How to Repurpose a Sailboat for Waterfowling
June 04, 2014
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.
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 â…›-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."
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."