Any suggestions on hull design software?

pat chapman

Willits biographer
Here's a question for you techie types. I'm looking for a good, inexpensive (that may be an oxymoron!) software program that will generate canoe hull lines from a table of offsets. 2D and 3D capability would be ideal, but I'd settle for 2D. I can loft the old fashioned way, but was hoping there's a program out there that someone has experience with and that fits in my budget better than some of the professional CAD programs. Any suggestions?
while you will probably get some goods answers here. may i suggest you post this on the woodenboat forum. lots of techie types there to help.
Hi Pat,

I've tried this a few times, and always go back to lofting by hand. I purchased Vacanti ProLines a while back - I don't remember which version, but not the current one. It included a method for entering a table of offsets, but you had to match the curves to the input points while fairing, and I found the process tedious at best and the results essentially unusable. Also, had to finish the session at one sitting because if I tried to save, something was lost that rendered previous work a waste. Perhaps the newest version works better, but I will let someone else find out.

New Waves Nautilus System appears to be the industry standard, but is pricy at $795. Worse, in order to input a table of offsets you need an additional add-on package for an extra $495. This is the package that John Winters, author of "The Shape of the Canoe", uses, or at least used to...

I know that some folks simply use a CAD program like AutoCad or Rhino. Again, pricy, accompanied by a steep learning curve.

Beware that the fairing process is not easy. It is very easy to "over-fair" the canoe (just a click here and a smidge there... and again...), and end up with a very nice, fair design, that is not the same as the original.

Truth is, I've about given up on the idea (will revisit it if soemone puts together a package that works well AND is affordable). In fact, just ordered myself some old-fashioned ships curves to help with the drafting that some current projects will require.

As Bob said, this topic appears on the WoodenBoat forum regularly - a quick search should yield several discussions of relevence.

Bridge City Tool used to sell an inexpensive CAD program called Drawing Board Lite. It had the tools and printing capablility to loft a canoe. I lofted a Red Bird on it and it was easy and worked well. I printed the stations out on 8 1/2 by 11 paper in sections and glued them to poster board with spray adhesive. They were then cut out to generate templates for the station profiles. I have to add the caveat that I never followed up by actually building the form since I changed my mind about building this particular canoe- it was a stripper and I decided I wanted to go with wood canvas. It might be worth a try to contact Bridge City to see if the program is still available. My version runs on a Mac but they made a PC version as well.

Here is the link to Bridge City Tools and they have great demos for their CAD program called Argon. It seems pricey at $895.00 but I didn't see a Light version. I personally have TurboCad Deluxe which has all the features for a full CAD but admitedly, not some of the neat stsuff shown in the Bridge City Demos. but it is a whole lot cheaper...

Good Luck, Joe
Hi again,

Some further thoughts - there are lots of Cad programs at various price points. You need to know how the program is going to fit a curve or surface to your set of input points. See

Further, one of the main advantages of a dedicated boat design package over a straight CAD package is the ability to calculate hydrostatics and hydrodynamics. Without this, what do you get from a CAD package? The ability to display 3D renderings of your hull which is cool, but nothing more than eye candy, and perhaps the ability to print accurate full-size station molds (depending on the quality of your software and your skill). Much more expensive and probably more time consuming than using a sheet of plywood and some battens.

I now recall that it is possible to use the Nautilus system to input offsets without the extra stability package. See (in fact, the demo uses a B.N. Morris canoe). You do need the $800 version of the package to do this. You can download a fully functional demo to try it yourself. I did, but didn't very good results in the limited time I spent messing with it. Might try again sometime, though.

Pat, if this is to generate drawings for your book, you might consider instead hooking up with someone like Sam Manning (who did the lines and/or illustrations for Roger MacGregor's and Hallie Bond's books).

Thanks for the suggestions everyone. I'll check out the Wooden Boat forum to see if they have other thoughts. It's looking more and more like I'll do the drawings for my (upcoming) Willits book by hand since I have neither the budget for the powerful CAD programs, nor the patience to learn them. I also don't have the budget to pay a pro to do them for me. So I'd better go paint up a piece of plywood, cut a couple of battens and take up the living room floor for a couple of days! That really seems more appropriate for documenting some classic, old wooden canoes anyway.