Convert a Wooden Tugboat to Liveaboard





Introduction: Convert a Wooden Tugboat to Liveaboard

About: 1979-1983 Chief Engineer On a 1927 117 foot motor yacht in the Pacific Northwest. 1984-2000 General Building Contractor, Sausalito CA. 2000-Present Sr. IT Administrator , Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Lab

The Amador is a classic twin screw wooden river tug about 70' LOA, 19' of beam, and a 6' draft. It was built in 1951 at Broderick, CA, just across the river Sacramento. It was originally powered with a pair of Cleveland 8-268A diesel engines, which had been removed from a WWII minesweeper. Some other parts of the minesweeper were used in the construction as well, such as the beautiful wooden doors that grace her interior and the aluminum portholes in her galley.

When I purchased the boat, in Petaluma CA, it was in pretty tough shape. One of the doors to the galley was missing. Every time it rained there was a cascade of water that ran down the walls and though the decks. Not to mention the steady flow of water coming in from the bottom. The boat had not been out of the water in 12 years. This is a long period for a wooden boat to go without the aid of antifouling paint.

Step 1: Haul the Boat Out

A haulout is not strictly necessary to convert a tug. But its a good and expensive idea, expect to spend between 10 and 50k depending on the size and condition of your boat. Over the years I saved quite a bit of money by doing the work myself. The Amador is heavily built so the (considerable) toredo worm and crab damage that occurred over the years was easy to fix. For the worm hole use a propane torch, point it into the worm hole and heat until the worm is dead, a minute or so usually does it. then fill the hole with vinyl concrete patcher, available at your local hardware store. The crabs usually eat away at the wood around the water line you can use the vinyl concrete patch here as well, but on the larger holes prime them with 2 part marine epoxy and while the epoxy is still wet, slather the patch mixture in.

Step 2: Install the Engines

What fun is a boat without a sail or engine? Again this is not a necessary step. But its the path I chose. My tug came without engines so I scoured the waterfront and found 2 Detroit diesel 6-71 engines and reverse gear. Using a lathe I made some adapter plates to mate them up to the existing propeller shafts. I jacked, pulled and pried the engines into position and mounted them using orange chocking compound.

Step 3: Pre Considerations

You may want to consult with a naval architect before starting on any kind of construction just to be sure your vessel can handle the additional top-hamper (weight above the deck) as you don't want to be standing on the side of the pilot house during a strong wind. The Amador was originally drawn up on the back of a napkin so I skipped this step. The Amador had a fairly clear space behind the deck house so all I had to do was cut away the engine room casing and stack (part of which I planed to use later) and some other odds and ends. these parts comprised of steel so they were easily cut away with a gas ax (cutting torch). You may need a gas free certificate before you start cutting depending on your local. I ruined some clothes by cleaning out the toxic flammable muck that filled the bilges.

Step 4: Build the Deckhouse

I started by bolting 2x4 Douglass fir sill plates to the deck and then used fairly standard 2x4 framing for the rest of the deckhouse. the roof consisted of 4x6 Douglass fir beams 16 inches on center, then covered with 1x4 T&G with fiberglass on top. We covered the exterior walls with #16 felt and used a combination of exterior plywood covered with Airbol/yellowjacket and wainscoting consisting of 1x6 redwood T&G. My father being the crafty craftsman that he is, built all the windows and doors from air dried redwood.

Step 5: Other Considerations

At the time of the deckhouse build we also cleaned up and painted the focsle also we cut down one of the fuel tanks to double the size of the focsle. we then added a spiral staircase to replace the rickety old ladder.

R-13 fiberglass insulation was used where posable .

For Hot water we installed a propane instant water heater.

For heat, a wood burning stove was added to the main deckhouse the flue runs up the stack.

All galvanized domestic water pipe was removed and replaced with 3/4" bronze pipe (Salvaged from the condenser on the steam ferry Berkeley)

A holding tank was added for sewage. The bathroom is forward on the main deck.

We used pre fab oak cabinets for the kitchen.

Later we extended the pilothouse aft more than doubling the size.

Step 6: Enjoy Your Boat

Living on the water is a fantastic experience, It's like being on vacation every day. please see my other Instructable on converting a steel tug to liveaboard here

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    55 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Thank you all for the kind words.

    Congrats on the win. This is a really inspiring project. I would like to do something like it some day.

    Congrats on the win!

    Awesome project!

    I spent a couple of years decking. Mostly on the lower Mississippi, also various tributaries, canals, lakes, and especially all over the ICW between Florida and Texas. Mostly Louisiana and Texas.

    Seeing your project made me feel pretty nostalgic about it. At the time I really wanted to buy an old houseboat to live on and as a project for my off-time, but I never got around to it. Now I'm married and have kids and wouldn't want to go back to spending all of my time away from home, and the houseboat is not so practical, lol.

    Maybe one day if I ever retire I'll get to it.

    I highly recommend the Grateful Dead song Black Muddy River for listening to when you are steering, all alone, up in the wheelhouse late at night!

    Thanks for sharing!

    4 replies

    If you're boat is 100% non-commercial, purely residential/pleasure, are there any coast guard restrictions about having a pilot's license?


    any vessel under 300 registered tons, requires no license to operate.

    Thanks for the info!

    Yeah, I was always checking on craigslist and ebay at the time. Didn't know about! Thanks for the tip!

    Thanks, I find that I can't stop looking for another tug, I'm always checking Craigslist and

    wow fantastic job well done good write up thanks for posting

    2 replies

    Nice job! Lots of work but I'm sure you are happy with the outcome, and you were able to preserve an interesting and attractive vessel.

    Ewwwwwwwwww - how could you cremate those worms ? Poor things !!

    Just kidding.

    This really is an awesome 'ible. Those shots of the bilge muck - it was like I could smell it. And I got all nostalgic.

    Uh...need a crew?

    1 reply

    Whenever I get nostalgic, I open up a can of Stockholm tar I have in my workshop.. brings back some great memories!

    Thank You!

    I love tugs andI love the fact you saved thins one beautiful job.

    1 reply

    can you send pictures of the inside....this would be great to post on tiny hours or even have them television you...such a great job...can you tell I like tub boats