Traditional Boat Building

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I intended this post to be about learning traditional Maritime boat building skills in Canada. Courses in things like Adzing, butt sawing, caulking, clinker and carvel (different types of planking), keel laying, making a boom (gaff spar) etc. You might expect that there would be a few places in Atlantic Canada that would offer such training, however I was unable to find a single school teaching a full complement of these skills in Canada.


The tools of traditional caulking; Caulking mallet, caulker’s seat, caulking irons, cotton and oakum. Cooper’s adze, mounted as exhibit. A native boat builder works on a beach, using an adz to shape the wood.

Silva Bay Shipyard School

The closest I could find was a school on the west coast called Silva Bay Shipyard School. On Gabriola Island near the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. As far as I can tell, it is the only accredited wooden-boat-building school in Canada. They offer courses in restoration, marine woodworking, wooden-boat building, and ship’s carpentry, with a focus on teaching skills that are transferable to other applications.

“You know about the Slow Food movement, right?” says Shipyard board member and wooden-boat owner Charlotte Roderman, interviewed at a Gabriola café. “It’s the same thing. People would like to learn skills; they want to be rooted in the traditions of their ancestors. People come and say, ‘Oh, my grandfather, he was a herring fisherman in Newfoundland, and I want to learn those skills.’ So I think that is one of the main things for many people.”

 It’s not all about the past, however. Roderman’s most cherished anecdote of the school involves seeing one of its graduates leave on launch day, 2010.

“There was a young fellow from Denman Island, just out of high school and, you know, trying to find his feet,” she recalls. “And he built himself a boat…And you should have seen him. He had no skills when he came, but he sailed off, after the course, up to Denman.…He came out of there with a boat, with a new life, with a new dream, and he was the happiest man you could ever see. It was absolutely beautiful.”

No school can guarantee that kind of transformation, but learning to build something as lovely as a wooden boat could be a fine place to start.

Seiner off the coast of the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska Yarmouth NS Fishing Boats

It’s a sad reality that in Canada, with such a rich maritime tradition, there are no schools teaching traditional boat building techniques.

However, I was able to find an apprenticeship program that meets international boatbuilding standards. It is offered through a partnership arrangement between The Nova Scotia Boat builders Association, the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and the New Zealand Marine Industry Training Organisation. There is information available about this program on the Nova Scotia Boat Builders Association website, and here is a link to the Certificate of Qualifications compulsory credits.

The Wooden Boat School

While I was not able to find a comprehensive school for traditional boat building in Canada, I was able to find one just over the border. The Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, Maine, U.S.A., is a good place to consider if you are interested in learning how to build wooden boats. They have a nice array of courses ranging from Fundamentals Of Boat Building, to Building A Baidarka to Sail Making. Take a look at the video (below) – one of several good videos they have on their website.

Traditional Maritime Skills: EU

One of the most impressive organizations I found is located in Europe. The Traditional Maritime Skills Project  is a joint effort. Belgium, The United Kingdom and Holland have partnered to offer a comprehensive Traditional Maritime Skill’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It’s an online learning tool, for traditional boat building skills.

They provide more than 50 key boat building skills including detailed instructions, videos interviews with professional boat builders. This is a real treasure trove of boat building skills and it’s free!


If you know of other wooden boat schools or if you have other artisan skills training information you would like to share please pass it along for publishing on Artisan Canada!   You can send it to us at