A successful boat design is a fusion of shape, structure, practicality, seaworthiness and pure aesthetic appeal. And, although boat designers3D Boat Design have managed for centuries without computer software, in the 21st Century you really need some decent CAD software to put your ideas into practice. We’ve been testing 3D Boat Design Software to see how easy it is to achieve these ideals. The program itself is not brand new, it’s been around  a little while. But it is subject to continuous upgrades (we used version 2.6.0), so there might well be a later version by the time you read this. Never having used any sort of CAD software before, we were a little apprehensive and unsure just how much we were going to be able to achieve. But we were pleasantly surprised and we have to admit, it’s pretty good. We’ve given it a five point rating for some criteria which we think are important. It scored pretty well.

Ignore our review and go straight to the sales page here

3D Boat Design is designed for all versions of Windows, including 98/2000/ME/XP/Vista/Windows 7. It installed painlessly on our Windows XP test machine. For such a sophisticated piece of software we were surprised at the small size of the installation. The exe file is just 2.1MB, smaller in fact, than the manual! We were a little confused by the number of views that it’s possible to have of your hull as you develop it, but fortunately you can switch off the ones you don’t want. There are a number of sample hulls included with the package and it makes sense to experiment with them first, as we did, to get used to the interface.

Is It Intuitive?

It’s not quite as intuitive as we expected and it did take us a little while to produce something useful. This is our first attempt. Somehow I managed to duplicate everything and I ended up with a sort of front view of a bug-eyed monster. The duplicate facility is there for a reason though – it enables you to develop one side of your hull then reproduce an exact mirror image for the other half. But it’s like most software, once you’ve played around with it for a few minutes then it all begins to fall into place. It’s a standard Windows interface so you should have no problems finding your way around.

Our rating: Ease of Use: 4/5

It Always Helps To Read The Manual!

Fortunately there’s a very comprehensive manual (right) that starts right at the very beginning for newcomers to CAD. This makes a difference because, as we found, much of the CAD terminology was somewhat foreign to us. We recommend that you read it thoroughly before you begin fiddling with the software, to save yourself an awful lot of time. The manual itself is 57 pages long. Not huge for such a complex subject but certainly enough to get started and working on a variety of projects. The main chapters are: Introduction, shown right, A chapter on viewports, which are the different windows that are used to view your design from different angles. Then follows a highly necessary description of the File and Edit menus. These contain many terms which will be completely baffling if you haven’t read the manual. Then follows a number of chapters that deal, in turn, with how to handle point, edge, curve face and layer operations. It sounds confusing but it makes sense once you start doing it. The final three chapters deal with the tools that are available to help you, how to perform calculations and how and why to do transformations.

There is a well-established forum and user group which it will probably be worth visiting and getting involved in. You can also sign up to their newsletter to remain updated on new developments. We haven’t tested the user-support response time as we didn’t really get stuck anywhere and had no reason to contact them.

Our rating: Help & Support: 4/5

Help With Surface Modelling

There’s plenty of instruction on surface modelling  and how to create and modify surfaces, but you do need to experiment for yourself, to get the hang of it. We’re not going to go into a discussion of the details of surface modelling techniques here because, quite frankly, we don’t know enough about it. What we can say, however, is that once we’d learned the knack of developing a surface, most surfaces almost seemed to develop themselves. It’s simply a matter of placing a point on a surface and then pulling it around. OK there’s a bit more to it than that (you’ll learn about points, lines, curves, creases and faces, for starters) but it’s not difficult and actually very enjoyable. One point we would make though, is that your designs are very sensitive to mouse movements. Sometimes, the smallest movement of a point can make a dramatic difference to a surface. Our tip would be to go into the Windows control panel and slow down your mouse tracking speed to give yourself a lot more control. Having done that, we found surface development to be a very satisfying operation indeed.

Our rating: Productivity: 5/5

Useful Wizards

It’s not all hard slog….some of the work is done for you. Here, for example is the Keel & Rudder wizard, to enable you to create those features simply by entering a few parameters into a few boxes. If you can read the image, you’ll see that it calls it an ‘appendage’. Having created your appendage and viewed its drag and lift graphs, you simply hit ‘Send’ to send it to your hull drawing at your desired insertion point. It can also be used to create hydroplanes and fins. Very useful and very time-saving. There are other useful, no, essential, wizards and tools to help you make your boat design as efficient as possible. You’ll need to know how changes to your hull shape are going to affect draft, displacement and water resistance. These can all be calculated on the fly according to a number of different algorithms. There’s quite a learning curve here but it’s all good interesting stuff and you’ll probably find it as absorbing as we did.

Our rating: Tools & Wizards: 5/5

Cool & Useful Tools

Among the other cool gizmos included is this one, I’m showing you the instructions from the manual because when I wrote this I hadn’t yet produced a hull surface to use it on, but it’s so useful I thought you’d want to see it. It’s called ‘zebra shading’ and when switched on, it colors your hull with a series of stripes. By checking the pattern of the stripes you can find areas where your hull is not as smooth as it could be. It’s the same effect you get when you look along the length of a piece of wood to see if you’ve planed it straight, the foreshortening tends to exaggerate any deviations. You need to see it in action to understand it fully, but here’s an extract from the manual to be going on with…

Our rating: Useability: 5/5




Is it worth the money?

At under $50, 3D Boat Design isn’t exactly going to break the bank and we felt, that for anyone interested in taking their interest in sailing just that step further then it was a valuable and instructive investment. It certainly managed to accomplish everything we asked of it and we had no crashes or blue screens during the six or seven hours we played with it.

Our rating: Value for Money: 5/5

3D Boat Design Software – Our conclusion: The current version of 3D Boat Design Software is a very comprehensive package, and an ideal introduction to CAD hull design. It has everything you need to create and develop your own hull designs from start to finish. It probably doesn’t have some of the bells and whistles of some of the much more expensive CAD programs but at $49.95 we think it’s well worth the money. It comes with a 60 day 100% money back guarantee, so there seems no reason not to give it a try. And, we haven’t seen any negative reviews of the package, so that’s encouraging too.


Click here to get your own copy of 3D Boat Design!

and get to work on the boat you always wanted!



All material provided on this web site is intended solely for informational or educational purposes. Nothing on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional boat construction advice. Always consult a professional if you are in any doubt about the seaworthiness of any craft you design.