John Welsford on choosing a dream boat

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An outstanding example of John Welsfords Rifleman light outboard motor
boat. This one was built by a retired professional boatbuilder and is the
best John has seen

for-leo-21 for-leo-3

One of John’s Navigator open cruising boats

Be rational, says legendary New Zealand small boat designer John Welsford. Think about the water you can get to, the people you have to sail with, the time you have available, the space you have to build in, and the size of your wallet.

He isn’t about to spare your feelings, but he might just save you a lot of money, time and heartache, so do please listen to what he has to say – unless, of course, you’re one of that rare breed of person who really is cut out to look after a special old boat. If that describes you, follow your dream and please send us some photos!

But back to John:

‘You will have some thoughts in your mind as to what would be a nice boat to have, and no doubt some ideas as to what you want to use it for. Some people will have seen something on the water or in print that they have fallen in love with and nothing else will do except one of ‘those’.’There will be those who have a lot of boating experience in one type of craft, and who don’t want to risk a change, and a few who are looking for something different. All of these already existing ideas have a bearing on what you might choose from the range of plans here in this on line catalogue of my work.

‘But here’s a warning: I’m going to lecture you a bit here, if you don’t like lectures, go and have a look at the boats, but otherwise, do please read on.’I have sold something in excess of 4500 sets of plans over the years and more than a few of the owners have ended up with a boat that, while it did what it was designed to do , what it was designed to do was not a good match for the owner’s environment, or was not suited to the usage, or could not be achieved with the time, building space or budget available.

‘There was nothing wrong with the boat, but it was just the wrong one for the place or the job.

‘So here are some suggestions.

‘Have a look at the area where you are going to use the boat: an ocean cruiser is not going to suit daysailing on a small lake, while a boat intended for running a river bar won’t be ideal for fly fishing the upper reaches of that same river. So have a realistic look at the water you have available to you and make some notes.

‘A small boat can be very seaworthy, but each person on board needs about 10 pounds a day of stores, and the trip to Europe from the US west coast needs six weeks worth of stores aboard. If your crew is four people, that’s getting up towards a ton of food and water plus the boat’s needs for the trip. If that’s your purpose, choose a boat that is designed to carry that load.

‘A boat that is intended to do that trip may be mostly cabin, and will have a tiny cockpit to accommodate one or two on watch but if you’re day cruising in a hot climate no one will want to be downstairs in a stuffy cabin so if you’re going to be sailing in  warm part of the world, you’ll need a much bigger cockpit.

‘Type is important too, rowing boats are as long and as narrow on the waterline as the designer thinks they can get away with, while a power boat intended to plane has very straight lines underneath – but these will make it a poor sailor. A sailboat is of a shape that resists the winds efforts to heel her over, and will travel at relatively slow speeds efficiently, but not fast.

‘A heavy motorboat won’t ever achieve planing speeds and the longer it is the faster it will run, ( a bit like the rowing boat) .

‘Meanwhile, a yacht tender is possibly the hardest boat to design of all, as it has to fit into a small space on deck, carry impossible loads, row well, tow at high speeds and be stable enough to allow its occupants to stand up and scramble into the parent vessel without going for an ignominious swim.

‘So think long about your dreamboat, consider where you are going to use it, be realistic about what you are going to do with her, and think over your likes and dislikes in a boat. Even the building space and budget will have a bearing on what is realistic.

‘If your choice is a good match with your dreams, the environment in which she will be used, and the skills and resources available to build her, then the project will be a successful one.’

John Welsford is a highly respected designer of small boats built from plywood, many of which include features from traditional boats. See his website at

For more posts relating to John’s work, click here.