Interview with Mack McKinney

When did you become a boat designer and what was your first real design?

Well, I remember getting in trouble in the 6th grade drawing boats instead of paying attention in class. About 13 years ago I started at the MacNaughton Yacht Design school because I was “designing” boats using Kinney’s revision of “Skenes’ Elements of Yacht Design”. I didn’t feel like I was turning any plans out that were suitable for building a boat. At that time, I received the guidance I needed to “complete” a boat design. Since then, I’ve come to realize that the concept of a completed boat design is a nebulous concept. My first “real” design, therefore, was for a 41′ cruising yawl drawn that year.

Which designer(s) had the greatest influence on you?

Not an easy question! I’ve been positively influenced by the great ones: Olin Stephens, Rhodes, Fife, Strange, Garden, and the C&C design group (the family boat growing up was a C&C 30 Mk I). I’ve been influenced by several that I would prefer not to emulate, especially those that turned out cookie-cutter production boats beginning in the mid -1970’s, and a slew of them today that design floating cottages best motored out to a nice cove to swim off of.

How many boat designs have you drawn in total?

Hundreds, I should think. I have perhaps 35 of them I would be willing to sell. Would you care to buy one?

Which of your designs is your best seller, and which is your personal favorite?

My favorite, Simplicity

My best seller is a 16 ft Camp Cruiser I call the Centex 16. It’s a partially enclosed low-speed motor-boat for near-shore coastal cruising without the need to lug a tent along, but with traditional “yachty” aesthetics. People seem to really like that one. My personal favorite is a 24′ double-ended daysailer yawl I call “Simplicity.” She turned out very lovely to my eye, and should be fairly simple to cold-mold or strip-sheath, low maintenance, and a siren song for someone who wishes to run down after work and spend a couple of hours until dark out on the water.

This is the Centex 16

Do you have a design philosophy – certain themes or principles your adhere to?

Naturally! Simpler is always better, both in design and build. If it’s too involved, the plans will sit in someone’s file cabinet, and you’ll never see the boat built.

Slower isn’t a bad thing. I know this is counter-intuitive to society today, but many of us cruise because we want to see things, and the journey is often as fun as the destination. Why not strive for a comfortable and safe journey while your at it? Further, as we found out during the IOR era, smooth and fair is quite a bit faster than bumpy and extreme. As Olin Stephens once said, “Water doesn’t like bumps and hollows.”

I completely eschew the current trends the huge production manufactures are embracing -plumb bows, wide sterns, swim platforms, plasma TV’s, etc. If you are on the market for such a boat, for example, you should go ahead and buy yourself one of those, I can’t improve on them because those boats will do what you need them to well enough, which does not include sail, cruise long distances, or necessarily carry you through a vicious storm. On the other hand, if you are looking for a friendly or reliable boat in a seaway, or perhaps one that won’t look like a trendy electric razor in 10 years, I have some ideas!

What key tips would you give to builders of your designs?

Good heavens, pick up your tools and get started!! I’m a big proponent of traditional hand tools especially – there is something therapeutic about going unplugged. But the main thing, however you do it, is to start eating the elephant. You must do that a bite at a time, boat building is no different. Don’t stare at the plans and become a victim of paralysis by analysis – go cut some wood! And if you have questions, call me – most of us designers are people, too, and generally quite reasonable. I love to talk about boats and to make to friends!

What do you have on the drawing board now?

I’m finishing up the construction drawings and build manual of a 22 ft sharpie cat-ketch that I started about 4 years ago! Interestingly, the hull lines are based on an old sharpie that I was given (I wanted the trailer it was on) but was to rotten to restore. It is an interesting project, and I should have the drawings ready next month. It will be available on Duckworks. Here is a rendering of it:

Since she’s a sharpie, I call this design “Inkling.”

My website is


  1. I fully get it why the Centex 16 design is liked: simple construction, decent looks, small package, not too expensive (both to build, to maintain and to operate). Nice open cabin for camp cruising and still a decent sized cockpit.

    Have any been built yet?

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