Great Lakes Boat Building School, ariel view

The Great Lakes Boat Building School is Growing

By Matt Edmondson—Lead Instructor at GLBBS

Epoxyworks last highlighted the Great Lakes Boat Building School (GLBBS) in its Spring 2014 and Spring 2015 issues. The school has come a long way since then. Let’s take a look at what’s changed and glimpse into its exciting future.

Located in Cedarville in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, GLBBS has been training wooden boatbuilders since 2004 and is the only fully accredited marine trades institute in the Great Lakes. Recently, the school expanded to offer two full-time, year-long programs: the Comprehensive Career Boatbuilding program (CCBB) and the Marine Service Technology (MST) program in partnership with Mercury Marine and the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC). Through these two programs, GLBBS has graduated more than 200 students into the marine industry as boatbuilders and service technicians.

GLBBS students infusing a canoe

GLBBS students infusing a canoe.

The foundation of GLBBS’s success has been its 12-month, three-semester boatbuilding program. It encompasses the three main areas of wooden boat work: traditional construction, wood composite construction, and restoration. In the first semester, students learn traditional boatbuilding techniques, how to work with hand tools and identify and select types of wood, and they build small projects such as the classic step stool and oar. Central to the CCBB program is the Indian River Skiff, a small lapstrake rowboat built in the Indian River, Michigan area in the 1920s. Students learn to take measurements from the boat and then develop a set of plans and patterns for the hull. They break into teams to build three of these boats using lapstrake, cedar strip, and fiberglass construction methods.

Semester two focuses on how to build wooden boats the modern way using products like WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy and reinforcing fabrics to ultimately build a lighter and stiffer boat than traditional planking would allow. Students also learn how to repair a wood composite laminate using WEST SYSTEM Epoxy by building a vacuum-bagged hull panel, creating impact damage, and then working to repair the panel with a patch of wood and fiberglass.

Carbon fiber air vent

Carbon fiber air vent created by the GLBBS students.

The third semester revolves around boat restoration. Students have restored a 1947 Chris Craft Deluxe and a 15″ Lyman. The restoration projects currently underway are a 1959 Century Nordic, a 1939 Chris Craft, and a Concordia-built beetle cat. The goal of the restoration segment of the program is to introduce students to the many ways to solve the problems that arise with old, broken boats and to showcase some of the techniques and philosophies that drive decisions on reconstruction methods.

The MST program is focused on training entry-level technicians to enter the workforce with a solid base of general marine industry technical knowledge. Also broken into three semesters over 12 months, the MST program starts with fundamentals. While the MST program is primarily mechanical and electrical, students learn boat construction types, including fiberglass, aluminum, and wood. Each student learns to perform multiple fiberglass repair scenarios using WEST SYSTEM Epoxy, create cored laminates, bond hardware, and how to vacuum bag and infuse laminates. Some highlights of the MST program’s composites section are infusing a 12′ Wee Lassie canoe and creating a carbon fiber air vent using PRO-SET® Epoxy and vacuum bagging.

Both programs teach career skills and evaluate students every two weeks on their soft skills. Resume workshops, field trips, and mock interviews help to give each student the best possible opportunity for a job after graduation.

Most exciting is the goal to double the student body of GLBBS to 50 students over the next five years. The current facility at GLBBS only supports 24. We launched a capital campaign in the summer of 2021 with the goal of matching 20% of the funds for a federal grant. It would allow us to break ground on a new 10,000 square foot facility, expanding our shop space, classrooms, student center, and waterfront. The new facility would house our growing programs and provide space for additional programming in the future.

Indian River Skiff, a small lapstrake rowboat.

Indian River Skiff, a small lapstrake rowboat.

For more information, visit the Great Lakes Boat Building School website.