History of our Wooden Boat School

Our School honors Port Hadlock’s local maritime heritage

history_b1The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding (NWSWB) is located on Water Street in the historic business district of Port Hadlock, Washington. In years past, hotels, saloons, dance halls, boat shops, barbershops, and even a large and successful lumber mill made this waterfront a busy place.

Today, the area includes our boat building School, quaint rental cottages and the historic Ajax Cafe. The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is helping ensure that the maritime heritage of this historic district is protected and enhanced.


Bob Prothero


The entire Puget Sound region has a rich wooden boat building history

During the past one hundred years, Puget Sound has  held a special attraction for people who sailed, built and repaired wooden boats. A number of influences helped to establish wooden boat building traditions characteristic of the region. Through the efforts of talented naval designers, shipwrights and boat builders, styles of boat building began to emerge in the early and mid-1900’s, which allowed even small boat shops on Lake Union, as well as larger shops on Puget Sound, to build and repair wooden boats quickly and in large quantities.

Immigration brought varied boat building traditions from around the world (England, Norway, Japan, Yugoslavia). This allowed a unique borrowing and blending of traditions. Specialized techniques of lofting emerged, employing sophisticated engineering methods. The availability of advanced machinery, an abundance of raw materials, and generations of talented wood craftspeople, allowed boat builders in the region to produce a significant number of boats in a short time, while still utilizing the traditional skills associated with fine wooden boat building.

Bob Prothero exemplified the best in Pacific Northwest boat builders

prothero boatThis Puget Sound tradition and process of boat building was exemplified by the founder of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Bob Prothero, renowned Puget Sound master shipwright, worked for fifty years in the wooden boat building industry, before he founded NWSWB. His family produced several generations of Pacific Northwest ship captains and master boatbuilders. Everything he knew – especially the lofting process – he brought to the school.

The Boat School was founded & now students earn associate degrees in small craft, large craft & wood composite boat building

Motivated by concern that traditional wooden boat building techniques could become a lost art, Bob Proethero coordinated with Libby Palmer and Henry Yeaton to establish a school to teach and preserve the skills and crafts associated with fine wooden boat building. Since 1981, over a thousand students have graduated from the School’s vocational programs, and thousands more have attended summer and community workshops, studying traditional and contemporary maritime arts. This tradition continues today. The School emphasizes development of the individual as a craftsperson, and our classes are filled to capacity with students from around the world seeking to earn Associate Degrees and Diplomas in the traditional fine art of wooden boat building.

Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding develops: 1981-2004

1981 – The boat school is founded by Robert Prothero at the Boat Haven in Port Townsend, WA.

    The boat school is granted status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit vocational education institution.

1983 – School campus moves to a larger facility at Glen Cove Industrial Park, Port Townsend, WA.

1985 – Jeff Hammond is hired as Chief Instructor, leading and inspiring staff and students over the years.

1988 – School develops an academic quarterly curriculum.

1991 – The School becomes nationally accredited by ACCSC (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges).

1993 – Summer workshop program begins at Glen Cove campus.

1997 – Search begins for a waterfront campus site in Jefferson County.

1998 – The School begins granting Associate Degrees of Occupational Studies.
A charitable remainder annuity trust for Port Hadlock waterfront property is donated to the boat school by Captain John and Mrs. Evelyn Westrem.

1999 – Five-year program begins for the restoration of the Westrem Building.

2000 – Summer workshop program moves to Port Hadlock Heritage Campus.

2001 – Purchase and restoration begins at a second Port Hadlock waterfront building.

2002 – Glen Cove property sells and is leased back, pending move to Heritage Campus.

2004 – August: All School operations are relocated to Port Hadlock Heritage Campus.
September: Heritage Campus founding class begins 12-month associate degree studies.
September: Acquired five-acre upland property to expand campus facilities.

The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding
is accredited by the ACCSC

TThe Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). The ACCSC is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency.  The School is also licensed under the Private Vocational Schools Act, Chapter 28C.10RCW of Washington State. Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution.
Any donations made to the School are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.


The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is located on the Olympic Peninsula in Port Hadlock, Washington. Focusing on traditional small and large, as well as contemporary wooden boats, the Boatbuilding School is nationally accredited and internationally recognized as a fine vocational institution. The Boat School honors the boat building traditions of the Pacific Northwest and Puget Sound with boat shops located due south across the bay from Port Townsend, Washington. Programs, courses and workshops are offered throughout the year and include traditional wooden boat subjects such as lofting, oar making, painting and varnishing, boat building, carvel and lapstrake planking, small, large and contemporary wood composite boat construction. Craftsmanship and woodworking are of the highest caliber within the maritime vocational trades. At the center of our programs is the ability to earn an Associates Degree in one-year, culminating each September in presentations at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival.