Top 8 Best Boat Design Software in 2023 (Free & Paid)
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Whether you’re a student, a hobbyist, or a professional, finding the right software is the key first step to designing a boat. However, with such a wide range of programs available, you need to make sure you choose the best boat design software for you.
We usually talk about 3D software in relation to 3D printing, but 3D modeling techniques are used across many applications and industries, including boat design. In fact, 3D printing is becoming increasingly prevalent in the boat design industry, with one example being Tanaruz’s 3D printed boats.
In this guide, we review several 3D ship design software to help you do just that. We’ll take a close look at both free and professional options, so that you’ll be able to find a suitable program regardless of your budget and experience.
Read more: our feature story on 3D printed boats
- Best Boat Design Software – Full Round-Up
- What is Boat Design Software?
- What Can You Do With Boat Software?
- Best Boat Design Software Reviews (Free & Paid)
- Best Free Boat Design Software
- Best Paid Boat Design Software
- Buying Guide – Things to consider when choosing boat software
Best Boat Design Software – Full Round-Up
- Free!ship: Best Free Boat Design Software for Linux
- Sailcut CAD: Free Sailboat Design Software
- Bearboat SP: Free Boat Designer for Small Boats & Kayaks
- DELFTship: Intuitive Free Boat Design Tool with Professional Option
- Fusion 360: Best Free Boat Design Software for Beginners & Mac
- SketchUp: Best Boat Design App for iPad
- Autoship: Best for Naval & Marine Architecture, Best for Windows
- Solidworks: Best for Aluminum Boat Design Software & Best for Yachts
What is Boat Design Software?
A boat design software is a program used to sketch, plan, and model a boat in 3D. Popular boat design programs include Free!ship, Solidworks, Fusion 360, and Autoship.
What is naval architecture?
Naval architecture is the processing of designing and engineering marine vessels like ships and boats, as well as their parts. Naval architects also work in boat and ship repair.
Do I need special software for designing boats?
You don’t need a special boat design software to design boats and ships. While there are a number of specialist boat design software tools out there, general 3D modeling CAD programs like Fusion 360 and AutoCAD are also used for this purpose.
What Can You Do With Boat Software?
All boat software have different features that determine what you can do with them. For example, certain programs are designed for creating certain types of boats, such as kayaks and sailboats, so this is the first consideration you need to make to find a suitable program.
More expensive programs typically offer a much wider range of features than paid versions. At the top end are industrial solutions like Autoship and Solidworks, which offer extremely high quality and flexible modeling tools and provide support for testing, manufacturing, and engineering processes, so they’re complete solutions.
There are also software like DELFTship and Fusion 360 that provide both free and paid versions, so you can try out the free versions and then upgrade if you want the extra features available on the paid licenses.
Best Boat Design Software Reviews (Free & Paid)
Best Free Boat Design Software
Free!ship – Best Free Boat Design Software for Linux
Completely free and open source
Subdivision modeling to design any hull shape
Can export designs in a range of file formats
Can submit support and feature requests
Positive reviews from users
Can be tricky for novices to get used to
Not available on Mac
Free!ship is a surface modeling program for designing ships and yachts, using subdivision surfaces modeling rather than NURBs, providing the freedom to design hulls of any shape.
Available on Windows and Linux, you can get started with this free CAD software by automatically generating a basic boat structure to use as a template. You can then easily use the nodes on the structure, as well as a variety of tools like curve, split, collapse, and insert plane, to reshape the design to your liking.
You need to fill in certain parameters, such as:
- Boat length
- Beam length
- Longitudinal and vertical direction
Once you’ve done that, you can view your boat design in four different perspectives and every angle to help you finalize your structure.
Free!ship offers the option to fill out support requests, feature requests, and report bugs. However, bear in mind that design beginners may be better off with a professional free ship design software that has more support options and tutorials available, as you don’t get any training with Free!ship.
Sailcut CAD – Free Sailboat Design Software
Specialist sailboat design software
Easy to use node editing
Supports a variety of sail designs
Export designs in different file types including DXF files
Not suitable for designing other boat types
If you’re looking for a free small boat design software specifically geared towards designing sails and sailboats, you can’t go wrong with Sailcut CAD.
This design and plotting software can be used to design the sail, hull, and rail of a boat, in addition to precisely computing panel development in flat sheets.
You can use it for a variety of different sail types, including wing sails, cross cut, twist foot cut, vertical cut, mitre cut, and radicul cut, so it’s a versatile tool that will suit virtually any sailboat designer.
The software provides a base design template that you can then edit and view in a variety of formats, including shaded, wireframe, and development. It provides control over all the key dimensions of your sailboat, such as boat length, gaff round, and seam width.
Bearboat SP – Free Boat Designer for Small Boats & Kayaks
Specialist kayak design software
Simple to use
Control all aspects of your design
Multiple view options
Advanced tools like wetting
Not suitable for larger boat designs
Bearboat SP is a specialist kayak design software that can also be used to design other similar types of small boats.
People have been using Bearboat to design kayaks since 1998 – and it’s the most popular program for this specific type of boat design.
It’s a fairly simple, no-frills software that makes it easy to get stuck straight in. You begin by filling in the core boat hull parameters, such as length, stability, and design deplacement, and then just click the ‘create’ button to generate your base kayak template.
From there, you can go about making structural changes to aspects like shape seam, bow and stern seam height, and rockers parameters. You can also easily change dimensions using the nodes on the 2D wireframe design.
There are three viewing options – bird view, side view, and cross-section view – for inspecting your design from different perspectives, as well as options such as changing the color of the wireframe design for easier analysis.
Advanced features include the ability to view the wetted surface and underwater area, and a drag spreadsheet that contains all the parameters of your boat design, making Bearboat SP a well-rounded boat design tool overall.
DELFTship – Intuitive Free Boat Design Tool with Professional Option
More up-to-date and intuitive than other free boat design software tools
Easy to use node editing
Impressive model rendering
Professional license and extension options
Perform basic calculations to check buoyancy and other factors
Free version has limited features compared to paid version
DELFTship is another great free boat design software, and offers a somewhat more professional and up-to-date solution versus Sailcut and Free!ship, with more impressive renderings than other free programs.
This 3D hull form modeling program is very intuitive with a range of easy-to-use design features, including lots of nodes that make it simple to edit your base model just by dragging and dropping.
You can inspect your models from five different viewpoints and convert them to wireframes and other formats to better analyze structure. Features like the keel and rudder wizard make it simple to design additional components of your boat.
DELFTship provides an unlimited free version alongside a professional license that costs $160. You can also add on extensions and board stability analysis calculations upon request for additional fees.
Even without the paid license you can still use DELFTship free to perform basic hydrostatic calculations and resistance calculations to help improve the precision of your designs, making this one of the most impressive free boat design tools.
Fusion 360 – Best Free Boat Design Software for Beginners & Mac
More beginner-friendly than other boat design software
Lots of learning resources & tutorials
High quality, flexible 3D modeling tool
Available on Mac
Not a specialist boat hull design software
Unlike the other programs we’ve covered so far Fusion 360 is a general purpose 3D modeling software that’s not specifically made for boat designing. However, it’s still widely used in boat designing, and its more general nature has some advantages.
For starters, designing a boat is a fairly large and complex task, and the more specialist software like Free!ship and Bearboat SP are complex if you’re new to computer aided design.
While Fusion 360 still has a learning curve, it’s one of the best designed, intuitive, and beginner-friendly 3D modeling software out there. On top of that, it has a huge range of learning resources and tutorials, great support, and a large user community, so it’s very popular among new designers.
In fact, there are a variety of YouTube videos and written tutorials showing how to use Fusion 360 for boat design and for different types of vessels, including yachts and canoes. These include videos showing how to design wooden boats, so it’s a good choice if you’re looking for a plywood boat design software.
Another benefit of Fusion 360 is that, unlike most naval architecture boat design software, it’s available on Mac. It even has iOS and Android apps that allow you to view designs and collaborate via your smartphone or tablet.
Fusion 360 is also free for three years as long as you’re using it non-commercially.
Best Paid Boat Design Software
SketchUp – Best Boat Design App for iPad
- Price: $119 a year for the app (free online version available)
3D modeling iPad app
High quality renderings
Intuitive and beginner-friendly
Free online version available
Not specialized for boat design
SketchUp is another general purpose 3D software used for boat design. While it’s not one of the most widely used boat design programs, the reason it’s on our list is because it’s one of the few premier 3D CAD tools that has a fully fledged mobile app for iPad.
While some programs like Fusion 360 have viewer apps, these don’t have the modeling tools of their desktop counterparts. However, with the SketchUp iPad app, you can enjoy advanced modeling on a tablet, and you can even get creative using an Apple Pencil stylus.
There are a variety of tutorials and videos showing how to design boats with SketchUp, and as a user-friendly software it’s a good option for beginners. SketchUp also boasts high quality renderings for producing 3D boat designs that you can easily share with anyone.
While the SketchUp boat design app has a yearly fee, you can also use the software for free using the online-only version, or choose from a variety of desktop licenses that vary in terms of features and storage.
SketchUp also offers iPhone and Android apps, although these are more stripped back versions more suited to viewing and sharing designs on your mobile.
Autoship – Best for Naval & Marine Architecture, Best for Windows
- Price: upon quote
Large software suite that covers the entire boat design pipeline
Used by professional boat manufacturers
Highly intuitive NURBs modeling
Comprehensive testing features and data management
Extensive training and support
Can be used to create load plans
Not available on Mac
Steep learning curve
Autoship is a software suite designed for professional naval and marine architects that provides solutions for every aspect in the boat design process, from modeling to construction and load planning modules for more optimal loading.
In terms of design, Autoship software offers five different CAD/CAM solutions:
- Autoship Pro – a hull design and surface modeling program.
- Modelmaker – for creating 3D models of vessels and components.
- Autohydro Pro – for analyzing hydrostatics and stability of your models.
- Autoplate – a plate design, expansion, and management system.
- Autopower – for resistance and powering predictions.
So, you can create a package with any number of these programs based on your needs. The great thing about Autoship software is all the programs are fully integrated, so any changes made to your model integrate into each solution.
Autoship Pro is the primary design solution in this suite, with a vast array of advanced features for designing vessels. Based on NURBs modeling, the intuitive interface allows you to work in up to four views simultaneously with ten levels of zoom and unzoom for top precision.
Some of the impressive features of this vessel design software include extensive context menus to help speed up operations, the ability to color surfaces so it’s easy to pick out parts in complex designs, curvature displays for curves and surfaces, hydrostatic and resistance calculations, and strength assessment tools.
Overall, with its mix of powerful design, testing, and engineering features, Autoship is one of the most complete boat design software on the market.
Solidworks – Best for Aluminum Boat Design Software & Best for Yachts
- Price: upon quote
Solidworks is one of the most advanced 3D CAD/CAM software out there and is widely used across design and engineering industries, from automotive to aerospace as well as boat design.
In fact, this software is used by a number of leading boat manufacturers. One such example is Kvichak Marine Industries, a Seattle-based maker of high quality aluminum vessels, including both passenger and industrial boats.
In this video, the assistant chief engineer explains how Solidworks’ highly precise 3D modeling tools allow them to improve processes by spotting issues quicker and therefore improve efficiency, with the ability to inspect every element from the individual pipes within hulls to the connections within engines.
Solidworks’ extremely advanced and flexible modeling allows you to create any type of boat you like. There’s even an eBook that explains each step in designing a superyacht using Solidworks.
While this software is mostly used by professional companies, there are also numerous YouTube videos showing you how to design a boat with it, so it’s accessible to amateurs.
Buying Guide – Things to consider when choosing boat software
Type of Boat
Boats come in all different shapes and sizes, and some software are specially built for designing certain types of boats. For example, Bearboat SP is primarily geared towards kayak designing, while Sailcut is for sailboats.
On the other hand, general 3D modeling software like Fusion 360 and Solidworks are more flexible, so you could use it as a Yacht design software and for other types of boats. The benefits of this are the increased flexibility and beginner-friendliness, but these general programs can lack some of the more specialist features that the likes of Bearboat SP and Sailcut have.
The device you’re using is going to have an impact on what naval architecture software you use, as most programs only work on certain operating systems.
In fact, the majority of boat design software are only compatible with Windows. If you’re looking for a boat design software for Mac, Linux, or iPad, you may be best off using a more general purpose 3D modeling software like Fusion 360 or SketchUp.
3D Rendering & Graphic Quality
Free programs like Free!ship, Sailcut, and Bearboat SP are all great for creating precise boat designs at no expense, but in terms of graphics and 3D model rendering, they’re all very basic.
This isn’t unusual when it comes to free programs, and if you’re not bothered about graphics then it’s no issue. However, if you do want to create higher quality models and renderings – which is especially important if you’re a student or aspiring professional boat designer – then you’ll need a program that provides this, such as Solidworks or Autoship.
Usability & Training
Boat design isn’t exactly a simple process, so if you’re a complete beginner, you’ll want a software that’s easier to get to grips with.
The free boat design software we’ve covered are all fairly simple to use, but the level of intuitiveness and support varies. If you’re a complete newbie to computer design, you may want to go for a widely used modeling software like SketchUp or Fusion 360, both of which boast great support, large communities, and more tutorials than specialist boat structural design software.
Budget & Free Trial
The price of boat design software can vary a lot, from free programs to expensive professional solutions like Solidworks and Autoship that can cost thousands, so bear this in mind. Many paid boat design software offer free trials, so you should definitely take advantage of this to try a program out.
What software is best for basic boat design?
Free!ship, Delftship, and Sailcut are all popular free software that allow you to create basic boat designs.
How do you design a yacht?
If you want to design yachts, the first step is to find a high quality yacht designing software such as Solidworks or Autoship.
How do you become a boat architect / ship designer?
To be a boat architect or ship designer you need to first obtain a relevant degree, such as a BEng or MEng in naval architecture.
How much do yacht architects make?
Yacht and naval architects can make anywhere from $60,000 to $150,000 depending on their experience and position, with the average salary around $75,000.