How To Become A Boat Builder

Boat Building: Not Just A Dream

Have you ever dreamed about becoming a boat builder? We understand. It oozes nostalgia, even if you have no nostalgic connection to it. It is easily romanticised, even if you see nothing romantic about caulking metres of seams a day. And your colleagues will be the best you’ve ever worked with, even if you spend all day sanding alone with ear defenders on.

There’s arguably nothing more salty that getting down and dirty with a caulking mallet and some oakum. Boat building skills, especially the traditional ones, are held in high regard.

I’m not one for art, but boat building comes pretty close. I have the utmost respect for those who can use their practical skills to create what essentially become living, working pieces of art. 

Stripping varnish on the companionway hatch. Onboard Eleanor’s 1935 25ft gaff cutter ‘Deirdre’

There’s a special salty magic when it comes to hanging around ship yards, working in boat yards and restoring vessels. The saltiest of all souls, some would say, find themselves caught up in this fine world of purple heart and sawdust.

It is equally not the most forthcoming or easy world to discover, if you’re starting out fresh. If you’re growing up today and want information on, for example, a digital marketing career, then you could plan your whole life out within five minutes of Googling.

But what about boat building?

Supporting Real Opportunity

Our aim with SaltyJobs was never just to be a jobs board or a recruitment agency. Sure, the jobs & opportunities are what it all comes down to at the end of the day, but we want to go a step deeper in really inspiring people.

We think there is no better part of the industry to really inspire people than with boat building. And we’re not the only ones.

Colleges contact us because they want to help their students find jobs; employers contact us because they need to find employees; jobseekers contact us because they’re looking for work. Everybody has that same question – but what about boat building? Everybody wants the answer. So we’re facilitating it.

We have posted two awesome boat building jobs in the past few weeks. 

One of these is an opportunity in Cornwall with Butler & Co, a traditional yard based down in Penryn, just outside Falmouth. This is an amazing chance to work with one of the best traditional boat builders in the country, getting to know the heart of the industry down in the south west.

Moving across the country, we also have a recent job for a Boat Builder with Spirit Yachts. Based near Ipswich on the east coast of the UK, Spirit Yachts are world leaders in modern classic yachts and their boats are jaw-dropping works of art. Again, another fabulous opportunity to work for the best when it comes to marine employers.

Going A Step Further

We’re thinking outside the box too. In order to really inspire people, there is so much more potential. By working with our partners across the industry, SaltyJobs has launched our first ever Salty Weekend event this February 2018. It offers 6 places for people to come and stay onboard Excelsior for the weekend in Lowestoft and get a real insight into working around traditional ships and boatyards. We’ll be running practical workshops onboard all weekend, and even at IBTC Lowestoft just along the foreshore.

Salty Weekend presents a unique opportunity for passionate and engaged individuals to meet likeminded friends, work alongside Excelsior’s crew and learn new skills. Not only has Salty Weekend been so well received that we have almost sold out of tickets, but other ships and organisations are also keen to host similar events.

The demand for boat building skills might be niche, but it’s strong, and it’s real.

Inspired? Thought you might be… we’ve put together some interesting & useful ideas as to how you can get involved in this awesome part of the marine industry.

Wait! What about shipwrights? There are big differences in the trades of shipwrights and boat builders – be sure to make the right distinction. However, much of the inspiration and basic skill base is the same. Lots of the ideas below are likely to apply if you’re keen to become a shipwright rather than a boat builder. Take what’s useful, and perhaps pass the rest on.

Seven Ways To Become A Boat Builder

Exploring the latest project at T. Nielsen & Co’s yard

1. Go To Boat Building College

What One of the more obvious and easily researchable routes is the option of going to a boat building college. These are paid adult education courses and open to people with a wide range of backgrounds.

How There aren’t many colleges around, but there are enough to get excited about the prospect of choosing. Whether you decide to study abroad or in the UK, you can pick a course which gives prominence to any specific interest of yours – or has an interesting restoration project going on alongside – or even, is geographically well placed with local industry links.

Money You’ll also need to consider funding. Times have changed and unfortunately there is no public funding for training at these specialist colleges. Whilst shorter courses are a few hundred pounds, full-time year-long  boat building courses can cost around £15,000 a year – plus living costs. However, most colleges offer bursary assistance, so it’s worth exploring all avenues with each college you are interested in. SaltyJobs would love to get involved in bringing back funding for these traditional trades.

Example We have very good links to IBTC Lowestoft, a world-renowned international boat building college based on the east coast. Director Mike Tupper first attended IBTC as a student, then came back and bought it with his wife Lyn. Passion runs thick when it comes to boatbuilding. Explore IBTC as part of Salty Weekend.

A restoration project is underway on this ex-fishing vessel

2. Volunteer

What There are lots of vessels and traditional ships around the country supported by teams of volunteers. Whilst these vessels will often have paid shipwrights and other marine professionals working for them, they also need volunteers’ help. There are good opportunities to get involved and learn from whoever else is involved. Sometimes these opportunities might be local and you could volunteer regularly. Others might involve volunteering for a week or two at a time, with your food & accommodation covered. Whilst you’re unlikely to become a qualified boat builder just by volunteering, it could open the right doors, give you some useful contacts and lead to the next step in your journey.

How Many of the vessels on our Salty Ships page invite volunteers to work with them, as do lots of the employers who post jobs with us. You could look out for specific volunteering requests – Tall Ship Zebu posted one recently when they were out on the slipway near Liverpool. You could also be proactive and contact organisations or ships that you would like to volunteer with. Many of these vessels and organisations run volunteering groups on Facebook you could join.

Money As it’s volunteering, you won’t need to pay for anything, and your travel expenses might even be covered by the organisation you’re working for.

Example As mentioned, Zebu was recently out of the water on the slipway near Liverpool. Her volunteers were helping with caulking and painting, working alongside professional shipwrights from Carmet Marine. If you are really keen there is always potential to make contacts with these professionals and ask them about further opportunities.


New custom fit-out onboard a hostel boat in Bristol’s Floating Harbour

3. Apply For A Job/Apprenticeship

What Roles do come up for individuals with basic or transferable boat building skills to join an employer and receive more training on the job. These could be formal apprenticeship roles or more informal yard hand jobs. This could be a good option for you if you have basic joinery skills and want to grow your boat building knowledge. 

How SaltyJobs is a great place to find out about these roles. Employers often look to recruit at both ends of the spectrum. There is always a demand for experienced boat builders, sometimes alongside lesser experienced positions, so skills can be developed internally.

Money If you have little to no experience, you’re likely to start on minimum wage. If you’re a recent graduate from a boat building college, you can look for around £10/hour as a starting salary. Remember this will be paid on a permanent, PAYE basis giving you additional benefits over self-employed work. 

Example We have previously advertised for a Yard Hand role for Patterson Boatworks in the Lake District, keen to expand their team. Patterson Boatworks were recruiting for this role alongside an additional experienced boat builder. Similarly, Butler & Co are looking for a new experienced shipwright but are flexible in regards to which stage of their career the candidate is at. 

A traditional boat builder’s workshop in the Lake District, UK

4. Be Proactive

What Want something? Ask for it. Being proactive says a lot about you in this industry. If you can’t see the right opportunity, why don’t you think about creating it? Whether you’re looking for an apprenticeship or an experienced role, take some initiative and propose something that would work for you and appeal to an employer.

How Make a list of 5 boat builders you would like to work for – get in touch with them! Point out experience you’ve had which shows your passion for boats and boat building. Perhaps offer to volunteer for a week if you can, showing your enthusiasm.

Money Doing the research and contacting potential employers will cost you nothing. Landing yourself a paid opportunity is more than possible,

Example SaltyJobs itself came from proactivity. Starting our startup, we soon learnt that sometimes just asking for something is 100% of the battle. 

Take your pick… a fastening for every man, woman and their boats

5. Build A Boat

What Today’s technology means we have access to the sort of information and support networks that was  unfathomable 30 years ago. Using these resources to build your own boat is a real possibility, offering experience and a story that will make you stand out from the crowd. You don’t just have to use these resources – YouTube videos and boat builders’ blogs – to learn from. They also present ways to showcase your own learning as you go, and start to build your career.

How Building your own boat sounds like a daunting prospect, but there are ways of making it manageable for anyone interested. You’ll need certain resources – a workshop, tools and materials – but these can be adjusted to suit your budget and lifestyle. Start small, consider blogging/vlogging your process, building your skills and working towards the next step.

Money Building a boat is going to have certain costs that are unavoidable. However, again, there are ways of making it manageable depending on your budget. Start small, use reclaimed timbers and share workshop facilities. Can you undertake other small commercial joinery projects alongside your boat building, to help pay for the boat materials?

Example Leo Goolden of Sampson Boat Co. is currently rebuilding a 1910 English sailing yacht Tally Ho. His videos recording his shipwrighting work on the project are awesome – making great use of YouTube, his videos get over 100,000 views. Leo has a strong social following on Facebook and Instagram, and over 380 patrons on the crowdfunding platform.

6. Work On A Boat

What As a final suggestion, if you’re also interested in sailing, have you thought about working on a boat? Traditional vessels and tall ships spend time every year on refit, often at some of the best yards in the country or even abroad. By working as crew on a tall ship you will have the chance to learn from the ship’s Bosun and the rest of your shipmates, whose complement is not unlikely to include a boat builder. You’ll have the chance to spend time working at th6e shipyard when your vessel goes to dry dock, again meeting professional shipwrights. Working on a boat is a great chance to make useful contacts and learn about other opportunities in the industry.

How Here you have two choices which should be familiar by now: look for current opportunities for work on vessels, or be proactive and get in touch with some of the ships you’d like to work on. You could even contact shipyards you know are frequented by tall ships, and ask for recommendations about how to get work on the boats that visit their yards.

Money If you have some sea-going experience and qualifications already, you could land a paid deckhand job on a tall ship. Wages will be basic but your food and living costs are covered, making this a realistic way to sustain yourself and open doors to your future. If you’re not experienced you could find a voluntary position on a ship, as mentioned above.

Example Tall Ship Kaskelot and Bristol Pilot Cutter ‘Mascotte’ visits T. Nielsen & Co’s ship yard in Gloucester Docks every year for dry docking and refit. Their crews have the fantastic experience of working alongside the yard’s extremely well qualified shipwrights. Get to develop your range of basic boat building and maintenance skills including planking, caulking and painting. You can also find opportunities like this through refit work – read our insider’s guide here.

Refit time for Mascotte’s tender, in the barge at T. Nielsen & Co’s

7. Join Us For A Salty Weekend

What Join us for our first ever Salty Weekend, in partnership with the historic sailing trawler Excelsior. There are 6 places to stay onboard for the weekend and get a real insight into traditional ships and boatyards. We’ll be running practical workshops across the event, and even at IBTC Lowestoft just along the foreshore.

How The first Salty Weekend is on 16-18th February 2018. There is one place left. Join us! If you can’t make it this time, keep your eyes peeled for similar events throughout the year. Salty Weekend has been so popular that we’re going to run similar events in partnership with other vessels and organisations. Join us for a real insight!

Money We have purposely kept the price of Salty Weekend tickets to a minimum, so it is as accessible as possible. Tickets are £200 each, which includes accommodation & food onboard Excelsior from Friday to Sunday, all Salty Weekend workshops and activities, and a SaltyJobs crew pack including t’shirts and wristbands. A pretty good investment in your career.

Example Want to find out more? Click here to discover or buy your ticket now.


Excelsior and SaltyJobs at the Sail Cargo Festival in St Katharine Docks, London, 2017

So, Which Will You Choose?

Some of the above ideas might appeal to you more than others, or it simply might be a case of what your circumstances allow. Maybe you’ve already had some of the experiences we talk about above – volunteering? Working on a boat refit? 

Say Hello

It would be great to hear from you. Let us know which of the above ideas appeals and share your stories.

Want further help with your boat building or shipwrighting career? Get in touch with us and we’ll help you.

Your support means a lot to us, and the more we hear from you, the more we can help. Here’s how you can get involved and help make our industry even more awesome:

⚓ Leave a comment below and say hello
⚓ Post an opportunity or job with us
⚓ Talk to us if you’re a college or student
Apply for jobs now
⚓ Like us on Facebook
⚓ Follow us on Instagram

P.S. Don’t forget: never give up your dream. Be that salty boat builder. 


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