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Beach Wheels
or "It's all down hill from here"
by Rob Morse

Why write this article?

This article is written to share ideas that work. The first time I borrowed a set of beach wheels, I was in love with them. What an easy way to move our catamaran. Let's get some! The first time I priced them, I was in shock. My first boat didn't cost that much! So, I made a set of beach wheels. These beach wheels are also very inexpensive. This article is designed to give you the confidence to try it yourself, so I have included way too much detail. Please contribute and let me know what works for you!

How did it work out the first time?

Unlike the advertisement, my first pair of beach wheels could not be lifted overhead by my wife. These heavy beach wheels were made with large padded fiberglass cradles, steel pipe, All-Terrain Vehicle tires and wheels, toilet flanges as a wheel hub and even heavy rope. Let's just say that they were way over built. THIS article is about a second set of beach wheels that are much lighter as my son is demonstrating.

What did it cost?

I already had the cradles from my earlier attempt at beach wheels. The rest of the beach wheels cost me $65. The aluminum tube was $33. Galvanized steel would be about a third that price. The plastic drums were $7.50 each. The couplers, rivets, hole saw and rope were about $17.

Where did you get the wheels?

I made the wheels from used soft drink syrup barrels. The drums are made from HMWPE (High Molecular Weight Poly Ethylene). The name of the plastic material is stamped right on the drum, since it was used to carry food. The ends are about 7.5 mm thick. The label said that the barrel held 27 US gallons of Dr. Pepper syrup, so the barrel is probably a little larger than that. Use a flavor you like, because you will smell it for a long time.

How do you shorten the drum?

Shorten the drum by cutting out its center section. Be sure and get a barrel that has two rolling bands or hoops on its side. These hoops will act as bellmouths to make a slip fit joint when we put the drum back together. You can make the wheels as wide as you choose. Mine are about 16 inches wide to negotiate soft sand. Cut the center section out of the barrel. I used a table saw and saber saw. It is a little hard to start the cut, but the material is not difficult to cut. I just rubbed the cut end of the barrel on the concrete to remove any high places on the cut end. I used 6 large-head pop rivets, 3/16 diameter, to hold the two sections together. Mark the center of the barrels and drill the central hole with a hole saw. I used a 1+3/4 inch hole saw to drill the center axle hole. This diameter must match the axle and shaft couplings.

I removed the plugs from the barrels so the wheels will flood, but may have to cut more holes so they will flood and drain faster. I also plugged the axle so the beach wheels would not completely sink. The wheels are quite strong. I've stood on the wheels and could not see the wheel flex under my weight.

What holds the wheels in place?

I used couplers that join electrical conduit as collars. Cut the couplers in half and remove the center ridge from the inside diameter. Put one half on each side of the wheel.

I also made a large plastic washer that fit between the wheel and the collar. The washer is scrap plastic cut with the hole saw and the outer diameter cut with a saber saw. The scrap plastic came from the lid of a 5 gallon plastic bucket and is also HMWPE material.

What do you use as an axle?

I used aluminum tube with a 1.75 inch outside diameter and a 1/8 inch wall thickness. On other beach wheels, I have used electrical conduit. The conduit is mild galvanized steel, also called Electro Mechanical Tubing or EMT.

How does it all go together?

I wish I had pictures of the cradles as I built them so I could include them in this article. I am not turning the hulls over again just for photographic realism. I did include a few pictures of the cradles if you need inspiration. So I'll just say, make your own set of hull cradles or buy them.

I could not convince myself to mount the cradles by just measuring the boat. I had to rivet the cradles to the axle while the boat rested on the beach wheels. To do this, I mounted ONE cradle to the axle with another 4 of the large head pop rivets. Then I completely assembled the beach wheels, including the second cradle, but did not rivet the cradle in place. I loaded the boat onto the beach wheels to align and position the second cradle. I then had to mark and cut the axle to length. Only then did I finally riveted the cradle to the to the axle while the boat was on the beach wheels.

Add carpet, rope and a beach. I can't explain how to build your own beach.