3 ways to draw a fishing boat

3 Ways to Draw a Boat


The example I am using is a small Japanese fishing boat. Unlike Western fishing boats they tend to be quite long and slender and have an unusual somewhat boxy stern.

Below are the reference photos that I will be using. I took these myself in a small Japanese town called Saiki, Oita prefecture, Japan.

Click here for a downloadable PDF of these two images that you can use as a reference source for drawing.

I recommend using a 2B pencil for the drawing. I personally use a technical pencil. It’s called a Pentel Graphgear 500 0.9 thick 2B lead. I strongly recommend it.

Although this lesson is primarily about 3 ways to draw a fishing boat I also included an extra lesson on how to draw the fishing boat from a different angle than the one in your photograph. And I also included a link to a video lesson I’ve done on how to paint a fishing boat and also how to painting a sea scene with a fishing boat. This involves using only 3 brushes and 3 colors. It’s a course that costs $20 and also includes the chance to get some feedback on your work.

Parts of a fishing boat

Before we begin, it may be helpful to explain a few parts of a fishing boat. 

Bow - the front of the boat.

Stern - the back of the boat.

Side - perhaps no need to add this one but I will refer to it a lot.

Hull - the body of the boat (it’s the red shaded area in the picture).

Gunwale - the top edge of the hull (it’s the blue line in the picture).

Wheelhouse - the compartment that contains the steering wheel.

Buoy - a floating device.

3 ways to draw a fishing boat video lesson

Below is one of the drawings that I will do.

1 The first way to draw a fishing boat is tracing

This is the easiest way to draw anything. 

In the video I use a photograph on my iPad. Basically I take a photo from my iPad of my printed photograph of a boat whilst in the drawing app “Adobe Photoshop Sketch”. This is because I don’t know how to access photos outside “Adobe Photoshop Sketch”! 

I then fade this photographic image. Next I create a new layer above it and trace out the photo of the boat. Because the photographic image of the boat is faded, I can clearly see the lines I am drawing. 

Once I’ve finished tracing I hide the photographic image layer of the boat. Then I have just a drawing outline which I can send to my email box and access on my computer. Then I download the image to my computer hard drive and then I can insert it into a google document. 

In the google document I can change the size of the image and then print it. This print then becomes a template. I just put the printed outline over some good sketchbook paper I want to have my drawing on with some carbon paper between both sheets of paper. I then trace over this print of my boat and it gets copied onto the good sketchbook paper.

I guess that you might be able to do all of this on your iPad. But I also use my computer for adding images like this to my website and this includes changing the size of the image and many other fiddly things and I find that all of that is easier on my computer.

If you don’t have an iPad then you can download your photographic image onto your computer hard drive and then insert it into a blank google document and then continue as above. That is to say, change the size of the image and then print it out. And then trace over this image onto good sketchbook paper by putting carbon paper between the two sheets of paper.


1 iPad (with a free drawing app such as “Adobe Photoshop Sketch”) or a photographic image in a google document

2 Carbon paper

3 Cheap printer paper and good quality sketchbook paper

4 Pencil

5 Kneaded eraser

2 The second way to draw a fishing boat is using a grid

Click here for a downloadable PDF of the image above.

I use the “Paint” software that you normally get on a Microsoft computer. I open this app and upload a photo. I then crop it to a 3:4 ratio which is the same size ratio as A4 in landscape format. This is because the paper I draw on will be A4. It’s essential that the size ratio of your grid on your photo (that is the length of one side compared to the length of the other side) is the same as the size ratio of the grid on your drawing paper. 

The grid on the photo and the grid on the paper don’t have to be the same size, that is to say one can be bigger than the other, but the size ratio has to be the same.

Then after cropping my image in “Paint” to the right size ratio I just add lines. I use a bright color such as red so it is very easy to see. Also in “Paint” you can duplicate the lines so you only have to do one vertical line on the left hand side of the image and then duplicate it and put one in the middle and then duplicate that and put it at the right hand side of the image. You simply repeat this with the horizontal lines going from the top down. 

I couldn’t find the ruler when I tried to work out where to put the middle lines so I just used a real ruler on the screen. You don’t have to be super precise.

Alternatively, you can just draw a grid directly onto a printed image of the photo. You will need a ruler. And I recommend using a strong colored marker so that it is easy to see against the image. You can use my PDF image above although you can't I think change the size.

The only problem is getting the size ratio of the photo the same as the paper you are drawing on. I guess that if you are printing the image in google docs and it will be on A4 paper then you can simply measure out the same border width on a blank sheet of A4 printing paper. Once you’ve drawn this border you can then draw the horizontal and vertical lines and then you are ready to start copying your image.

If you watch the video you will easily understand how to do this. But basically you want to see roughly where the important points of the boat are or where the lines of the boat cross the grid lines.

So, for instance, using the picture below, I begin with hull because it’s the biggest shape. I notice that it crosses the vertical line in the lower half quadrants at about the half-way point of the lower quadrants. This is number 1 in the picture. So I put a line there and I can even draw it at the right angle. 

I then look at the stern of the boat and the bottom of the hull. This is number 2 in the picture. And I see that it is also in the lower quadrant and that it is about a quarter of the way down the lower quadrant and it is about a fifth of the way across from the edge of the lower quadrant on the left-hand side. 

With the last measurement I use my thumb and forefinger to measure the distance between the edge of the lower left hand quadrant to the stern, I then see how many times this goes into the rest of the quadrant. This is a very rough method but I find it works well enough.

I continue to use this rough method, of using my thumb and finger to measure distances, to draw the rest of the boat.


1 “Paint” software (or something similar) for making a grid

2 Carbon paper

3 Cheap printer paper and good quality sketchbook paper

4 Pencil

5 Kneaded eraser

3 The third way to draw a fishing boat is drawing free hand from a photograph

The first thing you need to determine is the full length of the boat. Do you want to draw a big boat or a small one, or even a medium size one. Once you’ve decided then put 2 points on your paper to represent where your boat hull will begin and end.

After you have determined the full length of your boat you need to consider that you are drawing the boat at an angle and therefore you have two sides. In this case the two sides are the bow and the side of the boat. In the picture below I have shaded the bow red and the side blue.

The more extreme the angle of the boat is the more one of the sides will become much shorter. If you look at my two photographs below you can see how in picture “A” the side of the boat is quite long but in picture “B” it is very short - we call this foreshortening. 

Reference picture A

Reference picture B

It can be very difficult to get the foreshortened length correct because what we are seeing disagrees with our rational knowledge that the side of the boat is much longer than the bow of the boat. 

A good way to get the side length correct is after determining the full length of your boat look at your photograph and see how long the length of the bow is compared to the length of the side. 

In picture “A” for example, the bow goes about three times into the length of the boat. So I imagine the line I’ve drawn as 4 equal bits and then establish where the first quarter will be and draw a dot there. I’ve now worked out the length of my bow compared to the side.

And in picture “B” where we have much more foreshortening, the bow goes about one and a third times into the length. So I roughly try to establish those proportions. You could split the line into 7 parts and then the first 3 parts will become the length of the bow. But I would do something much rougher. I would roughly guess the length with my thumb and fingers and then move that across and see if it goes one time into the length and there is about a third left over. I guess I like this rough method because it is quick.

You might want to draw a light pencil line (called a construction line) between your two original dots to help you measure more accurately the two sides. Try to make it horizontal as this will help you with the next stage where we draw the curving line of the hull (called the gunwale).

I draw the gunwale by comparing the height of the line where the boat begins (e.g. where my dot is) and where the boat ends (where my other dot is). So in this case the line is higher at the bow than at the stern. In fact, the actual side of the boat although curved has an even curve (as you can see in the drawing below) but the bow bit is where the curve goes up a bit higher.

Once I’ve drawn this line I can erase my construction line. Of course, if it is very faint then it might not be necessary.

The next thing is to determine the depth of the hull, or rather where it reaches the sea level. I do this by comparing the length of the boat to the depth of the hull in my photo. I then try to get roughly the same ratio. This is a very rough guess so you should first lightly draw a dot where you think the bottom of the hull is and then lightly draw in the rest of the hull -remember though that this line is not horizontal it has a slight angle so try to get the angle right too.

I then see if the shape of the hull that I have drawn seems the same as in my photo or whether it is a bit fatter (which means I drew my dot too low) or it is too thin (which means I drew my dot too short). If it’s wrong I redraw the line (lightly). Compare again. And if it’s right then I draw over the light lines and make them stronger.

The rest of the boat can be worked out from this hull shape. For instance, the beginning of the wheelhouse of the boat can be calculated by measuring in the photo the length from the stern to the wheelhouse and then seeing how many times this goes into the length of the wheelhouse itself and then how many times into the rest of the boat. Once again, I use my thumb and finger to determine these distance or just do it by eye.

The height of this wheelhouse can then be worked out from comparing it to the depth of the hull. And so on.

As you can see, it is essential to get the first measurements right otherwise everything else will be wrong.

If you are not happy measuring distances by eye or by using your thumb and forefinger then you can use a pencil. I guess you could even use a ruler but I think this would take such a long time it wouldn’t be fun.

One final point. When you have difficult angles always image that angle against a vertical or horizontal line. If that is hard to do then use your ruler on the image and line it up with the vertical line of the image edge or the horizontal line of the image edge. If you can get the proportions and angles right then you can draw anything.


1 Cheap printer paper and good quality sketchbook paper

2 Pencil

3 Kneaded eraser

The importance of sketching versus careful drawing

One final note here. We have been doing careful drawing in all these 3 ways. Careful drawing is a good thing to learn. However, I also strongly recommending doing sketches too. When you sketch you just guess the proportions by eye. The reason I recommend sketching is that eventually you should be able to draw most things fairly well by just a quick and simple sketch. Sketches are also more fun to do and look better than careful drawings. Here are a few sketches that I did.

I did these images on my ipad because they don’t look as dark as the images done on paper when I upload them to the computer. But I much prefer doing drawings on paper rather than on my ipad.

As you can see from my examples, sketching often involves a lot of redrawing. But I hope you agree the image looks far more dynamic and interesting than a careful drawing.

Sketching is also a time to let your hair down. In the final example, I changed the color from black to blue to show you redrawing that I had to do. You will often find that with your sketches you get the proportions wrong. And sometimes you have to slow down and draw carefully again. Even with my redrawing this is still wrong. But over time as your practice drawing a particular object you should develop a feeling for it that allows you to sketch it without having to be too careful.

You can even begin to exaggerate certain aspects of it because it looks more aesthetically pleasing. I can do this with figures but I still struggle to do this with boat! I need more practice and more careful drawing too!

4 Extra drawing lesson

One of the things I strongly recommend when you take a photo of a boat is to take several photos from different angles. Not only will this help you to understand the shape of a boat better but if you wish to draw (or paint) a boat in a different scene then you now have a choice of different angles of a boat that you can use.

For instance, in the painting below I needed a boat going into the picture because a boat going the other way would lead the eye out of the picture (unless I was to paint a small boat on the left hand side). So I needed a boat that was 180 degrees opposite to the angle of the boat in my photo.

Click here for a downloadable PDF of the drawing above - and with 3 different sizes.

In this extra lesson, I show you though how I took my original image of the boat and tried to imagine it at 180 degrees angle - or from the otherside. From this new position we see the boat from the stern and the side.

I recommend that you try to reimagine and draw objects from your photos at a different angle. With practice you can become quite good at this. But I still believe if you can have an actual photo with the object at the desired angle it will probably be the best and the easiest thing to do. 

So always take photos of an object from several different angles. You might also want to think about your height angle. If you are at a port then normally you are looking down upon a boat. But at sea normally your angle is lower.

2 How to paint a fishing boat

This video lesson give a simple step-by-step approach to painting a small fishing boat. Each step is clearly marked and explained. Below are the 8 steps.

Part 1: Drawing the fishing boat

Part 2: Painting the top part of the fishing boat

Part 3: Painting the hull and reflection of the fishing boat

Part 4: Painting the details such as the canopy, ropes and the flag.

Part 5: Painting a few more details

Part 6: Painting even more details

Part 7: Assessment

Part 8: Painting the sea

3 Painting a fishing boat in a bigger painting of a sea scene. 

This video lesson give a simple step-by-step approach to painting a sea scene with a small fishing boat. Each step is clearly marked and explained. Below are the 7 steps.

Part 1: The sky and the sea

Part 2: The misty mountains

Part 3: The sea surface

Part 4: The outcrop of land and rocks

Part 5: The small Japanese fishing boat

Part 6: Details to the fishing boat

Part 7: Assessment


It’s a lot of fun to draw boats. They are difficult to draw at first but by using the 3 ways above I believe you will soon feel confident at drawing them and I hope you have a go at even sketching them. And why not take it further and try painting boats and sea scenes with boats in them.

Extra video lesson

You might also be interested in the video below on painting a sea scene with a fishing boat with just one brush and one color.

Gareth Naylor 

I am an Englishman living and painting in Japan. I have now been here for over 17 years and have been painting for all that time. I love to travel around the Japanese countryside and find beautiful places to paint.

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