Introduction: How to Design the Best Boat - Building Your Own Boat

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The following steps walk you through building your own boat design in Tinkercad.

Step 1: Planning

Before you start modeling your boat, you'll want to design it on paper first. While designing your boat, think not only about how it will interact with the boat ramp and how it will perform in your tests, but also about how it will print. The boat will need at least one flat side to print well. If you want a keel or other slope on the bottom of your boat, consider making the back of the boat flat, for example.


  1. Draw your boat from standard orthographic perspectives: Top, Side, and Front/Back.
  2. Consider how it will print and adjust design accordingly.
  3. Add side and back pegs and the front pull loop so you can run the same experiments on your boat as you did with the pre-designed ones.
  4. Continue to the next step.

Step 2: Choosing Your Starting Shapes

The first step in building the boat is to choose your starting shapes. Keep in mind you can scale any shape to suit it to your needs. Your design might utilize shapes found under Basic Shapes, such as Cubes, Round Roofs, Paraboloids, Half Spheres or a combination thereof. For more complex designs, you can browse through the Featured Shape Generators, available from the drop down menu on the left, to find something which will suit your purpose. You may consider using the Extrusion, Circular Trapezoid, MetaCapsule, or other shape generators found in the community collections. To determine the overall dimensions of your boat, you can simply insert a cube into the scene and scale it to the overall dimensions necessary. The ruler is a useful tool for taking exact measurements. To use, simply drag it onto the Workplane.


  1. Looking at your boat design, determine the best shapes with which to start.
  2. Once you've chosen your starting shapes, drag them onto the build plate, scale them to match your drawing, and use the align feature in the upper left to make sure they're all aligned.
  3. Keep in mind, you can turn any shape into a "Hole" to remove portions of your shape.
  4. Don't worry yet about hollowing out your boat. We'll do that in a later step.
  5. Continue to the next step.

Step 3: Combining Shapes


  1. Once your basic shapes are all aligned and scaled according to your design, simply select all your shapes and click "Group." (Ctl-G) This can be found in the menu at the upper left.
  2. Continue to the next step.

Step 4: Adding Curves

If you need to add some slight curvature to your boat, for instance if you started with a cube, you can use the MetaFillet or the Arch Building Block available under the Featured Shape Generators tab.


  1. Insert your preferred shape into your scene and make it a "Hole."
  2. If you use the MetaFillet, scale, rotate, and align where you want it to be.
  3. If you're doing this for both sides of your boat, an easy way to do so is to Duplicate and Flip. To duplicate, either press CTL-D or select Duplicate from the upper right-hand menu. To flip, select Flip from the upper left-hand menu.
  4. Orient all shapes to where you would like them to be and Group your shapes.
  5. Continue to the next step.

Step 5: Hollowing Out the Inside

Next we need to hollow out the inside of our boat. At the end of this step, you will have a perfectly usable boat. However, before we 3D print it, we need to add a few more features so you can run the same tests on it as you ran on the original four boats provided.


  1. To match the other boats in the kit, drag a Round Roof and a Half Sphere onto your work area and make them both "Holes."
  2. Scale and align them so that they sit inside your boat model, leaving approximately 2mm on all sides, except for the back, where you need to leave 3mm for the rear peg.
  3. Once you have it in place, Group all objects.
  4. Continue to the next step.

Step 6: Adding Pegs

First, we need to add our rear and side pegs.


  1. For the rear peg, simply insert a cube, scale to 3mm x 4mm x 12mm.
  2. Using the Align feature, align the peg to the rear center of your boat, and overlap the edge of the boat by 1mm, so the peg will extend 11mm beyond the top of your boat, with 4mm running parallel to the width of the boat and 3mm running perpendicular to the width of the boat.
  3. For the side pegs, go to the Featured Shape Generators and drag an Extruded Curve onto the Workplane.
  4. Depending on the design of your boat, these may need to be altered slightly. However, these are good settings to start with: Curvature 1: 22; Length 1: 25; Curvature 2: 10; Length 2: 25; Curve Width: 3; Height: 4
  5. Orient this along the center of your boat length-wise.
  6. Duplicate and Flip to set up one curve on either side of the boat.
  7. Add a Cube to the center of the boat where the pegs overlap, approximately 20x20mm and make it a hole. Be sure not to overlap anywhere else on the boat.
  8. Group all objects. (Note, if your pegs extend beyond the bottom of the boat, or beyond the curvature of the boat, you can add additional shape "Holes" or Ungroup and then re-Group your shapes in a different order.)
  9. Continue to the next step.

Step 7: Adding Front Pull Loop


  1. Add a Tube from the Basic Shapes tab and scale it to 12x12x3mm.
  2. Angle it approximately 45 degrees.
  3. Align it with the front center of the boat so that it extends beyond the front of the boat.
  4. Overlap the bottom of the Tube with the top of the boat and Group all shapes.
  5. Continue to the next step.

Step 8: Naming Your Boat

To name your boat, you'll use the awesome TEXT shape generator in Tinkercad, available under the Text or Basic Shape tabs in the dropdown menu on the left. For simplicity, we named our boats A, B, C, and D. Feel free to name your boat whatever you'd like. Just keep in mind the font needs to be pretty large so it can print well.


  1. Select the side of your boat as your Workplane by dragging the Workplane in the left-hand column onto the side of the boat.
  2. Drag the TEXT shape generator onto the side of your boat.
  3. Choose your preferred font and name.
  4. Type the name into where it says "TEXT" and scale your name to fit on your boat. Make sure it fully connects with the boat.
  5. Then, Group all objects to complete your boat design.
  6. Continue to the next step.

Step 9: Exporting Your Model

In this step, we'll export the boat from Tinkercad.


  1. With your object selected, simply click "Export" in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. From the options provided, choose "Selected Shapes" and ".stl"
  3. Then find the file on your computer (typically in your "Downloads" folder) and name it accordingly. We suggest you move all related files to a designated folder related to this project.
  4. Continue to the next step.

Step 10: Preparing Your Model for Printing

In order for your boat to print well, it may require supports. Many 3D printer slicing softwares will do this for you, but they tend to waste a lot of plastic and often create supports that are hard to remove. We suggest adding supports using Autodesk Meshmixer, available freely for download here:


  1. Open Meshmixer.
  2. Select "Import" and bring your boat into the scene. You may have to select "Flip Z-Y on Import/Export" if your object comes in oriented differently than you expected (available in the Import/Export window).
  3. In the Analysis menu (along the left-hand side), click Layout/Packing.
  4. Change Transformation Mode to 2D Move. Click Update and then Accept.
  5. In the View menu (along the top) click Recenter View.
  6. If your object has a flat side on one side, make sure your object is oriented with that side pointing down. You can adjust the orientation in the Edit/Transform menu.
  7. In the Analysis menu, click Overhangs. If your boat has a flat side, make sure the Y-Offset is set to 0mm. If your object has no flat side, we suggest changing that value to 1.3mm.
  8. Here are a few other settings you may want to adjust: Support Generator Settings- Max Angle 45; Density 50; Advanced Support Settings- Post Sides: 4
  9. Once you're happy with your settings, click Generate Support. You can then either accept the computer-generated supports or adjust to your liking. To remove supports, simply CTL-click. To add supports, hold shift and drag supports from the object to the build plate.
  10. Export your model as an .stl file. Then, in the same manner as before, prepare your .stl files for printing using the slicing software of your choice.
  11. Continue to the next step.

Step 11: 3D Print and Test Your Designs

As before, 3D print and test your designs according to the lesson plan.

Hope you have had a blast exploring different boat designs and the challenges in designing the perfect boat for a given scenario! Feel free to go back to the drawing board and finesse your designs further. After all, you're engineers now. The sky's the limit!

This activity is brought to you by, the world's largest library of vetted 3D-printable models and standards-driven lesson plans designed specifically for K-12 STEM education. Our focus on real-world, hands-on learning has been designed to promote deep conceptual understanding so students are equipped to succeed in the 21st century. By providing lesson plans such as this one, we help the students become their own designers and out-of-the-box thinkers solving complex problems using the power of 3D printing.