DIY Kit Boats
Dreams Can Come True
A boat kit can unleash your inner boatbuilder, so we checked out a few to whet your appetite.
So you’ve always wondered what it would be like to build your own boat. But every time you start seriously thinking about the idea, you eventually realize how daunting the task might be and give up on the notion. After all, you’ve got a family. And your wife and kids aren’t about to wait around for years while you toil away in the garage building something that may be your dream, but everyone else’s nightmare.
What if you thought smaller, though?
There’s a plethora of kits for tenders and similarly sized craft out there that can easily satisfy your yearnings to create. Whether you’re into rowing-style skiffs, outboard-powered runabouts, three-point hydroplanes, or some other sort of vessel, you can find a complete kit or full-sized plans on the market. Most call for working with simple forms of plywood, or you can get more exotic with mahogany or teak. If you want to try fiberglass construction, you’ll find plans for that too. You can even get your hands on instructions for aluminum hulls. Go with any of these and for a couple thousand dollars (not including the motor or motors), you’ll have a boat that you can show off to your friends at the marina or yacht club.
Let’s take a closer look at what you should—and shouldn’t—be looking for in a kit and/or pattern. “It’s important that you get plans from somebody who has been around awhile,” says Gayle Brantuk, vice president at Glen-L Marine (www.glen-l.com). “Have their designs been built before and have their designs been proven by builders?” Glen L. Witt, Brantuk’s father, started the company in 1953.
You also want to make sure you get a full-sized kit or pattern. That means the measurements are the actual size the construction calls for. Building from scale requires a lot of extra math calculations.
And then there’s product support—you want lots of it. For example, the folks at Chesapeake Light Craft (www.clcboats.com) offer a 143-page manual for building their Cocktail Class Racer, a small single-person racing runabout. Additionally, CLC has as many as four experienced boatbuilders providing technical support by phone or online six days per week. “We’re going to get anyone with patience through this process,” says John C. Harris, CLC’s president.
Harris continues, again emphasizing that the key to success is patience. “Our kits don’t involve much woodworking, since we’ve cut out all the parts,” he says. “You’ve got to deal with lots of epoxy and fiberglass followed by hours of sanding. You have to stick with the sanding.”
Glen-L’s Brantuk says that too many of her customers get too caught up in trying to make everything perfect. “There are some things in boating that need to be precise for the boat to perform well,” she explains. “But generally you can fix almost any mistake you make.”
Finally, Jim Argites at Pygmy Boats (www.pygmyboats.com) suggests not trying to work around a problem that you don’t understand. Instead, he advises, stop and ask for clarification.
One last idea. If you’ve already built a boat using conventional techniques, why not try stitch-and-glue construction, a technique developed by Sam Devlin of Devlin Designing Boat Builders (www.devlinboat.com). Stitch and glue uses epoxy adhesives to bond and seal all the parts of a wooden boat, creating more of a one-piece feel. High-grade marine plywood is usually involved as well as wire sutures to clamp together the various parts until they set. Then fiberglass tape, conventional fiberglass or Dynal polyester cloths, and epoxy fillers and resin finish the job.
While I don’t have the space here to finish detailing the process, suffice to say it sounds pretty intriguing. But overall, so is the idea of simply building a boat, however you do it.
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.