On Board With: Rusty Van Ranch and the Tugski Boat

Marrying a children’s tugboat sandbox and a PWC engine produced quite the results!

December 11, 2020
The "Tugski" cruising around
The Tugski, complete with a functioning windshield wiper and navigation light. Courtesy Rusty Van Ranch

Like most people who know him these days, we discovered Rusty Van Ranch via social media. His creation of the “Tugski,” a children’s plastic tugboat sandbox and a PWC engine, has gone viral, and we knew we had to find out more.

Where did the concept for the Tugski come from?

I saw a video where someone put a trolling motor on one of these sandboxes and it looked pretty fun. So I challenged my brothers seeing who could build the fastest tugboat sandbox. I have the tendency to go a little overboard (no pun intended). They forfeited when they saw me cutting a jetski in half.


What engine did you use?

The drivetrain is out of a 1994 Yamaha VXR Waverunner. It’s a 650cc 2-stroke.

Building the Tugski
The Tugski in progress. Courtesy Rusty Van Ranch

How long did it take from starting the work to having it completely finished?


From the initial idea up until its maiden voyage, I’d say it took about five-to six months.

What was the hardest part of the project?

Fiberglassing and shaping the hull was awful.

The Tugski in the progress of being glassed
In progress: shaping and fiberglassing the hull was the most difficult part of the build. Courtesy Rusty Van Ranch

What is the Tugski’s top speed?

The fastest i’ve gone is 23 knots before it starts porpoising, but she definitely has more in her. I plan on designing a trim tab setup for it and I think I’ll probably be able to almost double that speed.

Rusty takes his daughter out boating
When a sandbox gets converted to an operable boat, Father-Daughter time takes on a whole new meaning. Courtesy Rusty Van Ranch

Who has more fun on the Tugski, you or your daughter?


Definitely me. She likes to go for slow cruises on it and jump off. But naturally, I like to go fast and jump my own wake. She hasn’t quite warmed up to the idea of that yet.

The Tugski's helm
The helm of the Tugski. Courtesy Rusty Van Ranch

Got any other boat projects in the future?

This was the first boat I’ve ever built and I can confidently say no, I will never build another boat. Unless I mass produce these little tugs? Who knows what the future holds!


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