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Buy a book! Where can I get books about boat design? And are they any good?. Books are a cheap source of designs and advice, and of some fascinating historical material. See my reviews of some boat design books. Alternatively Click here for a complete list of books on boat building and design from Amazon or search for boat building and design

Great boat design books

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Books on boat design are fascinating, and books of designs are both fascinating and can also be a superb cheap source of designs - particularly if you can get them from your local library or second-hand bookshop. Together with some of the free designs listed on my Boat design resources page they represent a great way to start building confident in the knowledge that the plans you are working with really are the business; they also provide an opportunity to study some of the variety of designs available.

Below I have listed some of favourites I have studied and some I look forward to reading - it represents work-in-progress, and I intend to add to it as time goes on. Where I know the book to be available I have included links to the relevant pages of book and software mail order houses Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For those in the UK, I should point out that the magazines Classic Boat and Watercraft sell books and may have titles that are not currently available through Amazon.

I could not possibly list every relevant title that Amazon supplies, so you might wish to use their search feature on their home page.

Books on design

How to Design a Boat
John Teal, Adlard Coles Nautical
This is one of those slim volumes that seems to give you just the right amount of information; not so much that you feel you will never be able to retain the information or find it when you need it, but enough to make you feel you are understanding far more than you did before. My wife bought it by chance on a second-hand stall a couple of years ago, and it's still my favourite - I have read others, but because most have concentrated on racing types and deep-keel rich men's cruisers rather than low-cost people's boats, they don't really chime with my own perspective.

Elements of Yacht Design
Norman L Skene
Another slim volume - but it answers a host of questions left unanswered by Teale, including how to calculate the stresses on an stayed or unstayed spar, and what are the relative densities of a variety of ballast materials. There's more too on stability and metacentric height, although these days we can rely on Hulls 6 to work that stuff out for us! My copy of Elements was another second-hand bookshop purchase, and is dated 1936. I gather it's a highly collectable item, and although it is out of print, you may find a copy through the Search Page .

The Nature of Boats: Insights and Esoterica for the Nautically Obsessed
Dave Gerr, McGraw-Hill Book Company
Although clearly not meant to be a complete guide to anything, Gerr covers a great many issues I haven't seen explained elsewhere. I know that many of my boat design nut friends have their own copy, and I don't believe any would be without it. I should add that Gerr believes in working things out as scientifically as he can...

Books of designs

The Folding Schooner, 30 Odd Boats, Small Boats, Bolger's Boats, Boats with an Open Mind: 75 Unconventional Designs and Concepts
Philip C Bolger, International Marine
He has turned his pen to an enormous variety of types of vessel, but the superbly inventive Bolger has also done a superb job of providing home and low-profile boat builders with simple, buildable designs that work. Together with HH 'Dynamite' Payson (also listed below), he developed the plywood 'instant boat' concept from old-fashioned sharpie-style boat building techniques.

Apart from 'Bolger's Boats' I've read all of these titles from cover to cover, and can thoroughly recommend them. The designs range from the frankly conventional to the downright startling, and each is accompanied by informative and often entertaining notes. I'm sure I'm not alone in fervently wishing he'd sit down and write a book on how to design small boats in the same style - it would be an instant classic.

As presented, these books function as both a catalogue, but a good number of the designs suitable for home building can be built from the page with some lofting work. However, full-size plans are normally available at very reasonable prices from either Philip Bolger and Friends, HH Payson or Common Sense Designs.See my page of low-cost design sources for each of these.

Building Classic Small Craft: Complete Plans and Instructions for 47 Small Boats
John Gardner, International Marine
The Dory Book
John Gardner, Mystic Seaport Museum Publications
Gardner was a life-long boat builder and boat historian who did an immense amount to adapt the traditional boat types of the US for the home builder. His designs and instructions are close to the traditional approach to boat building, but he was not shy of using modern materials when he could see their benefits. Each project is accompanied by historical notes. This is no catalogue - all of these designs can be built straight off the page.

Building the New Instant Boats
Building the Instant Catboat
How to build the Gloucester Light Dory
(also Boat Modelling the Easy Way: A Scratch Builder's Guide)
Harold H (Dynamite) Payson, International Marine
I have read the first three of these from cover to cover, and from what I've seen I would be happy to attempt any of the designs, all of which come from Bolger's drawing board. Payson's instructions are clear and helpful - and if you're a first-time boat builder that's what you are going to need. I think it's safe to presume that the Gloucester Light Dory book is in the same vein.

(Bolger is extremely proud of the GLD, by the way, and in one book claimed that the design had earned him an automatic pass into heaven. I understand it rows beautifully, but my slight reservation is that I've also heard that if you ever fall out it's impossible to get back in.)

The Sharpie Book
Reuel Parker, Tab Publications
A modern classic in some ways along the lines of Gardner's earlier The Dory Book. The designs are not so easily built off the page as Gardner's dories, but it could be done, and Parker's evident enthusiasm for the type is hugely infectious. And if you're thinking of building a pocket cruiser, Parker is very good on using modern materials. But beware: reading this book could completely change your mind about the the type of vessel you have in mind.

Building the Skiff Cabin Boy
Clemens C Kuhlig with Ruth E Kuhlig
Designed by the revered John Atkin, the Cabin Boy is a small traditionally built skiff suitable for a young boy or girl, or for use as a tender. You might think that a traditionally built lapstrake skiff is already complex enough for someone working from a book - but not these two. The Cabin Boy they describe is highly decorated, and there is even a section on hand-crafting your own tools. Whatever you think about the Cabin Boy itself, I suspect most people will either love or loathe this book - but that doesn't matter if you can get it from the library and make use of it to build a thoroughly worthy-looking little craft.

Small Sailing Craft
John F Sutton, Pitman 1936
Yet another slim volume, this briefly discusses the physics of hulls and rigs, and finishes with the construction details of a 16ft or 20ft modified sharpie. The heavily-built design is obviously pre-plywood, but I see little difficulty in adapting it to modern materials.

Fifty Wooden Boats
Woodenboat Publications
An unashamed catalogue of designs from various designers, and published by the Woodenboat people. the craft range from 7ft 7in on up, and they're all appealing in one way or another - you'll find the Egret in here, the Nutshell, the Acorn Skiff, the Catspaw dinghy and the Wittholtz catboat. Aaah... I can smell the freshly cut wood now...

Simplified Boatbuilding
HV Sucher, WW Norton & Co
By way of a change, this is a thick book including innumerable designs from 6ft 6in to 50ft, with detailed explanations of how to build every one. If you've read Small American Sailing Craft, The Dory Book and The Sharpie Book, much of this is familiar territory, but the book is full of alternative designs and his explanations of construction are excellent. Also, while most authors tell us that sharpies have to be built to tightly defined parameters or they won't work, Sucher is the one who comes cleanest apart from Teale - he says that their length should be two and a half times the beam if the are unpowered, with a depth of a quarter of the beam. If powered or driven by sails they should be three times the beam in length.

Small Boat Conversion
John Lewis, Rupert Hart Davis
Dating back to 1951, this book harks back to the time when ships' lifeboats - particularly the Royal Navy's lifeboats - were clinker built, and sold cheaply to the public while still relatively unused - and could then make a reasonably good basis for a cheap conversion to a small cruiser. I'm not at all sure if such bargains can be found today, but I do know that this little book is full of useful carpentry, and includes plans for a 7ft 9in pram tender capable, the author says, of being built on a kitchen table. Some kitchen!

How to build wooden boats - with 16 small boat designs
Edwin Monk
Dover Publications
A reprint of a book first published in 1934, the designs include motor cruisers and outboard racers as well as rowing and sailing craft. They are appealingly simple in the main, but would need to be adapted somewhat for use with today's materials. If you want something complicated, there's also a cute little deep-keeled pocket cruiser.

Historical Books

American Small Sailing Craft
Howard I Chappelle
A fabulous book, but be warned - if you buy it or borrow it, you may not have time to talk to your family and friends for a couple of weeks. I am afraid I don't know where it can be obtained from, but suspect that International Marine may have published it in recent years. Although a US book, I obtained the copy I read through my local library in the UK.

Working Boats of Britain
Eric McKee, Basil Greenhill
I found this book about the working boats of my own islands a revelation: it opened my eyes to the rich and surprisingly varied British working boat heritage, and to the way conditions and purpose influenced local boat types.

British Fishing-Boats and Coastal Craft Part 1: Historical Survey
Science Museum, London publ 1950
Brilliant little book, which cost 10p in today's money when it was published, though I paid a little more in a second-hand bookshop last year. I visited the museum with my son recently, and found that many of the models used to illustrate the book are still on show.

The Chatham Directory of Inshore Craft
Julian Mannering, Basil Greenhill, Philip Oke, Maxell-Blake, Oliver Hill, Chatham Publishing
Another marvellous book - it left me gobsmacked, even after I'd carried it about, dipping in every few minutes, for a fortnight. You will too... the craft are all British Isles types, but their variety is astounding, and the pictures alone are worth the price.

Canoe and Boatbuilding for the Amateur
WP Stephens

A Manual of Yacht and Boat Sailing
Dixon Kemp Two classic works, from a publisher who makes such classics available at very reasonable prices. I've read through much of both of these via different sources, but someday I'll just have to buy copies for myself.
Another marvellous book - it left me gobsmacked, even after I'd carried it about, dipping in every few minutes, for a fortnight. You will too... the craft are all British Isles types, but their variety is astounding, and the pictures alone are worth the price. If you are interested

Other books of interest to designers

Sailing - A Beginner's Guide
David Seidman
My favourite 'how-to-sail' book, and I own a good few. Lots of comforting noises, sensible explanations of the physics of how boats work and a strong sense of history, which I always like.

Sailing, Seamanship and Yacht Construction
Sailing Boats
The Best of Uffa

Uffa Fox
Fox was almost impossible to describe in a few lines: he was just too big to fit into a small such a small space. A great boat building craftsman, helm, raconteur, crew and sailing teacher to royalty, bon viveur, pop chart-hitting singer (briefly), designer and inventor, he was also a great name dropper, egotist and eccentric. And it comes right out of the page at you so hard it's almost terrifying. Still, his achievements were real enough, and in his very collectable 'coffee table' books such as 'Sailing, Seamanchip and Yacht Construction' he discusses other designs work with evident enthusiasm, as well as his own. In 'Sailing Boats' he describes how he developed the modern planing racing dinghy (National 12, International 14, Flying Fifteen, International Canoe), explains their lines and construction, and tells some tall tales about his exploits in them. I haven't read 'The Best of Uffa', but I gather it presents 50 of his designs from the middle 1930s. I'm probably not going to read it; two books by Fox and his biography (which I've also read) are probably enough for any sane man. I've obviously overdone it, but in reasonable doses he's well worth reading. For his collectable books, try Search Page.

This is Cruising
Pocket Cruisers - a New Approach
Des Sleightholme
Long-time yachting magazine editor Des Sleightholme has a strong feeling that sailing should be made accessible to the common man, and it shows in a variety of ways, including his involvement in the Island Cruising Club, his invention of a simple lug rig to convert almost any small dinghy to make it sail and his enthusiasm for small boat cruising. Design nuts will find all sorts of useful ideas in Pocket Cruisers - if they can find the blessed thing anywhere. This is Cruising has been popular for years and must be regarded as one of the standard works on the subject.

The Magic of the Swatchways
Sailing on a Modest Income: An Anthology of Articles from "Yacht Sales and Charters" Magazine, 1925-27
Maurice Griffiths
Another British magazine editor, Maurice Griffiths was a man who fell in love with yachts and the sea in the early part of this century, and could write well about them - 'The Magic of the Swatchways' is one of the great books of sailing. Rather awkwardly for him, for many years he couldn't work out which yacht was the one for him - and so he bought and sold one boat after another. Eventually he made use of his experiences with so many vessels around the shallows of the Essex coast when he turned his hand to designing, and is justly revered for the popular shoal draft Eventide and Waterwitch designs. If you're English and are a little romantic at heart, I can confidently recommend 'Sailing on a Modest Income'. But I'm not sure about the rest of you? Would would a Texan make of Griffiths' descriptions of the creeks of Essex? Perhaps quite a lot!  

Books I haven't read but intend to read when I can

Traditional Boatbuilding Made Easy: A 12-Foot Skiff for Oar and Sail
Richard Kolin, Wooden Boat Publications

Devlin's Boatbuilding: How to Build Any Boat the Stitch and Glue Way
Sam Devlin, International Marine

Sailing for Dummies
Yes - the Dummies people are breaking out of their box, and I suspect their offering in this area may even give David Seideman some serious competition.