(Revised 4/23/07: shortened).

Here are two waterproof boat boxes to store emergency gear and regular gear. Boat boxes are good for protecting crushable gear from tsunamis or your stupid feet. I love flexible waterproof bags and have several, but for the delicate expensive stuff, the box works for me. The photo shows the gear that goes in the large box, minus a flashlight, because I am between flashlights and am seeking a good bright LED one I can afford.

Design Worldview comments:

(1) Bags are good, but Boxes are more Multifunctional -- Boxes can double as hasty stools. I love multifunctionality. Modification: either box could incorprate a small closed-cell foam pad, with nylon cover, to make these boxes into gear-and-tired-butt boxes (not to mention add flotation power).

(2) Weight and Buoyancy -- These boxes are rather heavy (big one is pine, epoxy coatings in and out, fiberglas cloth as abrasion protection, then paint. However, the weight is mostly from thick wood, which floats. You can build them lighter without sacrificing much strength. Thus, the small box is marine plywood on four sides epoxied to pine squares at the ends, so it is lighter.

Closed cell foam used to pad the interior also provides floatation. The boxes float when sealed, but what if you capsize right after you open them? Well, good luck! You can't design around all the issues. More closed-cell foam to insure flotation (the boxes hold some heavy stuff after all, such as tool kit, radio, and flashlight); more foam means less carrying space inside, means larger box needed, and then what? Write a treatise entitled, "The Engineering Trade-off as Analogy for the Human Dilemma."

(3) Interior design -- the large box has a partially-dedicated compartmentalization to separate one-time use gear such as flares, flare-gun, light-sticks, from hardware such as radio, light, tool kit. The concept is that you want to be able to plunge your hand inside and snap up exactly what you need for type I emergencies ("Help!") and type II emergencies/issues ("Oh, damn it all.").

(4) Now Decide How Many Boxes You Need -- "And why do you have two boxes?" Because....epics are fine, but every day on the water need not promise Green Giants, scylla, and other events worthy of entry to the Explorer's Club. For those days, and those boats, an option for a small box is good. I may be wrong, but I think all the flares, radio, tool kit, etc., are a bit of overkill for kayaking a few hours in the local river-swamp.

(Marginalia for the Positively Pedantic -- Note the saw, which I made from a replacement sabre-saw blade with handle wrapped in epoxy-soaked nylon cord. Why? I could find the size that suited me, and make it cheaply since tools are known to rust and be lost. Why carry a small saw? Because you never know.... Other tools are a Leatherman and a hand drill, and in fact have needed both for repairs, once. Sheaths for saw and drill made from polytarp and ductape, loose fitting and stiff to allow aeration.)

Step 1: Design an Ergonomical-Spatial-Temporal Context for Your Boxes

Design an Ergonomical-Spatial-Temporal Context for Your Boxes

....because boxes do not just exist in a Black Box! Boxes exist in a great continuum of connections. The most immediate one is the place it will be habitually placed; you may think of other contexts on your own.

(1) For now, let's focus on the comfort-to-size ratio -- Specific Example, the paradigm of which is to be extended to all boxes in existence -- The small box should nestle between your legs or behind your seat in a kayak -- that is the best I know how to set its comfort-to-size ratio. It should carry a lunch, small binoculars, camera, cell phone, wallet, small ditties (first aid, nylon cord,etc.), perhaps a small signalling device (flare gun will fit, electric strobe -- I keep a strobe on my lifejacket and that is enough for me for lazy boating), and perhaps a thermal undershirt or poncho.

(2) That done, now do Thought Experiments by asking, "How Might I Be Flexibly Adapting My Box?" ....

(a) Example: I added double handles at top that double as the "roll bar" that can hold and protect exposed items such as compass, GPS, binoculars, light, etc. The holes in the handles are for elastic cords to hold in your exposed items. I ennvisioned, therefore, how I would be using the box in a typical afternoon of kayaking -- what things I would careless place on it as the space between my legs is put to efficient use.

The larger box has a similar protective cage (compass is permanently mounted but room for GPS behind the bar). The second watertight screw-cover thing is a small compartment for small stuff you might want handy right away (keys, ID, money, medicine). I am uncertain as to its usefulness; the paradigm has weaknesses (aka "over-designing"). It is right where I tend to put my foot when sailing, or where I would sit if I put the box down on a wet beach to sit on.

(b) The blue elastic cord is to let you jam things under in case you are rushed and have no time to unscrew lid, or to hold stuff safely that need not go in the box (poncho, windbreaker, length of coiled rope). Many sudden needs arise in boating; for such times, I wish for you an enoughness of blue elastic cord.

(3) Next, ask, "What Could Happen to My Box?" (answer: lots, so: Then Armor High-Wear Areas) -- Both boxes sit on "skids" that you can't see here to keep their bottoms out of the constant wetness often found at the bottom of any boat and to take up most of the in-boat abrasions (yes, the boxes are waterproof but life is flawed and so isn't much waterproofing). The protective side rails and the epoxied on rope around the aft edge also protect the box from the knocks that it suffers in my crowded outrigger canoe -- the idea is to reduce the chance the the epoxy coating will be breached and let in moisture.

(4) Design to Keep the Boxes -- Both boxes have strong provisions for attaching to your boat (you barely see the SS eyehook on the small box, held in by interior nut with washer). (See photos on next page). I suggest attaching to your boat by a length of rope, because in a capzie you want the boxes to float free; you don't want to take a breath and get under the boat to find the emergency box. Yes, it might happen to stay there any way, but at least you did what you could.

(5) Think of the Inside Attachments -- Besdies tying screw-covers to cords leading inside the boxes, you might want subsystems in place for the contents. Example: The yellow bag on the safety cord is to hold daily objects such as cell phone, keys, wallet, and is clipped to a second safety cord. (That assumes you don't carry both boxes and save the large one for gear you hope you need not use, and the small box for gear you will probably use. There's a whole ritual possible here.)

I think More photo's would really help, but I think I will give it a try, but for one that will fit in a Kayak. Vincent Orange, CA
I think I would prefer one for a kayak myself. I have used the small one more than the large. The small one fits between my legs in the kayak and carries the little things useful there: camera, monocular, wallet, cellphone, small first aid kit, compass, light, and a length of line. The large one was built too heavy, I see now, for a small boat. Version three will have lower profile, and angled front to accomodate the screw-hatch while keeping the box only about 5 inches high total, about 7 inches wide and 15 inches long to lay low on the front cockpit seat of the outrigger canoe. This new one will have two compartments, one with an eight inch screw hatch on top for stuff carried for that trip: camera, phone, wallet, monocular/binocs, etc. The second hatch on the front will get at radio, flares, light, tool kit (stuff always carried in that box for coastal sialing). Since the Pelican marine flashlight is waterproof, that might even go in a protected niche outside the box.
I have been making paddle floats out of a Nylon bag and a PFD, this came about after the blow up one I had would not hold air.... I have a an Idea on how to make one that will work as an out rigger.<br>
I use kitty litter buckets with a bungee cord holding the lid shut, I have gotten all I needed for free. I like that fact they are smaller, not big like a 5 gal bucket, and are usualy squareish so they don't roll around. They aren't pretty, but they get the job done, if I had a custom size object or area to fit I would follow your idea though. nice instructable!
One small suggestion to improve the seal around your inspection ports. Set the port in the silicone and let it dry BEFORE cinching screws up. If you do it before it dries, you will just squish out the sealant. Do it after and you compress your seal and it will improve the quality and durability of your waterproof seal.
Good idea!
not to down your instructable (very nice one btw)(also really cool design)... but anyone in a hurry that needs something simple and effective you just purchase an old army ammo box, but that's only if you don't have time to build this.... buying your way out wouldn't be the instructable way.... one of the most comprehensive instructables i have ever seen, nice
Sure. Or a big Pelican Box made for such things (though they are a little over-priced).
I support your writing style wade. If i'm too busy i just dont read the whole thing, instead of complaining. I especially like how you have attached the hatch covers. I've lost my hatch covers (while out in the wilderness) so i really mean it. perhaps you should start a company manufacturing hatch covers with swivels attached.
nicely done, and allow me to express gratitude for adept use of verbage in this plethora of contrived acronimonious illeterates. few clarifications: -source on clear screw tops/commercial uses. other options such as pvc screw end caps. -foam on the interior? carpet backing? upholstry? efis? -did you butt glue the sides to the 1/4 round or use the round as interior reinforcement and route off the corners? have you thought about making one out of efis foam with several coats of resin for the durable finish? it'd be terribly bouyant. showerboard or centra(sp?) as strengthening/cladding may work well.
The screw cover is a Beckson, which can be bought/ordered in different sizes in any boating store, physical or on-line. West Marine and Duckworks sell them online (Duckworks carries a brand I have not used). The foam comes from an old sleeping bag ground-pad, closed-cell foam, buy one in most camping stores, The 1/4 round formed a gluing surface and a butting surgace and to round out the interior corners, all at once; ample epoxy used inside (and out) to seal it. I have tried to think of ways to build lighter ones. A guy posting on Duckworks put a hatch on the bottom of an old plastic laundry soap bottle (neat idea!) though I wonder how good the seal is between hatch and bottle? My big box is very heavy -- you can stand on it, throw it at a boulder, etc., but a lighter one would be nice -- I would use all 1/4 plywood and just one layer of glass, and a lighter interior support. My main need is for watertightness and strength, since a small boat has limited space, making it more likely that you will step on stuff at some point.
i suspect that 1" or 3/4" efis foam (exterior closed cel insulation foam) laminated to either 1/4" ply or hardboard (and resin/fiber) and on the interior with showerboard will give you the rigidity and durability you want with less weight. not padded inside, but then that isn't necessary for everything. -very- bouyant too. i've had remarkably distressing luck with using plastic pretzel jars (think 1 gal pickle jars, but clear plastic) as semi hard dry containers. gluing a larger do not eat packet to the underside of the lid helps to dry it out more. they don't last too long, but the recycling folks don't seem to mind that they're abused.
I work for a white water rafting company during the summer and we are always tinkering with what gear fits in what ammo can the best. This method for custom designing boxes to fit specific items is awesome! Nice instructable.
Um More pics and better steps. WAAAAY to much text.
Yeah, really! I mean, having to read something! The horror! *rolls eyes* Snarkyness aside, Wade Tarzia has written a very good Instructable (TM). The instructions are understandable and he added a little theory to round out the whole bit. This is one of the best instructables I've come across on this site.
I'm not sure how the portholes attach to the box, however could these boxes maybe be constructed out of aluminum or maybe a fueltank out of a racecar or somthing(minikeg)? I assume that the screws do not have nuts on the backs? where do you get the screw-on liddy thingies?
The screws go into the pine boards. The good thing about wood is that it floats and does not add to buoyancy problems. Screw on lids are commerical products available at most marine outlets; search for "inspection hatches/ports." These are about the smallest (~4 inch internal diameter), and they up to about eight inches diameter). Some pop out, some screw out. I advise the screw type.
Do the boxes float? because it would be a pity to have your box of important things at the bottom of the river/lake/sea.
Both would float of course with the covers screwed in. But if they they filled up while opening, that's another story. The small one would float, I think; it has enough foam in it to balance most of the heavy things that would go in, and it isn't meant for holding a lot of heavy things. Times would be dicey for the large box. It has no metal in it except for the screws on the flange, but the foam padding inside might not be enough to tip the scale past neutral as this box has a heavy radio and tool kit. If my thought about adding an external foam pad to make the boxes something to sit on comfortably, then there you go.
the only thing close to instructions are "big one is pine, epoxy coatings in and out, fiberglas cloth as abrasion protection, then very sloppy paint job " i guess i could make them from just that info, so everything else is useless
Hi. One reply for all 3: Real Question: how much text is too much? Comment: I thought people would be insulted if I taught them how to build a box, so I focused on design features for a boat box (you didn't think the roll cages were a good idea?) rather than a how to cut rectangles, how to glue, etc., but perhaps I err. In any event there are two ways to instruct; one is via process (step, 1, step 2, etc.) and one is by paradigm. I tend toward paradigm, no doubt. But let me ponder this and think of a way to do this better. Thanks for comments.
And where did you find the cool boxes?

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Bio: If you read blogs, come vist mine: www.tristramshandy21st. blogspot.com where right now I am posting chapters of my humorous and philosophical nonfiction, "In ... More »
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