Goat Island Skiff - Simple Sailing boat, Excellent performance, Lightweight

NEWS FLASH - Stock sails for GIS reduce total cost by approx $300 - link

Simple to Build
Modern Performance - Sails rings around most "character boats"
Light enough to handle on land by yourself
Easy to follow plans - step by step instructions.  96 page manual.

Length - 15'6" (4.73m)
Beam - 5ft (1.52m)
Hull Weight - 128lbs (57kg) - Gaboon (Okoume) Ply
Sail Area - Lug 105 sq ft (9.75 sq metres)

For purchasers of the plan there is a new birdsmouth mast option
email me with proof of purchase.

PDF Plans by email - $100
Paper Plans - $125 plus postage 

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Goat Island Skiff Group on Facebook - storerboatplans.com   Active and helpful GIS group on Facebook
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Photoseries and text of building a GIS
    Boatbuilding School - Build One - Adelaide
  Videos on Youtube
  Photos on
        strong and medium winds
  New GIS - first sail report here
    Updated rigging details for builders
    More GIS discussion here

    Discussion about Lug Rigs

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USA - Ray Frechette
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Sails for the GIS start at $380 (Feb 2014) with excellent quality
Sail are the most expensive single purchase when building a new boat.  We have been working toward making sails in the Philippines. We import quality components and materials from the USA, Australia and Taiwan..

Podcasts about the ideas behind the Goat.

Sailmaker Michael McNamara with many UK titles reviews the Goat Island Skiff.
From Ralph Gersson in Holland ... I got a very nice mail from Michael McNamara from mcNamara sails. He made a nice sail for Richard Harvey's GIS "Blanche" and I decided to order mine ( loose footed version ) with him. He recently sailed this GIS and wrote to me

Ralph, I had a nice long sail in Richard`s Goat Island Skiff today and had a lovely sail. He has made a great job of the boat and it went like a dream.

I was very impressed with how simple the controls were and how quickly the boat went. It was also beautifully balanced.

As you could expect the boat felt better when it was slightly heeled when beating. Off wind it felt fast but didn’t create a planing sort of wash...it just went faster and faster.

When tacking I found that I had to be quite forceful in pushing it into the wind and it was definitely better to "roll" it coming out of the tack. I'm glad that I did have a sail because I found that I need to modify the sail slightly to give more fullness at the head. The yard bent more than I had anticipated.

I will now get started on your sail and be in touch soon. Hope that is ok.

Sailing the Goat Island Skiff - Description.
I've been up in Mooloolaba Queensland for around a week now (Jan 2007).

The purpose of the trip has been to do some planning and groundwork for the PDRacer - a small cheap sailing boat that is easy to build as well as revise some of my plansets using technology I have available up here.

I'm staying with my Friends, Peter and Jo Hyndman who built the first Goat Island Skiff over 12 years ago.

They also live on the edge of the Mooloola River - which makes it quite easy to take a break and go for a sail.

Peter has been perching up on his balcony with his new Nikon D80 Digital Camera while I put the sailing skiff through its paces.

Some people think that GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems - for us it means Goat Island Skiff.

One of the big problems with photos of quick boats is that as they make so little fuss as they travel through the water that they don't look like they are doing much.  We will be rectifying that shortly with some video clips so you'll be able to see just how much ground the boat is covering.

Definitely a quick boat.  Maybe it doesn't have the top end of a modern racing boat, but it is not going to be embarrassed by any non trapeze type on any point of sail and most windstrengths.

The thing about the GIS is that it is constructed like a modern boat out of a minimum number of pieces.
2 x sides
1 x bottom
3 x seat tops
4 x bulkheads to support the seats and create the built in buoyancy tanks
1 x transom.

There is very little else.

The end result is that this traditional looking sailing skiff  is lighter than many racing boats.  Peter's own Gruff weighs in at a very light 127lbs (58kg)- not bad for a boat a little under 16ft (4.8m) - a geographic advantage of Australian and NZ boat design and construction.   And there is no ultra thin ply or difficult construction used - it is all robust 1/4" (6mm) ply.

So in these pics you can see it in fast mode - and also see just how pretty it is.

There is just no comparison between it and the Lumbering Lumberyard Skiffs you see drawn up traditionally.  But I do sort of ruin things by wearing such an tragic hat.

If you look at the pics below and on Peter's own GIS website you will be able to see it carrying a bit of weight too.  I've sailed it with 4 adults in the boat (Actually it was Peter and Jo, me and my ex Maz) for a daysail on Moreton Bay with a picnic aboard - about 700lbs (310kg) of crew and gear.  Nice moderate sailing breeze - we covered a lot of ground that day covering open water and skimming over shallows.  Peter's site has a great deal of general GIS information as well.

Epoxy and Low Maintenance
An interesting thing is that you wouldn't think that this was a 12 year old boat judging by the pics.  It has never been repainted or revarnished - the sail and ropes have never been renewed.  The loads on everything are so light compared to a modern boat.

A testament to coating a boat with a good quality boatbuilding epoxy system and then following it with a quality paint system.  It costs more in the first place, but the boat and the owner don't miss (even slightly) the extra maintenance that would have been necessary if cheaper materials had been used - ie the two or three major sandings back and repaintings that would have been required if cheaper materials were used.

There is a lot of information about use and advantages of epoxy in my boatbuilding FAQ.  You don't necessarily need to use epoxy to build this boat, but it does make the structure terrifically strong and low maintenance.

The plans are highly detailed and have been full revised as of Feb 2007 with more pics and drawings and a clearer layout.  One expansion are a series of photos giving information about the different systems of the boat - mainsheet/downhaul/halyard and position and photos of the parts.  I hope that this makes it easier to find the few fittings required independent of your geography.

Updated Sept 1, 2006

The Goat Island Skiff is my most popular plan,

The reason ... it is really pretty.

More pics on the Goat Island Skiff picture page

So catches peoples attention.

Once it has caught their attention they start to see other advantages.

It is really light - which means that it is easy to move around on shore and is one of the secrets behind the modern performance.  It actually weighs 10lbs LESS than a Laser Dinghy at 125lbs (57kg) - built of lighweight Gaboon plywood.

It is also versatile - it rows quite OK, sails like a rocket and can take a small outboard.

The Goat Island Skiff (GIS) is one of the easiest boats of its length to build because of the greatly reduced number of parts.

The practical and performance advantages of the balance lug rig

One of the fun things about the GIS is that the lug rig upsets racing type sailors - they ring me up and email me asking if they could put a more modern rig on the boat.  So far I have managed to convince all of them to stay with the four sided lug sail - and all of them have been grateful when they realise just how quick this sailing skiff goes.

The lug sail is highly efficient, quick to rig and unrig.  I know everyone says that "their" lug rig is highly efficient but I have done significant research into the type and my own development through the 15 years I have had BETH the sailing canoe.  Both the GIS and BETH will give modern boats a run for their money and will sail rings around other character boats and the many Lumbering lumberyard skiffs.

One of the biggest hints I can give them is to specify a low stretch halyard for the mainsail - spectra or dynex - it means the sail shape doesn't deteriorate through stretch in the rope - well worth the extra $15.

If you are used to sailing modern dinghies like the Taser, Laser, Sabre - ie regular modern dinghies - you will find the Goat has much of the feel of these boats. Lively and responsive.  It can sail in modern company and not be completely outclassed.

However it has a much greater carrying capacity than any of the modern boats.  I have had it out with 4 Adults and it sails very nicely indeed - an advantage of the easily driven hull form.

The other advantage of the lug rig is that it reefs very simply - the sail area is quite big at 105 sq ft (9.75 sq m) so with the hull's light weight it has quite a big power to weight ratio for good fine weather performance.  When the weather blows up then it can be reefed for good control.  This is also why the GIS is relatively cheap to get on the water - having a single big sail is a lot cheaper than having several smaller ones.  Generally adding a jib doubles the cost of rig and sails.

Easy to build

There are two parts to ease of building

1/ The quality of the plans
2/ Whether the designer understands the capabilities of the materials being used.

The plans for the Goat Island Skiff are more like a book than a plan.  Detailed information on each building step, how to join the plywood, how to mark the shapes of the panels, how to use the epoxy - it is all there.  More a course on boatbuilding than a simple plan.

One of the first things you notice looking at the GIS is the lack of timber framing - the interior is very clean and open - the loads are carried by the ply and the timber is just there to hold it together.  The picture right shows all the pieces that go to make up the hull and the basic construction sequence.  Photo below shows the clean interior

Less timber is used in the boat, which saves money.
Less structure - which saves weight.
Fewer parts so the boat builds much more quickly.

Building Space

Building space would not have to be enormous. I suppose the minimum would be around 18ft by 6ft - a standard carspace would be more than adequate. The boat is quite movable while under construction so could be worked on in the open and moved under shelter when not building.  As the major ply components are constructed on the flat, very little space is taken up until over halfway through the project.

Sailing the Skiff
This sailing skiff will sail much the same as most boats its size, but there are a few peculiarities that come with the flat bottom.

As with almost all boats the skiff will sail fastest if sailed level - with little or no heel – the exception is in very light winds when you are struggling to get up any speed at all the boat can be heeled over to 20 This reduces the wetted surface by around 25%. As soon as the boat has achieved any sort of consistent speed it should be brought upright.

When the water is very choppy the boat may slam badly if sailed upright. A small amount of heel will smooth its movement considerably. The minimum amount of heel that stops the worst of the slamming should be adopted.

The forward and aft buoyancy tanks are designed for use as seats when rowing. The boat will perform best sailing with crew weight concentrated around the middle thwart.

The final difference with many other boats is because there is no jib. This means that the mainsail boom should not be pulled in tighter than 10 degrees.
Trailing the Skiff

The GIS can be carried on a lightweight trailer.  It is certainly light enough to be cartopped - but it is bulky so we recommend a trailer.

She fits nicely in a standard 5ft box trailer with an extended towing arm at the front.

Rowing the Skiff

If rowlocks are to be fitted they need to go 300mm behind the back edge of the centre seat. The oars need to be 9ft long for best efficiency and the plans are free from my website - Click HERE.

There is always a bit of luck involved in designing a boat - here it was that the 9ft oars store neatly in the bottom of the boat.

Motoring the Skiff

Because of its hullshape the Goat Island Skiff can't use more than about 3 or 4 hp effectively.  In fact even 2 hp iwll push her along at good speed.   Higher horspowers are not very useful because the hull is not the right shape to go faster - it will stand up on its stern and start pounding in waves.

The Goat Island Skiff is set up to take small horsepowers (up to 3) already as the transom is braced by the knees in the corners and the top of the rear seat.

For more info on motoring read the article from Dave Graybeal below under "satisfied customers".  He is currently building the new hollow mast design so his boys can take her sailing.

Questions and Answers

Can the GIS carry a load?

From Leigh Hemmings on Scotland Island

Dear Michael,
Hi, from Scotland Island.Today we used our light fast and pretty Goat Island Skiff as a concrete, blue metal and sand barge.  Previous days have seen it used as a timber barge -- powered by an electric outboard!.  When not in this guise it's main role is our commuter boat.  But, once our renovation is a little further down the track, our Goat Island Skiff will once more become light fast and pretty sailing craft.  Trust you are well and enjoying life.

That Mast Looks Heavy - is there an alternative?

I have also drawn up a plan for a hollow wooden mast made of planks for the GIS - you have to alter the mast step and partner slightly.  Drawings are now available and included with new plan sets.  As usual the ligher structure is also cheaper because it uses less timber and the timber thickness is easier to find. 

More on Motoring

The boat balances quite OK if there is someone else in the boat to sit on the front seat with the driver on the rear seat.  When by yourself the boat will balance better if you make up a tiller extension for the outboard so you can sit on the middle seat.

A tiller extension for the outboard can be made of plastic pipe to fit over the outboard tiller.

What sort of Outboard works OK

Not too big - you won't go any faster and it might put too much load on the boat.

Perhaps you can use a slightly larger outboard, but generally outboards don't take too well to running at low revs all the time - and it is another heavy bit to carry round.

Be aware too that outboard weight is a whole field to itself.  Generally a manufacturer will use the same engine as the basis for 2 or 3 models.  So you may see an three different horsepower outboards all with about the same weight  - ie they all use the same block and other internals. 

So do some checking before buying.

Satisfied Customers


Goat Island Skiff Pages - Peter Hyndman

One of the first GISs built - Manly Qld.  Now resides in Mooloolaba.

Goat Island Skiff Pages - Dave Graybeal

Building in the USA - posted on the DUCKWORKS website