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Have You Ever Wanted to Build Your Own Boat?

Have you ever wanted to build your own boat? If you have, do you have any idea how many hours it will take? Or how much it will cost? Or even what material you will build the boat from?

People who build their own boats tend to want something specific or want to save the cost of boat building labor. An amateur builder can not only save on labor costs, but can often save on materials too. For the person who invests his or her own time, “sweat equity” as it is often called, the savings can be appreciable. A boat that you build at home or in a rented building can cost between 35% and 55% less than a comparable production boat.  You also may be able to save up to 40% on materials, but you will often need to pay cash to get appreciable discounts.

However, unless the workmanship is stellar, the resale value might as low as one third of a comparable production boat.

First Steps


Before you decide to embark upon a building project, ask yourself a few questions. Is something very much like you want available in the production market? If so, even if you have to make minor changes to it, you should go that route. It will get you sailing long before your self-built boat can.

Have you owned enough boats and had enough sailing experience to be able to make the right decisions during the design and building process? If not, you may find that you put gear in the wrong place, find a “better” way to make something that may not hold up when the boat is at sea, or, most commonly, overbuild the boat because the parts don’t look “strong” enough.

Do you have the time and money to build the boat? If you want to build a thirty-footer (about nine meters) you might put around two to three thousand hours into it. That translates into 50 to 75 weeks of 40 hour weeks. If you have a normal day job, figure that you can only put about 20 hours a week into it and your project will take two years—although some owners spend five or ten years building their ideal boat. Others hire experts to come in and help with various parts of the process and cut their building time. You need to decide want you want to do. Spend less time and a little more money…or more time and less money.

Consider the Resale Value Before You Start


Before you start on a building project, consider resale. If you build a boat in steel for example, it will sell for less in America than if you sell the same boat made of steel in Europe. This is because Americans consider a steel boat to be slow and hard to maintain. If you build a boat in Ferroconcrete it may also be very hard to sell because such boats tend to have a low resale value.

The actual hull is only about 25 to 30% of the boat, but it has a huge effect on the resale value. The remaining 70 to 75% of the boat is virtually the same from boat to boat. So up to 75% of the money you save building your boat out of a poorly-regarded hull material may be lost entirely when you come to sell it. And believe me, you will want to sell it one day.

Boats built of fiberglass appear to have the best resale value because fiberglass boats tend to be thought of as low maintenance. However, building a one-off fiberglass boat can be very expensive and time consuming. Another less expensive method to build a fiberglass one-off boat is to build it with a foam core. Such a boat often tends to hold its resale value.

Wood-epoxy built boats are the most common for amateur builders. Many people eschew this type of hull when the boat comes on the market, but if humidity is controlled properly during construction, there is no reason why a wooden hull totally encapsulated in epoxy cannot last as long as a fiberglass hull.

Do your Homework


Ok, so now you have decided you want to build a boat. How do you go about it? First, as your mother used to say, do your homework. This is comprised of several parts.

One, assess your skills. Do you have the required skills to build a boat or will you hire people to do the work that is beyond your skill level? If you do not have the required skills, can you obtain them by taking a course or two? If so, build the cost of the course into your budget. If you plan on hiring people, build their cost into your budget.

Two, do you have the time to do the work required? If you want to build a dinghy, you may be able to complete it during one winter. A typical 12 foot dinghy might take 50 to 75 hours to complete and will serve to give you a good idea if you want to build a larger project.

Three, Can you find a place to build it? There have been many tales of amateurs who built a boat in their basement and couldn’t get out the basement door! You’ll need a garage door sized opening to build a boat up to about 25 feet (8 m) with about 8 foot beam. For anything larger, you’ll need an opening at least as large as the boat’s beam and draft without keel.

Four, you’ll need to decide what you want to do with the boat. If you are building a dinghy, your probable goal is to sail it the following season. If you decide to build a thirty-footer (9 m), you’ll need to decide if it is the boat you want to sail in two years’ time. If you decide to build a fifty-footer (about 16 m.) you should decide if it is the boat you want to sail in five or more years. (A fifty-footer will take approximately eight to nine thousand hours to finish.) There have been many examples of boats that were started enthusiastically and abandoned when the owner’s dream changed.

To decide what you want to do with the boat, look at the type of sailing that you do now. Is this what you want to do with the boat you plan on building? If you sail a dinghy, building a new dinghy may be entirely appropriate, or if you sail a twenty-footer (about 6.5 m), building a new slightly larger craft may allow you explore farther afield.

If you plan on building a larger boat, ask yourself if you can sustain the work effort for two years or more and whether your dreams will have changed by the time the boat has been built.

Part II in our next issue:  Making a Wish List

Roger Marshall is the North American Editor for the Yacht Report, former Technical Editor for Soundings, and a Director and the immediate past President of Boating Writers International.

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