Free Sailboat Plans Online — Or Possibly, at the Library

23 Boats You Can Build

Classic boat plans and solid advice from the editors of Popular Mechanics magazine.

Every now and then I get the urge to build a boat again, and having done that once I’m usually able to resist the impulse. I do still like to dream, about having the time and the funding to do that on a larger scale. Actually, I might enjoy working on just about any sort of boat, if you like to fish and you like woodworking it’s a great mix and a perfect winter’s project. Just be prepared to spend several winters at it.

The dreaming might turn out to be the best part, and companies online usually try to charge for that privilege. I’ve gone through mazes of menus and promising clues on boatbuilding websites, usually to wind up at a tiny sample of free information. In other places I’ve found plenty of free info, but posted without regard for copyright laws. Recently I did find a good source that actually is free, if you’re willing to wait in line a little bit.

PT plywood dinghy

Inspired by the legendary WWII PT boat, this original design is light enough to lift to the top of your car by yourself.

If you register for a free account at Open Library, you’ll have access to over 1,000,000 ebooks, with only a slight catch. Only one person can access any single volume at one time, using a lending system that imitates the legal processes of an actual public library. For two weeks you can read the book through a free installation of Adobe Digital Edition, after which the book automatically “returns” to the library and becomes available to others.

Open Library has one copy of 23 Boats You Can Build, a collection of plans published by Popular Mechanics magazine in 1950. Ranging from paddleboards to full-sized cabin cruisers and sleek sailboats, there’s something here to fit all the niches in between as well. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Su-Lu” Plywood Dinghy — a 10 foot outboard with a hull designed in the same pattern as the PT boat of WWII, yet light enough to cartop by yourself. Plans include options for conversion to sail power.
  • “Handy” — an 11 foot 6 inch flat-bottomed skiff designed for outboard propulsion.
  • “Sport” — a 14 foot inboard built with a V-bottom for fast travel on serious water.
  • “Tramp” — a 15 foot “knockabout” sailboat with an open cockpit.
sailboat plans

No shortage of sailboat plans, including this fast wooden-hulled dinghy, the Zephyr.

Those who already own good boats and want to experiment with sail power will find an interesting and very practical conversion plan for detachable tiller, centerboard and mast included in the book. You’d need to tailor the plans to match your boat, but the concept uses readily available raw material that’s strong enough to trust. This book illustrates other handy devices that make trailering a boat simpler, and if you need some help getting the boat from car to water without a fishing buddy, there’s a scheme for temporary wheels to roll it there “barrow” style.

Popular Mechanics included sections on basic sailing techniques and thorough advice on tools and construction methods. Although all plans use the materials available to craftsmen of the 1950’s era, the plans adapt easily enough to modern materials and processes. You might substitute Kevlar for the canvas skin of the 16 foot Canadian lake canoe described in the book, although clear epoxy would protect the boat as thoroughly and still show off the fitted cedar strips that comprise the hull. Possibly, in their day, these boats were ordinary. Today they’re beautiful classics.

Popular Mechanic’s boatbuilder’s dream book is still occasionally available on Amazon in used condition. Check the search block here for current offers of 23 boats you can build and a chance to own your own copy, literally before they’re all gone.

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About JTHats

Avid backpacker and outdoorsman with old skills and interests in old ways of doing things; equally fascinated by electronics, from the days of Sputnik, to the Zilog Z80A, to the present day of black box circuitry. Sixty years of experience with growing my own food and living simply. Certified electronics technician, professional woodturner, woodcarver, and graduate of two military survival courses -- Arctic and Jungle.

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