Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(1 October) This issue will discuss the costs of boats. The 15 October issue will repeat the Sail Area Math essay (although I may be able to report on Sail Oklahoma 2011 by then).



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. Then Duckworks sends me an email about the order and then I send the plans right from me to you.


Sail Oklahoma at Lake Eufala on October 7 thru 10. Read about this one at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SailOklahoma/. With luck I will be there.


Dean Herring launches his new Mikesboat.



Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.




Boat Costs



Where I live, near St. Louis, there are only a small handful of million dollars boats. But there are a good number of motor yachts in the $300,000 range, usually about 50' long, three stories high, and with twin V8 engines. My advisor on such matters is the Old Insurance Man, or OIM for short. These yachts each come complete with accountant and lawyer, of course, so figuring what one really "costs" can involve a lot of imagination. But the OIM points out that anyway you pay for it, the 300K could be in the bank earning a secure 6% with no worry or effort on your part, so the owner is losing about $18,000 a year there. The OIM says insurance around here typically is about $1500 per year. Slip fees here would be maybe $300 a month for such a boat, could be a lot more in some marinas, so that is another $3600 a year. So without ever leaving the dock or doing any maintenance you are at about $23000 per year you would be out for having the boat, about $65 a day so far. The OIM pointed out one owner who sold his 50 foot $300K boat and got a new 53 foot similar boat for $1.3 million. A better newer boat, no doubt, but it still looks like someone paid a million dollars for a 3 foot boat.


Boats costing $30,000 are actually pretty common. A deluxe bass fishing boat will be in that range and if you see one going down the highway behind a fancy truck you are looking at $60,000 worth of stuff. Larger inboard runabouts like family skiboats can also be in this range, or more expensive, and you see them all the time. I don't know of any new cabin cruisers with bathroom and microwave that cost less than this, most are a lot more. These boats are usually financed by the dealer like a car except the loan will run for maybe 15 years. Anyway you pay for it the OIM would point out you are losing at least 6% or $1800 a year in potential interest. Insurance might be $150 a year. Slip fee might run $100 to $200 a month around here although you might get by with trailering. So that is about $3800 a year, or about $10 a day whether you use it or not.


There are lots and lots of boats out there in the $3000 range. I suppose that might include most used fishing boats and smaller sailboats. (A look at a local dealer showed no new boats for that - the cheapest rig they had was a fine but plain aluminum jonboat, about 14' long, with a new 10 horse four stroke motor, all on a big wheeled galvanized trailer, for $3800.) The usual loss in potential interest would be about $180 a year. Most likely you would trailer a boat like this and slip fees would be no factor. Your home owner's insurance will ofter cover a smaller boat at no extra charge and you might skip any extra insurance. So the costs here are usually pretty acceptable. I've had boats in this range and my only thought about boating costs are the immediate things like registration of boat and trailer and maybe fuel costs.


Now we're getting to the main subject of the essay: I want to look at the costs of building a plywood boat and explain why they vary so much from builder to builder. When someone asks me "how much will it cost me to build that boat?" I usually don't give an answer anymore. (An even more loaded question is "How many hours will it take me to build that boat?") As an example of the varying costs I'm going to use Harmonica, the featured boat of this issue, even though Phil Bolger would be very quick to point out that it is questionable to spend a lot on a boat that was designed to be cheap. Here is a photo of Harmonica:

John Applewhite's Harmonica

Plywood is the main element of this boat and Harmonica needs six sheets of 1/4" plywood and four sheets of 3/8" plywood. The cheapest boat would use exterior pine plywood from the lumberyard. I think that plywood costs $12 a 3/8" sheet and 1/4" sheet is not available in pine at my lumberyard. The extra weight in using all 3/8" plywood might be about 80 pounds and this boat could handle that. So that is about $120 worth of cheap plywood.

Perfect plywood per BS1088 turns out to be cheaper than I thought. 1/4" Okoume sells for $69 a sheet and 3/8" for $79 a sheet. So the bill here would be $730. Okoume is said to be quite light in weight. A denser harder perfect plywood might be Khaya which is $95 a 1/4" sheet and $119 a 3/8" sheet for a total of $1046 for Harmonica. Just for this argument let's say the perfect boat builder uses Kyaha for the bottom, four sheets of 3/8", and Okoume for the topsides, six sheets of 1/4", and that all figures to be $890.

There is some framing lumber involved too but I don't really know how much. But as I recall clear lumber costs about three times as much as common lumber. Let's say the cheap boat uses $50 of common lumber and the perfect boat uses $150 in clear lumber.

As for glue, this is a tough one. The cheap builder might get a $10 bag of Weldwood plastic resin glue from Wick's Aircraft and should have enough. Another reasonable choice might be some tubes of waterproof construction glue, let's guess 8 tubes at $3 a tube?? The perfect builder is going to use epoxy and will buy a lot of it because he plans to coat the entire boat and glass the outside. Let's say he gets 5 gallons at $50 a gallon, or $250 worth. (I'll admit I have no idea of what he will really need but it will be more than a gallon and less than ten.) The cheap builder will have to get some epoxy, too, to armor his chines. So he gets one gallon at $50 and has maybe $75 in adhesives in his boat.

As for fiberglass supplies, the cheap builder is only going to armor his chines and bottom seams so he gets by with a $20 roll of glass tape, 50 yards worth. The perfect boat is glassed all outside so he gets his roll of tape plus maybe 20 yards (I'm guessing again) of 6 ounce glass cloth at $5 a yard for a total of $120.

As for fasteners, the cheap boat might use lumberyard galvanized nails and the perfect boat use bronze boat nails. But I would suggest the bronze nails for everyone as they are truely superior and you don't really need that many. Another guess at maybe $15 for the bronze nails to build the whole boat.

OK, now we've got the structure done. Let's paint it. The cheap boat might use a gallon of good latex primer and another gallon of good top paint, about $40 worth. The perfect boat tries premium brushable oil based marine paint at $40 a gallon or $80 total.

There will be other costs in fitting out but I won't get involved with those.

Let's add it up:

Item Cheap Boat Perfect Boat
Plywood 120 890
Lumber 50 150
Glue 75 250
FGlass 20 120
Nails 15 15
Paint 40 80
Total $320 $1505

So the premium boat costs almost five times as much as the cheap boat. I may be wrong with my estimates but I can tell you this factor of five is no surprize to me. I've seen it over and over. I might also add that the $320 cheap version is pretty believable to me too. My records show I spent $406 on the hull of my prototype AF4 and it uses similar construction and materials to the Harmonica. I used $20 exterior plywood instead of the pine exterior plywood and think it was worth it in that the quality meant there was no waste and the smooth surface required no paint preparation.

I'd like to also point out that I never really have to steer anyone towards cheap or premium construction. Everyone seems to know from the start exactly which way they want to do it.


My first little boat was done with premium materials but my second one, the prototype Bolger Jinni, was a lumberyard boat all the way. I wrote to Phil Bolger admitting that and his response was that there were only two ways to build a boat - total cheap all the way or gold plate all the way. Nothing in between made sense.

I don't know if things are quite so simple, though. Fir marine plywood would likely cost midway between the cheap exterior ply and the premium ply and in Harmonica's case you might save a few hundred dollars over the premium boat. Looking at my guesswork it would appear that glassing the exterior costs you maybe $300. I think in some cases it might be worth it. Glassing the exterior is also a lot of extra work but I've seen some fine examples that really held up over the years.

You do have options.




Larsboat was built by Lars Hasselgren to replace a Folboat that had finally met its end. Lars wanted capacity for two, plus decking, as with his old boat.

I took Toto and lengthened it with a 30" plug in the middle to gain capacity. But lengthening a hull with a straight plug like this usually improves a boat in almost every way and Larsboat should be faster than Toto in good conditions. In this case the plug meant I didn't have to refigure the shape of the twisted bow panels as I would if I'd lengthened Toto with an overall stretch. (I can figure twisted panels pretty reliably now, but not back when Toto and Larsboat were drawn.)

The decking was quite simple because even the original Toto could take a forward deck of flat sheets with a center peak. I should add that I feel the decking is very optional. This prototype weighs 61 pounds and deleting the deck might cut another 10 pounds or so. The undecked boat also would have a better cartopping shape. I'd keep the stern chamber. It will ease your mind about taking a big wave over the stern.

This would be a preferred project for someonw who intends to do a lot of cruising and camping. In the Toto camping I've done the sleeping room has been OK, but the storage is limited. Larsboat would be better both because of increased capacity and because there is dry storage under the bow deck.


The basic hull is taped seam construction needing four sheets of 1/4" plywood for the decked version and three sheets for the undecked version. No jigs or lofting required. Plans are two blueprints with keyed instructions for $20.

The photo above is of Bob Smithson's Larsboat. He customized the decking a bit. I think he also built the boat of 1/8" ply to save weight. I've forgotten what his boat weighed but he did say it was sufficiently rigid for him.

Bob Hoyle built this one without a deck down in Florida:

Paul Moffitt built this one. You can see this is a much better two person boat than the shorter Toto:

And remember Garth Battista's vertical Larsboat?

And the old outboard motor guru Max Wawrzniak often goes for a paddle in his Larsboat:

Larsboat plans are $20.


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.

I think David Hahn's Out West Picara is the winner of the Picara race. Shown here on its first sail except there was no wind. Hopefully more later. (Not sure if a polytarp sail is suitable for a boat this heavy.

Here is a Musicbox2 out West.

This is Ted Arkey's Jukebox2 down in Sydney. Shown with the "ketchooner" rig, featuring his own polytarp sails, that is shown on the plans. Should have a sailing report soon.

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:

The prototype Twister gets a test sail with three grown men, a big dog and and big motor with its lower unit down. Hmmmmm.....

Jackie and Mike Monies of Sail Oklahoma have two Catboxes underway....

And the first D'arcy Bryn is ready for taping. You can follow the builder's progress at http://moffitt1.wordpress.com/ ....

And the first Brucesboat is in the water for testing. A full report soon.

OK, so he found a major league goof in my plans on fitting the bilge panels. He did some cut and fit and did a great job of salvaging the work, but I have corrected the drawing for the aft end of the bilge panel (I drew it in upside down!!)





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