April 03, 2020

Junior Boat Builder

As a boat builder you are responsible for all aspects of construction on a boat. This includes the hull, deck and bulkheads, the external fittings, as well as all the systems and all the in- teriors and equipment inside the boat. Boats can be built out of fibreglass (or what the industry calls composites because it includes core strengthening materials such as balsa and other foam materials).

Boats can also be built from wood, although it is not popular to build wooden boats anymore. But wood is an important material that you will work with a lot in a boat building factory. Boats can also be built from steel and aluminium. So, you need to know about a wide range of materials and every single part of building a boat. Remember, you can’t build half a boat - it wont float! 

There are many different types of boats and ships and they are differentiated by their size and weight as well as the function they perform. An easy way to remember it is “you can put a boat on a ship, but you can’t put a ship on a boat”.

Remember even after you have completed your three-year qualification, you will require at least another 8 – 10 years’ experience before you will be considered a Master Boat Builder in the industry. Boat building is a practical job and you must enjoy working with your hands and building things. It’s also useful to know that items on a boat are called by different names and you will learn a whole new vocabulary. For example, a toilet is a “head”, a kitchen is a “galley”, left is “port” and right is “starboard”.

Key tasks:

• Hull and deck construction or lamination.
• Bulkhead installation.
• Interior fit out and marine joiner.
• Systems installation including electrics, electronics, plumbing and propulsion systems.
• “Commission” the boat by checking that everything works once the boat is in the water.                                                               

Entry requirements/training:

If you follow a formal study course you will need a minimum of Grade 9 preferably with Maths/Maths Lit and English. You can also learn “on the job” and start at the bottom as a laminator and work your way up.

Career advancement:

If you want to be a boat builder and one day be able to own your own factory and produce boats, you will need to have all-round experience of every aspect of boat building. You can gain this through a qualification and then years of experience and working your way up from junior boat builder to senior boat builder to production manager. South Africa has a robust leisure and commercial boat building industry with companies producing ski boats, semi rigid inflatables, pontoon boats, support vessels, luxury cruising boats, day sailors and super yachts. This means there are opportunities to find work in the industry. Your work placement, while you are studying, is a good time to decide which company you might like to approach for a permanent position when you finish your studies. You could also consider work opportunities overseas once you have some experience.

Associated job opportunities:

As an experienced boat builder, you could explore the world of yacht design or naval architecture, as you would have gained the practical experience to inform a career in design. If you aspire to own a boat building factory that designs niche vessels, you will need to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of boat building as well as an understanding of markets.