Introduction: Painted Mattress Survival Boat

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…

Make the "Katrina Granny", an improvised boat by painting a mattress.
This boat is perfect to get from your house to high ground when the flood hits.
This truly is the fastest boat in the world. To build that is.
You can even use it for a mattress while waiting for the disaster to hit!

Next time you're driving to the beach and you see a mattress and some paint cans dumped by the side of the road, you know what to do!

Step 1: Mattress

Here's one now.
It's badly weathered and has big holes in the sides.
It's almost a boat already!

Step 2: Paint

It doesn't much matter what kind of goop you use to seal the cloth of this short-term boat.
If you plan to continue using your boat for a mattress, latex paint will breathe more than the others and be a nicer sleeping surface.
If you're just in a hurry to float, consider paint, tar, varnish, linseed oil, crisco, lard, butter, heavy grease, wax, etc

There is something very wrong with the labeling on this paint can.
See all the words on this paint can? Notice that "PAINT" isn't one of them?
What the hell is all the rest of that gibberish there for? Deep Base? Is it full of CDs of dance music?
How many years of schooling and experience did the label design committee, marketing team, etc have? I'd guess thousands.
Humanity are the world's craziest people.
No wonder so many of them live below sea level in hurricane country in carefully planned disaster traps.

But it's not just OTHER PEOPLE who are insane. You dear reader, active citizen in the "world's greatest democracy", are part a giant insane committee.
It is YOUR dumb engineering megaprojects that channel the rivers and make barrier islands wash away. It is YOUR taxes that pay for it.

Step 3: Transport to the Workplace

I loaded the mattress on Damon's boat trailer to move it for painting.
This mattress has a nonwoven olefin scrim on the bottom which I pulled off.

Step 4: Squish One End

Okay, the basic directions for the project are "Paint a Fricking Mattress and Call it a Boat."
But like all artists, we are confronted by the limitations of the materials at hand.
So we make a virtue of necessity.
This mattress is all rotten and gone at one end.
We'll lash a board over it to squish one end of the mattress and make it pointy.

Your materials will be unique in a different way.
If your mattress is very flexible, you might want to tie a frame on the top.
If it's terribly full of holes, you might want to wrap a tarp around it.

The most important thing is to leave a big hole in the top of your mattress so you can bail water out of it.

Step 5: Giant Sewing

I drilled holes in the board to lash it to the mattress.
I used the Clutch Finger Knife as a giant needle
to stitch lashings through the board and lash it to the mattress frame.

Step 6: Tighten the Lashings

Team members Aloisius and Cioatla Macasque tighten the lashings with the help of clamps and a mighty spear.

Step 7: Painting

The Rothko-like depth of their brushwork beckons us into a lime-green dreamworld. We enter where faint wisps of the original printed pattern dance before us, evoking the palimpsest that is the mind.

Step 8: Drying

If you don't have time for paint to dry use roofing tar, crisco, etc. instead.
Or just wrap a tarp around the mattress and get boating.
Watch this video to see how that sort of thing is done.

Step 9: Spring Is in the Air

While the paint dries we goof around flinging a coilspring from a car with the discarded mattress bottom scrim tied to it as a tail. It's good for a game of "monster eurythmics" or "redneck custom with funny name" or what have you. It bounces in a totally unpredictable way and seems extremely dangerous. No one got hit in the face or hurt in any way, so good times were had by all.

Of course we were all traumatized by the major pun, "spring is in the air".

Step 10: Testing!

Of course it needs hydrofoils, a motor, a cabin, solar panels, etc. etc., but it's always a good idea to try something out before perfecting it.

In the water she goes!
The Katrina Granny floats high and dry.
The water doesn't come anywhere near the holes.

I hop on. It's very stable. When I push down one corner a little bit of water seeps in through lashing holes at the front where we missed painting or the cloth shifted.
If you were at sea when you discovered this, you could fix it by stuffing plastic bags in the holes.

Success!! Next time you see a mattress and some paint cans dumped by the side of the road,
you know what to do!

Step 11: Patching the Holes

The boat works so well it's worth it to repair and make it even better.
Jane Lee sews and staples a patch from an old sheet over the biggest hole.
That staplegun is great. But everyone stops talking and moves away when it's being used.

Step 12: Painting the Patch

Not much to it, just smearing some paint on there.
Get plenty under the edges of the patch to hold them down.
Cries of lament are heard that the floral pattern of the sheet gets hidden under the paint.

Step 13: Pattycake Boxing at Sunset

Rob shows up with boxing gloves and challenges me to sunset boxing.
I say I'm still getting over the headache from last time. He says "okay no head punches."
This time I don't get hit in the head and his arm doesn't get dislocated. Not even once.
Boxing sure is a great sport when no one gets hurt.

Step 14: Wet Patch

The sewing is good for large patches where there's some load on the cloth, but a bunch of the holes are small. What to do? As an experiment Cyrus tries a "wet patch". Jane cuts him a rounded patch of sheet with pinking shears. He sticks it onto the wet paint and then paints over it. It adheres very well. This must be good paint.

This is the fast way to do patching for small holes. Before long the boat is all patched up and ready for new adventures!

Step 15: Testing the Patches

My cousin John Anderson tries it out.
The boat stays on top of the water and he stays on top of the boat.

Step 16: Sail Rig R+D

John and I lash a tripod mast onto the boat with bike innertubes.

Step 17: Sailing Launch

We hoist and brail up the lugsail from the steampunk landsailer. The mast supports are handy to tie bike innertube oarlocks to, but with the two of us it turns out to be easier to just paddle. We paddle into the wind.

We've got some "no parking" signs to use for leeboards. "wrong way" signs would be better, does anyone have some I could use?

Step 18: Rig Details

I drilled holes in two corners of the aluminum signs to hang them over the side of the boat by cords.

The innertube oarlock is simple, just a few turns of innertube around the strut and oar.

Step 19: Sailing Trials

To be continued. We paddled upwind and sailed downwind, but didn't manage to sail upwind.
the leeboards were too far forward or something. Unfortunately we don't have any photos of the sailing.

tune in soon to see such pictures of the next try and see how it worked out!