The Cradle That Won’t Rock; It Rolls

by Sherwood Heggen

So your boat bottom needs some help. Looks like it is going to need more than some screws and paint. Boards are loose and water is pouring in. It is time to rebuild. So, are we going to talk about rebuilding boat bottoms? Well, no. For every restoration effort, there is preparation to do the job correctly. We are going to take a look at a method to
correctly support a boat with a cradle while it is upside down.

What are some of the features in a cradle to support the boat properly? First, it must be sufficiently strong to hold the bolt in shape and be wiggle free while you are working on the boat. Secondly, it should allow the boat to stand a sufficient distance off the floor to allow you access underneath the boat. Thirdly, it should allow the boat to be mobile. Bottom work takes more than a weekend to finish, so provide for a way to move it around during rebuilding time.

Before building the cradle, take measurements for your boat as described below to custom fit the cradle to your boat. Make a sketch of how your cradle will look and note the measurements on the sketch.

Before installing the cradle, gut the boat right down to the ceiling boards and steering wheel. Then nothing will be in the way of the cradle structure and it will be lighter to work with when rolling it over.

The cradle structure is made of 1×4, 2×4, and 2×6 lumber and is very basic in design. Everything is screwed together with two and three-inch deck screws and is essentially a six-legged table frame attached to the stringers and frames. The 2x4s make up the legs and the base and the 1x4s make up the cross braces. Each leg is made up of two lengths of 2×4 screwed face to face with the other. (See Fig. 1)

The length of the 2x4s for all of the legs is determined by measuring the distance from the top of the stringers to the highest point on the deck. Typically, that point is at the dash board. If possible, one part of the two- piece leg should be like a cripple stud in a window frame providing support between the stringer and the cradle base. That length of that part of the leg should be the distance from the stringer to the top of the dashboard plus a couple of inches to allow room for the 2×6 crosspiece that will hold the swivel casters. The other 2×4 is screwed to the side of the cradle base and the side of the stringer. The cradle base is made up of one-piece 2x4s that extend from a point forward of the transom by a foot or two to about a foot forward of the dash board. Construction of the cradle is started by screwing the 1×4 cross braces to the topside frames just below the gunwales. The rear cross brace should be as far back as possible yet still allow the legs to pass through the engine hatch area on a runabout or be in front of the transom deck on a utility. The front cross brace should be screwed to the topside frames just aft of the dashboard. The middle cross brace can be screwed to the topside frames at a point somewhere in between. The two-piece legs are screwed together outside the boat and then screwed to the stringers and the cross braces. Use a framing square to assure the legs are at right angles to the stringers. Then, screw on the cradle base starting with the full length 2x4s for each side. In between, screw in spreaders made of 2x4s. Review the pictures and a lot of the little details of how this is supposed to look will all be cleared up.

Now to make the boat mobile, acquire four 5-inch diameter swivel caster wheels to mount on the cradle. Lag bolt a caster to each end of a 2×6 of sufficient length to allow them to clear the cradle base. Make two of these and screw or lag bolt one on each end of the bottom side of the cradle, when the boat is in the upright position. They are placed in that position to keep the boat from being too tall to work on when upside down. Again, reviewing the pictures will make clear how the cradle wheels are
positioned. Be sure all of the attachment points are well screwed together and the cradle is finished. The boat is now ready to roll over. If you have never rolled a boat, refer to the February ’98 Gadgets and Kinks; it also
covers a basic description of a cradle.
I hope that gives those of you who need to get the boat upside down and mobile some food for thought and action. It has worked well for me for years.

At the risk of your getting tired of hearing it, I am going to say it again. Don’t destroy it; restore it. It is a shame to see and hear of once-decent boats sitting outside in the elements wasting away while waiting for restoration, or just being allowed to waste away. If you can’t get at the restoration of your own boat right away, at least cover it or find inside storage. If you don’t want it, advertise it in the BoatHouse Trading Dock.

Encourage others to do the same.
Got any questions about restoration?
Give me a call at 715-294-2415 or e-mail me at I look forward to hearing from you.