Free Canoe Plans and Free Kayak Plans Update

Chestnut Chum canoe computer model

One of the main (many) purposes for PaddlingLight has been to store a number of canoe plans and kayak plans. Most of the plans are free, but a few, my designs, are for sale. The revenue that I get from sales doesn’t add up to much. Last year, it was just enough to pay off old prototypes and make a new canoe prototype that I’ll test in 2012. The hardest part for me is figuring out how to make money or, at least, continue to make enough money to fund building more of these boats in the future and make it feel like my time isn’t wasted modeling these boats (because I can do other things that do make me money in the same amount of time).

Currently, I ask for donations if you use the plans to build a boat, and many people send me those donations, but when I look at the number of downloads compared to the number of donations, it’s like 250:1. I know lots of these boats don’t get built after people look at the free plans, but some do. I also like giving these away. So, I’m torn. I’m trying to evaluate my options going forward with the plans as I get ready to release several of Chestnut Canoe Company’s models. The Chum with a modified sheerline and extra tumblehome for solo paddling appears above.

I feel that there are a few approaches:

  • Continue what I’m doing: giving the canoe and kayak plans away for free while asking for a $30 donation, offering electronic files with all the stations drawn separately for $30 or printed plans for $100 to $110.
  • Switching to a pay-what-you-can model similar to what I use on my solo canoe yoke plans. I ask for varying levels of support based on what you can afford. If you can’t afford even the lowest level, I ask that you write to me to receive the plans for free.
  • Use a new payment system. I’ll give away 1/4- to 1/3-sized, low-quality plans for free, charge $30 for electronic full-sized plans, charge $50 for electronic individual stations and $100 to $110 for printed plans.

I’m leaning towards the last two. What I’m doing now doesn’t feel that fulfilling for me, which I think is important. The middle option makes sure that I get something out of the arrangement. At the very least, I know who wants to build one. The third option still gets the plans out for free and people could probably pretty easily enlarge the plans, but they might step up to the larger sizes if they really want to build. Obviously, someone could just ignore my plans go back to the original source and spend around 10 hours per boat modeling and drafting to get around the last two options, but I guess that’s not the point.

At any rate, I’m not sure if this post will receive many, if any, comments, but I’d like your opinion about this.

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  • Hi Bryan!
    I think both of the last options are good. I find, that it is sometimes challenging to people to determine what they want to pay if you don’t state a price. Since your prices are reasonable, I’d recommend you to use option three.

    Nice site, btw! can one also get the DelftShip files?

    Take care, Sebastian

    • Thanks for the feedback. I haven’t offered the DelftShip files for sale, but that’s an idea.

  • I think the last option is best. It allows someone to study the plans for free to see if they want to build them, and if they decide to build, then pay for full sized plans. If you left some information out of the free plans, then they would be more compelled to pay for them to build them. Just a thought.

  • I agree with Bob. Option 3 offers the interested people the option to study the plan, and pay to use them while still offering price options for what they want to get.
    Bryan S.

  • I like the material you publish, so first of all, thanks for that. but i am a business guy with not much experience in not-for-profit ventures. some thoughts for you….

    – I don’t know what your costs (royalties) are in doing this, but that has to be front and center
    – if some one can’t afford a few bucks for the plans, then they should not get started in this venture because building a boat is not free, and $ 30 or $ 100 is a very small part of the total cost (experience speaking here)
    – offer the lofting tables and minimal info only in pdf format for free but with a time limited shelf life, no print option and no copy option – this encourages a deeper examination of the material at no cost; keep the donation idea if you want, but it does not sound like it is working.
    – offer more extensive tables, instructions and some sort of scaled plans for a fee, or graduated set of fees. $ 30 is very reasonable
    – the market rate for full size plans and instruction is about $ 100 for the initial set of plans, and a royalty for successive builds. if your materials are as good as the competition, then that is your market price
    – is it a possibility to go one step further and have some one create a complete “kit” for these boats? I have built a few cedar strip boats, and many people don’t want to start with rough sawn lumber
    – at the very least perhaps provide links to material suppliers where you can derive some benefit while saving the shopper some time searching for suppliers
    – it sounds like you have a fair bit of boat building knowledge and experience squirelled away, so perhaps follow the model of Microsoft or IBM and offer a paid for service to access your knowledge base, or get the benefit of direct one-to-one Q&A or discussion.

    just some thoughts. email me directly, and if i have more comment i will be happy to provide them.


    • Thanks, for the detailed feedback.

      The website definitely costs some money to keep running, the ads pay for that, although if the site keeps growing, I’ll need to upgrade all the backend stuff and then the ads probably won’t cover that. I’ve been using the plans as a way to fund further prototypes, etc…

      I really like the time limited shelf life idea and the subscription service. My brother has suggested making some kind of app that includes all the plans and updates whenever I add a new plan. It would be easy enough to set up some kind of paywall here for plans though. I’ve thought about doing kits, but I have so many irons in the fire that that’d be just too much. I’ll shop around and add links to other companies.

      One thing that I’ve never offered is detailed instructions, because there are so many books out there that do a good job at explaining the process. Is that something that builders feel must come with a set of plans? The instructions that I’ve received with plans that I purchased aren’t really what I’d consider worth much, so I’ve never bothered with an instruction manual.

  • i’ve downloaded a few plans simply to study and to learn more about boat design, (and am very slowly working on a kayak in the garage, but one i cad’d up myself) and have found them to be massively helpful. in point of fact, their availability has been what makes me a regular reader of your excellent articles, and as a courteous netizen a clicker through of your adverts. i don’t go back to all of the other sites that i couldn’t get enough info out of to learn something from even if their articles were good, i didn’t know what they weren’t telling me.

    as someone clever enough to use the tubes, and (slowly) build a boat, i’d encourage you to go with option 3, fully featured, but make the plans not to scale and standard pdf. my reasoning is this:

    if a viewer wants to study the lines, proportions and other details, they have all of the information necessary to do so, however they lack the quick reference ability to build from the plans (the plans real value). if they’re a time rich, but cash poor user, they still *could* rescale the pdfs to get them to the appropriate size to work from, but it’ll be a chunk of work, not as long as drafting them one’s self, but still not trivial from an unknown significantly reduced scale pdf (as you said, some random scale, probably produced as a % between 20 and 40 depending on what fits on a page).

    timed, password protected or print locked pdfs are simply annoying. in general unless *I* have a reason to protect a document (e.g. i’m sending it to a 3rd party and it contains sensitive info, or it’s flagged for internal review only) the first thing i do when i receive one is strip that garbage out so that i can look at the item on the couch without having to fret about remembering a password or when it’ll expire. it’s trivial to do so.

    offering data crippled info (missing something critical) means that the viewer doesn’t really know what they’re getting, and is more hassle for you in production.

    altering plot scale is simple, duplicating a model stripping things, etc etc is just a waste of your more valuable time. unless someone is paying me (as a draughtsman/designer) to produce a verified as built set of plans or building manager’s reference i’m not going to spend time to produce them. i WILL take a few minutes to create a print that i can use a portfolio work.

    my vote is that you offer free NTS (not to scale) pdfs, affordable build ready scaled pdfs, slightly pricier CAD files (so that an advanced user, ready to build can tweak things w.o. having to redraft from your pdfs) and then print sets.

  • Hi Bryan,

    I recently stubled upon your website and I must say that I am impressed!
    Great articles covering everything avid paddlers love, and awesome how-to’s and reviews.
    You’ve even helped me use and understand Delftship. I wanted to see a 3D model of the prospector canoe I want to build off the offsets table I had.

    As per your current dilemma, I would go with option 3. I like being able to review your not to scale plans for free and find your prices for the actuall plans VERY reasonable. I love your full size station option, no errors in carbon paper transfering your station oulines, just glue and cut.

    Again, great website, thumbs up!


  • Hi Bryan

    I confess – I am one of the many who have downloaded a number of your plans for examination without donating. Then again, I haven’t build a boat from those plans. So far I have merely been researching. If i ever get around to actually building a boat, I’d happily pay the price for your detailed plans.

    My vote would be for option 3: Keep giving away the small scale plans for the interested, and charge the price for the detailed information.

    By the way: Not building yet have been partly because none of the greenland boats on your site are recomended for 200+ pounds. If you have any recommendations for a yost-style greenland boat, suitable for a 6’3”, 225 pounds paddler, I’d be interested.

    Thanks again for a most interesting site.


    • Thanks, Jens. All the plans here are based on actual historic Greenland boats, and none of those that I’ve modeled (or know about) would work well for a 6’3″, 225 pound paddler. You could scale up a design and that may work for you.

  • Option 3 sounds to me like a great idea, this gives any potentiel builder a good idea of any design, before any final design choice. Would be great with DelftShip files as well…

  • I’m very much interested in the plans of the Chestnut Chum.
    When do you think you will have them available ?

    Apart from that, I fully agree with Michael Hryb.

  • Hi, i havent downloaded any of your plans yet because i have a few questions. Im just about to start my first kayak for my own use from plans ive bought. Ive had a lot of interest from friends and family about building a few kayaks witch i would be paid for, therefor selling them..Lots of the plans you have are of very old styles that have been around for a long time. Im capable of building straight from a photo in a book but i dont want to tread on peoples toes or infringe on any copyrights. Question is ( even though i dont mind paying) how free are your plans from copyrights.. Roy

    • The drawings and my personal designs are copyrighted, and the free download includes the license to build one boat for your personal use. If you want to build them commercially (get paid for them), you’ll need to license the drawings for a fee.

      The old designs themselves are not copyrighted, so if you wanted to avoid paying a licensing fee, you could go to a book that’s out of copyright, draw up full-sized stations and work from there.

      Make sense?

      • Bryan, thanks for your reply. It makes sense thank you.


        • If you want to know what the licensing fee is (it’s small), drop me an email at

          • Hi Bryan, dont seem to be able to send e_mail direct so could you mail me a list of the things weve mentioned….Thanks. Roy

            • Hi, Roy,

              The only things that we’ve mentioned are in this thread. Do you not have access to email?

              • Hi, yes ive got e_mail but for some reason it wont send to your personal mail box.. Can you plase send me a.price… Roy

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