March 28, 2015
PWCs aren't exactly known for being able to carry a lot of cargo. When I go to the lake, I like to get away from people. The problem with this is that if you don't know someone with a larger vessel to carry your gear, you either have to stay close to road-access (and people), or get creative. This project is about me getting creative.

Original Rackoriginal-rack

The first few times out after buying my PWC, we just tried strapping everything down to the back deck. It was very difficult to keep everything lashed down properly and safely. After that trip I started doing some research on the internet for ways to transport gear on a PWC. I found a few examples, mostly of people who like to fish from their PWCs. I found some people building basic racks from PVC pipe to hold their ice chest and fishing poles, and decided that I could do the same thing, minus the fishing poles. I went out and bought some PVC pipe and fittings, and hodge-podged a rack together that would fit on the back of my Yamaha Waverunner. It mostly worked, as I was able to transport the ice chest, some chairs, and a new light-weight shade canopy. I made quite a few mistakes while building it, so it isn't very square, there are extra joints where I had to cut pieces out, etc. It was a good first attempt, and it worked well enough for two summers. Eventually, I decided I needed to build a better replacement.

New Rack

I started to think about a new rack. What would make it better? What am I missing from the rack. I plan on using the rack for a trip to Lake Powell, which is a huge lake. The plan is to go with family members that will have a large boat, but there is a small chance that those plans will fall through. I still want to go without them if that happens. That means I will need to be able to carry all the gear we need for a day on the lake on the back of the Waverunner, since the Sea-Doo Spark can barely hold two riders. Since the lake is so large, a good thing to bring along is some spare gasoline, if only as a precaution. The orignal rack left no room for even a small can while still being able to carry all the other gear necessary for a nice day on the lake. I also need to carry some larger folding chairs. The original chairs we bought work well enough, but they are designed for sitting around a campfire on level ground. Most beaches aren't level, they are sloped towards the water, which means you either have to dig the rear legs into the sand, or be looking down at the ground most of the day in an awkward pose. We bought one regular folding beach chair at the end of last season, and I modified the original rack to attach the chair, but was flimsy and inefficient. The new rack should be big enough to accomodate that new chair, and any others we buy that are the same size. So, we need a rack that can hold a medium-sized ice chest, a shade canopy, four beach chairs, a 2.5 gallon gas canister, and some kind of water-proof bag full of beach towels, dry foods, etc. This is what I came up with.

First Designfirst-design

I based my first drawing on parts I found on I then went to the local store to pick up the parts that I would need to start building. This is where I immediately ran into issues. Apparently, the parts I was looking at online are "furniture grade" PVC, which aren't available at my local Home Depot. Those pieces in the corners that split off in four directions don't exist in the standard PVC-as-construction-material world, and thinking about it, that's logical, those kind of connectors wouldn't make sense in things like sprinkler systems. So as I was standing there in the PVC aisle, I redesigned the rack in my head. Redesigning a project on the fly is usually a pretty bad idea, but that seemed to come up a lot during this one. I made sure to buy way more parts than I thought I would need, and headed home to draw a new design.

Second Designsecond-design

After re-thinking the rack with only parts available to me, I came up with a new design that I thought would be a lot better. One thing to consider for this is that he back deck of the Waverunner is not only sloped, but also angles inward from 32 inches wide at the top, to only 24 inches wide at the water level. I forgot to take this into account while drawing out the first design. After this, though, I mostly just winged it, and didn't draw anything else up.

Building It

Something that I feel is crucial to building with PVC is a ratcheting pipe-cutting tool. I've seen so many examples of people using hack saws to cut PVC pipe. It makes such a mess and it's a huge workout, especially if you are cutting a lot of small pieces. I find it ridiculous that people don't use one of these tools, since they're only around $10. It works amazingly well, and leaves no mess at all, since it cleaves right through the pipe like a hot knife through butter. Anyone who attempts a PVC project without this tool is an idiot.

The first thing I did was mock up how all the fittings would go for the base. Since this was a new design, I decided to build the newest part first, which was the "leg" that goes towards the back of the Waverunner. The original rack didn't have something like this, so it wasn't actually level when mounted. I solved that by propping it up with a piece of pool noodle, but it was a hack at best. The new leg supports most of the weight of the rack and all the gear, so I wanted to distribute that across as much of the deck as possible.

pipe-cutters mockup leg-half leg-full

At this point I started to build the base, and I got it completed before I realized that it wasn't going to work as expected. The internal area where I was going to store things was much too narrow. It would fit the ice chest, barely, but there was no more room to fit anything else. I decided to swich out the two tees in front for crosses, and the two three crosses for tees. That would allow me to build out a little wider, which would hang over the edge of the deck, but the support leg would still be firmly on the deck. I forgot to take pictures of it as I was altering the design, so I've drawn on what I did with Photoshop. It's easy to make changes like this while building with PVC, since it just slips together. Occasionally I had a difficult time pulling pieces apart, but a pair of Vise-grips helped with that without damaging the pipe too much. Sometimes you just need a bit more leverage, sticking a scrap of pipe in one of the fittings will usually help with that.
base-1 base-2 base-altered going-vertical 
The final step of the build process was to put the vertical pieces on and build the outer perimeter. The vertical pieces are easy, since they are all the same size, and you need quite a few of them (9 in my case). I just rigged a simple jig on my bench top that allowed me to cut all the pieces identically without messing with the tape measure. Building the perimeter took a little more brain power. One thing to remember when building with 3/4" PVC is that the pipe slides almostly exactly 1 inch into the fittings, within about 1/16" tolerance. So you have to take that into account when measuring the pipe pieces, or your piece will end up being too short. Measure twice (or more), cut once was the mantra of the day after my first few screw ups. Once I finally figured out that the lengths of the perimeter pieces were equal to some of the bottom pieces, I built it all out and got it all snugged together with a rubber mallet.


Now that is all pieced together, it was a good time to test to make sure it, A: fit on the PWC as expected, and B: would be sturdy and stable once strapped down. At this point, it's not glued together at all, so I expected it to wobble a little. Putting pressure on it while it was on the back of the Waverunner showed that the slope wasn't as great as I thought it was, so it wobbles slightly from side to side due to the front protrusion acting like a fulcrum. I used the remaining pool noodle from the last rack to build two sleeves which helped keep it from rocking, and also keep the PVC from touching the gel coating of the Waverunner. Once I got it all strapped down, it was very sturdy, even without glue. I contemplated not even doing anything else with it, but decided the bouncing and vibration of the PWC on the water would rattle it apart. I strap it down with 1"x15ft ratcheting straps. The rear is held down to the two stern hooks below the deck that are normally used to strap the Waverunner to the trailer. The front is held by wrapping the strap around the front three posts. Between the two straps pulling away from each other, it keeps it balanced and stable. I was able to grab the rack and yank violently on it and the whole trailer moved, while the rack held firm.

test-2 test-1 test-3 test-4 test-5

Final Words

I fit all my gear easily in the new rack. I think it's going to work really well once I get it out to the lake this summer. The final step was going to be to glue all the pieces together. PVC glue is such a pain in the ass to work with, so I am attempting an alterate attachment method this time. I bought two 100-packs of stainless steel #8 sheet metal screws to screw all the joints together. I drilled a 1/8" pilot hole for each screw going through the fitting into the pipe. If it can hold up to the abuse of the lake, I think this will be my preferred method if I ever build another one of these. In addition to drilling the pilot holes, I also drilled a bunch of drain holes. I don't want this thing filling with water and potentially harboring quagga mussels. Clean, drain and dry, folks.

final-2 final-1

Update 5/11/2015

The first test on the water was a major success. All the gear fit extremely well. I have a few ideas for modifications, and I am going to transfer the eye-bolts over from the old version to make more attachment points for bungee cords, but otherwise, I think this version is a home run. The screws held the rack together nicely, and I didn't notice any of them coming loose or falling out.

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