The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders














Entry #3


drawings - stats - boat - budget - explanation - bio



Length overall
15’ 0”
Waterline length
12’ 6”
5’ 0”
Height at mast
4’ 0”
Height at cabin
2’ 0”
Height at rubrails
1’ 6”
Empty weight*
595 lbs.
Typical gross weight
1055 lbs.
Maximum anticipated gross weight**
1237 lbs.
Draft at maximum anticipated gross weight

* Broken down as follows:

  • Boat structure – 384 lbs.
  • Powerplant – 136 lbs.
  • Other equipment - 75 lbs.

** Broken down as follows:

  • Five day food supply @ 2 lb. per person per day – 20 lbs.
  • Five day water supply@ 1 gal. per person per day – 125 lbs.
  • Gasoline – 25 gallons @ 5.87 lbs. /gallon – 147 lbs.
  • Passengers – 300 lbs.
  • Camping gear – 50 lbs.


General Description
Conestoga is a shallow draft budget camp cruiser suitable for two persons on an extended river trip. The design goals for the boat were:

  • Low cost of construction
  • Excellent fuel economy
  • Readily available powerplant components
  • Sleep-aboard capability
  • Shallow draft
  • Sufficient ruggedness without an excessive weight penalty.


Conestoga features four areas:
  • Forward deck – this self-draining area can be used for non-dry storage. Beneath it is a watertight flotation compartment.
  • Cabin – this area is 6’6” long by 5’ wide, giving enough room for two adults to sleep comfortably. It extends to a “foot cubbyhole” under the mid seat in order to maximize room. The cabin can be used for storage while under way, and is enclosed by means of a tent which is hung from rigging installed between two masts, one at the forward bulkhead, and the other at the rear of the boat. Tent panels at the front and back of the cabin can be rolled up or down as needed.
  • Cockpit – this area is 7’ long with two 18” deep seats facing each other, and a 4’ by 5’ deck area. The mid seat doubles as one end of the cabin, and allows cabin access through an opening in the upper mid bulkhead. The aft seat is a watertight storage compartment which could have a hatch added in order to use it for tool storage. Depending on the size of the boat’s battery, that could be mounted in this compartment. The switches for the boat’s electrical system are mounted on the aft bulkhead. The cockpit is used for storage while the cabin is occupied. It can be covered by a tent which drapes over the rigging. The rear seat is self-draining.
  • Powerplant Shelf – Aft of the cockpit is a shelf on which the engine, alternator, and gasoline cans are mounted. The trolling motor is mounted slightly off-center in a slot in the shelf. The boat’s battery is mounted on the aft seat directly in front of the engine, unless the builder opts to install it under the seat.


Conestoga is constructed with commonly available materials and equipment. Unusual lumber sizes and lengths were avoided; for example, the rubrails are two-piece, with the oarlock blocks acting as a splice. The transom is made from a 2x8 and a 2x10.

The boat is constructed of mostly 3/8” exterior-grade plywood, with 1/2” used for seats and decking, and 1x lumber for the bow, transom, and forward mast step/butt block. 1x1 battens are used for framing, as well as stringers that reinforce the sides. The design started out having a 4’ beam – it made the plywood calculations easier, but the sleeping arrangements awkward. A little plywood waste was traded off for a hull the width of a double bed. The bottom is spliced longitudinally with a 2x4 keel. The stringers that run parallel to it are to be cut to match the 2x4’s height, so as not to bow the bottom during beaching or trailering.

One specific use designated for some of the leftover 1/2 “ ply is a supply wagon. I would regard this as somewhat of a necessity, as food and fuel is not always located immediately adjacent to the river. Another use for leftover ply would be for a hatch for the compartment under the aft seat.

The exact placement of the oarlock blocks, as well as the length of the oars and size of their blades (cut from scrap 3/8 ply) can be determined by the builder based on his size and individual preference.

The rigging should be installed so that it can be set up quickly, but taken down when not in use, so as not to “clothesline” the occupants. Hey! There’s another use for the rigging! The tent and masts could easily be modified if one desires more headroom.


Conestoga is powered by a gasoline-electric drive system. The 3.5 HP Briggs and Stratton engine is a type commonly found on lawn edgers. The alternator is a regular 3-wire 60 amp Delco-Remy such as would be found on a ‘70’s vintage Chevrolet. The trolling motor is a Minn Kota 40lb. thrust model which is sold at WalMart, and features a composite shaft that is more likely to survive hitting something.

The engine drives the alternator, which charges the battery. Then the trolling motor runs off the battery. The trolling motor pulls a maximum of 40 amps, and the alternator has a maximum output of 60 amps, so it would appear the alternator could power the trolling motor by itself. However, as in a car, the battery must be present to energize the alternator’s field windings. It also acts as an accumulator and allows the motor to be run intermittently to afford more fuel savings. In actual use, the operator could figure out the optimum engine run time and RPM’s to maximize mileage.

The switch between the battery and the #1 terminal on the alternator is not optional! This allows the engine to be started and warmed up before introducing the load of generating electricity. It also allows the circuit between the field and the battery to be broken so as not to drain the battery when the engine is not being run. Use an illuminated switch or an indicator light so you won’t forget to turn the switch off when the engine is off.

This powerplant allows the boat to have an electrical system. The auxiliary outlet can be used to charge flashlights, cell phones, etc., and provides power for required boat lights and horn. No need to bring along a case of D-cells.

Scrounging could save quite a bit here. A used engine that needed a little work could be found cheaply, and the alternator, horn, and voltmeter could probably be found at a junkyard. Keep in mind, however, how far you will be from any help at times, especially on the initial leg in Montana.


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This budget is based on a worst-case scenario. With a few exceptions, building supplies and equipment are full retail price, fuel and fees are higher than actually anticipated, and the food is a bit conservative, though adequate.

Building Supplies

See “Application” in budget.


“Miscellaneous parts” would include any hardware necessary to integrate the powerplant components into a generating system.

The pump sprayer setup is your shower when there isn’t one available. I think I got that idea from Chuck.


“Portaging” is accomplished by paying the marinas near each of the dams to trailer me around. The marinas average about $50 for this service.

I budgeted to pay a camping fee for one-third of the 90 days. Realistically, many of the less developed campgrounds on the upper Missouri have no fee, and in remote areas, as well as on sandbars on the Mississippi, one could camp for free. Of course, tying up for the night and sleeping on the boat would cost nothing.

The budget assumes doing laundry once a week.

Fuel and Maintenance

Fuel burn is one of the biggest unknowns. This is how I arrived at the figure.

The 3.5 HP B&S engine on my lawn edger burns .5 GPH @ full throttle.

The current will supply 6-8 mph of speed by itself, and will not be present on the lakes. An average speed of 12.5 mph for 4 hours per day would allow you to make the 3213 miles by traveling 5 days per week and camping 2.

This works out to 25mpg, assuming the engine is running at full throttle whenever the boat is under way. That shouldn’t be even close to necessary, as one would cruise on the battery part of the time. Careful management will stretch the fuel mileage. Some gasoline from this budget would be used in a dual-fuel stove for cooking (NEVER to be used to cook in the boat! Bring a propane stove if you plan to do that.).

Briggs and Stratton recommends either synthetic or straight 30-weight oil because their engines run hotter than an automotive engine. This engine will get a lot of run time on the trip, and the oil isn’t that much of an expense, anyway.

The maintenance budget assumes a 100 hour maintenance interval for oil, filter, and spark plug changes.


This isn’t broken down in detail. It’s all the non-food supplies for two adults for 90 days.


This was what was left over in the budget after everything else. An average of $26.38 per day should be sufficient for two people cooking for themselves and not being extravagant.


The entire trip would be do-able on this budget. As savings show up, more “fun money” will be available for hotels, souvenirs, and eating out. The speed estimate was conservative so any extra distance covered could be traded for cost savings by shortening the trip, of more time spent at places of interest.


Tom Beck

I live in McDonough, Georgia, and work as an aircraft mechanic for a major airline in Atlanta. Previously, I was a high school teacher. I presently have three boats, all of which I have built – one for me, and one for each of my children. Dinah, the lady who I contemplated as my partner while planning this river journey, has been my wife of 16 years, and we have two children. Rachel is 13 and Jonathan is 8. Both are proud to be the only boat owners in their class.