Get browsing

There are many books available on the subject of modern boatbuilding – so searching through these will give you the good idea of what’s involved.

Some boats take only a few days of part-time work to build, while for others you’ll need in order to commit to a few weeks associated with weekend and evening labour.

Now you’ve acquired your boat, where can you use this? Different countries have different rules – or none at all!

In the UK you’ll need a permit or licence of some sort for just about any form of inland waterway. Check out local byelaws and/or the Canal & River Trust or the Environment Agency .

To launch within the sea, check local harbours and marinas who may or may not charge a launching fee.

And please remember, if you are heading out to sea, seek some tide and weather details and take a good RYA course on navigation.

Whether your first trip is on the river, lake, canal, or sea, take a short trip to see that everything works well and that will your rowing seat is certainly comfortable.

Once you have checked every thing then you can set about some longer distance journeys. These can, if you wish, include an overnight stop since most craft can be used regarding cruising. Your overnight may be in a tent on land or, probably better still, under painting on your boat.

Photo: Kathy Mansfield

Night under canvas

If you have never spent a night under painting this might all sound a bit daunting. Don’t expect a solid night’s sleep the first night. The boat may rock a bit, the canvas, blow and slap a bit plus you might be alarmed by just how noticeably quiet it can be out in the particular country away from town.

My first overnight trip by boat was on the River Ardeche in France with a small group of canoeists. We pulled our boats up on the rocky bank and arranged up camp on the cliff-bottom ledge. As the particular sun dropped over the edge associated with the river gorge, a deep peace descended, along with a black starry sky became our cover. Bliss!

Another canoe journey – with two friends – took me through the north coast of Germany over to the island of Wangerooge, one associated with the Frisian Islands. We stuffed our sea-going kayaks with tents, food and clothing and crossed the fast-flowing tides that run between the islands. We camped close to a little harbour, surrounded by seabirds plus seals.

Whether for fitness (both physical or mental), a romantic picnic, or just the pleasure of being out in nature, a small open boat to row, paddle or sail will provide you with great enjoyment.

17 of the best kit boats

Cape Cod Rowing Skiff

The 4. 6m Cape Cod Rowing Skiff provides a flat bottom and is probably one of the simplest boats to build.

LOA: 4. 60m
Beam: 1. 40m
Weight: 59kg
Build method: Ply upon Frame
Designer: Jeff Spira
Kit and/or plan supplier: Spira International Inc.

Doris Dory

The 5m Doris is a French-designed Dory that can be rowed or sailed. It is available as plans, the kit or can be built by an agent based in Austria.

LOA: 5. 00m
Beam: 1. 45m
Weight: 88kg
Build method: Stitch and tape
Designer: François Vivier
Kit and/or plan supplier: Vivier Boats

Drake 17

Drake seventeen Rowboat

The particular Drake 17 fixed-seat rowing boat has some downwind sailing ability. Based mainly on the Norwegian faering it is built using the particular plywood on frame technique.

LOA: 5. 30m
Beam: 1. 30m
Weight: 50kg
Build method: Plywood on frame
Designer: Clint Chase
Kit and/or plan supplier: Chase Small Craft

Elf Faering

In just 15ft (4. 57m) the Elf Faering is capable of carrying a camping load and trekking along for many hours.

LOA: 4. 57m
Beam: one. 34m
Weight: 65kg
Build method: Adhered lapstrake
Designer: Iain Oughtred
Kit and plan supplier: Classic Marine/ Jordan Boats

Elf Faering. Photo: Kathy Mansfield


Oonagh is a pram dinghy, which has the advantage of more space and stability than their ‘pointy-nose’ dinghy equivalents.

LOA: 3. 60m
Beam: 1 . 52m
Weight: 77kg
Build method: Glued lapstrake
Designer: Doug Hylan
Kit and/or plan provider: Classic Marine/ Jordan Boats

Viola 14

The Viola 14 has the underwater shape of the dinghy for enhanced cruising and added stability. Like the KOMBI (below) it is based on an open up canoe, and so can become used as either a sail or paddle create.

LOA: four. 30m
Beam: 1. 00m
Weight: 34kg
Build method: Stitch and glue
Developer: Michael Storer
Package and/or plan supplier: Storer Boat Plans


LOA: 4. 80m
Beam: 0. 86m
Weight: 21kg
Build method: Stitch and glue
Designer: Michael Storer
Kit and/or plan supplier: Storer Boat Programs

The Ruth Wherry weighs just 21kg

Ruth Wherry

LOA: five. 50m
Beam: 0. 84m
Weight: 21kg
Build method: Skin-on-Frame
Designer: Dave Gentry
Kit and/or plan supplier: Gentry Custom Boats

Adirondack Guideboat

LOA: 4. 57m
Beam: 0. 98m
Weight: 32kg
Build method: Kevlar or even cedar
Designer: Traditional design
Kit and/or plan supplier: Adirondack Guideboat

Acorn 15

LOA: 4. 60m
Beam: 1. 20m
Weight: 60kg
Build method: Clinker layer
Designer: Iain Oughtred
Kit and/or strategy supplier: Classic Marine/ Jordan Boats

Cape Falcon Kayak

LOA: 3. 7m-4. 80m
Light beam: 0. 79m
Bodyweight: 14-19kg
Build method: Skin-on-frame
Designer: Brian Schulz
Kit and plan supplier: Cape Falcon Kayaks

Caravelle Skiff

LOA: four. 40m
Beam: one. 23m
Weight: 52kg
Build method: Plywood on frame
Developer: Clint Chase
Package and/or plan supplier: Chase Small Create

Classic 12 Geodesic Skiff SOF

LOA: a few. 70m
Beam: 1. 23m
Weight: 13kg
Build method: Skin-on-Frame
Designer: Platt Monfort
Kit and/or program supplier: Geodesic Airolite Boats

Light Dory

LOA: 5. 10m
Beam: 1. 26m
Weight: 42kg
Build method: Stitch plus tape
Designer, Kit and/or plan supplier: John Welsford

Shenandoah Whitehall

LOA: 4. 10m
Beam: one. 20m
Weight: 27kg
Build method: Skin-on-frame
Designer: Dave Ballinger
Kit and/or plan supplier: Medlock Custom Boats


LOA: 1. 8m-3. 7m
Beam: 1. 1m-1. 5m
Weight: 23 kg-45kg
Build technique: Stitch and tape
Designer: Paul Fisher
Kit and/or plan supplier: Selway Fisher Design


LOA: 3. 50m
Ray: one 40m
Weight: 41kg
Build method: LapStitch
Designer: John C. Harris
Package and/or plan supplier: Fyne Boats / Chesapeake Light Craft

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