Best Model Boat Kits

Updated July 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

29 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
211 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best model boat kits

Last Updated July 2020

Building a model boat is a fascinating hobby for all ages and abilities. Kids can start with the simple, clip-together kit that gives quick and easy results. Older children can take on more challenging versions that need greater dexterity (and more patience). Advanced model boat kits can keep keen adults occupied for days — or even weeks.

Models of warships and galleons are very popular, but there are kits for just about everything afloat, from tugs and fishing vessels to Mississippi paddleboats and oceangoing passenger liners. Static model boat kits can make great display items, while radio-controlled models can give hours of fun on the water.

The type of model boat kit you build is very much a personal choice, but even when you’ve made that decision, there are multiple options concerning the type of kit available and the work required to complete it. Here at BestReviews we’ve been researching what’s on offer, and we’ve made a few suggestions that showcase some of the more popular kits. We’ve also put together this concise but comprehensive buying guide to help you pick your next project.

Don’t forget a submarine is also a boat, and there are submarine kits available for all ages and skill levels. Some radio control models can even be submerged!

Key considerations

Kit types

Clip together: The easiest model boat kits to assemble are the type that clip together. These usually have just a few large, pre-painted plastic or metal pieces and are straightforward enough for the youngest modelers. No glue required. While the metal kits aren’t much more complicated, the components can be sharp, so you might want to supervise children working on these models.

Glue together: The model boat kits that probably offer the greatest choice are those made from molded plastic parts that require glueing together and painting, possibly during assembly and often after. The range of these is simply enormous, as is the potential challenge. Entry-level kits might have a couple dozen parts, while advanced models can have several hundred. Many of these kits are highly detailed, authentic replicas. A wide variety of sailing vessels add another layer of complexity because they require that you string the rigging.

Wooden: While less common, there are numerous wooden or wood and metal model boat kits available. The parts are often laser-cut for accuracy. There are also kits that require more than simple assembly: some components may need to be cut and shaped from raw wood stock. How far you want to take this is up to you. Many enthusiasts move on to making models starting with just a set of paper plans. There are many books and instructional videos available for those who want to go that route.

EXPERT TIP

If you want to sail your model boat, you’ll probably need a motor and some kind of radio control. Although the kit will make allowances for these items, they are often not included.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Questions to think about

Which type of vessel do you (or your kids) want to build? Which style of model appeals to you? If you’re building your first model boat, it’s a good idea not to start with something too complicated. If you struggle with it, chances are you won’t finish it. Like any other skill, it takes time to learn.

Will your kids be left to their own devices, or will you be building the kit together? Decide if it’s a kit for your own entertainment or something for the whole family to work on and enjoy.

What kind of finish does the kit require? Enamel paints for plastic models dry within a few hours or overnight at most. Finishes for authentic wooden models (yacht varnish, for example) can take at least a couple of days to dry.

Do you want to display your model? Some models are less than a foot long, while others can be four times that length. Most model kits give you a scale, anything from 1:32 to 1:700, but this can be difficult to relate to if you don’t know the size of the original vessel! It’s much better to get an indication of the finished size, so you aren’t surprised by an aircraft carrier model that takes up half the living room!

Static or seaworthy

Building a static model boat is an absorbing hobby, and it can have educational benefits, too. Learning about the history of these craft can be fascinating. Still, for some, there’s nothing like completing a project that will prove itself (and show off your skills) on the water.

When it comes to radio-controlled (RC) model boat kits, you have very nearly as much variety as with static models, albeit at a higher price. The radio controls and the power unit are seldom included, adding another layer of choice — and cost.

While most RC model boat kits suggest some kind of electric motor, which is relatively simple to install and only requires batteries, steamboat builders can add authenticity with a real miniature steam engine. Care is needed with these because they require flammable fuel, but the sight of a model paddleboat steaming across a pond can foster a tremendous sense of achievement.

EXPERT TIP

Fully rigged, three-masted sailing ships take time and patience, and the results can look fabulous. However, they’re also dust magnets! You can clean them with an art brush, but you might want to invest in a nice display case.


Staff  | BestReviews

Model boat kit prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest model boat kits we found are basic clip-together toys and a couple of ship-in-a-bottle models at under $20.

Mid-range: From $20 to $50 you have many choices, everything from Viking longships to Spanish galleons to modern merchant and military vessels. Most plastic models from well-known makers like Revell and Airfix fall into this category, offering something for everyone without major expense.

Expensive: Wooden boats kits for which you build the frame as well as the exterior, large kits built with blocks (similar to Lego), and radio-controlled model boat kits cost $80 and up. It’s not difficult to spend $150 and more. A few highly detailed kits can exceed $1,000.

DID YOU KNOW?

You don’t have to stop with the model boat kit. With a little imagination you can get creative and build a complete diorama — perhaps a sea battle or dockyard scene.

Tips

Before you start building your model, a little organization should make things a lot easier and more fun!

  • Work in a place with plenty of light. Natural light is best, so near a window is ideal. If you’re going to work after dark, consider some kind of table lamp, so you’re not working in your own shadow.

  • Have a dedicated workspace. You probably won’t be able to finish a model boat kit in one session, so having a place where you can leave things undisturbed is a big advantage.

  • Unpack the kit and your tools. If you’re new to model-making, consider buying a model tool kit. The cost is reasonable and it contains lots of useful equipment. Lay everything out so the parts and tools are easy to reach.

  • Read the instructions. Read them all the way through before you start. Make sure you have everything you need.

  • Don’t work on your model when you’re tired. Mistakes with model cement and other types of glue are just about impossible to undo!

Most popular plastic model boat kits don’t include paint, but they often suggest colors from a particular company. You don’t have to buy those, but colors from a different supplier may vary slightly. It depends on the level of authenticity you want.

FAQ

Q. Are the paints used with model boat kits harmful?
A. There is such a huge variety of painting and finishing options that it’s impossible to give a straight yes or no. Acrylic (water-based) paints tend to have low toxicity, and some may be harmless, but don’t assume so. Lead paints have been illegal for years, so even if you’re using solvent-based enamels or varnishes, there’s virtually no danger once the product is dry. However, even acrylics can produce unpleasant fumes during use. The only way to be sure is to check each product before ordering.
 

Q. How do I know whether a model boat kit is suitable for my kids?
A. Some kit makers suggest an age range, others provide a skill level, which usually relates to the number of pieces. The general assumption is that more pieces requires greater skill (though we’re not sure about that). However, many model kits give no indication, so sometimes the only clue you have is a visual one. If it looks challenging, it probably is! You might also check owner feedback. Of course, if your child is having difficulty, you could always lend a hand.
 

Q. Are there any model boat races or sailing competitions I can enter?
A. Lots. There are dozens of model ship clubs catering to fans of yachts, merchant vessels, military craft, or just about anything else that floats. Many of them hold regular race events. There are also those that hold competitions for model boat kits produced solely for display purposes. You can check online, and your local library may have information.

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The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
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