What would be a good design for a vessel that has to transverse the Great Lakes region, from Lake Superior to Lake Ontario, and do so fairly regularly?

Some Info

  • Resources: a good amount of wood, lots of scrap metal and such that can be scavenged, same for scavenged plastics, a small amount of coal and natural gas
  • Technology: renaissance or late medieval metalworking (so no mass production, everything by hand), at the most the inhabitants could manage a crude, crude steam engine, some knowledge of electricity (mostly in the form of lighting), guns are few and far being either pre-disaster relics or crude matchlocks
  • Skill: the inhabitants can handle fairly detailed construction, at a craftsmen level of ability (like building say a primitive grandfather clock)


  • Stormy weather typical of the Great Lakes
  • Giant Lobsters that like to attack boats in shallow water attacking with their pinchers, they are small enough to crawl onboard (about the size of a great dane)
  • Other raiding humans with about the same tech (they like to grapnel ships)
  • Serpents, giant snake/eel beasts about 60 ft long that like to coil around smaller vessels or leap out of the water to snatch the crew

    My problem is I need a ship capable of getting through these threats

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ With renaissance technology base and modern knowledge you can use pretty much any wooden design that was used IRL in similar conditions - and humans sail since ancient times. And defend against pirates since ancient times. Thus, what's wrong with good old renaissance designs that are readily available? What's your actual problem? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 23:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ VTC as unclear because, frankly, any boat currently doing what you want would be an excellent candidate for your best answer, and therefore I'm wondering why you're asking? People have been navigating lakes (even the Mediterranean) for eons with much more primitive tech than you're suggesting. What, then, is the actual problem? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 15, 2018 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ When you ask for a "vessel that has to transverse the Great Lakes region, from Lake Superior to Lake Ontario", it seems that you're overlooking a rather major problem: how to get between Erie and Ontario without sufficient tech to maintain this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welland_Canal Otherwise your best solution would seem to be a birchbark canoe that you could portage around Niagara Falls. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 18:22

5 Answers 5


It sounds like they know everything they need to make an ironclad.

Even something like the CSS Virginia, should be enough to deal with big lobsters and humans with the same tech. That specific ironclad variant also protects the crew from being snatched by those serpents. Your variant will probably feature additional shooting holes to make up for the lack of cannons and should the serpent coil around the ship they could be used to stab a spear through.

I don't know about conditions upon the great lakes, but I presume those types of ships could survive conditions upon a lake. If not you will find plenty of different types of Ironclads that would be capable of surviving even upon open ocean.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ CSS Virginia was built on the hull and engines of USS Merrimack, which is technology beyond the post-apocalyptic (the steam engines were not that crude). Moreover, without a steady supply of fuel, the ship will have to use sails as its main propulsion, which means the crew can't stay in the nice metal enclosure.. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ "renaissance or late medieval metalworking (so no mass production, everything by hand), at the most the inhabitants could manage a crude, crude steam engine," The OP only specified metal working was renaisance/late medieval level. We don't know their capbilities when it comes to ship construction. 'Crude' is also very vague, An 1860's steam engine would be crude compared to one from 1920. Also people can use charcoal as alternative to coal, it's less efficient and perhaps requires a few small changes to the engine, but it's still doable. You could even use dry dung as fuel. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2018 at 19:01

As people have pointed out, humans have been sailing and fighting on lakes, seas and oceans for millennia, in all sorts of boats. In a post-apocalyptic environment with limited resources, most of the ships are going to be running on sails and oars. There are any number of designs that could be worth a look at - schooners, caravels, Viking-style longships. As @TheShadowOfZama mentioned, a motivated enough group could even put together an steam powered ironclad.

A middle group option that might be worth considering, especially considering the threat from giant lobsters and sea monsters, might be something akin to a Turtle Ship. One of the earliest known iron-clad type designs - they had a spiked roof to deter boarders, as well as primitive cannons. They were sail powered, with the rigging going within the ship to minimise exposure for the crew.


How about a "dolphin kiteboard"/"flight surfboard"? I've heard it called multiple names:


Basically there's a lower point of contact with the water and the surfer has to thrust down to accelerate. The height would also prevent immediate attacks from the lobsters. For fair weather the people could create kites to sail around at fairly high speeds.

For turbulent weather I have a fairly outlandish idea that probably needs more fleshing out. What if there are horizontal "zip lines", or basically a column buried into the lake bottom(if feasible, or possibly anchored to ships or planes that have sunk into the lakes as part of whatever caused the apocalypse) with rope/line linking each column.

The surfers are either zipped along by an attached kite or manually pull themselves along(which would also help for navigation).

Woodworking, and sewing/stitching is really all that would be required which would make it accessible by the common man.


The S/V Dennis Sullivan is a design based on 19th century cargo schooners that plied the Great Lakes.

S/V Dennis Sullivan. Source: Wikipedia

With such primitive steam technology and wooden construction, wind power will help avoid burning your ship to the waterline. This happened rather a lot in the 1820s and 1830s on the Great Lakes, as newly-built steamboats caught fire.

The Great Lakes is not easy sailing. The conditions can be unforgiving before factoring in the giant crabs, serpents, and pirates. Thousands of sailors died on the Great Lakes between 1810-1950 -- most within sight of shore. Many ships lasted less than 20 years before going to the bottom -- most within sight of shore. And that was with active lighthouses, a weather service, lifesaving stations, navigation bouys and foghorns, pilot associations, and telegraphy (later radio) for shore tracking of traffic.


I’m going to say glass, Just for the heck of it. They blow glass and make thick round spheres that float in the water. They can make them as big as you want and most of them can be tied together like buoys. I was gonna say plastic bottles but they probably need to be remanufactured and that takes more technology. Anyway, tie the glass spheres together and on top of each other with boards for a deck. The glass spheres can also be coated with zinc or alloy or something to reflect like mirrors and scare away the eels when they see their own reflection. I’d just eat the lobsters.

If it is post apocalyptic then perhaps there are blueprints or textbooks somewhere that relate how to use the lake water with certain minerals, salts, and metals to make batteries that charge in the sun and power the boat across the lake. Or maybe there are old car batteries somewhere. Electricity shouldn’t be too hard to create especially with all that coal. Or even find decaying plutonium cells and use it for the steam.

The old plastic can be cut in flat pieces and sewn together as plates to make a sail. And since you said you have gunpowder you might want to research how to use it for flares to scare the Giant serpents at night or Use their ‘snake skin’ as a sail.

Oh yeah, and there should be handrails for those who cannot get onto the deck. And then you could hang off them to fight the monsters.


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