Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

1024 Merrill St, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(15 June 2023) We show capsize recovery. The 1 July issue will cover the Rend Lake 2023 Messabout.




... is out now, written by me and edited by Garth Battista of Breakaway Books. You might find it at your bookstore. If not check it out at the....


...which can now be found at Duckworks Magazine. You order with a shopping cart set up and pay with credit cards or by Paypal.

ALSO...In addition to the Duckworks downloads I also now have access to a large format inkjet printer which is making very nice full sized prints on paper. So I can return to what I started 30 years ago, you order direct from me by snail mail using the address above only with cash or check in US funds with the prices shown on this website, and I mail you full sized 2'x 3' paper prints. The price includes first class mail to US and Canada.


Rovie Alford and wife Elaine come ashore in his Piragua18 at Rend Lake Messabout 2023. At the meet they celebrated their 68th wedding anniversery - yes, that's right!



Contact info:


Jim Michalak
1024 Merrill St,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.



Capsize Lessons


...is an Englishman, now living in Canada, who designs trimarans. But he has extensive dinghy sailing background and is an expert at capsize recovery. During Sail OK 2012 he spent a couple of hours explaining to all of us the process and details of recovery.

I've never gotten too deeply into this subject. I am essentially a non floater, thus a non swimmer, and for me to go overboard without a life jacket is like skydiving without a parachute. So I don't enjoy practicing capsizes and stop doing it long ago. The subject scares people away. But Richard's demonstrations certainly show it can be done reliably with proper preparation. And that is the point I took away from his excellent effort. Most of our boats are sort of prepared for a capsize, provided the designer has designed in the require emergency buoyancy and the builder hasn't compromised it. After that it comes down to nitty gritty details that most of us ignore. Luckily at the demostration Richard rubbed our noses into those details.


...he discussed the best type of life jacket to have. Unfortunately it sort of started with "they don't make this anymore" but I bet they do. You might need a bit of a search. Not supposed to have bulging pockets or straps, anything that will foul as you try to slither your way back into the boat. Richard is holding between his knees the jacket he used in the tests and to me it appears to be what I used to call a kayaker's jacket, many small segments, zippered without straps. The one I had long ago was I think an Omega and it was my all time favorite, for reasons other than capsize recovery, but it died of old age.


...Richard walked down the line of boats at the meet, maybe 20 or 30 there, and one by one discussed the good and bad points of each boat with regard to capsize recovery. It was sort of cruel, although Richard is likeable and jovial. He didn't ask "whose boat is this?" or anything, just lit into each one. He was going to capsize test a boat to demonstrate the details of recovery and was chosing a subject as he did this. But this is when the real knowledge came out as he discussed details that would make a boat better for recovery.

I think right now would be a good time to say what type boats are best for capsize recovery. Not too difficult to guess at this - the board sailing boats of yore, like the Laser and Sunfish, might be the best. They are totally decked so they take on no water, and they are low in the water so the swimmer can simply roll onto the righted hull with little hoisting required. One issue with really small light boats, to me, not sure if Roger discussed this, is that they can be so dominated by the swimmer's weight that reboarding might not be possible. Imagine a 250 pound swimmer trying to get into a 70 pound boat. You might think that as he presses down on the boat's edge to reboard that the boat might simply flop over on top of him. This wasn't demonstrated but I suspect it can be true.

Anyway, down the line of boats we went. Who wants to be Richard's test boat??


OK, LISTEN UP! If there is any message I took away from this it is that your boat must be prepared in detail to allow a routine recovery. Don't leave anything to chance. If anything can go wrong it will! Be prepared! WHEN A REAL CAPSIZE OCCURS IT WILL LIKELY BE IN VERY BAD CONDITIONS. IN VERY BAD CONDITIONS THERE MAY BE NO ONE AROUND TO HELP YOU!

Hope I haven't scared you away.

When your boat goes over don't get trapped beneath the rig if you can. Don't get tangled and Richard advised all carry a knife at the ready, secured and tethered to the life jacket for instant grabbing, with one handed easy blade extention, with which you can cut yourself loose if you do get tangled. I'm not a knife expert but I think he added it should have saw teeth on both edges so you need not worry about its orientation.

Next, give a lot of thought to how to right the hull. Normally you would step on a lateral board of some sort like a keel, but it might not be accessable to you for several reasons. It might be retracted at the time or too high out of the water for grabbing. So you really need something else and he suggested lines tied securely, and to hefty fastenings, on each side of the boat, clipped under the wale, that can be grabbed and used to pull the boat upright. He suggested securing the ropes with clips made of slitted pvc pipe that would secure the rope in normal use, but would easily release the rope when it is tugged. So that is one detail to think about.


...most of us will be faced with the task of getting back in. If you have a very low freeboard boat like a Sunfish you can just lean on one side and grab something and pull yourself back in. Sounds easy but many boats have no detail that allows you to "grab something". So you need to put it there. I think Richard preferred ropes that run along the inside of the side seats or decks that can be reached by the swimmer. Again they need to be stout and well attached. They will take the full weight of a frightened man. Another simple option is a grip lip on the inside of the seat. I suppose there is less chance of snagging that but I think it might require better hand strength than the rope. OK, so that will work with a shallow boat.

Also there should be nothing around to snag the recovering swimmer as he tries to reboard the boat. Richard pointed to external oar lock sockets as a real danger. The reboarding area needs to be slick and free of any brackets.

If you have a boat with a deeper hull that alone won't do. You will need a well planned step of some sort to allow you to reboard. A ROPE LADDER WON'T DO! I was glad Richard pointed that out because I had one once and found it impossible to reboard with one at any time, even after jumping over for a casual dip. As you step into one of these you almost always have you legs swing under the boat's bottom and you can't get up the ladder then. What Richard suggests, and what he used in the demostration, is to rig a stirrup which you can easily get to as you swim. The length of the stirrup needs to be just so and that part wasn't quite clear to me. I think it needs to be such that when you step into it and pull up that your knee is sort of even with the wale, allowing you to get right in. But I'm not sure and there was discussion about it and Richard did rerig the stirrup he rigged in the first demostration before he did the second. All this stuff again needs to be stout and secure enough to take the full weight of a frightened man.

There are other options of course. A real ladder would be great. I've suggested a simple toe slot in the rudder, although I notice no one ever builds a real boat that way. Then the rudder and its fittings need to be stout enough for the weight. I am sure Richard would point out that entering over the rudder, with its tiller and brackets and gear, is an invitation to a snag or sliced skin. A few of the boats at the meet did have a stirrup rigged which is a bit of a surprise.


I guess the big message is don't trust to luck. Have a plan, practice if you can. The details are actually pretty inexpensive. Have a reboarding zone with nothing to snag or cut you on the way up. Have a stirrup or ladder to give a boost up over those high sides, and have good hand grabs for the final pull. Richard also noted that you shouldn't reboard face down into the cockpit, as you would if you simply pulled yourself up and over the side on your belly. Do a bit of a roll in the end so you go over face up. Again, avoid all tangles and snags.


At the time we had a strong onshore wind with whitecaps and no one was boating voluntarily. But Richard pointed out those things were ideal for testing, giving a chance for a real capsize and a fetching up on the launching beach if the recovery failed. It was cold as you see in the photos, no more than 50F, although I'm sure the water was warmer. Richard told of breaking ice in England to give capsize lessons so he was not deterred and no special suits were worn.

He chose Stan Roberts' nice new Family Skiff for the demo, saying it probably had the emergency buoyancy needed and also had the high sides that would make for a good "high sided boat" demonstration to show us the of the special rigging he was suggesting. He removed the mizzen to simplify things a bit. Family Skiff was designed without the mizzen so it would still handle well. Richard pointed out that although the mizzen was a complication on the stern that might need watching in a capsize, it also would provide more strong handholds for reboarding.

The Family Skiff had no motor mounted so the cut down area for the motor was open and Richard immediately rigged a stirrup for reboarding there. So if the outboard had been mounted the reboarding process would have to be rethought. He also rigged a rope running the length of the cockpit as a grab rope to be used when coming over the side, if needed.

Well, I gotta tell you as the designer that I had mixed emotions about having my design be the "winner" of the demo. Most likely Richard didn't know if was mine. But it needs to be done!

After the lecture and rigging of the emergency ropes, off they went into the blow....

A half mile or so out they forced a capsize (pretty easy given the wind)...

It nearly turtled, which surprised me since the lug rigged boats I tested long ago never would turtle because the buoyancy of the wooden yard would hold them sideways. It might have gone full turtle since it was felt the mast had struck bottom preventing that...

They had capsized it with leeboard up high on purpose so that would not be used to right the boat. Richard grabbed the painter (bow line) and held it aft while Stan put his weight on it to lever the boat (slowly, be patient) upright. But a designated line just for this should be secured, with easy access by the swimmer, just for this.

Once upright, Richard swam around to his recovery stirrup and got back in the boat at the stern.

Then I believe he helped pull Stan over the side, I've forgotten (if I ever knew)...

Then they sailed back easily. The whole process seemed fairly reliable and somewhat quick. I was impressed.

Once back on shore we had a peek at the carnage...except there really wasn't any. There was very little water inside and the did no bailing to return.


This time capsizing such that they could reright the boat with the leeboard. Plus Richard had fine tuned his stirrup. Also Stan was instructed to reboard over the side solo, which he did, forgetting to roll as he entered so he went in belly down and got a bit tangled. But the second was a bit faster.

I guess that is about it. I really want to thank Richard Woods for the demo. Pretty sure it was the most significant demonstration I've ever seen at a messabout.



mixer.jpg (12899 bytes)


Mixer is a stab at mixing some features of my prams with the features of the original Roar rowboat. The prototype Mixer was built to perfection by David Boston of Factoryville, Pa. That's him sailing on vacation in Maine.

Mixer's beam is half way betwen that of Piccup, which has "stand up and walk around" stability, and that of Roar, which is too tippy for serious sailing. They all have a similar multichine cross section. Dave was very happy with the stability of the prototype. He reports sailing in white caps with no troubles.

The pointy bow causes a loss in carrying capacity compared to a pram bow. Mixer would need to be stretched at least a foot longer to meet Piccup's capacity. But I left Mixer at 12 feet for two reasons. I've found a 12 footer can be cartopped without bow tiedowns and few new cars have bumpers suitable for bow ties. Longer hulls usually need bow ties (except for narrow jobs like Toto). Also, the 12 footer can still be got out of four sheets of 1/4" plywood and may be a tad lighter than Piccup. At any rate, Dave's Mixer has sailed with two adults aboard and was quite happy.

Mixer's got the exact same interior layout (a 6.5' open cockpit between two large flotation/storage chambers) as Piccup for all the same reasons. So here is a cartopper with capacity for two adults or for camping one adult with a flat floor large enough to sleep on and lots of dry storage.

The sail rig is identical to Piccup's. If you look at my leeboards you'll see they pivot at a lower hull guard while their tops are braced to take loads both ways and only one board is required. Essentially they are centerboards mounted outside the hull. But no centerboard case is required and there is no need to handle the board in tacking as with loose leeboards. For anyone thinking about converting a centerboard design to leeboards, note that a leeboard should be mounted at the hull's broadest beam to be in flow parallel to the hull's motion. The sail rig then needs to be placed for proper balance.

Plans for Mixer are $20. No lofting or jigs required.


Prototype News

Some of you may know that in addition to the one buck catalog which now contains 20 "done" boats, I offer another catalog of 20 unbuilt prototypes. The buck catalog has on its last page a list and brief description of the boats currently in the Catalog of Prototypes. That catalog also contains some articles that I wrote for Messing About In Boats and Boatbuilder magazines. The Catalog of Prototypes costs $3. The both together amount to 50 pages for $4, an offer you may have seen in Woodenboat ads. Payment must be in US funds. The banks here won't accept anything else. (I've got a little stash of foreign currency that I can admire but not spend.) I'm way too small for credit cards.

We have a Picara finished by Ken Giles, past Mayfly16 master, and into its trials. The hull was built by Vincent Lavender in Massachusetts. There have been other Picaras finished in the past but I never got a sailing report for them...

And the Vole in New York is Garth Battista's of www.breakawaybooks.com, printer of my book and Max's old outboard book and many other fine sports books. Beautiful job! Garth is using a small lug rig for sail, not the sharpie sprit sail shown on the plans, so I will continue to carry the design as a prototype boat. But he has used it extensively on his Bahamas trip towed behind his Cormorant. Sort of like having a compact car towed behind an RV.

And a Deansbox seen in Texas:

Another prototype Twister is well along:

A brave soul has started a Robbsboat. He has a builder's blog at http://tomsrobbsboat.blogspot.com. (OOPS! He found a mistake in the side bevels of bulkhead5, says 20 degrees but should be 10 degrees.) This boat has been sailed and is being tested. He has found the sail area a bit much for his area and is putting in serious reef points.






1jul22, Scarfing Lumber, Vireo14

15jul22, Rigging Lugsails, Frolic2

1aug22, Horsepower, Oracle

15aug22, Sharpie Sprit Sails, Cormorant

1sep22, Measuring Prop Thrust, OliveOyl

15sep22, Leeboard Issues, Philsboat

1oct22, Prismatic Coefficient, Larsboat

15oct22, Figuring Displacement, Jonsboat

1nov22, Lugsail Jiffy Reef, Mayfly14

15nov22, Sharpie Reefing, Piccup Pram

1dec22, Making Oars, Batto

15dec22, Taped Seams, Sportdory

1jan23, Rowboat Setup, Normsboat

15jan23, Sail Area Math, Robote

1feb23, Bulkhead Bevels, Toto

15feb23, Trailering Boats, IMB

1mar23, Small Boat Rudders, AF4B

15mar23, Making Sink Weights, Scram Pram

1apr23, Sailrig Spars, RiverRunner

15apr23, Water Ballast, Mayfly16

1may23, AF3 Capsize, Blobster

15may23, Mast Tabernacles, Laguna

1jun23, Underwater Boards, QT Skiff


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JB Builds AF4

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Hullform Download

Puddle Duck Website

Brian builds Roar2

Barry Builds Toto

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