Building a traditional wooden boat in Madagascar

Finished boat 2007Jean has finished building his latest boat named Miaraka (Malagasy for ‘to be together’ or ‘to go together’) . It’s a traditional wooden boat that can use sail or outboard motor (up to 40hp).  It was constructed using methods passed down from older fishermen in his district (follow links to see photos of La Dordogne, Antsiranana).

See all Traditional wooden boat building photos.

He built his first boat when he was 23 years old. He used to do it all by hand but now has many power tools that kind people (usually friends from Reunion island) have given him.

Boats can be built in one of 2 forms:

  1. a ‘V’ shape – better for use with the sail (it cuts through the water better at an angle)
  2. a ‘U’ shape – better for use with a motor (it’s more stable in the water)

Timing and logistics

Traditional wooden boat building, Diego, 2007

It takes about 3 months to build a boat. If you could guarantee having all the parts at your fingertips when you wanted them you could push it down to 2 months at a push. Jean does more than half the work himself working mainly with one assistant (Big Meo – not very big actually but it’s to differentiate him from Little Meo who also works with Jean quite often). He then calls on others from the area to help with odd tasks.

Boats are generally built during the dry windy season (June-November). This is partly because you can’t fish much during this period and also because there’s no rain so the boat stays dry whilst being built

Jean sold his previous boat in August which just gave himself enough time to build a new one before the next fishing season. As soon as the wind dropped – he was out at sea.


The 2007 boat is:

  • Length: 7.50m
  • Width: 2.25m
  • Height at front: 1.60m
  • Height at back: 1.00m

It’s form is in between the V and U shapes mentioned above.

Boat building process

Boat in water 2007
  1. Keel – needs a hard wood that doesn’t float – Jean buys this from a wood merchant in town
  2. Front vertical ‘stem’
  3. Stern – Back of boat –
  4. Four central ‘strakes’ (cross bits)
  5. Guiding rods put in place to give shape of boat
  6. Construct and fit all strakes – this is biggest part of job, takes about two thirds of overall time
  7. Outer planks put in place (imported tacamaca wood used)
  8. Cross beams and seats constructed
  9. Put cord in gaps
  10. Put tar in gaps
  11. Paint inside and out (underside of boat needs special paint to protect against sea creatures attaching themselves)
  12. Launch boat in water
  13. Install mast and sail


Jean built two boats in 2006; one for himself and one for sale. Their lenghts were 7.20m and 8.00m respectively.

Traditional wooden boat building 2006


The 2005 boat was 7.20m.

Traditional wooden boat building 2005