Homemade Pontoon Boat




Introduction: Homemade Pontoon Boat

This is how to build your very own, functional and free, pontoon boat. We used completely recycled materials that were otherwise trash, but we turned it into an environmentally-friendly party barge.

Step 1: Locate and Acquire Your Materials

Our pontoon boat started from a 7ftx10ft frame of water-treated 2x6's, 2x4's, and 2x2's. We got these from the remains of my old backyard deck which was replaced over the summer (all framework was pressure treated and stained). The pontoons are made out of six 30-gallon barrels, which we found at a recycling center. These barrels were used and weren't approved for catering or agriculture- but were perfect for our boat. We found large pieces of Oriented Strand Board (OSB) and more 2x4's in dumpsters scattered around a new housing development. We used my riding lawn mower and it's homemade trailer to collect the wood out of the dumpsters. The deck was scrap pieces of sub-flouring and were being thrown way- again, who wouldn't build a boat out of it? I should add that in a dumpster we found a leather ottoman, which was instantly deemed as the captain's chair. You can find the necessary lumber where we did, in the trash, or in recycling centers.

Step 2: Check the Barrels for Leaks

Dispose any liquid inside the barrel accordingly, ensure the barrels are clean and safe enough for a marine environment. Fill 1/3 of each barrel with water, tighten their lids, and flip them upside-down. This will show you if any of the barrels would let water leak into them.

Step 3: Completly Empty the Barrels and Seal Lids With Caulk

Tighten each of the lids with a wrench. Evenly caulk each lid and allow 2 hours for it to cure. Rest assured this will keep the inside of the barrels, therefor you, dry.

Step 4: Build the Frame

Cut two 2x6's exactly 10 feet long. Then cut two 2x6's to be seven total feet in length. Cut 45-degree angles on each end to they will fit together and retain original dimensions. We used three 4" screws on each corner to secure them together.

Next you will build supports for the barrels:

Cut two 2x4's to be 11'9" in length. These will run the length of the boat's 10ft side (but inside the existing frame). Use screws to secure each one 15.5" from each side of the boat. This distance will allow the barrels to sink 2.5" upward into the frame. Doing this lowers the entire boat's center-of-gravity as well as directly supporting the deck. Install either a 2x2 or a 2x4 on each side of the three barrels (15 inches away from the front and back of the boat). This will keep the barrels from sliding back and forth.

Building the rest of the frame:

For our deck we used boards that were half an inch thick. This allows up to 4 square feet gaps in your frame. Use mostly 2x4's to construct a rectangular network frame with gaps no more than 4 square feet in area.

Step 5: Secure Your Barrels to the Frame

We used perforated metal hanger straps (galvanized) to secure each barrel to the frame. Cut out 12 42" strips. Use 2 straps per barrel; wrap each strap a little more than halfway around the barrel and attach each side to the 2x4 and to the 2x6 on both sides of the barrel. Use screws and drill at an angle to tighten each strap as you sink the screw. Be cautious to not puncture any barrels doing this- it's an easy mistake to make.

Step 6: Construct the Deck

Use the Oriented Strand Board (OSB) you collected to construct a 70 sqft deck. Use screws to secure each piece to the frame. Place and cut each board so every junction would have frame under it. Try to use the largest pieces and make sure not to puncture any barrels. If you wish to use an outboard motor like we did, leave a small opening in the deck at the back of the boat. Otherwise, your new pontoon is easy to propel with oars.

Step 7: Load and Transport the Boat

For our first launch, we used a cargo trailer to get it to the reservoir. Only use it in bodies of water that are knowing and allowing of you and your pontoon. For our testing, we had permission to launch on a local reservoir. We plan on registering the boat with the state in the future. Make sure you take every legal step to ensure your day of boating doesn't get cut short by the police. The boat is fairly lightweight, therefor it was easy for four high-schoolers to carry the boat on and off the trailer as well as into the water. No boat ramp? No problem.

Step 8: Have Fun on Your New Boat

Have fun on your new boat knowing that you didn't hurt the environment to build it. It is of course necessary to bring lawn chairs, floral-pattern shirts (Tommy Bahama recommended but not required), and a cooler full of cold, age-conscious drinks. Also keep in mind that there is now a possibility your significant other might only want you for your boat. Get ready to receive scores of compliments in appreciation of your masterpiece.

Trash to Treasure

Runner Up in the
Trash to Treasure



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    63 Discussions

    Use marine grade plywood, its been treated for water, particle board will quickly fall apart. I also recommend covering all wood in fiberglass or atleast a top coat of gelcoat or another sealer. The other thing you fail to mention is that this boat is illegal in many lakes/states if you dont go through the proper tagging, paperwork and inspection this will land you with a large fine. (I build boats myself)

    3 replies

    Since you build boats you know the difference between the types of plywoods and there is a plethora of marine types with many different specifications including country specifications.

    Marine plywood is set apart from domestic use plywood primarily by glue type. It's NOT necessarily treated and the fletched have a specific criteria regarding voids, seams and knots as do the faces. Typically an exterior grade of plywood would work in a situation like this but isn't as pretty as marine grade.

    Gel coat is NOT a standalone product, it's designed for use with polyester resin. When applied It remains tacky and only really cures chemically when the polyester is applied - unless you are referring to colored polyester resin as 'gel coat'. I could go on about the use of wood and polyester but I'm done with this.

    These day the main feature of marine plywood is that it is not sanded. That allows resin to stay attached to the wood and sanding would ruin it. As you do not intend to glass the boat you would not be better to buy the marine ply at all. You will probably meet people who have a mess on their hands as a glassed boat is hard to repair, heavier and much more expensive. Keep it oiled and painted and it will last long enough. People who repair yachts go through hell in cutting away rotted areas that have been glassed. The firmness of a well built glass boat is vital in oceans and large bodies of water can get severe weather and pounding seas. Even then glass over foam panels seems to be far superior as the foam does not rot. You did a great job by the way and doing it with recycled materials makes it great. Now I wish I could get away with pulling a trailer on riding mower here would eat me alive for that. Yet I could build a rig that could be considered an electric wheel chair and use the sidewalks and it would be legal. So far no one has passed laws against towing a trailer with a wheel chair.

    The idea of this project was to turn trash into treasure for the contest. It is of course implied that proper registration and inspection is necessary. In our case, we got permission to test on a local reservoir. We plan on getting the boat inspected and registered for future use. Also we are looking into the best stain/sealant to waterproof our boat while preserving it's "recycled" status.

    People seem to rarely think about this but did you consider installing the barrels side to side instead of front to back? It just might make the barge easier to push around. It might make no difference if a trolling motor is used by if you strapped a tiny gas outboard of two or three horsepower it might make quite a difference as the side to side barrels would tend to lift the front of the barge and thus travel with a smaller bit of the underside in contact with the water. The other thing that I notice is that oriented strand board is great for wet and drying cycles such as in roofing but if long term immersion is encountered plywood is superior. In my area the worst part of the entire build would be in trying to buy quality, straight 2 X 4 lumber. The Home Depot 2 x 4s are of wretched quality.

    Though this is a very admirable project, beware as it may get you a visit from the coastguard, or even the local lake patrol fuzz. In many states including Oregon you have to have boat numbers when you have those little trolling motors. Just an FYI

    3 replies

    I don't know the boating laws of other states but in Ohio unless you are using a boat on private property it has to be registered and numbers posted, even if it doesn't have a motor, I've had boats from 10 feet up to 21 feet and had to register them all even canoes, be sure to check your state laws.

    The US Coastguard enforces Maritime Law on Navigable Waterways and the open ocean. To have them bother you, you'd have to be on a body of water or river that can be navigated directly from and to the ocean.

    For those waterways that are under Coast Guard control, you might need flares or an emergency signaling device and some approved life jackets for everybody aboard.

    Flotation cushions may be sufficient too, but don't count on them as real protection. They HELP - but should not be used as first line......

    If the craft is human powered (oars) or wind powered (yours doesn't qualify on both counts) -- then it does not have to have a hull number.

    Since you are running an electric trolling motor, you most likely will have to get a hull number at least. Your local motor vehicle department should be able to handle that for you.

    +1 on moving the barrels out to the outermost area to provide more pitch and roll stability. You might all be able to be on one side at the same time if you did that - depending on your body weight and the buoyancy of the barrels of course.

    I personally don't think much is to be gained by streamlining the barrels other that making them all point the same way. As they are - they might help you hold a position instead of having the wind shove you all around the water.

    Get a couple of gallons of Patio & Deck Sealer -- preferably an oil based one -- to help keep your deck from dissolving. Mix some sand into it for the top of the deck for added traction. Seal the top, bottom and all sides.

    Add a few 4"x4"x4" blocks to the inside corners of your 45-degree joints to add some stability and strength to them!

    Now -- add a couple of deck cleats for other boats to tie up to you, add a BBQ and a large cooler and a pop-up tent for some shade and you've got a great party platform 'way out in the lake.

    I like it.

    Thanks for the heads up! The reservoir that we tested on gave us permission for just that, testing. We plan on using the boat on other bodies, therefor we are looking to getting it in the state of Colorado registry.

    Hey Guys

    I am impressed with the energy you put into this. I hope you get tons of enjoyment out of it. Don't forget to add a safety rail and remember to have lots of fun.

    that's so cool

    sweeet ride btw.. lol

    Having read 30 comments about 'stuff', this guy constructed his conveyance from FOUND materials, he didn't set out to build a forever product!

    The, "you should have done it this way" comments mostly don't have a place here. A few of the tips are constructive like strap placement for longevity and butt vs. miter corners but really tho, you're limited by the materials you obtain and from where you obtain them.

    Plastic barrels, in my area, run $20 ea. on CL. NOBODY throws them away - even recycle charges for them.

    2 replies

    Thanks! The materials for this project had to be considered "trash", so it's difficult to come close to many of the suggestions.

    wow.. some serious comments.

    i dont usually comment but i think its awesome, specially since its built mostly from used stuff. good u got life jackets (id need one), if i had water nearby id build it for sure, be mad for fishing.

    my positive constructive comment? ummm looks pretty cold there, how about the upgrade has optional heater? haha...

    Clever use of your time, young men.

    Can you give a weight estimate closer than "fairly lightweight" ?

    Great project!

    1 reply

    I'd say around 300lbs. Considerably less than a normal pontoon of it's size. Thanks!

    Great Job Guys! Next step, make it Amphibious!