Introduction: Make Your Own Quick and Easy Zip Tie & Ply Mini Boat - Maximum Fun for the Least Money!

Intro, Braving the elements?

I'm entering this build for the 'brave the elements' contest as this project has enabled me to get out there and experience the elements in my local environment. I live in a town which is surrounded on three sides by water, in the middle of a river estuary. I am not a good swimmer as I was brought up miles from the sea in Manchester, which is why I always wear a full Atlantic life - jacket. I have always wanted a boat, but found them out of my budget, so when I found that I could download plans from the internet to make a boat with just two sheets of plywood. It was a no-brainer. The problem for me was, where would I make it? I realised that I could make it in the attic if I could get it down through the hatch.

I measured the hatch first to make sure I could get it down, which I did by hoisting it from the rafters. So I called my boat 'Attica'.

I have since been able to explore the local river estuary and go way out past the pier offshore, on fishing and photography trips. One trip up the river took five hours, but after a refreshment break, I could put my feet up and just steer without paddling all the way back to the sea. (see the photos).

The build.

It costs very little and can be made easily with very basic skills in very little time. You need very simple tools and everything can be found on ebay, Amazon, or your local DIY store. It can be made by anyone with reasonable manual skills in a matter of days.

The 'stitch and glue' or 'sewn' method of boat construction is a tried and tested technique that has been used for centuries. The Vikings were known to use copper wire and resin. The earliest example of a 'sewn' boat is the 40+ metres long Egyptian funerary boat which dates back from 2600 BC.

Nowadays, we can use zip ties and polyurethane glue and paint it with polymer paint (household emulsion!), You can make a better, stronger boat using epoxy resin and a fibreglass skin, but that is much harder to do and more expensive. (That will be my next Instructable!). This method is a good start to build experience and gives you a cheap, quick way to make a boat good for a season or two. This boat is amazing fun as it is easy to store, easy to transport and just loads of fun.

If you like it, please don't forget to vote for me (Just click the orange flag in the top right hand corner) Thanks.

Step 1: ​Design

There are many designs available for this construction method, including kayaks and sailing boats, but the design I chose uses free plans for the 'mouseboat' by Kevin Atkin as it was the smallest and simplest. It produces a very stable but manoeuvrable hull, with a shallow draft. It in turn is based on the Mirror dingy design, so called as it was sponsored by the Daily Mirror Newspaper in 1962 in a drive to bring cheaper sailing to the masses. The free plans are available here and come with full instructions to mark out on your plywood.

This 'mouseboat is about the same width as a kayak, but has a truncated design that is easier to store, ( I carried mine up and down 5 flights of stairs as I kept it in a closet in my flat.) It is easy to transport on top of a regular car roofrack too.

Step 2: Disclaimer and Safety Advice

This tutorial is just to show you the construction method. It is up to you if you decide that your boat is seaworthy! Using one that you have built through these instructions is entirely at your own risk. I recommend that you always wear a lifejacket, don't go out further than you can swim and not in adverse weather or where currents can drift you out. These currents can be surprisingly strong. Always tether your paddle so you can't lose it overboard. Always check your boat before going out, especially for cracks or splits in the wood or leaks in the seams. You made it so you can repair it! When cutting, sanding, glueing or painting, it's always advisable to wear gloves and eye protection as well as a face mask. You don't want to breathe in the fine particles of wood dust or get splinters or irritating chemicals on your skin. Always read the safety advice. I found the polyurethane glue melted latex gloves so read the manufacturers information carefully. As I am not a confident swimmer, I chose to fill the fore and aft sections with waterproof expanding foam, therefore with no possibility of it becoming waterlogged. I also wear a full 'Atlantic' lifejacket at all times. The closest time I have come to capsizing, however, ironically, is when I was nearly swamped by the inshore lifeboat! The wake on that thing at full speed is phenomenal. This boat is really only suitable for inshore, lake, canal, or river use. I found that even relatively small waves would lap over the decks and run into the boat. For that reason, I later built a deck spray using waterproof material, which proved to be very effective. I have been fishing half a mile off shore in calm conditions. The wake from other vessels being the greatest hazard.

Step 3: Materials

The plywood is standard 4 foot by 8 foot (1.22 m × 2.44 m). (You don't even need expensive 'marine ply' as it will be completely sealed with the paint and glue and the glue is very strong). 6mm may seem very thin, but it needs to be flexible enough to form into the boat shape and doing so will make it much stronger. Note also that it is the water that supports your weight!

2 Sheets marine plywood or good quality WBP plywood 6mm (¼”) 4’ x 8’ (1.22 m × 2.44 m)

4 Pieces pine wood 12 mm (½”) x 18mm (¾”) x 8’ (2.44m)

4 Tubes PL Construction waterproof glue (I used PU18 from eBay

50mm wide Fibreglass tape about 15 m (50ft)

Stainless steel screws about m6 & m8 size.

Zip ties (about 50 1/4" )

Clamps (most pound shops have these, you can't have too many! see my pictures)

Household emulsion and primer

Step 4: ​Tools

A tape measure and metal rule

A 't' square

A meter rule

Hand saws

Jig saw

Drill and bits

A hammer

A sharp craft knife

A Surform or sharp traditional plane


A glue tube applicator 'gun'

Lots of rags

White spirit & turpentine (for cleaning up the glue and paint brushes)

Step 5: Construction

The instructions downloaded in the zip file along with the plans, have a sheet of measurements which you can mark up on the plywood. (I can't reproduce them here for copyright reasons) It uses a 'datum' point and measurements from that across and down the plywood. With those you mark a series of crosses and just join up the points to create your panel outlines. I laid mine out on my living room floor. As you will be drawing large curves, it's best to find a long flexible object, such as a piece of plastic pipe or flexible wooden batten, to give a smoother line. Once you have drawn the panels out you can cut them out very easily with a jigsaw, which goes through like butter. Next you carefully drill holes along all the edges that are to be joined every 10cm (6") and about 6mm (1/4") in from the edge. These need to be large enough to take the zip ties. Check after the first one. When all the holes are done, turn the ply wood over and sand off the rough burrs, watching out that you don't get splinters in your hands. Use the zip ties to join the two ends and the middle of each panel together first, then all the ones in between. Be careful not to pull them so tight that they damage the wood or pull it out of a smooth curve. You will find that the thin flexible ply will now be a lot stronger when it is formed into the proper boat shape. You now need to cover the joins with fibreglass tape. Make sure that you use plenty of glue as this will seal the gaps. I found I needed to put more glue on top of the tape, to soak in and make a smooth finish. (Don't be confused about the black and white glue in the picture, as I ordered more glue from a cheaper provider and it was black. It's essentially the same PU18). Once all the seams are done and have been given the required time to cure, you then have to add the inner bulkheads and the edging strips. These are screwed in place and then also glued around the joins. The clamps are used to hold it all together while the glue dries. After everything is complete and the glue is dry, you need to sand the whole thing all over to give a good 'key' for the paint. Household emulsion is actually plastic (polyurethane) and will help to seal the wood, but you will need primer and then at least two coats of gloss after sanding down each coat. Good sanding is the most tedious part of the process, but it will greatly improve the quality of the finished boat. I used a slightly heavier ply for the decks and varnished with exterior quality varnish. It is also good to round the edges of the wood strips, first using the surform and then sandpaper to get a smooth finish. You will be glad of any rounded edges when you are handling the boat later on. I did a leak test by filling it with water and found only one small leak where I'd forgotten to fill a zip tie hole securing the inner bulkhead. I glued in two pieces of staircase handrail to support the seat and provide a useful carrying/tie down bar. The seat, which is bungeed in, is just a waterproof cushion for an outdoor chair. The base of that being a couple of pieces of ply with a brass hinge. I also found some plastic deck cleats and a fishing rod holder on eBay. I made my paddle from a 5ft (150cm) long piece of curtain rail and two off cuts of thicker ply.

Step 6: Having Fun Out on the Water

I've had some amazing adventures, including long expeditions up rivers and off shore fishing trips. I found that wherever I went there was a lot of interest. Even a girl from the local sailing school who drew along side on a paddle board, said that they were all admiring my boat. Everyone wants to know where I got it from. The fact that you have made something instead of buying it, just adds to the enjoyment. Not only that, it works out at a fraction of the cost of a plastic kayak!

Step 7: Future Project

They say that once you have caught the bug it's hard to stop. My next project which I have already started, will be a better sea going version made with epoxy seams and then fibreglassed. It will incorporate skate wheels, so I don't always have to carry it. It will also have lights and a 12v bilge pump as well as the facility to add an electric trolling motor. Watch this space!

If you like my project, please don't forget to vote for me
(Just click the orange flag in the top right hand corner) Thanks.

Zip Tie Challenge

Runner Up in the
Zip Tie Challenge

Brave the Elements Contest

First Prize in the
Brave the Elements Contest