Houseboat #481
design by Phillip C. Bolger

Why A Bolger Boat?

To build and use a boat designed by Mr. Phil Bolger is an experience I look forward to. Mr. Bolger has hundreds of boat designs to his credit, an enthusiastic following and is well recognized in his field as a master of meeting the needs of the originator. His boats range from the sleek, attractive and racy to the sublime and even cartoon like. Described as genius by many he is a man who takes responsibility for his work and is involved on a daily basis with the builders of his designs as well as the clients wishing new work. His well of knowledge is deep and the fountain of fantastic, frugal and environmental ideas allow almost anyone to choose, build and enjoy the boat of their dreams. Bolger has a way of bringing out the realism needed to enjoy boating in complex society.

Why the Houseboat #481:

Years of camping, campers and traveling frugally led us to the houseboat. I always like shanty boats and always came back to a small, trailerable, efficient box like designs of which there are many. I had always liked the Hobo and its clones so when we found out Bolger had a design it was easy to choose it. I had looked hard at his Champlain and Bantam and liked them both very much but neither met our realistic needs. We were almost convinced on the Bantam before finding out about the houseboat. The Bantam is an extremely efficient and easily handled boat suited for smaller waterways, lakes and rivers. We felt that with a dingy, 2 bicycles and all our gear for cruising, the Bantam was just a bit small. The houseboat has about 30% more flotation and is designed more for longer periods aboard and more suitable as a cabin when on the trailer or at dock. The 4'x8' front deck, 13' x 8' interior and a 3' rear deck provide sufficient space for 2 adults to move about freely and ensure the basic creature comforts of shower, head, closet, comfortable bed, eating and food preparation area. The light weight would be easy to trailer and a low power requirement would mean cheap cruising.

Getting Started:

Dealing with Mr. Bolger by fax and phone was a pleasant experience. His no nonsense, terse replies should be studied carefully because they contain wisdom and are helpful in your project. Don’t expect Mr. Bolger to cater to your boat building techniques but anything within the plans will be addressed. The plans came promptly by post in a blue tube and were clear and easy to read. Since this plan was a earlier commission to Mr. Bolger from Elrow Laroe, there were no building notes but a moderately experienced builder should be able to complete the boat in 200 to 400 hours depending on your skills and the level of finish.

Lots of Good Advice:

Thanks to many members of the Bolger chat group, and John Bartlett aka Captjbturtle of I was driving home with 15 sheets of ½"ply, 15 gallons of epoxy and 40 yards of 50" fibreglass. I had studied the plans to death and plagued John with endless questions and received some great tips from Mike Stockstill. The review of all the Bolger posts as well as tuning in to the daily digests gave me the confidence to start.


Hull: I had built 2 small boats using the “Stitch and Glue” technique and helped with a third. This gave me the confidence to start right away. The first step was to construct a temporary table 8' wide and 20' long to build the sides and then the hull. The table, once squared and leveled proved to be very valuable to the easy alignment of the hull. After using the “Payson” joint to connect 2 ½ sheets of plywood, reading the plan and transcribing the measurements for the sides to the wood was a snap. It took some time to layout the hard chines and top frames but everything glued together well. I set the sides together and made them identical by shaving the high spots with a 3 ½” electric planer before fairing and glassing. Winter set in early and the table was dismantled and the sides stored to await the spring. Fortunately a family member had salvaged a building years ago and had a supply of very dry, straight spruce I could use. It was in such good condition I ran it through a planner and ripped it to the various sizes required for the floor timbers and framing. A long winter 2002/03 and late spring only added to the anticipation and hull construction got underway early in May. The table was reassembled, the sides set up and the floor timbers notched in and beveled where needed. Both layers of ½" ply was attached using ring nails and thickened epoxy. Fairing and shaping the hull before glassing was easy with a 2" belt sander. All edges were given 2 layers of biaxial tape before glassing. I put a second layer of glass on the forward 8 feet of the bottom, then added another 2' of ½" ply as a bash guard on the forward hull bottom and another layer of glass. The three bottom skids were laminated (2 layers) and glassed.


With the capable assistance of John Bartlett, flipping the hull was easy. We used a farm tractor a sling and used the table as a slide. It took minutes and with many hands the hull was slid into position for the interior and cabin construction


With the hull in almost perfect alignment the interior construction could start almost immediately. With the help of John we leveled the cabin floor timbers and built the honeycomb of stringers to hold the forward and rear deck. The forward and aft cabin bulkheads were measured, cut and installed. At the same time I epoxy coated the ply for the floor, coated and glassed the deck pieces and the upper sides. Also by coating and glassing the preconstructed forward and aft bulkheads we saved a lot of finishing time after construction. The upright frames were rounded, epoxy coated and then installed notching the floor after carefully measuring for their position.

Paul McLellan