Introduction: Convert a Wooden Tugboat to Liveaboard

Picture of Convert a Wooden Tugboat to Liveaboard

The Amador is a classic twin screw wooden river tug about 70' LOA, 19' of beam, and a 6' draft. It was built in 1951 at Broderick, CA, just across the river Sacramento. It was originally powered with a pair of Cleveland 8-268A diesel engines, which had been removed from a WWII minesweeper. Some other parts of the minesweeper were used in the construction as well, such as the beautiful wooden doors that grace her interior and the aluminum portholes in her galley.

When I purchased the boat, in Petaluma CA, it was in pretty tough shape. One of the doors to the galley was missing. Every time it rained there was a cascade of water that ran down the walls and though the decks. Not to mention the steady flow of water coming in from the bottom. The boat had not been out of the water in 12 years. This is a long period for a wooden boat to go without the aid of antifouling paint.

Step 1: Haul the Boat Out

Picture of Haul the Boat Out

A haulout is not strictly necessary to convert a tug. But its a good and expensive idea, expect to spend between 10 and 50k depending on the size and condition of your boat. Over the years I saved quite a bit of money by doing the work myself. The Amador is heavily built so the (considerable) toredo worm and crab damage that occurred over the years was easy to fix. For the worm hole use a propane torch, point it into the worm hole and heat until the worm is dead, a minute or so usually does it. then fill the hole with vinyl concrete patcher, available at your local hardware store. The crabs usually eat away at the wood around the water line you can use the vinyl concrete patch here as well, but on the larger holes prime them with 2 part marine epoxy and while the epoxy is still wet, slather the patch mixture in.

Step 2: Install the Engines

Picture of Install the Engines

What fun is a boat without a sail or engine? Again this is not a necessary step. But its the path I chose. My tug came without engines so I scoured the waterfront and found 2 Detroit diesel 6-71 engines and reverse gear. Using a lathe I made some adapter plates to mate them up to the existing propeller shafts. I jacked, pulled and pried the engines into position and mounted them using orange chocking compound.

Step 3: Pre Considerations

Picture of Pre Considerations

You may want to consult with a naval architect before starting on any kind of construction just to be sure your vessel can handle the additional top-hamper (weight above the deck) as you don't want to be standing on the side of the pilot house during a strong wind. The Amador was originally drawn up on the back of a napkin so I skipped this step. The Amador had a fairly clear space behind the deck house so all I had to do was cut away the engine room casing and stack (part of which I planed to use later) and some other odds and ends. these parts comprised of steel so they were easily cut away with a gas ax (cutting torch). You may need a gas free certificate before you start cutting depending on your local. I ruined some clothes by cleaning out the toxic flammable muck that filled the bilges.

Step 4: Build the Deckhouse

Picture of Build the Deckhouse

I started by bolting 2x4 Douglass fir sill plates to the deck and then used fairly standard 2x4 framing for the rest of the deckhouse. the roof consisted of 4x6 Douglass fir beams 16 inches on center, then covered with 1x4 T&G with fiberglass on top. We covered the exterior walls with #16 felt and used a combination of exterior plywood covered with Airbol/yellowjacket and wainscoting consisting of 1x6 redwood T&G. My father being the crafty craftsman that he is, built all the windows and doors from air dried redwood.

Step 5: Other Considerations

Picture of Other Considerations

At the time of the deckhouse build we also cleaned up and painted the focsle also we cut down one of the fuel tanks to double the size of the focsle. we then added a spiral staircase to replace the rickety old ladder.

R-13 fiberglass insulation was used where posable .

For Hot water we installed a propane instant water heater.

For heat, a wood burning stove was added to the main deckhouse the flue runs up the stack.

All galvanized domestic water pipe was removed and replaced with 3/4" bronze pipe (Salvaged from the condenser on the steam ferry Berkeley)

A holding tank was added for sewage. The bathroom is forward on the main deck.

We used pre fab oak cabinets for the kitchen.

Later we extended the pilothouse aft more than doubling the size.

Step 6: Enjoy Your Boat

Picture of Enjoy Your Boat

Living on the water is a fantastic experience, It's like being on vacation every day. please see my other Instructable on converting a steel tug to liveaboard here


elking (author)2016-01-19

Thank you all for the kind words.

world of woodcraft (author)2016-01-19

Congrats on the win. This is a really inspiring project. I would like to do something like it some day.

RoilWolf (author)2016-01-19

Congrats on the win!

Varun Suresh (author)2016-01-19

Congrats on winning :)

JoshD16 (author)2016-01-08

Awesome project!

I spent a couple of years decking. Mostly on the lower Mississippi, also various tributaries, canals, lakes, and especially all over the ICW between Florida and Texas. Mostly Louisiana and Texas.

Seeing your project made me feel pretty nostalgic about it. At the time I really wanted to buy an old houseboat to live on and as a project for my off-time, but I never got around to it. Now I'm married and have kids and wouldn't want to go back to spending all of my time away from home, and the houseboat is not so practical, lol.

Maybe one day if I ever retire I'll get to it.

I highly recommend the Grateful Dead song Black Muddy River for listening to when you are steering, all alone, up in the wheelhouse late at night!

Thanks for sharing!

JoshD16 (author)JoshD162016-01-08

If you're boat is 100% non-commercial, purely residential/pleasure, are there any coast guard restrictions about having a pilot's license?


elking (author)JoshD162016-01-09

any vessel under 300 registered tons, requires no license to operate.

JoshD16 (author)elking2016-01-09

Thanks for the info!

Yeah, I was always checking on craigslist and ebay at the time. Didn't know about! Thanks for the tip!

elking (author)JoshD162016-01-09

Thanks, I find that I can't stop looking for another tug, I'm always checking Craigslist and

JoshD16 (author)2016-01-08

thebear1 (author)2015-12-13

wow fantastic job well done good write up thanks for posting

elking (author)thebear12015-12-13

Thank you!

DarrinP (author)elking2015-12-21

More pictures

capthenderson (author)2015-12-20

Nice job! Lots of work but I'm sure you are happy with the outcome, and you were able to preserve an interesting and attractive vessel.

Georgia1937 (author)2015-12-17

Ewwwwwwwwww - how could you cremate those worms ? Poor things !!

Just kidding.

kmurph10 (author)2015-12-17

This really is an awesome 'ible. Those shots of the bilge muck - it was like I could smell it. And I got all nostalgic.

Uh...need a crew?

elking (author)kmurph102015-12-17

Whenever I get nostalgic, I open up a can of Stockholm tar I have in my workshop.. brings back some great memories!

Thank You!

ithica2012 (author)2015-12-17

I love tugs andI love the fact you saved thins one beautiful job.

elking (author)ithica20122015-12-17

Thank You!

Chevallard (author)2015-12-17

can you send pictures of the inside....this would be great to post on tiny hours or even have them television you...such a great job...can you tell I like tub boats

elking (author)Chevallard2015-12-17

I have a few more photos, I have not scanned yet. I'll try to get those posted.

Thank You!

Dr muzz (author)2015-12-17

Awesomw it looks amazing.

elking (author)Dr muzz2015-12-17

Thank You!

EdB16 (author)2015-12-17

Looks like the ferry from Blood Alley, just add a paddle wheel (and a couple hundred refugee Chinese!).

elking (author)EdB162015-12-17

Funny you should mention Blood Alley as both the Amador and the Putah were built in the same yard. From an old newspaper clipping:

ONE OF THE "Stars" of "Blood Alley," being filmed at locations in Sausalito, Angel Island, and China Camp, is the former Sacramento River snag boat "Putah," which was purchased from the "surplus" list of the U.S. Army Engineers and re-

buill with gingerbread trimmings and a crown type smokestack. Re-christened the "Chiku-Shan," the river boat is powered by a Caterpillar diesel engine connected to a generator and an electric motor chain drive on her paddle wheels. She

draws only 2 feet of water and formerly operated as far up the river as Chico. For the movie, a steam whistle and smoke pot for the funnel was installed. —NEWS Staff Photos by John Harlan

glen.ryerson.1 (author)2015-12-17

You could use this to tug a barge back yard. :)

elking (author)glen.ryerson.12015-12-17

Like :)

AllenInks (author)2015-12-17

Soooo... did a naval architect review your construction? It seems that the walls were constructed very similar to a house on land, and not like a sea-going boat - it seems that one wave over the stern would wash it all away. Of course, I realize that this is not an "overhauled" tug, but rather a conversion to a house boat, but you did put engines in it for a reason... presumably you expect not to remain chained to a pier.

A lot of work... it looks nice inside!

elking (author)AllenInks2015-12-17

The Amador has never been outside the Golden Gate. nor will she ever be. As it's a flat bottom shallow draft tug meant for bays and rivers. So I wasn't concerned about big waves. My biggest fear was tophamper. I did remediate some of the stability issues that plagued the boat from launch. Such as cutting down the forward fuel tank so all the fuel was carry well below the water line. I turned the aft tanks that had no baffles into a storage hold. And old operator for the River Lines (the company that built and owned the boat) once told me he spent a lot of time standing on the wall of the pilot house. (due to the boats tendancy to lean over)

jemmans1 (author)2015-12-17

Brought back memories of building a large fishing boat in the Philippines. The keel was basically a whole tree and the wooden members quite substantial. I regret not using a second hand metal hull, this is so much better way to make a boat. I fixed a Yanmar marine diesel with 3 cylinders and three separate heads. A very useful design. It was such a pleasure to build but I used local carpenters which are very very good value. I just did the electrics and engine, epoxy painting and glazing. One thing amazed me was how cheap epoxy paint is in the Philippines compared to the UK.

elking (author)jemmans12015-12-17

Sounds like an awesome project.

Katzsta (author)2015-12-17

I wish I had one too, one that was already rehabbed. Cool, but somewhat difficult project. You definitely have the specialized knowledge. Voted and amazed. ;)

elking (author)Katzsta2015-12-17

Thank You!

oilitright (author)2015-12-17

Terrific project, nicely presented plan of action.

If you ever need any parts for your 6-71's I have an abundant inventory of new parts as well as quite a few used and refurbished par

elking (author)oilitright2015-12-17

Thank You, Those Detroits were the best!

surfer8 (author)2015-12-15

At first I thought that this would be to difficult for me, then I noticed that it was only 6 steps to completion. I think I could handle 6 steps.

On a more serious side, I think you left out 5994 or so steps. Great job!

elking (author)surfer82015-12-16

Point well taken :)

lbaldin (author)2015-12-15

You, sir, deserve a vote. And a cookie.
I love this kind of projects.

elking (author)lbaldin2015-12-16

Thank You!

henry98 (author)2015-12-16

Every once in awhile an amazing instructables project is posted.thank you

elking (author)henry982015-12-16

Thank You!

jmyers1 (author)2015-12-16

You must be very handy. That's a great deal of hands on labor. Bravo!

elking (author)jmyers12015-12-16

Thank You!

Thejesterqueen (author)2015-12-16

You certainly have my vote! I'm glad no one was injured.

Flenters (author)2015-12-13

Brilliant, and what a brilliant way of living it must be.

elking (author)Flenters2015-12-15

Thank You!

BeachsideHank (author)2015-12-14

Back in the '60's, liveaboards were essential to some t.v. show settings like Hawaiian Eye, Adventures In Paradise, Mr. Lucky, etc. As a kid I always thought that must be the coolest way to live, and as an adult- I still do, thanks for sharing.

elking (author)BeachsideHank2015-12-15

I was inspired by visiting a retired tugboat convention in the Pacific Northwest.

SusanH75 (author)2015-12-15

I just have to tell you. I found the whole thing quite fasinating. You are one handy person. It looks great.

elking (author)SusanH752015-12-15

Thank You!

About This Instructable




Bio: 1979-1983 Chief Engineer On a 1927 117 foot motor yacht in the Pacific Northwest. 1984-2000 General Building Contractor, Sausalito CA. 2000-Present Sr. IT Administrator , Comcast ... More »
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