Introduction: How to Convert a Tugboat to Live-aboard Part 1

Picture of How to Convert a Tugboat to Live-aboard Part 1

How I converted a tired US Army tugboat into a yacht/tug. This project took 10 years to be 90% complete. Hardest part is finding a berth for something this big, at a reasonable price.

Step 1: Find a Suitable Candidate

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Start by hunting around the waterfront. Hang out in dive bars. Comb Craigslist in the Seattle and SF Bay area sections. British Columbia has lots of great old tugs. Join the Retired Tugboat group on FB. Our search took us from San Diego to Vancouver. One of the first boats we considered seriously was an Army LT type tug (the LT-2080) Located at Rough and Ready island in Stockton Ca. that had been modified for use in atmospheric   diffusion testing (read that chemical weapons testing) in a top secret project called SHAD. the problem with this boat was it glowed in the dark. So my wife and I wrote that one off our list.

We finally found our dreamboat in an add in Boats and Harbors, a newspaper style magazine dedicated to selling used marine equipment. Everyone loves an auction right? We had 7 others bidding against us including my best friend.

Step 2: Put the Main Engine Back Together, Build a New Galley

Picture of Put the Main Engine Back Together, Build a New Galley

Spend the next month putting the main engine back together, get a friend to help you move the 1,200 pound cylinder heads around. Oh and the rest of the engine parts are in the galley.  The Galley took the most amount of time for a single room. We started by ripping out the industrial galley, then we roughed in the plumbing and we applied wood furring strips to the walls we later covered with mahogany plywood. The Tiled walls were prepared by covering them with 1/4" Hardy tile backer board. we used regular backer board screws with pre drilled and countersunk holes, screwing right into the steel walls (bulkheads). then after installing the appliances, a six burner SS range, dishwasher and 48' built in refrigerator, I built plywood boxes for the cabinets. Then we purchased the first thousand board feet of rough-sawn Honduras mahogany. we used this to build the doors and drawer fronts. For the countertops we used colored ferro cement. The refrigerator was a tad too tall, so we removed the compressor from the top and mounted it in the upper engine room (fiddly), behind the galley.

Step 3: Deckhouse Prep and Construction

Picture of Deckhouse Prep and Construction

Get an oxy acetylene cutting outfit then start cutting, the scrap metal people are going to love you by the time this is over. After you've cut away everything that doesn't look like a live aboard tug. Start building your deckhouse extensions.

Step 4: Spend the Next Ten Years Finishing Off the Interior

Here is a short video of the finished interior.


lbull2287 (author)2013-10-13

Am I missing something? Are you going to add any practical information in Part 2? Not that converting a tug isn't a good topic, but you really don't say anything (yet, hopefully)

elking (author)lbull22872013-10-13

Your right, I haven't delved into details here. and although its a simple concept (what do you need to change, add or modify, in order to live well) it's a complex type of project that relies on the imagination, experience and skill of the individual (and there friends) attempting it. I'll do my best to make the video more informative.

barnstormer737 (author)elking2015-12-17

Your a cool dude.... I like your work.

lbull2287 (author)elking2013-10-14

Excellent - I'm looking forward to seeing the work in progress. When I was a kid, my family toyed briefly with living on a tug. The idea captivated me at the time. Good luck!

kurtnotkirk (author)2013-12-04

I am going to follow this! What a great project! I'm a merchant mariner, and living on a boat is the last thing I really want to do, since I work on them all the time, but... I have to say that there is a certain charm to it. Looking forward to seeing more!

elking (author)2013-10-13

Thank you all for the nice comments. I have some raw video I'm putting together to show the interior.

TheMrCOOLguy2 (author)2013-10-12

Very neat

Grunambulax (author)2013-10-12

I agree with Carlos. Definite documentary material. Well done!

carlos66ba (author)2013-10-12

Wonderful project! It would be nice if you could provide estimates of cost for the different part of it (how much for the boat, how much for the electrical, etc). Wow! Would love to see more pictures. You should make a documentary :)

stechi (author)2013-10-12

You made it sound easy!

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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