Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Shelter (Tent) Options for Oar Cruisers

In the definition of an ‘oar cruiser’ (see definition on right side of this site), the rower is going to sleep in the boat. How do we provide shelter from rain and bugs while sleeping, cooking, eating, etc.

Option 1: Hope it doesn’t rain and bring lots of insect repellant.


Another option is to use a ‘bivy’ such as the Uber Bivy

The Uber Bivy with Rain Hood Folded Back

This provides rain and bug protection while sleeping and is easily and compactly stored. However, no protection while cooking, eating, etc.


Following two alternatives are from PDRacer,com

The first is “The Bottomless Tent”

The "Bottomless Tent"

It is a 4’ x 6’ child’s tent with the bottom cut out.


The second is “The Puddle Duck Tube Tent”

The PDR "Tube Tent"

The ends are plywood with clear deck plates available from Duckworks.
I’d mount the deck plates on the inside of the ends and use small patches of window screening on the outside.
The aft end is fastened with shock cord to an available cleat and the forward end is tensioned with a line attached to a second cleat and running through a small hole in the panel to a jam cleat on the inner face.
If the plywood ends were foldable (hinged on vertical seam?), then the whole tent could be more easily stored.


An open-ended variation of the “Tube Tent” could be made from a rectangular section of, for example, Polytarp, with 3 or 4 sleeves that hold fiberglass tent poles.
Add 6 or 8 ‘sockets’ (see Duckworks for a wide variety of components that could be used to create this custom shelter) on the decks that would hold the ends of the tent poles. This would provide an open ended tent that would provide rain protection for sleeping, cooking and eating. However, being open ended, no protection from bugs, and if there was wind, not much protection from rain.


Bimini Top

Rick Thompson's Custom Bimini Top

This is a Bimini top Rick Thompson made for his Walkabout.
A Bimini top could be designed to provide sun protection for the rower and, with multiple sets of deck fittings, could be lowered to cover the cockpit to provide rain protection while sleeping, but no bug protection.


Matt Layden’s Sand Flea demonstrates another alternative.

Matt Layden's Sand Flea

The sliding hatch covers the cockpit and provides sleeping protection from rain and bugs, but not while cooking/eating, etc.
In an oar cruiser, since the cockpit must be at least 4’ (1.2m) long, two hatches would probably be required, meeting in the middle with an overlap joint.
Ventilation is strongly recommended for any ‘shelter’ solution that is closed, such as this. My Boat Gear has a good description of various ventilation solutions, some of which are suitable (either purchased or made) for oar cruisers and other small boats.


Rick Thompson designed and built a very elegant shelter solution for his Walkabout.

Rick Thompson's Custom Shelter for His Walkabout

The two end components fold down to the fore and aft decks. The middle section, used only when full protection is needed, attaches to the other two sections.


For many, the best solution is a separate ‘sleeping’ compartment as in Colin Angus’s RowCruiser.

Colin Angus's RowCruiser with Sleeping Cabin

It is really nice to have a dedicated sleeping compartment such as this. However, there is no protection when cooking, eating, etc.


One of Malcolm Forbes many boats he has owned is a 16’ (4.9m) Crawford Swampscott Dory in which he currently cruises. These photos show how he has designed and built a shelter system that enables him to sleep comfortably and yet row with some protection.

Malcolm Forbes Swampscott with Shelter Fully Rigged

Here, the Shelter has been Rolled Back to Enable Rowing

The Four-piece Sleeping Platform

The shelter is held up by the 'sprit' which is supported by the halyard and a topping lift. The edges are attached to 'hammock hooks' screwed to the bottom of the rub-rail along the shear line.


What other ‘shelter’ solutions have you considered for your open boat? Let us know in Comments below.


  1. Paul Butler (Butler Projects) describes some interesting shelter solutions on his website.

  2. A collection of ideas, more sail oriented than row, but the concept is consistent.

  3. Justin and VinaIW... Thanks for the links!...


  4. Refuel Parker designed an interesting, purportedly ocean capable, 18-foot Sea Bright Skiff with an integral tent and watertight compartments. Looks heavy but very salty. However I suspect it is more suited for sailing than extended rowing. Still, an intriguing design based on one of perhaps the best types of beach-launched working boats ever designed in the US.

    1. Hi Christopher... Yes, 400 pounds plus supples would be a tough row... I'm very familiar with the Sea Bright skiff, having taken a 16' version in and out of heavy surf... Very sea worthy... This would make a really nice beach cruiser, primarily sail, with oars as auxiliary... Thanks for the link!