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Free Kayak Plans and Free Canoe Plans

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For years, PaddlingLight has been giving away the free drawings of historic and recent canoe and kayak, but I didn’t know how many plans people were downloading. In the last year I decided to start tracking just a few of the downloads to get a grasp on how many were actually being downloaded. I picked 5 of the 35 free drawings that I offer: a popular historic kayak design that has been built many times, a history canoe that has been built many times (most often in Italy), a canoe that looks interesting but hasn’t been built often (if at all), an original yost-style, skin-on-frame kayak and another historic kayak design.

I was surprised by the number of downloads.

Really surprised.

I haven’t seen many pictures of kayaks being built, so I suspect what is going on is that prospective builders are collecting lots of free plans before they eventually settle on a specific design or before they give up the idea of building a canoe or kayak. Regardless, it was an interesting experiment for me.

The drawings that I give away consist of stations and stems overlaid on top of each other. Someone could easily use them to build from. For an upgrade, I offer drawings that show the individual stations and stem on ARCH D paper. The upgrade is ready for printing. You can print at a copy shop and then glue to the plywood and cut stations directly. It makes building significantly easier and it’s worth the $30 in the amount of time saved and accuracy. For an upgrade above that I offer the actually computer models as a download.

My original plan was to do this project for fun and to see if historic canoes and kayaks would get built and then how they would paddle. But, as the project grew and I started to put more time into it, I needed a way to justify my time — it takes about 20+ hours per plan to plan to get it from the historic survey, into the computer and then drawn up. I figured that offering the upgrade would be a good way to get there. I also ask for donations from actual builders. I’ve gotten fewer than I can count on my hands. My plan hasn’t worked.

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Last year, I made $260 in drawing sales among the drawings that I’m tracking this way (6 total drawings) — that’s not even enough for a new carbon fiber paddle. And to make it more depressing, $210 of that comes from the sales of my Siskiwit LV design, the only plan that I don’t offer free drawings for.

Here are the totals:

If we average and apply the average to all 35 free drawings, it equals about 6,000 free downloads a year. Or about 16 downloads a day every day.

 

This was an experiment for me.

Now, I need to decide what to do with the free canoe and kayak drawing project. Do I convert everything to a paid project? Do I shut down the free project? Do I do anymore drawings? If I do more drawings, how do I fund my time to do them?

I’m not sure what to do, but my commitment in time just administering the website is significant. I’d like to get feedback on what you think I should do.

21 comments

  • Bryan,
    I purchased my Siskiwit LV plans from you because it was the boat that had the most exciting lines and I appreciated the history of the design. The reason I came across your site in the first instance?, because I was searching for free kayak plans. After considering the options available I got the sense that your LV design was the best available, and well worth the small amount that you ask for the plans.

    Your website is a fantastic repository of all things kayaking, it would be a shame to see it go, and you shouldn’t be personally going backwards to sustain it. I feel that somethings which are free have little value, charging for them increases their value. I think user pays is the way to go.

    Cheers,
    Clayton

    • Thanks, Clayton!

    • My story and opinion closely match with Clayton’s. I thought your LV was the best design and well worth paying for. I’d vote pay model, and I’d be disappointed if your site went away. I like checking it out once a month to read all your content.

  • Hi Bryan
    I have downloaded several of your free kayak plans, primarily as a way to compare designs, and secondarily because of the sheer beauty of the drawings :) If I eventually choose to build one of them, I will definetely order and pay for the detailed drawings.

    Your webpage is a great resource, and your work is much appreciated.

    Best,
    Jens

  • Hi Bryan,
    i have downloaded a couple of your free kayak plans and like the previous comment mostly to compare designs. being a novice at building i eventually went with a big name provider that had building manuals as well as full size drawings. the manual i received was not that impressive.
    when i was selecting a design to go with, i definitely looked at other builders doing the same plan and reviewed comments and looked at finish pictures. for what its worth, if it was me…. i would add more information on the designs i liked the most or built myself. i would give away line drawings of the main shapes for comparison but charge for the full set of plans. i have gladly paid $100+ for a solid complete set of drawings and builders manual. so a little more work up front for you might benefit a lot in the long run…
    your blog is on my weekly reading list and i love it a lot… keep up the good work!
    roger

    • Just curious about the builders manual. The ones that I’ve received with plans that I bought were worthless compared to Canoecraft or The Strip Built Sea Kayak. I’m not sure I could do any better than either of those two books. Is a builders manual that much of a selling point over having to buy a great book?

      • without seaming like a jerk, there is a web based building manual that is incomplete at best and frustrating to navigate. The company i bought plans and manual from for a s&g tandem naturally assumed that i knew what i was doing and left big holes in the book that left me searching the internet for help. Perhaps i was just spoiled by the strip-built sea kayak book and expected others to write with such passion and clarity.
        Perhaps a detailed building manual for the novis and a simple step by step for the more experienced or perhaps im getting way out beyond where you want to go….

        • Amen Roger

        • That’s the pickle, I think. The Strip Built Sea Kayak and the others are so well written that I’m not sure I’d have much to add. I also don’t have a great shop right now — need to pour a concrete floor — so I can’t built a kayak to get the required pictures at this point.

          I’ve never put a manual on this site. The only thing I’ve put on this website are my building logs/journals.

  • I certainly understand your quandary. You should make money for your work, especially because of the size of your business loss. A few free plans can work two ways. One as advertising and the second to promote what you love.

    I suggest that you pick a limited number of generalized plans to download. Ones that represent who you are and what you do. Link pictures of kayaks/canoes that are like the free download as an advertisement to purchase a plan.

    Example, If you like this (free one), you may want to look at these and show thumbnails pics. Add a click for details which would show larger pic. including a short description of the boat and cost for plans.

    Hope this helps, Judy

  • It isn’t one of the drawing you were monitoring but in 2013 I downloaded your plans for the pretty little Têtes de Boule Hunter’s Canoe. I was very grateful for the the plans being free, because having the plans on my wall were a wonderful inspiration, and last year I paid your suggested contribution ($30, I think – I couldn’t have afforded much more).

    I’ve made some progress in making a SOF version of the canoe, not yet completed because it’s been a beginner’s experiment and I really need to start over (I had several house moves to contend with too). Now I have a better idea of what I’m doing I hope to have a small boat to paddle later this year.

    Sorry, none of this helps you decide how to monetize your work, but I just want to say thanks for making a difference in my life. I hope you will be able to continue to give some plans away for free (with a request for a contribution) and make money from your more popular plans.

  • You should certainly get paid for your time and skills.
    Do what others do: make study plans available for free, lines and offsets for a fee, detailed plans at a sensible (rewarding) price.

    I would tend to download a number of study plans, for comparison and for drooling over: I couldn’t build from them, but I can dream.
    I might then buy lines and offsets and build one or two boats.
    Some people can’t build from lines: they might buy detailed plans.

    Go a step further. Talk to Alex Jordan about preparing CAD-cut kits: he can do it from your nesting plans.

  • Love your designs,and all the info you provide,great job…I’d also like free plans for a kayak a small one.

  • I haven’t downloaded any plans yet but I do have a suggestion. What about a minimal charge? Say $2 payable via PayPal. With as many downloads as you suggest then there would be quite a bit of cost recovery. Asking for donations, in my opinion, doesn’t work well. The $2 may scare off some downloaders but those that do will be more serious. Otherwise selling plans for $20 + per set will put you in a whole different market. A $2 set of plans won’t turn off many potential builders and a serious builder will be more likely to step up to the $30 dollar complete plan set. Just my thought on this….. although free will always be my preference.

  • Brian,
    I like your website and your kayak plans. I just bought the Siskiwit SOF Sea Kayak Plans, so some part of your business plan must be workin! If the free plans are not generating any revenue, I would suggest just continuing with the paid plans. Anyone who is serious about building should be willing to pay to get a good full set of drawings.

  • I had no idea that Alexis Jordan is a ‘famous’ porn star: sorry.

    http://jordanboats.co.uk/JB/

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  • I have been reading up on building my own kayak. Unlike many builders, the most important aspect of this project for me is how the boat will PERFORM, it’s design. I have strong tastes and haven’t found commercially available plans that meet my needs or inspire me. I love low volume, hard chine, traditionally inspired kayaks, and paddled a Tahe Greenland for many years exclusively till I cracked it in some waves which it never belonged in. Now I’m in a Tiderace Xcite S because within mass produced kayaks it’s the best compromise I’ve found for me, ready to take on rough water, surfing and abuse. I still wish it had an ocean cockpit, hard chines and lower volume in the deck, but the kayak I see in my mind doesn’t exist yet. But back to the plans. I stumbled upon your site and you have an array of interesting designs to choose from that align with my style. It’s really awesome you turned some of the famous designs like the Kenneth Taylor kayak into plans anyone can build. Thank you. Surely one of these will be the starting point for mine eventually.

  • hi Bryan,im into my second goodnow and have a passamaqoddy going too. i really apreciate your project and i dont mind paying,,,..pelle

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