A Nautical Challenge

Always dreamed of owning a boat? Good at DIY? Here we weigh up the pros and cons of building your own.

What if you want the craft between your feet and the water to have been produced by your own two hands? What if what you really yearn for is to paddle your own canoe, to row your own skiff, or to sail your own yacht?

Believe it or not, it is easier than ever before to build your own boat if you have got room in your life and the shed or garage to build it in. From ‘how to’ websites posting demonstrations of spiling and hot nailing, to blogs detailing the life of a build, to magazines for hobby boat builders, to courses on boat building; information and help for hobby builders is widely available.

Where To Start

First decision. What kind of boat do you want to build? Do you want to row, sail, or blast around in a ski-boat? It is a good idea to limit a first build to a modest twelve to 20ft. Save the round the world racing yacht for your second or third boat!

Next source the plans. Plans are available in books, on the internet or from designers, who know that their boats are built by a large number of ‘home’ boat builders and so some of their drawings are a boat building manual as much as a plan. Designers Iain Oughtred and Paul Gartside’s plans are particularly helpful. They are also usually happy to tweak existing designs to fit peoples’ requirements. Construction type, for the beginner, is usually dictated by the plan.

The Wind in Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's Sail

What To Build

Nothing like the smell of freshly sawn timber. But, do you build a traditional or modern wooden boat? Modern boats are easier to store and maintain, but the gleam of copper nails in wooden planks is seductive.

Carvel and clinker are traditional wooden construction types. Carvel planks butt up edge-to-edge, the gaps between planks sealed and smoothed by caulking with cotton or oakum. But it is not the easiest construction method for a beginner or a small boat.

Traditional clinker, with its overlapping planks fixed by copper nails, is an easier start. The three main modern wooden construction methods, cold moulded, strip plank and stitch and glue, rely on epoxy and glass fibre for fixing and hull strength. Bright finished, as opposed to painted, the timber still looks stunning. The modern ways may be quickest, but many still believe the old ways are best.


Surprisingly few tools are needed to build a boat. A workbench, a vice, some basic hand tools and a battery drill, jigsaw and maybe a router. If you are a keen woodworker and already possess stationery machines like a bandsaw, table saw or planer thicknesser, that is great, but if not, do not go shopping just yet. You can ask your timber merchant to machine the timber.

A Spare Time Hobby

How long will it take to build a 15ft clinker skiff? This is a bit of a ‘how long is a piece of oakum’ question, but around 400 to 500 hours is reasonable for a beginner. Costs can veer wildly depending on how thrifty you are with your use of timber (some people use every single piece, others discard knotty wood), and whether you buy off-the-shelf or bespoke fittings. But £4,000 to £6,000 will see you parking your trailer and sailing pretty in a fourteen-footer. But be warned, boat building is addictive.

Goodwood: Glorious or Grandiose?