What Good Are Plans If You Can’t Change Them?

I’ve had problems sleeping, lately. I get up in the middle of the night to take a whiz and can’t get back to sleep because variations of the shanty boat build whirl around in my mind.

I thought about filling milk crates with empty 2-liter plastic bottles and then found out there’s only one dairy in the whole country that uses them and they won’t sell them. Using other kinds of containers to hold the bottles are no real answer to the problem, either. In any case, I would have built a plywood pontoon around them.

So I got to thinking about using foam flotation. I found a place that sells open-cell foam ceiling tiles and could buy enough of them to provide, literally, tons of buoyancy. The problem with them is each 2’X4′ panel is only 1/2″ thick. Also, open-cell foam, I discovered from rummaging around on line when I couldn’t get back to sleep, will absorb water over time. I’d also have to  find a way to keep the 35 sheets that came in a bundle together.

Closed-cell foam doesn’t absorb water. There’s only one place in all of Panama that sells closed-foam sheets. The sheets are 4’X8′ and 4″ thick. They cost $100 each. I’d need 24 sheets to get the size and amount of buoyancy required for what I have in mind. I’m NOT spending $2,400 for floatation.

So, I’m looking at a site that shows some people building pontoons and stuffing it with foam.

Foam filling


As you can see in the bottom pic they’re using a combination of bottles, 5-gallon pails and foam. They also mentioned in their story that they weren’t making the pontoons water-tight because they were making a single river trip and the shanty wasn’t for long-term use.

The foam isn’t providing any buoyancy of its own. None at all. What it’s doing is providing potential buoyancy should the pontoons be breached.

Well, I intend on making my pontoons watertight using a combination of glues, epoxy filets, and glass over wood. I also plan on building the pontoons in separate 2’X2’X4′ sections. They’d be easy for an old geezer like me to build and move around than building two long 20′ or 24′ pontoons. These segments would, of course, each have closed ends so that a breach in one wouldn’t flood the whole pontoon. Then I would fill them, like seen above, with a collection of discarded bottles.

So, we’ll see if sorting this out in the daylight will help me sleep through the night.


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2 responses to “What Good Are Plans If You Can’t Change Them?

  1. Kevin

    Hi Richard, I love reading your muses on shanty boats. I came across this on Amazon and thought of you and your floatation problems.


    Maybe you could make your own foam. I have no experience of this, so you will have to do your own due diligence. It says on the label on one of containers depicted on the Amazon link above that it meets coast guard approval for floatation.

    Probably a stupid idea, but maybe it’s another option to add to your list.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. The expanding foam isn’t a bad idea, just an expensive one, and as I wrote, any foam would be sitting inside what is, essentially, a closed box and represents only potential buoyancy. To fill two 24-foot pontoons 2’X2′ would require 24 of those kits (and they say there are only 7 left) and would cost $2,374.00 PLUS shipping and import duties. WAY over my budget. Until I realized that the stuff was only potential buoyancy I thought about inquiring to some companies here in David that do spray foam insulation. It’s essentially the same thing.

    One problem with the expanding foam is that when it DOES expand it exerts considerable outwards pressure. From what I’ve read where people have used the stuff you have to drill a number of holes in one side so that as the foam expands it has a place to escape so as not to exert so much pressure that it could cause a “blowout.”

    I’m leaning, once again, to filling the pontoons with empty plastic bottles, and believe me, there are tons of them lying all over Panama. It’s just getting ahold of them. As I’ve said, I’m going to try and recruit school children to collect them and pay them for them. And I have other sources with which to advertise my need for bottles, including the radio. I have a Panamanian friend up the street who is a reporter for Radio Chiriqui here and we’ve talked several times about the trash problem here.

    Here’s something I’ve actually only thought about in the last couple of hours. I could mix various sizes of plastic bottles in each pontoon section. I’d attach them to the bottom and to each other with a little dab from a hot glue gun. Those things are cheap to buy and I don’t think they’d damage the plastic. It sure wouldn’t cost much to find out. Then, if I wanted, I could get some of those cans of expanding foam like “Great Stuff” and use it to fill the voids between bottles.

    Who knows? As I said, it could be nothing more than mental masturbation.

  2. Good morning, Richard! I can tell you all about sleep issues (but mine are for a different, far less interesting reason). So here I am at 5 am pondering your flotation problem. I wonder if you could start collecting foam along with plastic bottles – e.g. packing material at PriceSmart, etc. Everyday people here throw tons and tons of foam packing material into landfills, and I’m sure it’s the same down there. And then you’d be doing two great things for the environment. Of course, it would have to be the closed cell kind as you pointed out. And then maybe you could shred it?

    My handicap is that I don’t have a vehicle in which to cruise around to places like PriceSmart and others looking for foam. I have, however struck upon another idea for getting bottles. THE DUMP. I remember a guy, Ryan Grassly, who lived around David for a couple of years. He was married to a Panamanian girl. He rode his motorcycle all over the place making videos. One I remember was called “20 Hamburgers” and takes place at the David dump. There are plastic bottles everywhere. I’m going to have to make a trip there soon and see what kind of a deal it can strike with the gleaners.