Waterproof, durable boat boxes: the pragmatics, doubts, and worldview

Picture of Waterproof, durable boat boxes: the pragmatics, doubts,  and worldview
(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.)

OCVincent6 years ago
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
Wade Tarzia (author)  OCVincent6 years ago
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.
rowerwet6 years ago
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!
seamountie7 years ago
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.
Wade Tarzia (author)  seamountie6 years ago
Good idea!
nsupple6 years ago
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
Wade Tarzia (author)  nsupple6 years ago
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.
unjust8 years ago
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.
Wade Tarzia (author)  unjust8 years ago
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.
noahw8 years ago
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.
jammis8 years ago
Um More pics and better steps. WAAAAY to much text.
Gryle jammis8 years ago
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.
josh8 years ago
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?
Wade Tarzia (author)  josh8 years ago
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.
marcward868 years ago
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.
Wade Tarzia (author)  marcward868 years ago
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.
theRIAA8 years ago
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
Wade Tarzia (author)  theRIAA8 years ago
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.
N6OZG8 years ago
And where did you find the cool boxes?