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Traditional wooden boats have a plank on frame construction, a centuries old boat building method that is still in use today. Variations of the traditional method include carvel, clinker and strip planking, which all relate to the way the planking is attached to the frame.

The hull of a wooden boat usually has a keel and frame made from a hardwood such as oak, with planking made of softwood, such as pine or cedar.

Boat hull contstruction, Clinker hull, carvel hull

Clinker hulls

The construction method of clinker-built hulls, also known as lapstrake, has been used for hundreds of years. The bottom and sides of clinker-built hulls are made first, after which the ribs are fitted. Then the planks are fastened to each other through the overlap between one plank (also known as a strake) and the one running along beneath it. The strength of clinker-built hulls comes from their wide, thick planks.

construction wooden hull clinker

Carvel hulls

The frames of carvel-built hulls are put in place first and then the planks are fastened to the frames. The frames provide most of the strength of these boats and the planks are thinner than on clinker-built boats.

construction wooden hull carvel hull

Strip planking

Strip planking is a type of construction used for smaller, lighter boats where the edges of thin strips of planking are glued and fastened together, similar to the carvel method but needing no caulking between the planks.

wooden hull boat

Other wooden hull construction methods

More recently, since the mid-20th century, marine plywood has been used for hull construction. Marine ply is very durable and less prone to rot than ordinary plywood, offering high resistance to water and fungus, the causes of wet and dry rot. Plywood panels are either fixed to a frame, known as ply on frame construction, or alternatively the panels are edge glued together and reinforced with fibreglass, which is known as the stitch-and-glue method (as used by the popular Mirror dinghy). This method does not use a frame and is a little more straightforward to build.

Another modern type of wooden construction is cold moulding, which is similar to strip planking but uses several multiple layers of thin wood or veneers where layers of veneer are laid at criss-cross angles to one another, resulting in a strong, flexible and lightweight hull.

wooden hull

Boat covers

If you look around a boatyard one of the first things you might notice is that some boats have some serious covers over them while others don’t. Is that just excessive love and attention by some of the boat owners? Or is there more to it than that? If you were to look under many of those covers you would probably find that most of the boats are wooden. Covers prevent rain (fresh water) from penetrating the inside of the hull through deck leaks, which can lead to wet rot. Note that salt water is not such an issue as salt water prevents rot from developing, while rain water does the reverse.

Covers also prevent the sun from harming wood and they will make a big difference to a boat that is left ashore for several months.

wooden hull maintenance       wooden hull maintenance

Preventing a wooden hull from drying out

At the same time, allowing a wooden hull to dry out completely is not desirable as the timbers will shrink. It is important that wooden boats have just enough air circulating around them to ward off mould and mildew, but not so much that they dry out completely. The trick is to keep the boat’s moisture content constant, allowing enough moisture in to prevent it from drying out. That means taking the covers off from time to time when the sun is not too strong and there is a gentle breeze blowing, rather than a howling gale.

Saildrive maintenance

There are less maintenance tasks to carry out on a saildrive transmission than on a traditional inboard shaft drive system with its associated stern gear. However, there are a few critical things that require maintenance, as recommended in detail by the engine manufacturers, and should be adhered to.

Sail care and maintenance – Part 1

When thinking about the care, maintenance and repair of sails it helps to have some understanding of the properties of the ever growing range of modern sailcloth and the fibres they are made from, as opposed to the traditional canvas sails of the past.

Rudders and steering systems – Part 1

Rudders and steering systems. A rudder is one of the most critical parts of a boat. Rudder failure is a common occurrence on neglected or overworked boats and a very unpleasant and potentially dangerous thing to happen when you are out at sea.

Sector lights, directional lights, leading lights – how do they differ?

Sector lights, directional lights and leading lights guide vessels safely through hazardous waters or narrow channels at...

Sailboat rig checks – Part 1

Sailing boat rigs need to be checked regularly to reduce the risk of rig failure at sea. In part one of Sail boat rig checks we run through a series of useful checks that owners and skippers can carry out.

Sail care and maintenance – Part 2

At the end of the sailing season sails should be washed and inspected carefully for damage, including small tears, stitching failure, ultraviolet damage, stains and mildew.

The Boatyard Book – a boat owner’s guide to yacht maintenance, repair and refitting

The Boatyard Book is a fully illustrated 224 page practical reference manual that provides advice for boat owners on planning and carrying out annual maintenance, repairs, upgrades and refits of sailing yachts and motorboats, up to 20 metres in length.

Leaking decks

Leaking decks are perceived as a nuisance by some boat owners, but if leaks are ignored a much more serious situation may well be developing, especially in the case of boats with balsa or plywood deck cores. So deck leaks do need to be investigated and dealt with.

Antifouling for leisure boats – Part 4

Applying antifouling. Antifouling is best applied on a dry, calm day. It is best to apply the antifouling in the middle of the day to ensure the hull is dry and as warm as possible.

Boat engine cooling systems

Some boat engine breakdowns are unavoidable but those caused by lack of maintenance or regular checks can be avoided. Failure to maintain an engine’s cooling system is a well known example of this, so it is well worth spending time checking over the cooling system both when the boat is ashore and afloat.

Boat Engine Failure – what to check

Engine failure If your engine fails or is overheating there are a number of things to check immediately: • Air filter...

How to improve a yacht’s upwind performance

There are several ways to improve the upwind performance of a sailing yacht. Read on for some useful tips including headsail reefing, heavy weather jibs and motor sailing.

Essential Knots: Bowline

Essential Knots: Bowline Use: Making a secure eye or loop in the end of a rope. Bowlines have many uses on a boat, for example to make a...

Electric motors and hybrid systems

In recent years there have been considerable advances with the development of electrically powered propulsion in the leisure marine sector. This includes developments with inboard and outboard electric motors, hybrid systems, lithium-ion battery technology as well as solar, wind and hydro powered generators.

Understanding your boat’s compass

Article submitted by Mike Rossiter, Certificated Compass Adjuster. Since the magnetic compass was first used by the Chinese...

First aid at sea – four common emergencies

In this blog we look at what to do in the event of a crew member choking, drowning, or suffering from hypothermia or fatigue. Knowing how to cope with them could well save a life, while not knowing could result in an avoidable tragedy.

ColRegs Nav Lights & Shapes, Rules Of The Road and IALA Buoys Apps

ColRegs Nav Lights & Shapes, Rules Of The Road and IALA Buoys Apps Make Learning Rules on iPhone, iPad, iPod and Android...

Boat batteries

Under-sized battery banks are one of the key factors behind power failure at sea, as well as the premature failure of batteries, so make sure that your boat battery measures up to the use you want to put it to.

Seacock maintenance

If seacocks are always left open and neglected they can eventually seize which will prove a serious threat to boat safety should a connecting hose fail and the seacock refuses to close. There are three main types of seacock – ball valves, cone valves and gate valves.

Boat interior varnishing

Most boat interiors have a combination of varnished and painted surfaces including solid wooden joinery, plywood laminates with thin hardwood veneers and glass reinforced plastic. When making your assessment of what you are going to do, bear in mind that the varnishing process consumes a lot of time, especially if the existing surfaces are in poor shape.

Narrowboating on the Kennet and Avon Canal

A recently cancelled sailing event I was due to take part in left us with a free weekend in the diary. Given that my wife and I were celebrating a bumper wedding anniversary and the weather forecast was for fine weather, we decided to hunt around for a last minute canal holiday.

Passage planning and pilotage

Passage planning and pilotage help skippers navigate safely from one port to another. A passage plan takes into account all...

Safety Briefings – leave nothing to chance

Before giving your crew a safety briefing, it is worth considering the specific circumstances of the planned trip, the...

Capsize – understanding the risks

A skipper should know how their boat will cope with rough seas. By working within known limits and understanding the risks,...

Always have an emergency grab bag to hand when at sea…

  Grab bag: In the event of having to abandon ship, it is recommended to have a designated waterproof bag to carry...