1) Why should I build my own boat?

This is the first question that every amateur boatbuilder should ask himself.

I’ve been working with amateur boatbuilders since about ten years. This means I have seen a good amount of project started and launched with awesome results, some others derailed along the building process, eventually revitalized by new strongly motivated builders, others had just become the most expensive wallpaper ever purchased.

Every aspect of building a boat is related to commitment, stubbornness and motivation; let’s see some of the reason why a mentally sane person should build his own boat:

The taste of challenge. A boat, every boat, from a 8 feet dinghy to a 40 footer cruiser, is a quite complex object; her building requires a huge amount of skills that where probably quite common 100 years ago in a small fishermen village, but are really weird for us and nowadays; it’s a real challenge, we’ll learn to manage materials, to visually imagine the process, to solve small and less small problems, and all this can be very stimulating and exciting, particularly for curios persons. We’ll later sail this boat, and we need her to be sound and safe, no matter if we’ll take a ride in the lake near home or if we’ll cross the ocean.

I want to build “my own” boat. Experienced sailors often have gained a very detailed vision of their ideal boat, and this vision is not always supported by boatyards. So why don’t built the “ultimate boat” that perfectly suits your need? This kind of builders are a stimulating challenge for a designer: deal with a person with a very wide boating experience is always interesting and often the design process, although quite long, leads to very honest and no-compromise boats, the kind I like most. Sometimes this kind of builder prefers to rely on a boatyard or to some specialist for particular works, with an eye on building costs and another on launch time.

I want built my boat to save money. Despite this may seem a very strong reason, in my personal experience is a quite weak one: building a boat is a tough and long enterprise and marinas are full of second hand boats that can be real good bargains, with a cost comparable to that of materials needed to build a new boat.

The value of your time. This is for me by far the key factor: if you give a positive value to time spent in the building process, if this is something that you really like, if you consider the building process an enriching experience, you’re on the right mood to build your own boat; on the contrary if you consider the amount of time spent in building an unbearable sacrifice, a bitter medicine that you must gobble to sail your own boat, a huge amount of time that you’re stealing to family, friends, sailing, definitely you’d better search a second hand boat.

I want to built my own boat because I simply got tired of assembling Ikea shelves and wardrobes. This may seem just a joke, but there’s a lot of builders who simply start building a boat because they’re “hardcore hobbyist” and they’re tired of building “normal things”; often they’re not sailors, they simply love the idea of building such a beautiful and complex object as a boat; I know at least a couple of them which became very good sailor after they launched their own boat!

2) Which skill are required to build a boat?

I’d dare to say just one fundamental skill: curiosity.

A normal level of craftsmanship can help you, that is to say the one that you can achieve building a shelf , repairing some wooden furniture and so on.

The single operations in themselves are quite easy: cut a plywood panel with a electrical jigsaw is something you can learn in 20 minutes, even more specialized works like learn how to laminate a patch of fabric glass with epoxy will require probably two hour, make a perfect scarf joint on a wood plank, which is probably the trickiest thing you’ll have to do, will require a pair of trials and no more than half day to be managed.

Modern building systems doesn’t require the high level of skill required by the carvel planked classical boats.

Our plans are highly detailed, most of them have a step-by-step set of instructions, I’m always available for an advice via e-mail (for particular concerns, don’t flood me with e-mails…), and there is a plenty of infos in the web, provided by builders who built the same boat you’re building.

My advice if you’re a total beginner is: start with a small project, a seakayak or a small rowing or sailing dinghy; test yourself in a small project that you can manage in several dozens of working hours, and then decide if you want to build something bigger.

3) What kind of boat may I built?

The world wide web offers a huge amount of plans to build virtually any kind of pleasure motorboat or sailboat, in any stile, classical or modern, monohull or multihull, made with wood, glass reinforced plastic, steel, aluminum, ranging from 8 feet (2,4 m) rowing dinghies to 60 footer sailboat or motorboat, including anything in between.

In my experience I consider a realistic choice to put a limit relying on boat size:

  • 34 feet for a sailboat or a motorboat if you work alone or in a small team (2-3 persons);
  • something slightly bigger (within 40 foot) if you work in a bigger team.

If you want to built something bigger than this, my only advice is: manage carefully your time/money resources and hire some specialized workers to speed up same parts of the work and do the rest by yourself, it will be a tough marathon but you can handle this.

4) Which tools do I need to built a boat from one of your plans?

Basically you’ll need:

  • electrical alternative jigsaw
  • battery operated drill/screwdriver and drill bits (one set for wood one for metal drilling)
  • electrical planer
  • sanders: a random orbit one and a sheet one
  • clamps (a good amount, small, medium and big sized)
  • some cutters with disposable blades
  • sturdy scissors
  • hammer
  • a set of pliers
  • disposable small cheap paintbrushes (a lot…)
  • small disposable rolls for paint roller ( a lot…)
  • staples and a staple gun
  • safety self-protection gears (gloves, glasses, masks, and so on)

As you can see all these stuffs are quite standard ones, nothing too special and nothing too expensive, probably 70% of these items can be found in your garage for small house works.

Basically you need the same set of tools for all our plans.

5) How to chose a project?

This is one of those questions that will become your nightmare since you decide to built a boat; of course there is not a clear answer, or a mathematical algorithm to solve this equation, but I’ll somehow try to unwrap this subject:

Sailboat or motorboat: normally this the easiest choice, relying on our previous boating experience; very few sailor stay undecided on this point; if you have no boating experience do one, before decide to build a boat, you may got wrapped in the magic of sailing, or find it terribly boring, flying around at 30 knots in a planing motorboat may stuck a smile on your face or become your worst nightmare;

Clear goals: how will you use your boat? I mean you can imagine yourself at the helm of a screaming fast paced class 40 ocean racer, but the cruel reality is that you have a beloved family and a cat, not a crew of muscled tattooed oceanmates, if you’ll get lucky you’ll pass a month in a year sailing your own boat, you’re definitively not an athlete, you have a medium budget for this project, and no skills in racing at all; so you’d probably better step back from your dreams and choose a boat you like and that you’ll use for her intended purposes, instead of trying to build a kind of never-ending sailing nightmare that will put at risk both your pocket and your marriage

Budget: we’ll see in details how to evaluate this: choose a project that you can effort without changing your life in a desperate fund-raising marathon; in my personal opinion it’s by far a better chioce to build a 25 footer well equipped, with a very good wardrobe of new sails, a good new engine, high level deck gear, than build a 35 footer with a rattling and gasping used engine, used sails, struggling to reach your minimum budget to launch the boat and so on.

Building time: this is probably the most difficult aspect to evaluate: we’ll discuss this on a dedicated article, by now just think that building time (and budget too) grows approximately with boat displacement and NOT with boat lenght; pay attention to building technique: cold molding is a great building technique, which gives probably the best hull that wood and modern materials may obtain, but it’s a building system that implies an humongous amount of time, which is a really great concern for a homebuilder who’s aim is to sail his boat, not to pass his life building her; building methods like plywood radius-chine or stitch and glue may definitively boost your speed in building the hull

Skill required for building: you may think this is the most important aspect, but after a dozen years dealing with homebuilders I’d dare to say that this is not exactly true; if we leave apart exotic composites, prepreg carbon, nomex and stuff like this, any “normal” building system may be learned with a quite steep learning curve by a curios person; an important aspect is that you MUST have the chance to contact the designer and have answers in a decent amount of time for every doubt

The most important: chose a boat that you LOVE: you will dedicate the next months or years to build something really important, and huge, so it is absolutely important that you start this adventure with the highest level of commitment; you really have to love the final result of your efforts and the building process, and if you’re not totally passionate on a project, reject it before the purchase, until you find a project which is 110% what you’ll love to build and sail; and if this not exists, contact a boat designer to check the possibility to develop a custom project tailored to your wishes.