Many boaters are hoarders with boxes, lockers, bags and even rooms full of stuff labelled "might be useful one day". Well, the question is: "Useful for what?". If it's not useful on your boat right now and it has no role to play during lay-up or maintenance, then there is only one reason it is still in your possession: for making a homemade boat, of course. Boaters are dedicated folks who love trying new things on the water, and many of us enjoy dabbling in creative endeavours (these two certainly did: DIY Day Fisher disaster averted by RNLI), so this thought has surely gone through your mind even if you haven’t acted on it.
Anyway, just in case the mood ever strikes you, here are 10 cool homemade boat ideas that got our attention.
1. The truck boat
This is one of the most famous homemade boats ever built, since photographs of it were widely circulated when the US Coast Guard found it 40 miles off the Florida coast, with 12 Cuban refugees aboard in 2003.
But what is amazing is the quality of the vessel's design: not only did the group make an offshore passage in a 1959 Chevy by rigging flotation along the sides and a propeller to the drive-shaft, they did it in such a way that the truck could still be driven on land. Unfortunately, these imaginative immigrants were shipped back to Cuba. That would seem a little short-sighted: marine engineers with this much imagination should be welcomed wherever they land with open arms.
2. Cardboard boats
Cardboard boat races in the USA date back to a design class project at Southern Illinois University in 1962. Since then, building and racing watercraft made from this unlikely material has become amazingly popular and many events are held nationwide. The International Cardboard Boat Regatta in New Richmond, Ohio, is believed to be the largest, and it’s put on by the Cardboard Boat Museum. If you decide to build one of these, we have a suggestion: duct tape. Lots and lots of duct tape.
3. The truck bedliner boat
This one’s my own personal invention. As a starving college student desperate for a way to fish St. Mary’s Lake, I took the plastic bedliner out of a pick-up truck, used a fibreglass patch kit to seal up the rear end, and bolted two surf boards to the bottom. Propulsion was provided by paddles and Budweiser.
4. A plywood box
The simplest and fastest way to build your own boat is to craft a glorified plywood box with an up-turned end. Plenty of examples and how-to videos can be found on YouTube, including one which costs less than $200 to put together called “
" target="_blank">Boat Built in Two Days”. Materials include plywood, two tubes of Liquid Nails, and a gallon of fibreglass. The video’s music is annoying but the boat, which is powered with an electric outboard and/or oars, looks surprisingly strong.
5. The Guitar Boat
This one was built by Australian guitar-maker Ross Wallace of Maton, to help out musician Josh Pyke.
After taking the guitar boat on tour to promote a new album, he sold it (with the proceeds going to charity) on eBay for $7,000. The boat may not have set any records, but it probably helped Pyke sell a few.
6. Pop-Pop Boats
Pop-pops are toy boats built out of tin cans, which run on steam power. Cut a tin can in half lengthwise, bend the hull flat, give it a bow, and poke a pair of holes in the transom just below the waterline. Then tightly coil a 12-inch section of 1/8-inch copper tubing around a one-inch dowel, leaving several inches on either end. Bend the ends into legs, and bend in a pair of two-inch long feet. The feet go through the holes in the transom (so the coil is supported two inches above the hull on the legs); then you seal the holes around the tubing so they’re watertight. When it’s ready to roll, drip enough water into the tube to half-fill the coils. Then slide a candle under the coils, light it, and when the water in the coils boils the pop-pop will move under steam power. A full pop pop boat tutorial exists online, including this video clip below.
7. The Milk Jug Barge
This is another “design” that has its roots in student projects, and you can build one for next to nothing—just start saving your large four-litre milk jugs now. Make a square frame out of wood, and lay it down on a large piece of chicken-wire. Line the jugs up inside, then use more chicken wire to close off the top. Bind the wire together, and cap your creation off with the decking material of your choice. If you want to get really fancy you can cover the hull with a tarp to reduce friction and add a mount for an electric motor, but no matter how far you go, expect your barge to plod along slowly.
8. Kit Boats
If want your project to culminate in an actual boat you can actually use for actual boating, it might be a good idea to go with a kit boat. There are a million of them out there, which will help you slap together everything from a simple dinghy to a two-masted schooner. Warning: these can be surprisingly expensive. A simple 14ft rowboat, for example, can go for well over a grand.
If you want to build a boat over 20ft, as counterintuitive as it might sound, cement actually makes a pretty good material. It can be worked by a layman, takes a small fraction of the time needed for other materials, and is amazingly inexpensive. In a nutshell, all you do is build a skeleton out of wood, staple on several layers of chicken wire, and then lay about an inch of cement over it. While you can’t expect tremendous speed or performance from a ferrocement boat, they do float and they are strong. Besides, when you tell people your boat is solid as a rock, they’ll believe you.
Stop throwing away all those used plastic water bottles—they’re a recyclaboat yet to be born. All you have to do is glue together 60,000 or so bottles, and you can make a boat like the Plastiki, a 60ft sailing catamaran that crossed the Pacific ocean in 128 days.
Or maybe it’ll be more like the Bottles Up, a three-man rowboat built at the ecotourism resort Rain Tree Lodge in Fiji. The bottle boat you build can be as small or as large as desired—it's all down to whether you've got the bottle to build one in the first place.