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The Perfect Project

A North Carolina entrepreneur makes it possible for anyone—yes, anyone—to build a boat.

Full-size templates make building easy

Full-size templates make building easy

The 1950s table saw in Adam Parchman’s garage is stored neatly beside a workbench covered with boatbuilding plans. It has no safety features to speak of. When I approach the saw with wood in hand, Parchman politely tells me he’ll do the cutting.

The 32-year-old engineer is the founder of Salt Boatworks, a company that sells boatbuilding plans and jigs to anyone who wants to build a boat. The venture is the result of years of generous mentorship from dozens of folks including Shay Trainer of Trainer Boatworks and Donnie Caison of Caison Yachts. He remembers many of them saying, “You’re a crazy young kid. I like you.”

His mentors taught him about cold molding, making a jig and using a CNC machine. It took him two and a half years to build his first boat, a 21-foot center console named Learning Curve. “I’m the one building the boat, but all these people are pouring all this time and knowledge and skills into me. They always have the door open for me,” he remembers thinking. “This community is something that doesn’t happen in the corporate world where I work during the day.”

Parchman’s designs have Carolina style.

When he shared his work on social media, people expressed interest in building their own. In 2016, he responded to this demand by founding Salt Boatworks. Customers can purchase plans with full-size templates for a 12- or 15-foot skiff or an 18- or 21-foot center console, all with a Carolina flared bow and sharp entry. Customers don’t need any special tools or experience. “To make it accessible for everyone, you have to make it easy for everyone,” says Parchman. His wife, Emily, films the builds and posts the videos on YouTube so people can follow along.

Parchman builds Hull No. 1 of most models in his garage; the cars are relegated to the driveway. The garage is remarkably tidy, with a completed 12-foot skiff outfitted with a 6-hp outboard and a 15-foot skiff in progress. He hands me a bag of zip ties and shows me how to cinch the marine plywood together to create the bow. He says one of the most common questions he gets from potential customers is, “I have zero experience building boats. Are you sure I can do this?” His answer is an unequivocal yes.

Parchman designs and builds his boats at home

Between the full-size templates and the YouTube videos, Parchman is making boatbuilding accessible to people around the world. He meets most clients through -Instagram, and he’s shipped plans to Australia, Dubai, Brazil and throughout the U.S. Many customers are father-son teams. Parchman’s goal is to give others the same access to mentorship that he had, and to share his passion for boats. “Buying a boat is a technical experience,” he says. “Building a boat is an emotional experience.”

Most of Parchman’s customers start with the 12-foot skiff, which he says takes 50 hours and $1,000 to build (plus around $1,000 for a 6-hp outboard). The body weighs 100 pounds and fits in a truck bed, making it an attainable project for many people. Ambitious customers can build the CS-18 for $12,000 or the CS-21 for $15,000 in about two years’ time, working nights and weekends. Both the skiff and the center console could be a tender for a larger yacht.

The author learns to build a boat.

Parchman’s favorite days are when he receives a call from a customer who recently finished building one of his boats. Despite some customers’ initial apprehension about building a boat, or fear that it won’t float, the process inspires confidence. “You made a contribution to their life. You didn’t just sell them a product. You helped them build a memory,” he says. 

A longer version of this story appeared in the second edition of OUTBOARD, our sister publication.