When should you build a kayak?

cut panels:
@BrazilBrasil - If I had access to the proper tools/resources to cut panels Id probably do the same. Cheaper plywood would work for me, since I plan on painting or tinting the epoxy white anyways. I’m not in love with the wood look. That said, just getting the pre cut panels from the various companies might be the way to go, but obtaining the rest of the parts might add up more than thought and might be confusing for a newbie builder. Maybe on the second boat build…

costs more?
@kobzol - Well I’m actually in the same boat - recently laid off with time and garage space for a project. I’m not worried about my construction abilities, but a few comments about cost overruns worry me (budget is naturally tight right now). While I’m not afraid of the boat building journey, my original aim is to have a light weight boat that is similar, but addresses my perceived shortcomings with the Chatham 17 and for a low price.

chatham vs shearwater/merganser
@LeeG - yeah, I’ve heard that the shearwater is the same as the merganser, but the profile line drawing of the shearwater look more pleasing to me - more gentle curves in the right places and I’m leaning toward a 17 foot boat based on garage space available. You’re right, the chatham’s bow is very upturned, but it has much less rocker than the Chatham 16. I guess the flatish bottom and full chines extending forward a lot gives it the rough water surfing stability, but kinda plows on flat water. I suppose I need to find and compare stability graphs for the chatham and shearwater or find a way to test paddle a shearwater. I traded my previous boat (old perception shadow) because it was too tippy in waves and weathercocked badly. I kinda miss the storage and speed that I unknowingly gave up when I got the Chatham.

great forum:
Thanks for all the comments and for suggesting kayakforum.com. On that site I actually came across a person in a similar situation and is also considering the shearwater/merganser vs the arctic tern: http://www.kayakforum.com/cgi-bin/Building/index.cgi/read/186412

I recently contacted someone on craigslist selling an arctic tern kit for cheap, but then decided the shearwater is for me. Since I can’t physically compare the two, I’m relying on online advice. I might have been to hasty in dismissing the AT. Would the AT be as fast and track as well as the Shearwater? Maneuverability and lots of storage isn’t a concern, but decent stability is, and that’s usually related to the chines and maneuverability. I still like the lines of the Shearwater, but a similar looking and heavily discounted AT17 might fit the bill if it paddles as expected…

Don’t DO It!
Don’t build a kayak until you’ve ordered and built and Uncle John’s Pirogue kit. It’ll only take you a weekend or so and you’ll save the cost of the kit on the skills you will learn and mistakes you will not do again on your second boat.

Again I say! Make a cheap easy boat and give it away first. Then if you love the process you’ll love having this new boat building hobby that is an addiction. If you hate it then there are many many great used boats for sale. Post here on this site and these classifieds for help in finding a specific model.

If you cannot find a used boat then you can get a new boat faster than you can build one by working evenings at McDonalds. Builing your own boat costs a lot in time and materials. It is the most expensive way to get a boat unless you don’t have any sellable skills. If you don’t have any skills then you won’t build a worthwhile boat anyway.

There are TWO GREAT REASONS to build a boat. One you love the process and have to do it because it is in your blood. (Unfortunately this hobby does not pay for itself like fixing up old cars does.) The other reason is you want a custom boat like no other boat that you can buy. Skin on frame kayaks are a great example of this.

Good luck!

Re FrankNC’s comments…

What would you expect to pay for a 17’, 40 lb. well- equipped sea kayak???

I allow about $400 Cdn. for top quality materials, and about 60-80 hours of work I enjoy, to do a VK that does everything I want to do and more. I also enjoy building it, a hell of a sight more than I’d enjoy punching in the hours it’d take earn the cost of even a used 40 lb. kevlar sea kayak. And I don’t have to feed the taxman from those scrawny low-paying job paycheques, either…

Have you thought of a doing a SOF? Real cheap and real quick to put together depending on construction method. I started my first one this fall and should be done soon. Frame is together and floor is in. Just some final detail work before skinning. So far it’s been easy and costs should come in right around $200.

If you found a SOF boat design you really like you can search for a similar S&G later.

Check out www.yostwerks.com for some ideas if you’re interested.


yes, I have considered that route since it would be cheaper and even lighter, but I think stiffness and durability would be issue. Besides I want bulkheads, don’t like ocean cockpits, and it would be more complex to a first time builder like myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still confident in my construction abilities. I just want to make sure I invest time and $ into the right kit or plans that would yield the best results for me…

Photo-essays on the S/G process to be found at http://www.westcoastpaddler.com/building/index.php?cat=2 . One can also go into the forums and check out stripper builds and SOF. I built a Coho (my first except for a SOF I did in high school… back in the early 60’s) and will be making a second one (for me… my wife took the first one) next spring.

Pictures of my build can be seen at http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v108/Tootsall/Coho%20Much%20Fun/ . As you’ll see, the wood was really warped due to local low humidity conditions but the boat still came out straight…it is hard to make a mistake if you take your time.

cockpit and difficulty
Yeah, lack of bulkheads is a bit of a bummer but you don’t have to have an ocean cockpit and the build for a first timer is easy.

If you haven’t looked the boats on the Yost site they are not traditional build. No steaming and bending ribs, just cut sections out of plywood and slap the chines, keel, and gunwales to them. The boat I’m building (Sea Tour 17R) has a 16x32" cockpit (larger than I’d like actually) and has more volume than traditional Greenland boats. The sections do take up some room though and cut down on the leg/entry room.

SOF certainly isn’t for everyone, and they might not be for me either, but I wanted to have a whack at building a boat and this was the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to do it. After doing some research I have no worries about the toughness of the boats either.


SOF durability
Here’s some evidence of SOF durability (painful to watch, but makes the point)…



Durability is not really an issue with a ballistic nylon skin and a good coating. I built a Cape Falcon skin boat, and Brian does things to his boats that would snap a composite boat like a twig.

Re: stiffness, the flex an SOF gets reduces impact on both the paddler and the boat, and they are also noticeably quieter on the water. It would be nice to have bulkheads, but dual storage/float bags fill the voids nicely.

Shearwater/Merganser boats
I paddled a Merganser/Shearwater17 with Eric Schade, the designer, back in August. I live near him, here in Maine, and he very obligingly spent a couple hours with me on a nearby pond.

The Merganser and Shearwater 17s are essentially the same boat (the latter is marketed by Chesapeake Light Craft), except that the foredeck of the Shearwater is curved (“tortured”) whereas the Merganser is a flat, 3 panel construction. Eric said that he actually liked the look of the Shearwater boat better, and I agree. However, they are both very attractive.

I’m 5’8", 155, size 10 shoe. I fit in the boat comfortably. I generally paddle a Current Designs Caribou, which is 17’8". I found that the Merganser had somewhat less initial stability, though with another hour or so that might have disappeared. Rolls were easy, despite the fact that the boat wasn’t outfitted for me, and I couldn’t brace my knees well. It came up with more of a “pop” than my Caribou. It seemed to paddle with slightly more drag than my 'Bou, but i can’t be certain about that. We were in flatwater, so I don’t know how it would handle in “conditions.”

I decided to take the plunge, and build a Shearwater 16, which is (obviously) a foot shorter. It will be used primarily by my daughter, who is 5’3" and 120 lbs. I’m building the boat with Eric at the Bath Marine Museum in a series of Wed. night classes. I will use it as well, assuming that I fit in it. Eric keeps kidding me about this, which worries me a little!

It doesn’t sound like you’ll be building the 16, but one thing to note for those who might be is that the current Shearwater 16 has a beam of 23". The original was 21". I specified that I wanted the “original,” so I’m building the narrower boat. If I recall correctly, if you order a Mergansar from Eric, it’s a 21" beam.

I’ve carved a few Greenland paddles, but never built a boat, and don’t have woodworking skills. It is a great help to be doing it in a class, but I think I could probably figure it out on my own, with some forum or email support.

The process is fun, in a slightly nerve-wracking way.

You might want to look at the Night Heron, designed by Eric’s brother, Nick. It’s also marketed by CLC. If I survive building the Shearwater, I may take a crack at a Night Heron this summer. There are quite a few reviews on it, scattered about.

More than $4000
Mine is about 48 pounds and now they cost $4000 new or less than half of that used. I guess you could build them in 60 to 80 hours if you were building the second one but the first one will take double that. Just sourcing and rounding up the materials and organizing the space takes a lot of time.

In 80 hours I could make enough money to buy a boat that was better than I could ever build. In fact in the last year I’ve bought two plastic boats that were better than I could ever build for less than $400 each used.

If you want a custom boat or you love the building process, then of course you should build a boat. But if you want to go paddling as soon as you can in a good boat, just buy a used boat.

I also plan on painting at least the hull. I have two wood boats already and want a white hull and green/yellow/ and blue deck :slight_smile:

Or I will just slap a coat of white marine paint over the whole thing and just go paddle. I am not enamored with the vbuilding process and am certainly no craftsman. I just want another boat.


which wood creations?
I saw that with boats that weren’t outfitted correctly and can attest that the Chesapeaks are mighty stable in both directions but kayaks like the Merganser/Shearwater roll as well an any other kayak of similar proportions.

methinks you will find
that a Shearwater/Merganser 17 is tippier than the Shadow and while it won’t weathercock as easily it will have a more pronounced lean-to-turn characteristic than the Shadow. Part of my recomendation for the Merganser 18 was to get a bit more stability.

Like I said if you get the wood parts only from Shearwater with glass/epoxy from RAKA you will come out with a cheaper hull. I’ve been pleased with using Neckys molded minicell seats.

I’ve seen that sof torture video on youtube before, I’ve studied and bookmarked the yostwerks sof site months ago, and I’ve seriously considered doing the cape falcon build class, since I live in Portland. That sleek uber light-weight minimalist work of art that is a SOF kayak is very tempting to build (especially from a cost perspective), but I just really want a stiffer hull with real hatches.

Go for the S and G. you’ll love it.

An interesting possibility:
I recently became aware of another option. A stitch and glue hull, with a soft top. This concept intrigues me, as it offers a strong painted hull, (I am not a fan of the wood look), bulkheaded water tight compartments with hatches, and light weight. The fabric deck and SOF cockpit seem to offer the best of both worlds, to me.