Construct a Skiff

First-time boat builder? Try this easy project over a weekend.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Known variously as a johnboat, bateau, skiff or punt, this lightweight craft is an ideal first boat-building project. It's suited to a variety of uses, from fishing to duck hunting, and it's very easy to construct. The sheet-ply and epoxy construction makes it about as simple to build as possible. No fastenings are required and no butt blocks are necessary.

The 8-foot model is the basic structure, but the plans can be modified to make the overall length 12 feet. The 8-foot boat is good for two people and floats in 4 inches of water. It can be paddled, rowed, poled or motored, and the wide, flat bottom provides enough stability to stand. Four- to six-foot oars work well, as does a double-bladed paddle or an 8-foot pole. When expanded to 12 feet the boat has the capacity to carry an extra passenger. At this length, it is also better suited for use with a motor. The smallest transom-mounted motor will easily push the lightweight, flat-bottomed hull.

The 8-foot model weighs 40 pounds; the 12-foot model weighs 75 pounds. Both can easily be car-topped. Not only do these lightweight johnboats handle a larger payload than their commercial counterparts, but they also offer real advantages in getting on and off the water, loading and unloading and storage. With its slick graphite bottom, the boat can be dragged over parking lots, logs and gravel beaches, making launch and retrieval even easier.

The fore and aft compartments provide hull support, seating, dry storage and safety flotation. They are easy to make watertight with beads of thickened epoxy. Compartments can be accessed with small screw-out ports or hinged hatches. Oarlocks can be installed as desired along the sides. The center thwart seat can be adjusted fore and aft for trim.

1. Cut the hull pieces
Begin by cutting out the five main hull pieces: bottom, two sides and two transoms. Prefinish all panels with two coats of epoxy. Drill 1/8-inch holes around the perimeter of the bottom panel, then stitch the sides and transom together loosely with plastic ties or wire.

2. Install the bulkheads
Position and secure the two vertical compartment bulkheads into the hull, and gradually tighten the plastic or wire ties around the hull. Apply small beads of thickened epoxy on all of the interior corners and seams. Leave the hull to cure, then fit and epoxy both compartment decks into position.

[pagebreak] 3. Seal the bottom
Flip the cured hull upside down and round and sand its exterior corners. Apply 2-inch-wide fiberglass tape over the seams. For extra reinforcement, you can glue hull battens on the bottom. To protect the bottom, apply a coating of an epoxy and graphite mixture over the bottom and up around the chines.

4. Make a seat
Cut and trim a ¾-inch-thick by 2-inch-wide plywood seat support to fit each side of the hull at the seat height you find comfortable. Epoxy each support in place. Install ¾-inch-thick by 12-inch-wide plywood or mahogany seats; attach them to the supports with stainless-steel bolts on each side. For extra stability, glue and clamp a ¾-inch by 1½-inch outwale strip to the sheer of the hull.

5. Finish it up Install hardware and apply a final coat of finish. Cut an access hole in the compartment decks for optional screw-out ports and use a bead of silicone and stainless-steel machine screws to hold the port in place. Install oarlocks at the desired locations. Scrub the hull with soap and water, let dry and apply a coat of varnish or camouflage paint to the topsides of the hull. Launch and enjoy.

_Detailed building plans for both the 8- and 12-foot sizes are available for $25 from Paul Butler, P.O. Box 1917, Port Angeles, WA 98362; paul@ butlerprojects.com. Pre-cut kits are also available. For more information on this johnboat and other boat projects, visit www.butlerprojects.com.