Do you want to build a boat?

If the answer is yes then this blog is for you. And why not?

People have been fascinated with boat building, especially building their own boats, since the dawn of time.

the darwin narrowboat
the darwin narrowboat

Probably one of the first fights Adam and Eve had was because he wanted to build a boat. It’s a primal instinct really.

I think Maslow’s  Hierarchy of Needs originally included “the need to float.”

Look around! There are boats everywhere.

Boat Building  

In 2015 there were more than 12 million recreational boats registered in the United States. While most were built by professional boat building companies, many were built by individuals carrying on a tradition of boat building probably dating back to that first guy who floated across a river on a log.

Boats were simple then, but boats today come in all sizes and styles. Different needs have evolved many specialized boat designs. 

The biggest ship in the world currently is the South Korean built tanker the Prelude. The ship, owned by Shell is 1,601 feet long and 243 feet wide. If it were set on end, it would be the 8th tallest building in the world.

The biggest freighter in the world, the Maersk Prelude is owned by a Chinese company and can carry an astounding 19,100 twenty-foot long containers. At more than 1,300 feet long, the new fuel-efficient design allows the huge ship to carry these containers using only 80% of the fuel used by smaller ships built to carry only 10,000 containers.

Boat design plays an important part in large ships and small boats as well. Boat efficiency is just as important to the guy moving his personal boat from Canada to the Caribbean as it is to giant shipping companies.

Money is money. And some boats save a lot more than others, depending on motors and hull design. But when you start studying boats and boat building one question always pops up, “what is the difference between a boat and a ship?”

The difference between a boat and a ship? 

The ship, The Nina

That question has been hotly debated for years. Most maritime experts will say that a ship is usually an ocean-going vessel. That only works if you don’t think about the giant “ships” plying the Great Lakes.  Also, submarines are also usually referred to as “boats.” In the case of sailing ships, they generally have three or more masts to be called a ship. Anything less is a “boat.”

Another way to discern if the vessel is a boat or a ship is, if it can be carried on a ship it’s a “boat.” A lifeboat is a good example. You never hear of a “life-ship.”

Generally speaking, the old saying is, “you can put a boat on a ship, but you can’t put a ship on a boat.”

Boat Building Plans 

I would guess that, if you’re reading this,  you’re not interested in building a 600,000-ton freighter, you just want to build a boat. But to build a good boat you need some boat building plans.  Fortunately, there are many places you can get great plans and even special design help if you need it.

Are you ready to start looking at boat plans?  I’ve selected a few good spots to start.

One of oldest boat building sites around is Glen-l Marine. After over 60 years in the business, they know quite a bit about boat building. Their website boasts over “300” boat plans available with every kind of boat plan you can think of.

One of the great things about their site is that it’s designed with the amateur boat builder in mind. The site has information on everything from boat materials to boat building techniques. I have spent hours on the site reading about wood varieties and epoxy glues and I’ve just scratched the surface.

Wouldn’t it be nice to get out on a river on a sunny summer day and do a little fly fishing? If so . . .

Spira International probably has just the boat design you need. Jeff Spira has a lifetime of experience designing and building boats.  While his career has taken him around the world one of his big passions is designing boats and ships for the waters of the great northwest. His fishing dories are beautiful.

This site has dozens of plans available for everything from small dories to large trawlers. Whether you want to build an off-shore power dory out of plywood and epoxy or weld up an aluminum trawler, Jeff has a design for you.  And if you need more,  just get in touch with him.

One of the things I like most is that you can download study plans on most of the boats and even some free plans for small boats. The only thing he doesn’t seem to have is a nice little houseboat building plan.

Do you want to have a boat specially built to your taste?  Sam Devlin is the guy you’re looking for.

Devlin Design is a great site for boat plans or you can just sit back and have their fine craftsmen build it for you. With designs to fit every type of boat, Sam Devlin produces some of the most beautiful boats on the water. Personally, I love the little houseboat design, The Millie Hill.

Boat Building Materials

Boats can be made of anything that floats. Bamboo, reeds, plastic bottles, and coconuts are just a few of the nuttier ideas., But most are built out of steel, aluminum, fiberglass, and wood. Each has its advantages and also its disadvantages.

STEEL boats

Steel has been the material of choice for large ships ever since the late 1800’s. The strength of steel allows ships to be much larger and also much stronger.

This is a necessary requirement if you’re hauling goods across the oceans and actually want to get there. Steel is, by definition, stronger than wood or fiberglass.

But unlike wood or fiberglass, steel will rust to nothing in a few short years if not maintained constantly. A good place to learn about steel trawler construction and even find some great plans is at


Since World War II, aluminum has grown to be one of the most popular materials for boats, as well as airplanes. Its main quality is its lightweight compared to steel and with newer aluminum alloys like aluminum 1100 and 5052  corrosion can be kept to a minimum.

Today aluminum is used worldwide in fishing boats, recreational boats, and trawlers. Recently the Navy has even tried to build larger warships of aluminum but has met with limited success.

Alcoa Defense has a great brochure explaining the benefits of aluminum in marine applications.


Fiberglass is probably the most popular boat building material currently.  The construction involves molds and resin infused glass matting that produces a finished product that is both beautiful, but also consistent every time.

Check out this video on fiberglass boat construction. It really says it all.

WOODEN boats

Wood is the most widely used building product in the world and boats are no exception. The history of wooden boat building includes ancient sailing ships of the Phoenicians to modern boats that rival the finest furniture in the world.

True craftsmen seem to gravitate towards wooden boat building. The fit and finish you can achieve with wood is unmatched by any other material.

This video of men in Indonesia building a huge boat by hand shows some of the timeless skills that go into ship construction.

Boat Building  Schools

Are you dreaming of crafting fine furniture … that floats?

Well, then you might really enjoy attending a boat building school. And if you live up in the northeast you might want to check out the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, Maine.  

They have been teaching students for almost 40 years. You can take courses in boat building with lots of hands-on experience. They even have several different sailing classes.

Is Maine too far?

In the upper peninsula of Michigan, the Great Lakes Boat Building School offers a nine-month comprehensive boat building school that will help you get your career started. They also have advanced classes if you’re already on your way. They serve students from Canada and the US

Are you a serious boatbuilding student? Want a degree in Boatbuilding?

Up in Port Hadlock, Washington, the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding offers degrees in occupational studies. The teachers are well experienced Master Maritime Craftsmen. They draw students from around the world. The programs they offer can get you prepared for all the different boat building methods, from traditional to the modern.

There are several other Boat Building schools you might want to check out, there is probably a boat building school not too far from you right now.

St Augustine, Fl     Lamp Boatworks 

Apalachicola, Fl     the Apalachicola Maritime Museum

All over the country   Chesapeake Light Craft

California    Arques School

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