How To Build Yourself A Mini Tugboat For Fun
Practical Boat Owner|October 2021
Determined to build a small, fun boat for his young grandchildren, Ian Royston made one in the style of a cheeky tugboat
Ian Royston

Like many other boating fathers I made a couple of small dinghies using the stitch and glue method for my sons in the early 1990s and now it’s the turn for my grandchildren aged nine and five. This would be a winter project and, as it turned out, perfect for the imminent lockdown.

Small tugboats have long been popular in the USA and Canada but not so much in this country. Children’s boats must be smaller than adult size, stable, easy to handle and preferably ecofriendly (electric) with a maximum speed of 3-4 knots. Dimensions of 8ft (2.4m) LOA and 4ft (1.2m) beam seemed ideal and would fit inside my garage.

Model prototype line plans were drawn up based around larger American designs onto an 8x4 sheet of ply. While retaining the usual two upper strakes of the hull and obligatory reverse sheer transom, the lowest strake was given a shallow angle with a degree of rocker to improve the underwater shape.

First I built a half size model in hardboard around a construction jig. This was intended as a trial run using inexpensive materials for further development tweaks. The two upper strakes were straightforward to fit but the corresponding curved stern sections proved harder.

Many variations of the wheelhouse were tried for size and angulation and a cut-out in the top was added for the benefit of adult skippers.

An outboard well was fitted in the stern section (with rear seating on both sides), bilge keels were added for directional stability and finally a drop-down rudder.

By now it was December and time to get started on Tommy. I set up a building jig on trestles with station frames attached at 40cm intervals using the dimensions from the full size lines plan. I used 6mm marine ply for the hull. Hardboard templates were used initially for all the planking – starting with the two halves of the bottom strake. The upper and mid forward strakes quickly followed and were attached to the bottom strake by thin copper wire ties. The curved stern sections were laminated up from four layers of 1.6mm birch ply glued with West epoxy laid over the underlying hardboard templates. Flexible ply would have been preferable but was not available at the time.

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