How to Build a Boat

build your own boat

Whether you’re looking at an aluminum fishing boat, a cabin cruiser, or anything in between, you’re looking at a modern boat that took countless hours of designing, craftsmanship, and manufacturing to produce. And while you certainly can’t create that sort of advanced watercraft in your own back yard, that doesn’t mean you can’t build your own boat.

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Photo Credit: MrComplexity (CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Small, simple craft like the row boat you might use to paddle out to your “real” boat, canoes, and toy boats built for a wet joyride or two can all be fun DIY projects that enhance your own personal experiences on the water. 

Popular DIY Build a Boat Options

Some great examples of DIY boats include:

  • Plywood Sheet Boats
  • Kit Boats
  • PVC Boats
  • Duct Tape & Cardboard Boats

Before we get into each, let’s point out that not all of these are what you’d call “seaworthy.” Some will only be appropriate for use in small bodies of protected waters, where you can stand up if your boat sinks (yes, life jackets are still required!)

Others will work fine in ponds with no waves or current, but can’t be expected to have the stability nor wave-handling abilities of even the smallest dinghy that’s been manufactured to modern safety standards. In many of these cases the idea here isn’t to build a boat to go cruising or fishing—it’s to build your own boat for fun.

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Plywood Sheet Boats

One of the simplest and least expensive methods of building a boat that you can use repeatedly in small, protected bodies of water, is to slap together plywood sheets into a box with a section angled up for the bow. Will it comfortable in any sort of waves? Not likely. But it is a quick and easy project that you can tackle with a budget of just a couple hundred dollars, and it results in a mini-boat that will last.

The process is quite simple:

  1. Sketch out the dimensions you want;
  2. Cut plywood sheets for the bottom, sides, transom, and bow;
  3. Cut trim (such as 1”-by-2” wood strips) to line all the joints;
  4. Secure the sides and bottom by driving screws through them and into the trim; 
  5. Seal all the joints with an adhesive/sealant; 
  6. Finally, give the boat a coat of paint to protect the plywood and extend its lifespan.

If you want to build a plywood sheet boat, it’s a good idea to look at some basic plans first (plenty are available on the internet). And always remember that this sort of craft isn’t meant for use on open water, nor without lifejackets being worn at all times. When you go for your first sea trial you’ll likely find it rather unstable and difficult to row in a straight line—but you’ll be rowing your very own boat, that you built with your own two hands.

Kit Boats

Building a kit boat can result in a much more seaworthy craft than most of these other DIY backyard projects, however, it also costs quite a bit more money. In most cases, you’ll be paying for the plans, pre-cut materials, and shipping. Accessories like oars or sails generally will need to be purchased after the project is complete. Depending on the size and type of kit boat you build your budget can range from a couple thousand dollars to $10,000 or even more.

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Photo Courtesy: Chase Small Craft

Different kit boat companies offer different building styles, ranging from:

  • Strip planking over frames to stitch-and-glue construction (where the sheets of wood are connected by sewing wire through pre-drilled holes).
  • In some cases, the wood framework of the boat will need to be encapsulated in epoxy resin and/or fiberglass once its assembled.
  • Some kits have interlocking pieces and parts that snap together like puzzle parts, while others will need to be glued together or mechanically fastened.

Each of these different methods require different levels of skill, time, and expense, so before buying a kit boat you should thoroughly research just what’s involved with the construction method that’s to be used.

That said, the time and expense involved with building a kit boat is worth it to many people because the end result can be a rather substantial, long-lasting watercraft.

PVC Boats

Can you merely cap off some PVC tubes to act as pontoons, strap on a deck or seat, and call it a boat? Sure you can. And while the end result is not likely to be a boat you’d ever want to launch in anything larger than a farm-pond, it will withstand the test of time.

PVC boats are also incredibly easy to build since the pieces and parts are all readily available at well-stocked hardware stores, can be glued together, and are fairly inexpensive. Depending on how ambitious you get you could spend a few hundred dollars on materials, even more if you built a plywood deck or added seating.

The most important thing to keep in mind when building a PVC boat is how much floatation you’ll get out of different sized pipes.

  • As an example, 10-inch diameter pipe will float about 300 pounds per 10-foot section.
  • So a pair of pipes can support around 600 pounds in total before becoming immersed.
  • But you have to account for the weight of the PVC and any decking material you might use, and to make sure you stay above the waterline it’s a good idea to only plan for half the total weight capacity to be used. S
  • So a boat you make with a pair of those pipes will be appropriate for a single adult of up to 200 or 250 pounds, give or take—depending on how willing you are to get wet.

There are some plans for PVC boats available for free on the internet, so a little bit of Googling can go a long way in making sure you end up with the type of boat you’re expecting.

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Duct Tape & Cardboard Boats

We’re lumping duct tape boats and cardboard boats together, because quite often they’re one and the same. Often the boat’s structure will be cardboard and duct tape is used to (more or less) protect the cardboard from getting saturated. This is the most common construction method used for many of the cardboard boat races and contests held across the nation.

In some other cases, people build a basic framework out of thin PVC pipes, chicken-wire, or wood stripping, and then create multi-layer hull “plating” with the tape.

Although you can probably scrounge up plenty of cardboard without spending a dime, the expense of building a duct tape boat can be bigger than one might guess.

  • You’ll need several rolls of tape (the thicker you layer it on, the better) so a budget of $50 or more is not out of line.
  • Of course, neither cardboard nor duct tape are the best boatbuilding materials in the world. Often these are single-use boats that can be expected to sink in short order.
  • So this is another case where you shouldn’t so much as step aboard without having your life jacket on, and the use of these boats should be close to the shoreline in protected waters.

Any way you look at it, however, building a duct tape or cardboard boat gets right at the heart of why you’d want to take on a DIY boatbuilding project in the first place: because it’s fun!

Read Next: 10 Easy, Affordable Boat DIY Improvement Projects

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