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Updated September 2022
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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 all opinions about the products are our own. 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 all opinions about the products are our own. 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 
Bottom line
Pros
Cons
Best of the Best
Tamiya Models US Navy PBR31 Mk.II
Tamiya Models
US Navy PBR31 Mk.II
Check Price
Movable Turrets
Bottom Line

A full and extensive modeling experience that produces a Vietnam-era Naval patrol boat.

Pros

Detailed construction model kit comes with highly detailed tiny parts such as small turrets. Removable turrets allow for customization and alteration.

Cons

Instructions can make the assembly process more difficult for the smaller pieces.

Best Bang for the Buck
Revell USS Missouri
Revell
USS Missouri
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Great for Beginners
Bottom Line

Budget boat model kit that takes the need for painting the surface plastic parts out of the building process.

Pros

Comes with a detailed deck full of accurate elevating guns and movable turrets. Smaller parts are easy to work with. Save extra money without the need for paint.

Cons

The included decal stickers may start to peel off after a while and require extra glue.

Academy Titanic Centenary Edition
Academy
Titanic Centenary Edition
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Molded in Color
Bottom Line

A 1/700th scale model of the Titanic designed for ages 14 and up that's molded in color, so painting isn't necessary.

Pros

This authentic scale model of the R.M.S. Titanic features such fine deck details as capstans, bollards, and ventilators. It also includes decals and a display stand so you can proudly show off your model-building skills.

Cons

There are some very tiny pieces in this kit that may require tweezers and a magnifying glass to assemble.

Cape Shore USS Constitution Ship In A Bottle
Cape Shore
USS Constitution Ship In A Bottle
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Customer Favorite
Bottom Line

A good option for anyone wanting to build a simple ship in a bottle model kit.

Pros

Kit comes with everything needed to assemble a fully detailed and intricate ship inside a protective bottle display case. The required work and skill is less than making a ship in a bottle from scratch.

Cons

The complete model is on the smaller side compared to other similar model boats.

Revell PT-109 Patrol Torpedo Boat
Revell
PT-109 Patrol Torpedo Boat
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Best for Experts
Bottom Line

This highly detailed boat model kits requires more advanced modeling skills.

Pros

Large model sections can be painted with a custom design using separate modeling paint. Smaller pieces feature a great amount of authentic detail.

Cons

The skill required for assembling the model is not friendly to beginning modelers.

HOW WE TESTED

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

30
Models
Considered
60
Consumers
Consulted
8
Hours
Researched
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Buying guide for Best model boat kits

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. We’ve put together this concise but comprehensive buying guide to help you pick your next project.

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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.

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 crafts 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.

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 boat 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. Spending $150 and more is not difficult. A few highly detailed kits can exceed $1,000.

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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.
STAFF
BestReviews

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!

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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, and others provide a skill level, which usually relates to the number of pieces. The general assumption is that more pieces require 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 for 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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