Leveling Your Boat’s Hull – Modern Technology Verses The Ancient Egyptians

by Casey Luke Short

If you use a laser, use the adjustable table of your drill press as a stand.

When building a boat, you must eliminate any twist in the hull. Skipping this step may give you some real performance problems on the water. Your boat could dangerously cavitate, or worse, it may become totally worthless. It would be awful to put all that hard work into building your own boat, only to fail once it’s in the water.

There are a couple ways to level your boat’s hull to eliminate twist. Using a laser is one of them. Experimenting on my boat, I used two different lasers for leveling my hull. Considering the accuracy of a laser, I just knew it would be the preferred method. That, and they’re so darn cool!

Lasers are cool, but setting up targets can take some time.

Lasers have a couple of drawbacks. In addition to the set up time, the laser requires a straight line of site. Once your up and running, you then have to hope the laser is telling the truth and isn’t out of calibration.

Don’t overcomplicate things. I often do, and this was one of those times. The lasers I used, a Dewalt and Ryobi, did work for leveling the hull. However, the ancient alternative was a much better option.

The Egyptians used water to level the foundation of the ancient pyramids. They dug a trough all the way around the site and filled it up with water. The water, finding it’s own level, gave them a consistent point from which to set the foundation.

Their 5,000 method is the way to go. Skip the lasers. Setting up the water level is fast, and reading the measurement is even faster. Another plus is it works in a bright shop, whereas seeing the laser can be difficult.

Interpreting your measurements can sometimes be frustrating.

A water level is more accurate. In addition to the ease of setting up the water level, I found measuring with water to be more accurate than with a laser. The reason is the laser beam can be as much as 1/8th of an inch thick. Whereas the water level is almost flat and has no margin of error.


To save money, use your boat's drain or live well hose as a level.

Purchase tubing your boat will already require, like for a live well or drain tube. I used the tube I purchased for the drains on my navigation light and push pole holders. Make sure to buy enough to level the hull.

Have a friend or family member help you with the hose. The water will quickly find it’s level. Put a couple drops of food coloring in each end of the tube. This makes the water much easier to see. You’ll notice the water dips a little in the center, use the lowest point. Always recheck the level if you move your boat stand, or if you have any concern that something may have changed.

Food coloring dropped into both ends of the hose makes it easy to see the water level.

Getting the boat level is easy with a micro-adjustable boat stand. If you built your stand similar to mine, then your just minutes away from leveling the hull with the twist of a wrench.

However, if you have a fixed boat stand, then you’ll want to use shims. A deck of cards works well for lifting the hull a few thousandths of an inch. Shim your stand and your all done.

The water level beats the laser hands down for speed, accuracy and set up time.

A simple laser like this Ryobi may be used for shooting a plane across the hull for measuring against.

A rotary laser, like this Dewalt, is great for giving you a consistent line from which to measure.

Setting up targets around the boat allows you to work with a laser. However, I found a water level to be faster, more accurate and you don't have to mess with the targets.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Elicia April 21, 2011 at 1:02 am

You actually did the ancient Egyptian thing? Cool. And we figured you were working on your boat while on paternity leave…


Casey Luke Short April 21, 2011 at 7:24 pm

It’s amazing how much boat building you can still get done with one hand, while holding a newborn in the other. But don’t tell Summer. 😉


The Acolyte April 21, 2011 at 11:22 am

Wise master monk, great article! I did not realize that the water-leveling method goes all the way back to the ancient Egyptians (or maybe even further). Lasers are pretty cool — especially when mounted on sharks — but leveling by water is a very handy method indeed.


Casey Luke Short April 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Thank you Acolyte,

Sharks with lasers are cool indeed. However, I think we’ll have to make due with ill tempered mutated sea bass since the sharks are on the endangered species list, and so very difficult to catch on a fly rod.

Mr. Powers, you'll notice that all the sharks have laser beams attached to their heads.


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