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Best CAD software for RC Sailboats

I am not a professional CAD guy, and making 3D models of RC sailboats in order to create laser-cut frames, is simply a hobby. So take my notes with a huge grain of salt. In addition, I only have real experience with two applications: SketchUp Pro and Rhino 4.

Both are great, and each has their advantages and disadvantages regarding RC sailboat work. In the end I'm using Sketchup Pro (early versions up through 2017) for most of the work because it is by far the easiest to use. The tools, features, capabilities and functionality are all perfect for most of what needs to be done, with one huge exception. That exception is curves, and along with that, curved and faired surfaces.

Rhino is what you would use if you were designing a full-size boat. It does remarkably well with curves and surfaces. You can fair curves, and it includes a curve analysis tool that graphically shows you how fair your curve is.

Sketchup Pro is much easier to learn though. Rhino isn't hard, but if you don't have the time or inclination to learn it to the level you'll need, then stick to Sketchup.

Here is my suggested workflow for creating a 3D model of an RC sailboat. I'm assuming that you are starting with existing lines of a previous boat. Perhaps, as I'm working on, an old Vintage Marblehead, that you'd like to reproduce:

  1. Start in Rhino and import the file that contains the picture of the lines. You'll be drawing over this file to create your curves. You'll need to VERY accurately scale your image so that the lines exactly the size you need. Here is a nice video that explains how to size your image in Rhino.
  2. Use Rhino's great curve tools to accurately trace over the frame lines. Save each curve on its own layer. For now, you really only need to do the outside hull curves.
  3. You'll probably want to use the offset tool to bring in your curves enough to account for the thickness of the planking materials. Perhaps 3/16" or so?
  4. Use the curve analysis tool to fair your curves.
  5. Do the same with the profile curves. 
  6. Then select all your frame curves and add a surface using the Loft tool. Make adjustments to the curves as needed. Save.
  7. From this point I would export to Sketchup Pro to build the rest of the frames, but if you're better at Rhino than I am (and most people are), then stay in Rhino and build the rest of your model. But from this point on, once the curves are established, then Sketchup does as good a job as Rhino, and it's easier to use. I also find that I like the visibility of Sketchup better.




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