Practical Information for the Boatbuilder

Practical information on what's easy to change and how to do it, plus things that shouldn't be changed and why
Details on recommended methods and various alternatives
Some uncommon answers to common questions about how to buy and use this most-popular of materials
Tech tips,  illustrations, and practical information for doing it yourself


Candid answers &  information on cost estimation, time to build, skills and abilities required, and more! © COPYRIGHT 2000 - Ken Hankinson Associates


This is the most often asked question we get, and the most difficult to answer because there is no honest answer.  Others in our field get the same question and will often throw out some "low-ball" figure in hopes of capturing a sale.  We don’t do that.

But you do have a right to have some idea of the costs of a project before getting involved. And to that end, the BEST way we have found to answer this question is for YOU to tell us what your approximate budget is, or how much you are willing to spend on the project over time.  We’ll tell you if we think you are in the ball park based on our experiences and knowledge of the boating field.

There is another handy rule-of-thumb that works well in most cases to get a ball-park cost.  If there is a production boat fairly comparable to the boat you want to build, you can generally save approximately 50% of the cost by building your own.  Remember, you eliminate the dealer when building your own boat, a figure often in the 25% range of boat's retail selling price.

But you’re the designers! Who better to know what the boat will cost?

Only partly true.  But with over 250 different designs in our line-up in all sorts of types, sizes, and materials, it’s impossible for us to keep up with material prices.  We don’t sell the bare materials used to build boats (e.g. lumber, plywood, steel, aluminum, etc.), nor most of the equipment, the costs of which all vary from place to place and are always in a state of flux.  Then too, you must make some choices before an accurate cost figure can be determined.

What do you mean? I intend to build the boat exactly to your plans and specifications!

That’s well and good.  But there is no ONE material choice specified on most of our plans, nor only ONE way a boat can be equipped.  Instead, there are options which can cause big differences in cost to build for the same design.

For example, consider plywood boats.  On many designs, it is acceptable to build in ordinary Exterior Grade Douglas-fir plywood, probably the lowest-cost choice.  But some builders would rather have a higher-quality panel and opt for Marine Grade Douglas fir instead, which might be 2X or so the cost(*).  Still others may not prefer Douglas-fir for whatever reasons, and opt for one of the top-grade imported Marine panels.   These could cost 2 to 3 times more than the Marine Grade fir panel. Yet all these options meet our specifications, assuming similar total thicknesses.

Or consider motors.  Boats often have a range of possible horsepower as well as motor type options.  Both factors play a big part in cost.  But we don’t sell motors, nor buy them regularly, so have little more knowledge than you about costs. We do know, that in the case of inboards, it may be possible for you to convert your own gasoline motor based on an automotive block (most inboards you can buy are essentially converted automotive engines).  You can also look for used motors.  The point is, much depends on the choices you wish to make.

(*)NOTE: Both are rated "waterproof" panels; see "PLYWOOD BOATBUILDING" feature for more details on the differences.

What have your other customers spent to build their boats?

We get some feedback in this regard, but not as much as we’d like.  Even then, few builders go into all the details behind their cost figures, whether we think them high or low.  Some are more resourceful than others, and can "bird-dog" materials and components down to the last nickel.  Others pay full retail.  Some accept lower quality while others go for the best.  Some buy salvage or used materials and parts; others buy only new.

Boatbuilding materials and equipment are often seasonal goods.  If you buy at the height of the season, expect to pay full price.  If you buy around the end of the year - especially for big-ticket items like motors - you may find substantial discounts from merchants wanting to reduce year-end inventory.

We have collected some Cost-To-Build figures from our builders here.

Don’t you have material lists that can be used for getting estimates? After all, I’m building my own boat to save money!

Hull material listings are available for our designs online - just go to the online catalog page for the boat design you're interested in and click on the "Additional Specifications and Photos" link then on the "Bill of Materials" link.  But keep in mind, hull costs are usually only a fraction of total outfitted boat cost, the extent of which will vary with your choices.  While saving money is a valid reason to build a boat, if it’s the ONLY reason, you probably won’t enjoy the project, and we'd advise you not to start.  Why do something you won’t enjoy just to save some bucks?


This question is as difficult to answer as how much will your boat cost.  Again, we hear that competitors may throw out such figures, so why don’t we?  Because we don’t know a thing about you, what mental and physical capabilities you bring to the project, nor anything about other resources you may have for carrying out such a project.  If competitors have such numbers, I suspect they are overly optimistic figures to get you to buy their products.  You would be wise to accept such estimates with a big grain of salt.

But companies in the kit airplane business give building hour estimates - why don’t you?

Many kit plane builders also build their own boats, and I’ve seen the hour estimates some kit plane suppliers tout.  Frankly I’m skeptical of such figures.   I’ve spoken with many airplane builders who admit they really didn’t keep track of time all that carefully as they were more interested in the project itself rather than just seeing how fast they could complete it.  Others simply laugh at the figures as meaningless after having completed such a project.

Fact is, boats are different from airplanes and different from each other.  Even if the same size, some boats are easier and quicker to build than others - that’s obvious.  The problem is, while we can help you pick a method that meets your needs and abilities, we still have no clue as to how fast you can do the work.

Do-it-yourselfers come to the game with different skill levels, different tools, different working conditions, and different time options.  For example, the worker who can devote full days to a project rather than an hour or two a day can get more done simply because of the time it takes to get up to speed each time you start again.

How long do other builders take?

Although some builders get back to us on the time they took to complete their projects, more often they don’t.  Most simply lose track of time.  Others take up boatbuilding to escape the time-clock mentality.  We're sometimes amazed how fast some builders put a boat together while equally surprised that it takes other builders so long.

For Time- & Cost-To-Build figures from our builders click here.

But I want to finish my boat as quickly as possible - can’t I get some ball-park time figure?

Sure, give us a call, tell us when you would like the boat completed, and when you plan to start.  After discussing a few things with you, we’ll be able to tell you if your time frame is reasonable or not - that’s the closest we can come and still sleep at night.

We do get concerned when a prospective builder puts too much emphasis on time, as in wanting a boat NOW!  Attempting to build a boat within time constraints can be discouraging if not disastrous.  Why work under self-imposed pressure and haste, and reduce or eliminate the joys and rewards of this great hobby?  If saving money and seeing how fast you can build your boat are all that matters to you, we’d suggest you buy a boat instead.


Keep in mind, most of the photos of boats shown on this website are first-time efforts by ordinary people probably much like yourself - you can do it too!

We have designs for all skill levels to suit a wide array of boating interests. Today, there are more materials, technology, and tools better suited to the amateur than ever before. In short, building a boat is easier than its ever been.  And if any additional skills or training are necessary, it’s easier to obtain them.  In addition, there are more books and videos aimed at the subject than ever, not to mention the resources available on the internet.

Of course, some reading may be necessary on your part since no set of boat plans is meant to be an education in boatbuilding by themselves.  But if you can handle ordinary tools, follow procedural instructions, and stick to a project, there is no reason why you can’t build your own boat.

Most do-it-yourself boats are still made from wood in one form or another.  But aluminum and steel boats are also easy to build by those knowing how to weld. Fiberglass boats are also possible using "one-off" materials and methods ideal for those with little or no fiberglass experience. Most important is to select the proper design and one especially suited to the do-it-yourself builder - that’s our specialty.

We do think perseverance is the most important quality a do-it-yourself boatbuilder can have.  So if you are the sort of person who starts projects, but seldom follows through to completion, we’d suggest another hobby instead.

Be sure to see our website for books and abundant other resources available to help you build your own boat here.


Glen-L marine designs / www.glen-l.com / Boat plans for the home builder