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Champlain Longboats: Life Skills Through Maritime Experience


Building, launching and rowing a pilot gigsit
Photos: Buzz Kuhns


Whaleboat at LCMM Boat Shop

What is the Champlain Longboats Program?

The Champlain Longboats Program is an innovative boat-building and rowing program that partners the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) with regional schools and community organizations. The primary goal is to develop positive, healthy behavior in middle and high school students at a critical time in their lives by exposing them to the innate team / self esteem-building nature of boat building and rowing. Initiated by LCMM in 1999, Champlain Longboats has two distinct but interconnected pieces: the boat-building program, an intense five-month project with eight students participating five days a week, and the rowing program which uses the boats built by the students for in-school education, after school extra-curricular programs, and community rowing. Over 500 youths and 200 adults participate annually.

Students learn to calculate board footage in standing timber.
Students learn to calculate board footage in standing timber.
Photo: Buzz Kuhns

From Tree to Boat

Champlain Longboat programs start with a visit to trees in the forest with the program’s collaborative partner Vermont Family Forests, a county wide non-profit that promotes sustainable forestry practices. Student teams travel with a VFF forester to visit the forest and then participate in the milling and stacking of the boat building lumber before beginning the building phase. Following the process from tree to lumber to finished boat, students gain a vivid understanding of why it is important to be responsible stewards of our precious forest resources

Youth Boat Building

Staff member and young boatbuilder examine the gig's transom.
The Champlain Longboats staff is a community
of skilled LCMM boatbuilding educators,
school-based special educators, clinical
psychologists, LCMM and school-based
rowing coaches, and community volunteers.
Photo: Buzz Kuhns

Students come to the LCMM boat shop five-days a week for five months to build a thirty-two or twenty-five foot rowing gig. Students learn to use woodworking tools, collaborate with peers and program staff, and understand what it means to function effectively in a working environment. They also keep journals, work out on rowing machines, perform research, and give presentations on boat-building topics. At the celebratory launch of the new boat, student builders give speeches. To see a project of this duration and magnitude through to completion is a new experience for all the participants. Accolades and positive feedback from the community and their peers reinforce the notion that they can accomplish what they set their sights on.


Teaching Skills, Building Teams, Changing Lives

Steam bending the planks, carrying a gig to the water, and a boatbuilding team.
Photo: Buzz Kuhns


Youth Rowing and Community Rowing

Rowing on Otter Creek.
"LCMM’s Champlain Longboats Program accomplishes a
unique fusion of interdisciplinary learning"

---Andrew May, Teacher and
Curriculum Coordinator, Champlain Valley Academy
Photo: Buzz Kuhns

LCMM’s very inclusive “you show, you row” policy helps over 500 youth become involved in the Champlain Longboats rowing programs annually. The youth rowing program provides a positive option for students who aren’t inclined to participate in more traditional school sports. Extra-curricular rowing teams practice two to three times a week, participate in LCMM’s two annual regional rowing races and travel to two youth rowing competitions in the fall sponsored by the Hull Lifesaving Museum in Massachusetts.

LCMM’s youth rowing programs create a rare environment where special education students participate seamlessly right alongside their mainstream peers, without stigma attached. People are judged by how they participate not by what disability or diagnosis they have.

Rowing the pilot gig.
Youth rowing is a powerful team-builder.
Photo: Buzz Kuhns
Special education and mainstream education programs also use our in-school rowing programs which can either emphasize the perfect team-building nature of team rowing or our rowing ecology field trips where they experience the natural history of the Lake Champlain eco-system in more depth.

The Champlain Longboats Community Rowing Club offers adult rowing every week June through September. Community members sign up to regularly experience the beauty of Lake Champlain while getting a great physical work-out. Adult community teams also participate in regional rowing competitions.

“Our rowing family keeps growing, season by season, school by school, and race by race”
--- Emily Morton, Champlain Longboats Program Alumnus