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How to Repurpose a Sailboat for Waterfowling

The ducks and geese were way out there, resting on open water. Eric Marek needed a layout boat, but knew they could get pretty expensive. His ingenious solution? Re-purposing a sailboat.

"Several years ago, I was hunting out of a 16-foot johnboat with a grassmat blind during late fall in interior Alaska," said Marek, who received honorable mention in the 2013 Boats & Blinds contest.

"The lake had shore-fast ice and the divers were avoiding the lake edges. The larger boat did not allow me and my dog to hide in the middle of the lake. I began to think about how much better the hunt could have been if we had a layout boat."

Marek has lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, for eight years, working for the USFWS as an enforcement officer with an emphasis on subsistence duck hunting and marine mammal issues. He hunts with a couple buddies plus his two Labrador retrievers.

"I hunt Minto Flats, which is a state game refuge that has some lakes that are fairly large," Marek said. "It's a ducky place. I also hunt the Tanana River Drainage. I carved some of my decoys and use some Herter's foam decoys. The duck species I hunt most often are goldeneye, mallard, white-winged scoter and bufflehead. We also hunt lesser Canada geese and white-fronted geese."

Marek found an old 10-foot Sunfish sailboat with a foam core covered by a tough, rigid plastic shell. He stripped it down and patched the dings with RVT automotive silicone.

"I left the centerboard slot and wooden centerboard, which has proven useful for shoving into the mud to balance the boat," he said. The centerboard also works to stabilize the boat in deeper water as it was designed to do."

Since his intention was hunting divers, Marek wanted the boat to have rounded contours to minimize its profile. He bent four pieces of ½" diameter metal conduit into a bow shape and attached them at several points across the boat to create a frame for a cover. He purchased some green canvas fabric, and, with the help of his wife, sewed a cover that fit over the metal frame. The cover was attached with standard two-piece metal snaps.

Hook-and-loop fabric was fastened around the frame, then attached to itself, giving the fabric tension and shape. The cover has three openings. It has a small, U-shaped cutout for a trolling motor, a second cutout for the shooter and a third near the bow for the dog, which can be covered with fabric for additional concealment. Once the cover was complete, Marek coated it with melted paraffin wax to make it water-repellent and a patina, a throwback to the old days of waxed cotton waterfowl gear.

Shooter's Port

Marek built a seat out of 1x3 pine that resembles an Adirondack chair. The bottom of the seat consists of five pieces set lengthwise with two pieces of CDX ½-inch plywood attached perpendicular to the pine strips using 1-inch sheetrock screws. Six 1x3s screwed to pieces of 2x6 cut to fit the width of the boat make up the seat back. Pieces of 2x6 were cut into a concave shape lengthwise on the top and bottom for proper fit and to create a pocket for the shooter. The two sections were fastened together by driving …›-inch rod into pre-drilled holes.

The seat was situated with its back against the rear of the centerboard slot with the shooter facing the stern. Foam pipe insulation along the bottom of the 2x6 pieces prevents excessive damage to the boat. The height of the bottom of the seat is about an inch to keep any water from contacting the shooter's lower back.


"I created a platform in front of the centerboard slot to keep the dog more comfortable and out of any water that enters the boat," Marek said. "The platform gives the dog a flat area so he doesn't have to sit, stand or lay on the round boat bottom.

I made the platform with two short 2x4s, cutting the bottom edges to fit the curve of the boat while leaving the top edges flat. Using two pieces of 1x2, I built a frame that is 24x22. The frame is wrapped in heavy, black, woven nylon shade cloth material stapled to the underside of the frame."

Marsh Concealed

Marek also built a plywood bow cover for a marine battery after removing the original bow cover, which was too flimsy and narrow. The battery mount consists of spray foam, a piece of white closet rack and a plastic battery tray.

He sprayed the foam into the bottom of the boat under the bow cover and set a 12-inch wide piece of white closet rack, the battery tray and a nylon battery strap in the foam before it dried. He mounted an old trolling motor at the stern, extending the wires to the battery's location at the bow using six-gauge marine-rated cable.

Two 6-inch long, 4x4 wooden blocks were set against the stern to give the shooter something to push off with his feet when it is time to sit up and shoot. The bottom and top of the boat were painted flat green using four cans of plastic-adhesion spray paint.

Marek later purchased some bulk camouflage nylon and sewed a cover to hide the boat when he is hunting shallow marshes. The fabric fits the shape of the boat in a single piece.

A drawstring sewn into the bottom of the fabric runs completely around the boat and can be tightened or loosened at the stern. He paddles or poles the boat into a marsh and sets a dozen mallard decoys at the ice edge, hiding the boat in natural cover.

"The boat is extremely stable, seaworthy and light enough that, without the motor and battery, it can be lifted easily by one hunter," Marek said. "The layout can be transported inside a larger boat, handles choppy water without any problems and tracks well when paddled, poled or powered with the trolling motor.

I have shot divers and sea ducks on big water, and even paddled into the shallows with my dog and a few decoys to hunt puddle ducks. It has proven versatile enough to use for most of the hunting scenarios I encounter."

AquaPod Sport

At only 62 pounds, and made out of indestructible polyethylene rotomolded plastic, the 10-foot AquaPod Sport is the perfect one-man boat for remote locations. These boats draft in almost no water, making them easier to navigate shallow marshes. Modern technology has created a material that's so lightweight, loading, unloading and carrying is an afterthought. Shock cords across the boat are standard, and make it easy to grass up and blend in. Accessories include hunting blinds, a motor mount and nine-foot kayak paddles for extra zip.

Price: $640

Bankes Pumpkinseed

Some die-hards will tell you there's absolutely nothing in the sport like the up close and personal feel of layout shoots. Bankes has led the way in the layout market for years with their personally-designed, hunter-tested models. The newest edition to the fleet is the 10-foot, one-man Pumpkinseed. Small enough to be transported in the back of an SUV, this unit is plenty roomy for a big guy, and is rated for 300 pounds. Flotation is injected throughout the boat for safety, and there's no wood, so it won't rot. The boat sits a little over 12 inches above the waterline, so it's invisible to ducks.

Price: $1,695

Duck Logic

Carstens has been building layout and sneak-style boats for 40 years. Today's models are all fiberglass, super lightweight and extremely durable. If you're the type that dreams of a quiet day in the marsh, Duck Logic has your Carsten's rig. From the 10-foot Puddler to the 14-foot Canvasback, all Carstens' products come complete with full flotation and incredible stability. Many of the boats can be equipped with motors, from a small electric to long-tails. Duck Logic offers six models, along with covers, blinds, seats and paddles.

Price: $529 (base model)

Excel F4

Without question, the standout feature of the new Excel F4 is the boat's rear step deck. This area, just above the waterline at the rear of the boat, is a large platform that makes entering the boat from the water effortless. In addition, it serves as a great platform for a retriever, is loaded with flotation for safety, and places the mud motor further back for better performance and keeping water out. Other features include a large, built-in gas tank in the bow, a giant storage/gun box and running lights. A super-hardcore option is the 3,000-pound built-in winch, complete with controls. Also new for 2013 is the cool old-school camo package from Drake Waterfowl.

Price: $(contact your local dealer for more info)

Gator-Tail Gator Series 16x54

Gator-Tail's Gator Series 'dropdeck ' places the motor much further back than usual, allowing for high-speed reverse without dumping a bunch of water into the boat — it also makes for the perfect dog ladder. Available in four lengths (16-, 17-, 18- and 20-foot) and five widths (40-, 46-, 54-, 60- and 72-inch), customers can build exactly what they want, but price the boat within a package. G-T's list of options includes deck extensions, handrails, bowrails, poling platforms, and endless rod and gun storage boxes. One cool standard feature is that the operator's seat is actually a roto-molded cooler.

Price: $4,200

Gator Trax 18x70 Big Water

All Gator Trax boats are 100 percent custom made, so no two are exactly the same. The Big Water combines a massively wide flat-bottom with high sides, providing a dry, comfortable ride and shallow draft. The hybrid rake system is built as a modified-V front, fading to a completely flat bottom. This allows the boat to navigate through rough seas without slap, as a mod-V would, but traverse through super shallow water like a square-bow. Hulls are available in the standard .125 or the thicker .190. Rig dual 54-hp mud motors to blast through the marsh.

Price: $8,493

Go-Devil 16x60 Surface Drive

Since 1977, some of the most reliable duck boats in the country have come out of Go-Devil's Baton Rouge machine shop. During that time, the 16x60 SDB has been one of its best sellers, especially when paired with the company's largest surface-drive outboard, a 35-hp Vanguard. Clocked at 30 mph — considered lightning fast for a 35-horse — all G-D boats thankfully come standard with a front grab bar for stability. Built from one continuous piece of 1/8-inch thick aluminum alloy, there are no seams or splices to compromise the boat's durability. Aluminum push-pole included.

Price: $4,595

Lowe Frontier 2070 CC

Looking for a monster duck/fishing combo with the guarantee of one of the strongest names in aluminum boat building? Then the 2070 CC is what you need. Lowe boats come with a 10-year hull warranty, a great option for waterfowlers who hunt the rough-and-tumble backwaters (Lowe details its warranty information more than most — showing a commitment to life-long customer satisfaction). The 2070 features amenities like a 22-gallon aerated livewell, all-welded construction, and a super-tough extruded keel, which will not split or splice. The center console beast weighs 1,100 pounds and the boat is rated for outboards up to 115-hp.

Price: $11,999

Pemberton Dragonfly 1289

Every marsh junkie knows airboats are awesome, and allow access to the most remote places on earth. Their big drawback, however, is they're incredibly loud, and drink fuel like a monster truck — until now. Pemberton has created a series of 'mini-airboats ' that are lightweight, fuel efficient, and no louder than a lawn mower. Their secret lies in composite hulls, which are lightweight, yet strong enough to drive right across land. Power is derived from a four-stroke, heavy torque Generac engine, originally designed for the generator industry. Getting an efficient 10 mpg — unheard of in an airboat — the whole rig weighs just 600 pounds.

Price: $15,800 (base model)

Pro-Drive 18x54 X Series

Pro-Drive's new line of boats are built to perform with their already proven surface-drive motors. After extensive testing, a unique tapered chine was found to be the best hull design, running higher out of the water at nearly all speeds and making shallow-water access more feasible. The same hull design was found to maneuver best at low speeds. Pro-Drive also leaned on its own airboat building expertise when designing the X Series to produce a nearly indestructible boat. The ribs are longitudinal, and combine with 2x2 square aluminum tubing, bracing the walls and floor, and a 2x4 transom brace. Weighing in at 625 pounds, the X Series comes in Pro-Drive's custom camo paint job.

Price: $5,320

War Eagle 761 Blackhawk

Stop by your nearest duck club, and there's a good chance a War Eagle will be tied to the dock. These boats are used across the country by professional waterfowl hunters and some of the nation's best crappie anglers for reliability for getting to the holes mallards and papermouths covet. The 761 comes in at 17.5 feet, with a massive 89-inch beam, built atop an 18-degree V-hull. The hull has been redesigned in this series for a very smooth, dry ride even in choppy water. The look of a duck boat is combined with the amenities of a high-end fishing rig, complete with a ton of bow storage, trolling motor bracket, pedestal seats on raised platforms, and an 18-gallon fuel tank.

Price: $9,800

Xpress HD15DB

Xpress was building welded duck rigs before many boat companies were even in business. For over 50 years, the Xpress concept has been to meticulously build each hull, inspecting and re-inspecting for flaws, injecting each cavity to the max with expandable foam. The result is a top-of-the-line boat that far exceeds Coast Guard standards for safety. Standard on the HD15DB is a welded-in, lockable gun box, enclosed rear deck, and eight-gauge wiring harness for a trolling motor. RNT-V's Jim Ronquest, one the most respected authorities on green timber hunting, runs the boat through the rigors of Stuttgart's backwaters daily.

Price: $8,995

Phowler Extreme Series

Only a true waterfowler can appreciate the construction of a durable hull. We crash into all kinds of obstacles on the way to the blind, and Phowler knows it, so they put each boat to the test before it's deemed marsh-worthy. The Extreme has a .125 hull (lifetime guarantee) with five internal and two external stringers. Available in 16- to 24-foot models, It will carry the heaviest of loads and has a wide-open floor plan, so there's plenty of room to pile in the decoys and the rest of your gear. A movable gun box is also included.

Price: $6,450

SeaArk Mud Runner 170

You have to like a product that promotes hitting stumps. The new SeaArk Mud Runner incorporates both transverse and longitudinal ribs to make the boat incredibly strong. Also notable are huge float pods in the back, both for increasing performance and providing a perfect stepping platform. SeaArk has traditionally been known for extremely heavy-duty caprails, and when combined with the aforementioned ribs, the boat is brutally durable. Adding to the indestructible theme is the Timber Runner package, which includes a reinforced bow deck and covered LED lights.

Price: $5,750

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