If you’ve ever thought of making a homemade boat, you might be interested to learn that some home-grown creations have resulted in models that get actually get marketed, like the floating tiki bar called the Crusin’ Tiki, and the BBQ Doughnut Boat we featured in Five Bizarre But Totally Awesome Boats. Boaters are dedicated folks who love trying new things on the water, and many of us enjoy dabbling in creative endeavors. In fact, visit Instructables and you’ll find plans for how to build everything from a strip-planked canoe to a kayak built of plastic water bottles. So since you’re a boater we’re guessing that this thought has surely gone through your mind, even if you haven’t acted on it. Yet. Just in case the mood ever strikes you, here are 10 cool homemade boat ideas that got our attention.
1. The Truck Boat
This is perhaps the most famous homemade boat around, since photographs of it were widely circulated when the USCG found it 40 miles off the Florida coast, with 12 Cuban refugees aboard in 2003. We’re blown away by how creative these Cubans were—not only did they make an oceanic crossing in a 1959 Chevy by rigging flotation along the sides and attaching a propeller to the drive-shaft, they did it in such a way that the truck could still be driven on land. Unfortunately, these imaginative immigrants were shipped back to Cuba. We say mariners with this much imagination deserve a shot at the American dream.
2. Cardboard Boats
Cardboard boat races date back to a design class project at Southern Illinois University in 1962. Since then, building and racing watercraft made from this unlikely material has become amazingly popular and many events are held nationwide every year. The International Cardboard Boat Regatta in New Richmond, Ohio, is believed to be the largest, and it’s put on by The Cardboard Boat Museum.
If you decide to build one of these, we have a suggestion: in addition to plenty of carboard, bring duct tape. Lots and lots of duct tape.
3. The Duct Tape Boat
On second thought, why bother with the cardboard? If you have enough duct tape you can make just about anything, and that includes a homemade boat. You can make a simple frame out of virtually any material ranging from chicken-wire to kindling. Then, just tape over it. For a 10’ to 12’ boat, you’ll need around 20 rolls of duct tape. One word to the wise: don’t forget to tape over the inside of the frame, too, or you’ll end up very sticky.
4. A Plywood Box
The simplest and fastest way to build your own boat is to craft a glorified plywood box with a pointy or up-turned end. Plenty of examples and how-to videos can be found on YouTube, including one which costs less than $200 to put together called “Boat Built in Two Days." Materials include plywood, two tubes of Liquid Nails, and a gallon of fiberglass. The video’s music is annoying but the boat, which is powered with an electric outboard and/or oars, looks surprisingly strong.
5. The Guitar Boat
This one was built by Australian guitar-maker Ross Wallace of Maton, to help out musician Josh Pyke. After taking the guitar boat on tour to promote a new album, he sold it (with the proceeds going to charity) on eBay for $7,000. The boat may not have set any records, but it probably helped Pyke sell a few.
6. Pop-Pop Boats
Pop-pops are toy boats built out of tin cans, which run on steam power. No, you can’t take a ride on one, but they certainly make for a nifty project. Cut a tin can in half lengthwise, bend the hull flat, give it a bow, and poke a pair of holes in the transom just below the waterline. Then tightly coil a 12” section of 1/8” copper tubing around a one-inch dowel, leaving several inches on either end. Bend the ends into legs, and bend in a pair of two-inch long feet. The feet go through the holes in the transom (so the coil is supported two inches above the hull on the legs); then you seal the holes around the tubing so they’re watertight. When it’s ready to roll, drip enough water into the tube to half-fill the coils. Then slide a candle under the coils, light it, and when the water in the coils boils the pop-pop will move under steam power. There are step-by-step instructions at SciencetoyMaker.
7. The Milk Jug Barge
This is another “design” that has its roots in student projects, and you can build one for next to nothing—just start saving your one-gallon milk jugs now, because you’ll need one jug for every eight pounds of displacement. Make a square frame, and lay it down on a large piece of chicken-wire. Line the jugs up inside, then use more chicken wire to close off the top. Bind the wire together, and cap your creation off with the decking material of your choice. You can also wrap the jugs with plastic or shrink-wrap, which may result in slightly better hydrodynamics though structural soundness could be an issue. But no matter how far you take this project, expect your barge to plod along slowly.
8. Kit Boats
If want your project to culminate in an actual boat you can actually use for actual boating, it might be a good idea to go with a kit boat. There are a million of them out there, which will help you slap together everything from a simple dinghy to a two-masted schooner. Warning: these can be surprisingly expensive. A simple 14’ rowboat, for example, can go for well over a grand.
If you want to build a boat over 20 feet, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, cement actually makes a pretty good material. It can be worked by a layman, takes a small fraction of the time needed for other materials, and is amazingly inexpensive. In a nutshell, all you do is built a skeleton out of wood, staple on several layers of chicken-wire, and then lay about an inch of cement over it. While you can’t expect tremendous speed or performance from a ferrocement boat, they do float and they are strong. Besides, when you tell people your boat is solid as a rock, they’ll believe you.
Stop throwing away all those used plastic water bottles—they’re a recyclaboat yet to be born. All you have to do is glue together 60,000 or so bottles, and you can make a boat like the Plastiki a 60’ sailing catamaran that crossed the Pacific Ocean in 128 days. Or maybe it’ll be more like the Bottles Up, a three-man rowboat built at the ecotourism resort Rain Tree Lodge in Fiji. The bottle boat you build can be as small or as large as desired—you’re the only one who can put a cap on this project.
Want to see some other bizarre boats and crazy watercraft? Check out the Top 10 Coolest Looking Boats Ever.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in February 2013 and updated in December 2018.