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Picture of $100 Hardware Store Sailboat

Best weekend project ever!
Build a sailboat for $100 with easy-to-find parts!


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Step 1: Grab your notepad and take notes, this video Instructable is information-dense!

Here's the list of things to buy/find/scavenge (parentheses is where I got the item)

  1. One Inflatable twin size air mattress (Target)
  2. One 10' x 12' polyethylene tarp (Target)
  3. One 8 foot long 2x4 (Home Depot)
  4. One 2'x4' plywood Project Panel (Home Depot)
  5. Four Schedule 80 gray PVC conduit pipes, 1-1/4" diameter, 10 feet long (Home Depot)
  6. 100' poly rope, 1/4" or 3/8"
  7. Marine-grade #8 phillips head screws, such as stainless steel, 12@ 2-1/2"and 4@ 1-1/4" (Home Depot)
  8. Outdoor paint, acrylic or synthetic enamel, from the customer reject color shelf (Kelly Moore)
  9. Craft thread or Dual-purpose thread (JoAnns)

It's a bit of a challenge to get all these materials together if you buy them all at full price. But if you have paint leftover, or can find the air mattress or the tarp on sale, your sailboat will cost under $100. Sweet!

The tools you'll need:

  1. Drill with a 1/2" bit and a phillips head driver bit
  2. Hole Saw
  3. Circle saw (And perhaps a chisel or a keyhole saw)
  4. Scissors
  5. Sewing Machine
  6. Needle
  7. Lighter
  8. Sanding block and sandpaper
  9. Paintbrush

Step 2: Corrections and Clarifications to the Video, and Upgrades

Picture of Corrections and Clarifications to the Video, and Upgrades
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The keel has a notch 1-1/2" tall and 6" wide if you are going to screw it directly to the 2x4. If you are going to make the keel removable for easier transport, then make the notch taller at 3" so you have room to screw in the keel stays.

Since circumference = Pi times diameter, make sure your pole pockets for the battens, gaffe and boom are sufficiently large to accommodate the pvc. If your pockets are 8" around they will be more than adequate. For the battens, simply sew rectangles of tarp material to the air mattress' tarp sack. I cut strips 6" x 26", hemmed the ends to make pieces 6"x24" and then sewed those rectangles to the sack. I folded the edges under and held everything in place with small bits of masking tape. The battens are equally spaced, about 16" apart.

Make your sailboat feel a bit more stable by adding wings. You'll rest your feet on these tiny trampolines and gain a little better control of your boat. Make two of the battens 4 feet long instead of 2 feet long, and instead of sewing simple pole pockets, make a big sleeve 16" wide and 45" long. Replace the two small sleeves at the rear with this one big sleeve. Loop rope through each batten and create a tension structure by tying the rope through a hole in the 2x4 and cinching it up really tight.

Most cars can fit an 8' length but 10' is more challenging. If you plan on taking the sailboat car camping, consider cutting the gaffe from 10' into a 2' section and an 8' section. Spray the end with silicone so you'll be able to take it apart again. Some lubricants will eat the pvc. I haven't made a big sail for this little boat yet, but by splitting the gaffe into two parts, you could make a sail with a 16' gaffe that would probably work well.

Use a real paddle as a rudder.

Add metal pulleys, cleats and use an oar-lock for the rudder

Use a better grade of tarp.

Use Dacron fabric instead of tarp. Get Dacron here: http://gaboats.com/

Step 3: Safety and Liability

Boating can be dangerous. Be smart. Wear a PFD, and make sure someone knows what you are doing.i

Printed directly on the air mattress is a warning that it is NOT a floatation device. You are making a choice to intentionally misuse this product when you use it as the bladder for your sailboat. If you get into trouble with a sailboat made from these instructions, it is unlikely that you or your heirs will be able to recover any sort of settlement against me, the air mattress manufacturer, or Instructables. You assume for yourself all responsibility for your choices, whether you can foresee the consequences or not. Furthermore, I specifically assign to you the responsibility for communicating to your heirs that you entered into the building of this sailboat freely and that you accept any and all consequences that could arise from your participation.

Step 4: Further Exploration

Is there a way to make an air mattress windsurfer?
If the gaffe, mast, and other long parts were collapsible and lighter, is there a way to make a sailboat that is back-packable?

Step 5: Check out some of our other projects

noahwb1 year ago
Haha, that's my buddy Moses, but I bet he could help me out.
Captain Robert (author)  noahwb1 year ago

;)

noahwb1 year ago
Haha thanks Captain. This is really an amazing project.
Captain Robert (author)  noahwb1 year ago

Thanks, Noah! If I challenged you to a race, would you part the sea ahead of me and force me onto dry ground?Or would you let me beat you fair and square?

noahwb1 year ago
Haha Cap'n, when I said tack, it's method of sailing at a 45 degree angle into the wind, then switching sides so your sailing zig-zag through the water but into the wind. If you haven't had problems with capsizing, then consider my idea as a later project for something more stable.
Captain Robert (author)  noahwb1 year ago

Ah! This boat heads into the wind reeeeaaally well (what with having the keel in front and all). Here's what happens when you tack using this boat: it spins around and you go backwards until the sail fills. In any case, it sails into the wind quite well.

I think a future project will be a multiple float experiment, with a much larger sail! :)

noahwb1 year ago
When I say "too light" I mean it might not weigh enough to oppose the force of the wind, which could tilt you in to the drink. If you get leaning, the extra support of the plastic jugs prevents you from possibly losing your ship by capsizing.
Captain Robert (author)  noahwb1 year ago

The second upgrade I made to the sailboat was the wings (noted in the drawings in "Upgrades"). Being able to put my feet out on a wing really improved my ability to control the boat's roll.

I've gone fast enough to leave a pretty good wake and feel the water rushing under the boat (perhaps 5 or 6 knots) and I didn't feel like I was about to capsize. But I did get plenty wet.

I think that the sailor is the weight to prevent capsizing. Large sailor and small sail equal fewer dunks in the drink. This doesn't look like it is meant to be a dry ride. In my opinion, getting wet is part of the fun, like sailing a sunfish or a laser.

Captain Robert (author)  Ragwingdriver1 year ago

:) Right on, RWD! This is a very wet ride.

noahwb1 year ago
Have you tried sailing tack? I feel like this craft is too light. You could probably install two pieces of wood with a plastic jug on the end to make it a catamaran. This would aid in stability, as the jug when pushed into the water pushes away causing you to not go for a swim. Ideas Cap'n? Very interested to see how advance this can get.
Captain Robert (author)  noahwb1 year ago

No, I didn't try any true marine hardware. The boat is very light, but I never felt like I was about to flip. Another sailor did manage to capsize, but he righted it again in no time.

A single air mattress displaces about 800 pounds. I think a great future project would be to build a tri-float boat from three widely spaced air mattresses and a sail on the order of 60 sq ft. Such a thing would probably need some true sailing tack.

jmwells1 year ago
Save a little. Harbor freight is giving away tarps. Have each of your family/friends get one. Use schedule 80 pipe. It's thicker walled, stronger. Tho priceier.
Captain Robert (author)  jmwells1 year ago

Of all the items on the list, the two that are most frequently cheap or free are tarps and paint. Thanks for the heads-up about Harbor Freight's give-away!

Yes, absolutely use Schedule 80 pipe. The gray conduit kind is also UV resistant. Pricey, but within the $100 budget!

Your welcome. I'm an electrician. Grey is electrical conduit. You can get schedule 120, but it outrageous. On your seeing I recommend using zig zag you get double strength.
Captain Robert (author)  jmwells1 year ago

I haven't sewed many tarps, but all the sewing I've seen on tarps is really long stitches. I used to sew banner material (vinyl over a polyester weave) and it would rip like postage stamps with too many perforations.

Since most of these stitches are for seams and not buttonholes, I think they should be straight stitches.

Maybe use a fibered duct tape first n then sew on it.

Captain Robert (author)  jayeshshinai1 year ago

There are tapes, such as Gorilla tape, that are waterproof and would eliminate the need for sewing.

Still, a strong dual-purpose thread and long stitches are sufficient for this small boat.

jmwells1 year ago
Get PVC at an electrical supply outlet. Much cheaper.
Captain Robert (author)  jmwells1 year ago
Good tip!