Model Railroad Nautical Suppliers – A Great Way to Detail Your Layout’s Water Areas

Model Railroad Nautical Suppliers – A Great Way to Detail Your Layout’s Water Areas

Adding a waterfront to your model railroad layout can be challenging and frustrating, however, if you get familiar with what detail parts are available and from whom, it will make it a lot easier.  There are a fair amount of suppliers out there. Some have names  that are very familiar to model railroaders, such as Walthers, others not so, such as Model Shipways. As usual, HO scale has the biggest variety available, with even a few large ships and boats (Great Lake vessels are called boats even though they can be 800 feet long) , and many of these lend well to kit bashing.

Back in the middle 1990’s Walthers introduced a line of waterfront models. This included:  A dock with a large gantry crane, a tug boat, a car float, a car float bridge (for loading the car float), and two large waterfront warehouse type buildings. They also offered and do still offer an ore dock and a Hulett iron ore unloader. Special Note: Walthers list some water vessels in their catalogue under the vehicle category. This includes items from Faller, JL Innovative Designs, Kibri, Noch, Prieser, Sylvan, and Sea Port Model Works. Meanwhile, back in the Structures category, American Model Builders offers barges.

Other suppliers of nautical items are:  Bearco Marine (lake boats), Model Shipways (assorted ship parts), Lindberg Models (tug and fishing boats), and Model Tech studios (boats, docks, detail items). I also wanted to point out some notable kits that are available from these suppliers and manufactures. Sylvan makes 4 different large vessel kits in 1/87 scale; some lend very well to kit-bashing, including upping the scale to 1/48. American Model Builders has four NY Harbor style barge kits including two covered barges. Bearco has several Great Lake vessel kits, and both Model Tech Studios and Sea Port Models offer some very nice boat kits.

There are some models offered in near model railroad scales. There are a few 1/72 ships, mostly WWII naval warships. There are also models in 1/60 to 1/90 scales. Check out a hobby shop that specializes in plastic model ship kits for these models. Also, a few years back I came across online a kit for a 1/87 Liberty Ship, unfortunately, for whatever reason, I did not copy the info on the kit or the web site I found it on.  A Liberty ship would make a great model for a waterfront. Not only did these ships sail during WWII, but some were converted to freighters after the war. Remember, a large part of the world’s merchant marine fleet was sunk during the war. 

A post war Liberty Ship in 1/350 scale, Photo Smmionline .com

A post war Liberty Ship in 1/350 scale, Photo Smmionline .com


Over the last 20 years modelers have seen so many items that previously we could only have imagined. From steel mills to waterfronts, model railroaders have a treasure trove of items to choose from. Here are two of the latest rereleases of maritime models, both by Sylvan Models. The first is an N scale Container Ship and the second is an HO Pacific Coast Lumber Boat. 



Tiverton N-2123 Modern Container Ship Based on Manchester Mercurio $185.95

HO-1121 Pacific Coast Lumber Boat - Tiverton $194.95

HO-1121 Pacific Coast Lumber Boat – Tiverton $194.95


P.S. For those of you who like Great Lake Boats, do a Google search for “Great Lakes Aircraft Carriers.” You will be surprised.


—Ray Del Papa




  1. Don Howell on January 18, 2023 at 9:02 pm

    I’m looking for a great lakes model of ore or other carrier ships in 1/350 or so scale for diorama. I have currently been working on COAST GUARD diorama, I have a ways to go yet and COAST GUARD ships are hard to find. I don’t want to spend a fortune and I am a Master Modeler so I can build it so a Kit would be great. Can you help and/or recommend?

  2. Kent schod on July 1, 2023 at 11:30 am

    I would like to find N scale cargo ships from the 40s and 50s who populated Eastern ports in the US (port of baltimore esp) that don’t cost a major chunk of my layout. Any ideas email me at

Leave a Comment

Bot Check? *