youth development



Participants may arrive at Rocking the Boat not knowing how to read a ruler and having never used tools, but they work together to build full size traditional wooden rowing and sailing boats from scratch. Boatbuilding students and apprentices study the plans and create and assemble all of the components from stem to stern, fasten the planks and frames, paint, and then launch their boat into the Bronx River.

Rocking the Boat purposely chooses boat designs that have historically been built and used by New Yorkers as a way of connecting participants to the City's maritime past.

student projects



Throughout the 2019-2020 school year, a group of 16 Boatbuilding students will work to construct a 17-foot Whitehall, the classic rowboat design that comprises the majority of Rocking the Boat’s fleet.


Students fashion four ash oars for every Rocking the Boat boat.  They use block planes and spoke shaves to remove layer after layer of wood, taking a four-sided block down to an octagonal shaft then to a hexadecagon (16-sided polygon) and ultimately to a smooth rounded column with a ½ inch thick blade at one end and a leathered grip on the other.

apprentice projects


spurling skiff

Apprentices’ most recent project was a meticulously rendered replica, the first of its kind, from a vintage rowboat designed in Maine.  The Spurling skiff project was ideally suited to the Job Skills Program, where youth develop more advanced carpentry skills in traditional wooden boatbuilding methods with a greater degree self-direction and independence.  The project started with a dilapidated original skiff that was painstakingly measured and then the pieces dismantled.  By taking it apart, the apprentices were able to study its traditional construction and then replicated that to precision in their new construction.  The project also preserved for posterity the beloved design of a celebrated boatbuilder.  Before this project, the only existing table of offsets for this type of Arthur “Chummy” Spurling skiff was a guess.  No exact measurements had ever been taken off an existing boat.  The benefit to the historical and preservation communities is not actually Rocking the Boat’s finished craft, no matter how elegant, but instead the measurements taken by these students, the table of offsets they created from them, that now faithfully and forever record for the first time, the dimensions of this historic design.  The apprentices are proud that the rowboat will return to its home isles in Maine where the style originated, to be used by Little Cranberry Island Yacht Club summer campers.

american star

In keeping with Rocking the Boat tradition, Boatbuilding apprentices are taking on an exciting new project: a faithful copy of the 27’ Whitehall rowing gig American Star, the winner of a famous rowing race in New York Harbor that launched competitive rowing as a sport in this country.  Built in Brooklyn in 1824, American Star was given as a gift to Revolutionary War commander the Marquis de Lafayette upon his farewell tour of the U.S. The original is still housed at Lafayette’s home at the Château de la Grange-Bléneau in north-central France.   The project will be completed in good time to participate in the boat’s bicentennial celebration in 2024.

I first joined Rocking the Boat because being able to build boats is really different from a regular afterschool program where all you do is homework. I got to do something out of the ordinary. Now when I’m in the shop I feel likeI can let out that inner woman who wants to build. That’s where my passion for carpentry shows--working the wood, figuring out how the grain goes together, that’s what I need.

Taji Riley, former Boatbuilding student, Boatbuilding apprentice, and Program Assistant


Rocking the Boat is grateful to the following partners who allow the Boatbuilding Program to be such a powerful experience for our students and Apprentices:

Herreshoff Marine Museum
Independence Seaport Museum
International Yacht Restoration School
Landing School of Boat Building and Design

Mystic Seaport
Non-Traditional Employment for Women 
Portside New York
RE-CO Brooklyn
South Street Seaport Museum
Stevens Institute of Technology
Teaching with Small Boats Alliance
WoodenBoat Magazine

kids don’t just build boats, boats build kids

rocking the boat
812 edgewater road
bronx, ny 10474
phone: 718.466.5799
fax: 718.466.2892