It’s not uncommon to see waterfowl hunters converting their fishing boats for temporary seasonal use as a duck boat. The many portable boat blinds, grasses and accessories available today, make these projects even easier. Canoes, prams and aluminum fishing boats have always been popular with duck hunters. For example, the Boston Whaler or Carolina Skiff can be easily converted to duck rigs, and an inexpensive “fixer-upper” generally can be found in most parts of the country.
Advantages of using a skiff would be its size and physical make-up, along with its speed and roominess. Another advantage is its almost limitless flexibility in adapting to a custom waterfowl rig. And for shallow waters, skiffs have a very shallow draft, even when loaded with people and gear. When shopping for a skiff, don’t let the length of the boat fool you. Many of us use 16- to 17-foot canoes or prams. A skiff of around 15 feet or less is much wider than most duck rigs we’re familiar with, and will handle a lot of equipment. The biggest issue is the motor. Make sure you have a dependable power source.
Dick Fisher and designer Ray Hunt first developed the Whaler in the late 1950s. It was a boat that was unconventional in almost every way, possessing low gunwales so that the powerhead on the outboard remained above water if the boat took on water and had to run swamped. Presently, the unique design also features a center steering unit and a hull that is great in following seas with no tendency to broach, therefore allowing you to skim over the water rather then go through it.
Another feature waterfowlers would appreciate in rough waters is the upturned bow. The traditional pointed bow on most outboards is basically an imitation of the bigger boats. Big boats ride deep in the water, therefore holding a sharp bow down in the sea where it can do its work of cleaving waves. On the other hand, a lightweight outboard skims over the waves, the water contacting its bottoms far behind the high-riding bow. A sharp bow will hook waves and send you careening when you try to speed over them diagonally, due to greater pressure on one side than the other. The Whaler’s bow is designed to lift the boat over waves, rather than plough or nose-dive into them.
The buoyancy factor is another important consideration. Filled with water, the 13-footer will support an additional 950 pounds. A 15-footer will support 1,055 pounds and a 17-footer, 1,415 pounds. Should an unexpected wave fill the hull with water, the boat will lift and allow at least half of the water to flow out of the low transom. The remaining water will gradually drain out of the transom holes. Since the boat is so buoyant, only about an inch of water will enter at the stern at which point the buoyancy of the thick hull construction takes over and holds everything up.
The Carolina skiff is similar to a Whaler in basic makeup. At one time, the company even developed a removable fiberglass duck blind for the 14- and 18-foot models. The interior of the Carolina is finished in a light-gray color, allowing you the ability to custom camouflage the boat to your particular surroundings with paint, netting, or natural vegetation.
Now that we know a little bit about the Whaler and Carolina skiffs, the next question is how do we convert them from basic boat to duck boat. Although we all have personal preferences for design, Tom Peterson, a fellow waterfowler from Poughkeepsie, New York, constructed one that I had the opportunity to review.
It starts with a 13′ 6″ Whaler hull. From there he uses a rough opening of eight feet in length in order to minimize cutting. The opening is framed with the use of 2x3s. Since the boat has a bowed gunnel, pieces B-1 and B-2 (refer to drawing) were pieced in the center to eliminate bending of the boards. A 2×6 or 2×8 can then be used, with any excess trimmed to lower the outline of the boat. When framing the kick-plate deck, A-1 and A-2 were dado cut (grooved) so that all the boards were flush.
The front and rear deck assembly is constructed from 3⁄8-inch plywood, bolted directly to the gunnels. D-1 and D-2 are attached after the sides are screwed to outside of A-1 and A-2.
The sides of the blind are also constructed of 3⁄8-inch plywood. The height of the back should be decided by the depth of the boat, so as to allow proper head room. The angle depends on the width of the boat (refer to diagram E).
The back of the blind is 1⁄4-inch plywood framed out with lx4s for rigidity and to allow a 2×3 brace to be attached.
The top of the blind is also 1⁄4-inch plywood framed out with the use of 1x4s. A heavier grade of plywood could also be used for the kick plate.
The grass used on this rig is natural marsh grass; native to the area Tom hunts. It is attached with the use of bailing wire and staples. The motor is simply covered with burlap.
Tom speaks highly of his waterfowling craft. It is used against the shoreline on Long Island, New York, and affords two hunters and a dog (or three hunters), loads of comfort and safety. Most of all, it is warm, dry and the Whaler hull, as he puts it, “is a great comfort to have under you when the wind is howling out of the northeast.”
Before you jump into buying and working on a skiff, keep in mind that you may wish to use materials more fitting to your tastes. But don’t cut corners. Use good grade marine plywood and provide several coats of marine varnish or other suitable protective covering. The wood structures tend to dry more slowly as the temperatures drop, and therefore become more susceptible to rotting.
In addition, the camo covering will also prevent fast drying of water on the wood surfaces. All this adds to severe wear on the boat and makes it more important to provide adequate protection. Make sure you apply enough moisture proofing.
While a coat of paint will waterproof the wood surface, you will need to go one step further by applying a wood preservative, which does two important things. One, it will provide a fungicide/mildicide to keep down the possibility of dry rot. Second, it will provide water repellence. These wood pre
servatives usually are organic-type materials. Do not use anything with silicon in it, because this will prevent adhesion of the paint. Soak the wood well with the preservative and let it dry completely. Then put on a good wood primer and finish off with at least two coats of polyurethane boat enamel in the color of your choice. This process will provide years of carefree protection for your watercraft and allow more time for important things during the off months, like training your dog.
Another waterfowler, Jerry Lynch of Contuit, Massachusetts, used a 13-footer to start his design. He located a trashed Whaler with trailer that had been lying around for the past five years.
The first thing he did was to strip out the seats and console. The hull was ground down to bare glass, repaired, primed and painted with Dead Grass Camo paint.
Jerry wanted a multi-purpose boat, not just a blind. So the seats, sideboards and console were replaced with rock maple and mahogany woods to be “socially” acceptable while fishing. He then designed a removable cover/blind that could be modified to almost any hull with a shallow draft.
Pressure-treated lumber was chosen to produce the frame. It is heavier than non-pressure treated, but the weight differential is negligible when the total weight of decoys, dog and all other gear is considered.
The base of the framework was measured and cut from a piece of 5/4 x 6-inch x 14-foot to 2 1/2 inches wide. Where the hull turned, the wood would also have to turn, therefore kerf cuts were made to a depth of 1 1/4 inches at intervals of two inches apart, and the piece was then clamped into place. Three 3/4-inch holes were drilled through and into the gunwale to a depth of two inches into the hull and foam core. Then the frame was removed.
Six pieces of 1⁄4-inch PVC pipe were cut into 3-inch lengths to be inserted into the hull after drilling out the 3/4-inch holes to one inch. The PVC was inserted in the holes with epoxy resin, and a small amount was poured into the pipe as well to form a watertight seal. Dowels were driven through the lumber and placed into position on the gunwale.
The upright members are cut to length and at the desired angle (in this case, 15 degrees). These were installed using 2-inch galvanized sheetrock screws. The top brace was kerf cut and secured. The forward base was made from 5/4 x 6-inch full width and trimmed at both ends to conform to the hull.
These sides were covered with 1⁄4-inch AC exterior plywood laid up against the frames. The frame lines were scribed onto them and then custom cut. They were secured into place with 1-inch sheetrock screws. The two removable panels, one on the bow and one on the stern over the outboard, were made to slide in and out of slots manufactured out of scraps.
Bi-fold doors, 30 inches total in width, were installed opposite each other on each side. The doors open towards the stern to make the job of setting out and picking up decoys easier. The doors must be measured: eight inches for the aft door and 24 inches for the forward portion to accommodate the two layers of grass and other camo materials, and to allow it to lay flat against the stern portion of the blind. These were reinforced with baluster stock frames that were pressure treated.
Removable tops, four in all plus one for storage, were again made by scribing each one beginning with the bow and working aft. Each one must be numbered as to position. Use pressure-treated baluster stock for the internal frames with the 1⁄4-inch AC plywood screwed into place with 1-inch galvanized sheetrock screws.
Up to this point the whole framework, side panels, doors and tops took 16 hours to complete. The entire exterior was painted with the same Dead Grass Camo with a 3-inch roller in about 45 minutes.
The next step is to install plain, steel-wire fencing over all exterior sloping surfaces. Use nylon mesh or fishnet for the removable tops. They will not have to support the weight of the grass and thus will not stretch or sag. Jerry used #12 electrical wire staples. This took a total of 5 hours of cutting, stapling and turning back the cut ends. Turning these ends back is of utmost importance for safety reasons. The interior is completed with gun racks, VHF portable radio, compass, lights, and net bags mounted on the sides and in the stern to hold floating decoys.
This type of rig will certainly last many seasons, perhaps decades. The Whaler hull is strong, lightweight, and, since it has a foam core, will not be subjected to dry rot.
A boat fix-up makes a great off-season project and you can build or outright buy the accessories you need.