Skip to main content
Wooden Boat Building and Restoration

Simmons Sea Skiff 20'


Simmons Sea Skiff 20




The Simmons Sea Skiff 20 has been built by amateur and professional boat builders, alike.  Her lovely lines reflect a handsome, practical, traditional, and economical work boat.

I first saw this boat back in 1994 in WoodenBoat magazine’s issue #121 “Launchings” column (see picture on right). I was immediately struck with its salty lines.  Note that this is a picture of the 18' model.  The 20' model is a much bigger version.

The Simmons Sea Skiff, with her shallow V-hull bow that flattens out as it extends to the stern, will quickly plane and run at 30 mph with a 50 HP engine.  She is quite light, displacing just 650 pounds.  The bow gets its high sheer line from its New England dory roots.  The unique, raked transom/inboard motor well helps the boat to ride oncoming waves from astern, and allows complete access to the water from the stern of the boat.  The hull is long and narrow and performs well at all speeds, and will turn sharply.  She was designed as a fishing boat, and when trolling, tracks well, and skims over the water with 10” of draft. 

The Simmons Sea Skiff was originated in the late 1940's by a North Carolina furniture maker, T. N. Simmons, who stringently referred to himself as a “furniture maker”, not a “boat builder”.  Simmons had gained a reputation locally as a “master woodworker”, building furniture and cabinets, and had built a couple of small boats on the side.  A local fisherman asked him to build a pulling boat of New England Dory characteristics, but with a wide stern and transom that allowed easy maneuvering of fishing nets from the stern.  He also wanted to be able to launch the boat from the beaches of Cape Hatteras without being swamped by the breaking surf. 

Motor WellSimmons came up with a design that included a high, severely raked transom (about 35°), which met with the fisherman’s approval.  The boat soon became popular with the local fishermen and later, in the 1950's, Simmons modified his design to include a motor well for mounting an outboard engine, so that the boat could maintain swamping prevention and ride the surf with its high, raked transom in a following sea. 

Over time, Simmons continued to refine his design, which eventually evolved to include a shallow V-bottom.  Hereupon, the boat earned a tremendous reputation for its seaworthiness, and was even used by the Army Corp of Engineers.  Cape Hatteras fishermen had so much confidence in these small boats that they would take them offshore as far out as 30 miles to fish in the Gulf Stream.  It was commonly said amongst the local fisherman, "It will get you back in, long after you wish you weren't out there".

T. N. Simmons eventually stopped building the boats, shifting his focus back to furniture making.  They slowly faded into history until the late Dave Carnell, who became regarded as a Simmons Sea-Skiff expert, encountered one of them.  He recognized the boat’s unique qualities and brought it back to life by taking the lines and drawing a plan set, then writing the building instructions for amateur builders.  In 1986, he wrote an article that was published in Small Boat Journal, “In Search of the Simmons Sea-Skiff”, SBJ #51. This revived the boat’s popularity with both amateur and professional builders.

This lines comparison drawing shows just how large the 20' model is as the 18' model can completely lay inside the 20' model.


Dave Carnell's plans and instructions for three different sizes of the Simmons Sea Skiff, the 18', 20' and 22', are available for purchase from the Cape Fear museum.

WoodenBoat magazine has published a couple of articles on the Simmons Sea Skiff.  The first, issue #144 in 1998 written by Michael Hubbard, proprietor of Live Oak Boatworks, describes the boat's history and provides a brief building synopsis.  Later in 2005 WoodenBoat magazine published a three-part series in issues #186, #187, and #188, written by the late Ellis Rowe, proprietor of “Rowe Boats”.  He describes in detail his own building process which I will be closely following.  Just recently, in WoodenBoat's special edition magazine, “Motor Boats“ (Oct 2012), the Simmons Sea Skiff 18 was recommended as a building project in an article entitled “4 Outstanding Boats You Can Build Yourself”.  

The Simmons Sea Skiff 18 is also well regarded in Greg Rösell’s popular book, “The Boatbuilder’s Apprentice”. 

The Old Wharf Dory Company, another professional builder of this boat on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, offers plans for sale in building this boat using modern composite construction methods.