Chesapeake Light Craft Ships 20,000th Boat Kit

Monday, 06 December 2010
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Annapolis, MD, -- Chesapeake Light Craft (CLC), in Annapolis, Maryland, has a true niche business: they make build-your-own-boat kits. The company started selling kayak plans in 1991, but began to manufacture and ship complete kits starting in 1993. On Monday, November 15th, CLC shipped its 20,000th boat kit to a customer in Aguanga, California.

The 20,000th kit was a 17-foot Shearwater kayak, a high-performance model that is among CLC’s most popular. The Shearwater 17 takes the average amateur boatbuilder about 80 hours to complete. Weighing only 45 pounds, the wood-and-fiberglass Shearwater kayak easily competes in performance with $4000 factory-made Kevlar kayaks. A boat kit like the Shearwater 17 kayak arrives at the customer’s house in a large flat carton, about the size and shape of a thick door. Inside the box are marine plywood parts pre-cut on CLC’s computer machinery, ready for assembly. Accompanying the big box is hardware, an epoxy and fiberglass kit, and, of course, complete step-by-step instructions. The Shearwater 17 kit costs less than $1,000 and ships anywhere in the world.

CLC President John C. Harris, who started as CLC’s first full-time employee and now owns the company, says the number crept up on him. “I remember kit number 100, and it’s hard to believe we’re at 20,000. When we started we didn’t know there were so many people who wanted to build their own boat.”

Amateur boatbuilding has a long history, however, according to Harris. “Boat kit companies really got going in the 1920’s and 30’s. It was a way for everyman to acquire a nice boat inexpensively---yachts and small pleasurecraft were just as expensive back then as they are now,” he says. “The Great Depression created a lot of amateur boatbuilders.”

There may be a modern comparison: CLC’s sales have doubled since 2005 and have accelerated especially quickly in the last two years. But it isn’t just economics that inspires amateur boatbuilders, says Harris. “Along the way, people can’t help but fall in love with the process of building a boat. We have a lot of customers who are on their fifth or sixth boat kit. Boatbuilding is a tremendously creative and expressive exercise---and a wooden boat is a work of art you can really use.”

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Chesapeake Light Craft, LLC
Chesapeake Light Craft designs and sells kits and plans for wooden kayaks, canoes, rowing boats, and small sailboats. The smallest kit is an 8-foot, 22-pound kayak for kids; the largest is an 850-pound trailerable cruising sailboat. While most CLC boat kits are built in the United States, kits have been shipped to 63 countries, from Trinidad to Turkey, South Korea to the Kyrgyz Republic. CLC ships boat kits directly from their Annapolis factory and from dealerships in Japan, Australia, the UK, and France. Most boat kits are built in home garages and basements, but also in high-rise apartment buildings, and even living rooms. Boatbuilding classes, where students build their own boat under CLC’s supervision, are a large and growing part of the business. About 5% of the kits built in 2010 were in CLC’s one-week “boatbuilding immersion” classes.


David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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