5 Common Mistakes that Can Ruin Your Boatbuilding Project

The decision to build your own boat is a big one. Even if the craft you’re constructing is small, the project itself can be quite an undertaking. Excited as you may be, when you set out to build a boat, the chances of making mistakes that can ruin your vessel are much greater than with someone who has some experience under their belt.

Learning from others’ mistakes is an excellent way to prepare yourself and ensure that your endeavor goes smoothly. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of common mistakes that have been known to ruin the boatbuilding projects of novices. Read carefully and you might just save yourself a lot of frustration.

Mistake #1 – Buying Lower-Quality Boat Plans

As a pattern is to sewing, so boat plans are to boatbuilding. In essence, they are the boat. If you choose boat plans that were not expertly created or that have less-than-clear instructions, you’re pretty much doomed from the start.

In addition to plans that are drawn by an expert with naval experience, you’ll want to purchase ones that include step-by-step instructions. If you’re a novice, you will particularly want additional boatbuilding information to accompany your instructions.

Three-dimensional (3-D) computer models are an enormous help because they allow you to rotate, view cut sections, pan, zoom and more. But most importantly is having direct contact with the designer her/himself. If you get stuck, you’ll have a way to receive expert guidance.

Mistake #2 – Planning Ahead

Many boatbuilding projects are abandoned by beginners who have made mistakes early on and had no idea how to correct them. If they had given due diligence to prior planning, they would have known what to look for to avoid the mishap to begin with.

Don’t neglect the planning phase of your project. Taking a moment to mentally walk through everything you will need to do from beginning to end can save you a great deal of time.

Mistake #3 – Not Adequately Equipping Your Workspace

Once you’ve finished mentally reviewing the project, you’ll want to turn your attention to creating and equipping your workspace. Without enough space, the proper tools, the right materials and the correct climate, you’re likely to struggle to complete your undertaking.

Mistake #4 – Neglecting to Use Epoxy as Directed

Epoxy can be temperamental to deal with. If it gets too hot or too cold, it simply won’t function as it should. You’ll be left with joints and seams that don’t adhere to one another, resulting in leaks later on.

Fully read the instruction manual that comes with the epoxy you’ve chosen. Mixing it properly and using it as the manufacturer suggests can be the difference between a boat that floats and one that quickly becomes waterlogged.

Mistake #5 – Underestimating the Cost

As you’re shopping for boat plans, collecting information and planning, don’t forget to calculate the cost involved in building your own boat. The final price will depend on several factors, but, on average, a canoe will likely run about $300 US. A rowboat, perhaps $450 US. A 19-foot pram could cost around $800 US, while a tugboat might run $15,000 US.

Understanding what causes others to fail will give you a head start on success. Rather than jumping straight into boatbuilding, take your time. If you learn from the 5 mistakes listed above, your project will be an enjoyable one that results in a craft you’ll be proud to sail.

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Master Boat Builder and Naval Architect

MS Selandia happy anniversary

On this day one hundred years ago the world’s first oceangoing diesel engine-powered ship was handed over to the owner East Asiatic Company from the builder Burmeister & Wain shipyard in Copenhagen.

Before Selandia was build all ships were steam powered. Steam power meant huge amount of coal and a large amount of crew to keep the steam engine running.

Using diesel not only removed a lot of the hard and unhealthy work shoveling coal but also meant a large increase in cruising range for the ocean going ships.

As a Dane the anniversary is of course even more interesting since it shows the long tradition for innovation within boat- and shipbuilding present in this part of the world.

Seen in the long perspective I think the whole world has benefit from this Danish innovation, since today it’s hard to imagine a fleet of small and large boats/ships without diesel engines.

So happy anniversary to MS Selandia and the engineers that made it possible to built the world’s first oceangoing diesel engine powered ship.

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Master Boat Builder and Naval Architect

14’ Motor dinghy being build in Australia

Paul Nelson from Australia is building a 14’ Motor dinghy. Paul is doing a modified version with no interior structures like steering console or seats. Paul likes the interior simple.

Check out some of Paul’s pictures here:

Since Paul is building his boat in Australia he has to fit a builders plate with information about the boat.

I have helped Paul with the different pieces of information that has to be present on the builders plate. If you are a builder from Australia I will of course also be able to help you with the information for your boat.

Read more about the 14’ Motor dinghy and buy the boat plans here:

Boat plans for the 14’ Motor dinghy

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Master Boat Builder and Naval Architect

Creating & Equipping Your Boatbuilding Workshop

Whether you want to build boats to earn a living or are just expressing yourself through a hobby, you need a dedicated place to work. Thanks to modern technology, it is relatively easy to create and equip your boatbuilding workshop without much hassle.

While you can get as elaborate as you desire, there are really only 4 things to consider when designing a basic shop. None of the 4 are costly and all can be arranged quickly.

#1 – Space

Keep in mind that you and the finished boat need to fit into whatever space you create. What’s more, you will have to have room to move around the boat as you loft, cut and assemble the pieces.

One meter [3 feet] around the perimeter of the boat should give you the necessary elbowroom. You could feasibly work with less room, but it would most likely be cramped and uncomfortable.

#2 – Tools

The tools you equip your workshop with will depend 100% on your preferences and your wallet. You could cut and assemble the parts using nothing more than a handsaw, screwdriver and a manual drill. Needless to say, that will take more time and be a good deal more energy. Power tools would work best.

An electric jigsaw and a power drill should be all you require. Besides the tools, you will also need a measuring tape, pencil and some things (plastic spoons, for instance) that make working with epoxy and fiberglass easier.

#3 – Electricity

The use of power tools dictates the need for power. There are 3 common ways to rig your shop for electricity. (1) You can go all out and run dedicated electrical outlets to your shop. (2) You can drag heavy-duty electrical cords from your house/garage to your workshop. (3) You can use a gas-powered generator to provide electricity. Number 2 will be the more simple and affordable option.

#4 – Temperature

The only part of the boatbuilding process that is temperature sensitive is the epoxy phase. You, on the other hand, will be sensitive to temperatures all year long. For instance, if you choose to construct a temporary building that has no insulation, summer months will be sweltering as the heat builds within your walls. In addition, wintertime will be frigid with no way to keep your hands warm. (Wearing thick outdoor gloves will not be a good idea while working on a boat.) Fans and/or space heaters can be used to regulate temperatures when the climate is extreme.

Keep in mind that the temperature for epoxy use must be higher than 5°C [41°F].

If you are unable to keep your workspace comfortable for you and the epoxy, schedule your project around the seasons. You can start building in winter when the temperatures are much cooler. Plan your lofting and cutting of the pieces for spring. Next, assemble the pieces and do your gluing, taping and epoxy application during summer. You should be ready to launch your new boat by fall.

Whether temporary or permanent, creating a boatbuilding workshop is a necessary first step when taking on this type of project. Using these simple steps, you can easily develop a suitable place for constructing your boat and enjoy the fruit of your labor for years to come.

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Master Boat Builder and Naval Architect

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

5 Professional Tips for Building A Better Boat – Part 2

Continued from… 5 Professional Tips for Building A Better Boat – Part 1

3.  Make Fillets the Easy Way

When it’s time to bond the inside corners of your boat, a fillet is generally the way to go.  This can require the use of a special tool and a lot of patience.  Or you can make them the easy way using ordinary, disposable plastic spoons. To create the curved shape, just use the back of the spoons.  The spoons are sturdy enough to handle the thick epoxy.  They are also durable enough to hold up without dissolving in the resin.  Using disposable spoons makes cleanup easier, too!

4.  Clean Up Epoxy Stains Before They Cure

Have you ever tried cleaning epoxy stains off a surface?  It’s not a pleasant task.  Stains from epoxy on a boat are a pain to remove after the epoxy is cured. While it can be done, smart boat builders take the time to stop and clean the stains when they occur.  It’s ten times easier to do it before the epoxy cures.

5.  Bend Curved Panels Slowly During Assembly

There’s a bit of an art to bending panels for a boat.  To get the best results, you need to have a little patience.  Oftentimes boat builders are not aware that bending wood/plywood is much easier and requires much less effort if done slowly, just a bit at a time. Using this method, the natural fibers have a chance to stretch.  Also much less force is needed to bend wood panels slowly than forcing them with one quick stroke.

Above all, take your time and enjoy the process of building your boat.  You, like millions of others, can find this to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life!

Do you want to read more? Do you want to learn more about boat building? Try check out my Boat Building Master Course. Available as paperback and for Amazon Kindle.

Click here to read more and order the Boat Building Master Course… 

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Naval Architect