Guest Column  
by Harold Duffield - Florissant, Missouri - USA

A case for building in aluminum...

...can easily be made if you look at the real cost. This cost includes not only material, but also the amount of work and time needed, and the retained resale value of the boat once it is built.

First of all, no boat is cheaper to build than buying a used boat. It just can’t be made as inexpensively as buying used. This is especially true if your time is worth only the minimum wage. So, if all you want is a good boat, buy used.

Emily Girl Scow Daysailer
LOA - 13 ft 4 inches
Beam - 52 inches
Draft - 4 inches/36 inches
Weight - 350 lbs

However, if you want to have the experience of building your own boat, with all the pleasure and satisfaction that offers, then your decision will be what type of boat, what size of boat, and what material to use

First of all, you should settle some boat builder’s dream myths:

1. Building a boat to some day sail around the world. It could happen, but not likely. So don’t build your first or second boat for that purpose. In fact, if you do end up sailing around the world, the best way to do it the first time is to sell your boat and use the money for passage on a tramp streamer excursion instead.

2. Building a boat to retire on down in the islands. Again, it could happen, but probably not right now. Instead, you probably will realize more pleasure from a boat that can be made in a short time, and used in your immediate home waters.

3. Building a boat for a family bonding experience on weekends and vacations. It can happen, but probably not for a very long time. Your kids, once they become teens, will want to be with their friends, not the old man knocking around on a boat. Same for the wife. Bless her heart - but she may not want to go with you.

All these dream reasons for building a boat are legitimate, but should be viewed with a sober eye before you start your project.

My suggestion based on 60 years of messing about on boats, and years of experience owning a marina, it to go three ways: go small- go quality- go now.

Go Small:
You’ll get just as much satisfaction and excitement building a 15 ft boat as a 40 footer. In fact more. It’s because you will be able to see progress, and the light at the end of the tunnel within a reasonable time frame. Nothing is more depressing than a half built boat, and then running out of money, time, and the energy to complete the job. Not even considering what it can do to a good marriage.

If you settle on a small boat designed for the waters where you live, you will be able to spend your time knocking about the whole area, without worry about the hazards the big guys fear. If your waters have shallows and you sail, a center boarder, or dagger boarder choice would be a smarter way to go. If you do run aground, you can pull up the board, hop out, and push off.

click to enlarge

You’ll get just as much satisfaction and excitement building a 15 ft boat as a 40 footer. In fact more. It’s because you will be able to see progress, and the light at the end of the tunnel within a reasonable time frame.

(click image to enlarge)

Go Quality:
Even though you may think you are building the boat to keep forever, and then leave to your kids as an heirloom, a smart choice is to anticipate someday selling the boat. Additionally, the real cost of stuff that goes into the boat is more than just the material the hull is made of. The resale value if everything is effected by the hull materials.

Back in the 70’s ferro cement was touted as a great material for large boat building. In fact it is. However, once these ferro cement boats were completed, and even though they may have been beautifully done, they were worth less than 1/3 the value of similar boats made of other materials. If you want to buy a great live aboard boat down in the islands, and don’t have much to invest, large ferro cement boats would give you a great value. I know you can get 40 footer’s for less than $10k if you look around.

With this idea of retained value, aluminum is tops for resale. This is especially true if the boat is professionally fabricated and welded. Fortunately, every community in the world has a top welding shop that can give you a top quality welding job.

If you are thinking welding is expensive, you are wrong. Most good weld shops charge $50-$60 per hour for their services. We find the cost of welding a typical 16-20 foot boat is in the $400-$700 range. When compared to the time it takes to make a wooden boat hull, even at minimum wage for your time, welding is a cheaper way to go. Additionally, there is the savings of the time and expense of painting the boat once assembled.

Go Now:
Building the boat in aluminum takes the least amount of time because you essentially start with a bare hull, and then finish off the boat to your deck and interior design. You can make it as simple or fancy as you want. Starting with a pre-fabricated and pre-welded hull kit, lets you spend your time doing the fun finish work, instead of the icky glassing of a wooden boat hull.

The time required for the finish work in the completion of the boat is essentially the same for all boats, no matter the hull materials used. Again, there is a small time advantage with aluminum because you can bolt things in place instead of glassing.

The total cost of the finished boat will be about the same for all building materials. Plywood materials cost the least going in, but once you add the cost of fabrication and glassing that includes some minimum value for your time, the initial material cost savings is lost.

The net result of what boat to build, and what materials to us for your boat is the choice. Which material would you rather have to use over a number of years? That’s really the bottom line in making your decision.

Harold Duffield

About the author: Harold Duffield - age 67 - grew up on the Mississippi River - was whats known as a "river rat". He has been messing about and building boats for over 50 yrs. Now he is offering plans and kits for fishing boats, shantys, house boats and even sailboats in aluminum as well as finished boats.

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