When you store a small boat out of the water, whether it's for the winter or simply when it is pulled up on a beach or dock between uses, a properly built cradle to hold and support the hull will prolong the boat's life and assure that the hull won't be damaged or warped in storage. For most storage situations, where the cradle does not need to be moved often and the boat can be manhandled onto it, a cradle can be built using only a few boards and some pieces of carpeting. Since small boats vary so much in hull shape and size, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a cradle, so you'll need to do some legwork and research, and put your thinking cap on.
Go to a local marina or dry storage yard, and look at how other people have approached the problem. Especially, look at how boats of a similar size and shape to yours are stored. Look at boats that are stored on trailers as well, since trailers are just mobile cradles. Be aware of how well the hull is supported, looking for signs that the hull is being deformed or damaged by compression. Take pictures of solutions you think might work for your boat, and make notes of measurements and construction details.
Inspect your boat, looking at the hull shape and how it's constructed. Look for strong areas where the hull is reinforced by thwarts, ribs, knees, stringers or seat benches, and look for weak areas where the hull is thinner or has less support. Take measurements and make notes of the details.
Decide how your boat will be moved on and off the cradle. For instance, for a boat stored on a cradle on a dock the most typical way would be to pull the boat up by the bow and pull it in from the stern of the cradle. Make sure your cradle design has no obstacles in the way, and make sure it will fit in the area where you want to put it and that there will be room to walk and work around it.
Decide how you want to support your boat's hull. There are two main styles of support that are typically used: longitudinal bunks that run along the bottom of both sides of the hull, or cross-members with pads that are shaped or positioned to fit the cross-section of the hull. The idea is to distribute the weight of the hull onto the supports as evenly as possible while concentrating the support at the strongest parts of the hull, where possible. A typical solution for a sailing dinghy might be two wide bunks aft where the hull is flatter and thinner, and one cross-member with a v-shaped pad near the bow.
Cut boards or other material for the bunks and pads to fit your boat's hull. If you can turn your boat over, lay the bunks and pads in place to see how they fit the hull. Shape the bunks to fit the curve of your hull, if necessary, allowing space for carpet padding. Measure all the angles you'll need for a proper fit, and determine how high the supports will need to be. If possible, allow for the keel to take some of the weight on the base of the cradle.
Cut support posts or frames, if needed, at the proper heights and angles to support the bunks and pads, and assemble them on a base. The base can be a sturdy sheet of plywood, a dock or a small frame built of wood or metal. Brace the supports so they can take not only the boat's weight, but any horizontal or outward pressure that might be put on them.
Fasten the bunks and pads to the support posts using through-bolts or screws. Sink any bolt or screw heads so they don't protrude from the pad where the hull will rest on them. Paint any raw untreated wood to prolong its life if the cradle will be used for outdoor storage. Attach carpet pieces to the bunks, pads and base wherever the hull will touch. Be sure to cover any corners or hardware that might scrape or dig into your boat when it is being moved on or off the cradle.
Place your boat on the cradle and make any final adjustments as needed.
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