by Learning Lead – Paul Whipp

Photo 1. A sketch of the Chautauqua sailing canoe I am building. Sleek canoe hull with two standing lug sails (main and mizzen). 

Welcome Back! In this blog we will be talking about making one of the toughest decisions of the whole boat building project. Choosing what boat to build. We are going to look at what to consider and I’m going to go over how I made the decision to build a sailing canoe.

Boats, Boats, Boats! So let’s say you are thinking about building a boat. How do you decide what boat to build? There are many factors to consider. Let’s go through this step by step. 

Step 1: Ask yourself some questions

Dream about you and your future boat. You’re floating along on a beautiful sunny day. Where do you want to be, what do you want to do? You can dream big, but also be realistic about what the boat will be doing most of the time and best suited for. 

What do you want to do with your boat? 

  • What kind of trips? Putts around the pond, a couple of hours, full day trips, multi day trips, expeditions? 
  • Where do you want to take the boat? Small lakes, big lakes/oceans, deep waters, shallows, swamps, rivers?

What makes your boat go?

  • How do you want to propel the boat? Paddle, row, sail, pedal, motor?

How will you transport and store your boat?

  • Trailer, rooftop, cart, carry? Garage, shed, tarp, living room, under your bed?

What are the most important qualities of your boat?

  • Do you have a need for speed? Is comfort king? Maybe stability and seaworthiness is your jam. Do you want it to be the lightest boat ever?

It’s also important to start considering the build process. 

  • What’s your workspace like? Garage, outdoor shop, living room?
  • What is your access to tools, supplies, equipment?
  • What is your experience with building? Lots of it and can tackle any project? New to it and need something easier?
  • What is your timeline? A couple weeks? A few months? Years?
  • Do you want detailed plans or are you going to design your own boat?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions. Keep racking your brain and thinking about what you want out of your boat. When you’ve got a good idea of what you want to do, move on to the next step, research.

Step 2: Do some research

Learn about boats. You may find yourself thinking about boats more than is healthy. Sleepless nights spent looking at polynesian canoes. Working a debate about the pros and cons of a leeboard into a conversation about what to have for lunch (grilled cheese – need pickles – have to cut said pickles – cutting board – leeboard). Utilize as many resources as you can. The interweb, books, friends, family, random strangers who have boats or are probably thinking about boats so you may as well talk to them about boats.  

Learn about the basics of boats and boat building. How hull design and shape affect things like speed and stability. Learn about materials and build techniques. There are so many unique boats out there. Look at lots of models and variations. Look up well known boat builders and designers. 

Step 3: Start making decisions

At this point you’ve asked yourself a ton of questions, been trolling internet boat building forums for obscure information and been engaging everyone you talk to into non consensual boat conversations. It’s time to start making decisions. 

Take all the answers to the questions and match them with your newfound boat knowledge. Choose your dreamboat!

This is all easier said than done. Maybe going through the process can help you along. Without further ado, it’s time for me to share why I chose to build a sailing canoe. 

I wanted a boat I could first and foremost sail well. I have a canoe and a kayak. Don’t get me wrong, I love paddling. However, I also love not paddling. For this reason, I have added sails to both of these boats. Check out the pictures of sailing canoe attempt #1 with my lovely old ladybug canoe (red canoe, lots of black patches). Compare that to the more recent photo of my latest kayak sail. Both have been fairly successful rigs. The kayak sail is way more portable and comes with me on every paddle now. Even though these both work, they aren’t great sailing crafts. I want to sail!

My next order of business was deciding where I wanted to go boating and in what capacity. Living next to the greatest lake in the world (Lake Superior if I haven’t already mentioned it), that was naturally my intended playground. I also wanted a boat that was comfortable for day trips or extended multi day trips. Now I need a boat that not only sails well but is also stable, seaworthy and has decent storage capacity. 

I know I said I love and don’t love to paddle. The reason I love it is that it gets me going where I want to go, especially if (when) the wind dies or when (it’s always) dead against you. For this reason, I wanted a boat with secondary paddling propulsion. 

Transport is up next. I’ve got a Honda fit. It’s great! Literally fits everything. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a hitch for a trailer. I needed a boat I could put on my roof racks. Sub 100 lbs was the goal. 

Building logistics. I’ve built a kayak once. It was a process but I made it through with a complete and functional kayak. Skin on frame was the building technique. It’s a great build for beginners. Not a ton of tools, space, time, or prior knowledge required. Bonus, you end up with a light and unique boat. I had limited tools and space to build (jigsaw and hand tools and my living room), not a ton of time (2 months), and basic skills.

Photo 4. A sneak peak at my boat being built in my living room. At 15’3″, she just fits. Getting the gunnels (outside top rails) and chines (other long parts of the hull) into place was tricky! Spoiler… I had to go through my kitchen.

After lots of research, I found that an expedition worthy sail/paddle craft was what I was looking for. One that was better at sailing than paddling and lightweight. I stumbled onto David Gentry’s skin on frame designs. He provides detailed plans and kits to build your own boats. He has a great selection of models. Check out his website here :

I chose the Chautauqua sailing canoe. The plans were affordable and I was able to buy a PDF version online. 

That’s the abridged version of the start of my boat building journey. In reality, it took many months of endless deliberation. It was a really fun process! I discovered so many different boats (future builds???). 

If you are at this stage in your build (if you’re thinking about boats you kinda are), savour it. So much daydreaming!

Next blog we will start building 🙂