Boat building

Career Change – My experiences on a 40 week boat building course

Boat Building Academy Launch Lyme Regis photographer 2021

Could I become a boat builder?…or at least improve my skills

Debbie Purser from Classic Sailing took a bit more than a career break in 2020. After the devastation of the UK travel and hospitality sector during the covid 19 pandemic, she thought it wise to search for a new career direction.

Unable to totally leave the world of boats she chose to sign up for the 40 week professional boat building course at the Boat Building Academy in Lyme Regis.

She set off in October 2020, expecting to finish 9 months later, and emerge from the workshops to either a covid free world or a world that had changed beyond all recognition. She had many ideas in her head as to how the training could lead to new career projects, whether they be land based craftmanship, community projects building boats with others, or working once more with customers on boats.

Each student she graduated with in October 2021 has had an incredibly busy year since finishing the course and she catches up with them to reflect on their new career paths.

The course now costs over £17 000 and you have to also find accommodation and money to eat. At Lyme Regis there are two intakes a year. Students come from all over the world. It is a big decision, not just for the students, but their families and loved ones too. Apart from Christmas break there are no half terms and the work days are physical and long. In fact it is comparable with 2 years of university, in terms of hours put in to learning your new trade. It is also amazing, obsessive, technically challenging, pleasingly practical and highly profressional.

The Skills you learn

The course syllabus is based on the City & Guilds 2463 Level 3 Diploma in Marine Construction, Systems Engineering and Maintenance (the technical certificate of an apprenticeship).

The actual practical skills we learned in 40 weeks was nothing short of incredible, considering some of us had no woodwork skills whatsoever.

In a nutshell, we covered the skills in the syllabus below. I wouldn’t say we totally mastered them, but we gave it a damn good attempt to reach a professional standard. At the back of our minds was the daunting fact that we were going to have to apply almost all of them to build the range of small boats proposed….and they would need to stand up to a public launch and go to sea without sinking.

  • Lofting
  • Traditional Boatbuilding
  • Modern Wooden Boatbuilding
  • Fibre Reinforced Plastic Boatbuilding and Fit Out
  • Yacht Joinery
  • Spar and Oar Making
  • Engine Beds and Stern Tubes
  • Finishing Coatings and Compounds
  • Rigging, Chandlery and Cordage
  • Sail Making and Repair
  • Marine Systems (Five days at Rob Perry Marine, a marine engineering company ten minutes from the Academy.  An RYA ‘Diesel Engine’ certificate and Rob Perry Marine certificate are awarded on successful conclusion of the week).

You can read a very comprehensive Course Prospectus on Classic Sailing website.

40 week Course – Full details


Debbie’s Student Diary – A trainee boatbuilders blog

Debbie kept a diary of the daily activities, frustrations and triumphs as she progressed through the course. To help give a flavour of this incredibly intensive course, she will be publishing blog posts on Classic Sailing Facebook and instagram in the New Year which recreate the weeks of that 9 month course. Her year group was a big one, merging 11 students that had started a course and then been thwarted by the countries first covid lockdown, with Debbie and 6 other newbies. Numbers are more typically 10-12. There were 2 women on the course. Ages ranged from 17 to over 70.

This is what we built

Having spent the first 22 weeks learning the skills and theory we needed, our group of 18 built six very different vessels from scratch in the last 18 weeks.

This is what we built:

  • 14ft Traditional clinker Skylark dinghy – Paul Gartside Design
  • 11ft glued clinker Ilur cruising dinghy – Francois Vivier design
  • 16ft historic Gorran Haven crabber replica – traditional carvel
  • 10ft motorised tender – plank on plank carvel
  • 21ft strip planked Utility launch with inboard diesel engine and cabin
  • 12ft Paul Gartside Sailing dinghy – Cold molded diagonal veneers

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