Friday, May 16, 2014

New Boat Hooks

Phoenix is a heavy boat with a minimum of 6' free board. Both attributes can make for an interesting docking experience that makes your normal, 6' aluminum telescoping boat hooks seem too short when trying to grab a line and quite feeble when fending off a piling!

A few years ago, when Bill transited the Erie Canal to bring Phoenix home, someone at the NY State Canal System recommended that he screw hooks into some 2x2s and use them to help grab lines and push off the walls in the locks. This proved to be an invaluable tip and the sturdy 2x2s were much more effective than a light weight boat hook.

Bill and JD aboard Phoenix in the Erie Canal, 2x2s in hand

JD, Justin, Bill and Brian pushing off after visiting with Brian's parents

Brian and Kieth in the Erie Canal
Fast forward a few years, and it was time for more traditional boat hooks on board. My parents gave us new stainless steel boat hook tips for Christmas and we had one galvanized tip on hand, so Bill set to work making proper boat hooks for Phoenix.

New boat hook tips

We decided to go with 8' poles, and given the length, we didn't want to go with teak or other exotic hardwoods -- the weight would be unmanageable. Sitka spruce or Douglas fir would give us nice strength without the excess weight, and since Douglas fir is more readily available in our area, the choice was pretty easy.

We don't have a lathe or a shaper, so Bill opted for a more traditional woodworking approach. He started with 8' long 2x4 boards, that he ripped in two. He faceted each board with several passes through the table saw, then used a hand planer and spoke shaver to shape each board into a round pole with a tapered end to fit into the pole tip.

Boards ripped and one faceted

Soon to be boat pole ends

Bill hard at work with the hand planer
Tips attached and ready to float and taper

Once satisfied with the general shape, we floated each pole to determine their "waist" (each tip varied slightly in weight, so the waist was located on a different spot on each pole). He then tapered each pole from this waist to the tip to remove excess weight and flotation, and from the waist to the handle to remove additional weight and make the pole more manageable. This tapering allows each boat pole to properly float upright if dropped in the water. For a finishing touch, he shaped the ends to make them easy to handle, and drilled holes for line attachments.

Each pole was sanded with 80 and then 120 grit sandpaper for a nice finish. Since the poles are going to be used quite a bit and probably abused along the way, we decided not to finish them with Cetol or another varnish. Instead we opted to try Deks Olje wood oil. We had some on hand from a previous boat, touching up is easy, and the finish is not slippery like varnish or Cetol when wet.

Boat hooks ready for the Deks Olje

Several coats of Deks Olje later, the boat poles are finished and ready for our next sail!

Boat hooks oiled and ready to go

Tapered pole handles

Nice taper!


  1. Hey Bill, those are absolutely beautifully crafted Gary & Lana

  2. They turned out very nice. Professional looking. Good idea to use the 8 ft poles instead of the 6. Not everyone onboard has as long a reach as Bill.......