BAR HARBOR — When Ivan Andros of Lamoine found an old fiberglass boat on the side of the road marked “Free,” he knew just what to do with it.
Andros picked the boat up and brought it in to school, where he and other students patched the cracks with fiberglass. The students are now working on sanding, vacuuming and painting the 12-foot boat to make it good as new.
Andros, a junior at Mount Desert Island High School, is one of 10 students in a Marine Technology program that teaches students to fix up old boats, among other things.
A Hancock County Technical Center satellite program, the two year-long class is open to high school juniors and seniors throughout Hancock and southern Washington counties.
Five of the current students attend MDIHS, and the rest come from surrounding schools, as far away as Narraguagus in Harrington.
“I think one of the lessons I teach them is there’s no such thing as a free boat,” said teacher Steve Keblinsky. Nonetheless, he encourages students to bring in projects like this, for the hands-on learning experience. “It turned out to be the perfect boat to learn fiberglassing,” he said.
Many students come to the Marine Technology program with experience on the water, according to Keblinsky.
“Most of my kids fish in the summertime. Their motivation is to learn to work on their own boats.”
Yet boat maintenance and repair is only one part of the program, which also includes instruction in boat handling and basic navigation. As well as working in fiberglass and wood, students learn marine electronics and plumbing.
Students begin the first year by taking apart and rebuilding boat engines, Keblinsky said. In the second year, students take on internships at area boatyards and other maritime businesses, such as Hamilton Marine.
The course is roughly 25 percent book learning and 75 percent applied or hands-on learning, he said. By the end of the second year, students take a test for certification as a marine service technician.
“They get a good solid background of all the things required of them to work in a boatyard,” said Keblinsky. “It’s a good overview.”
Working on boats requires a diverse set of skills.
“You’ve gotta be a carpenter, you’ve gotta be a plumber, you’ve gotta be a painter, you’ve gotta be all these things.”
Now in its third year, the Marine Technology program graduated its first class last spring. So far, Keblinsky said, the program has had “pretty good success with kids going into the industry.”
Of the six graduates, three are “working in the industry,” Keblinski said, either as fishermen or in boatyards.
Another two are attending Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) for Vessel Operations and Technology.
“It’s given me a pretty good jump on my classes,” said Sam Hoff, a graduate of the program and current MMA student.
“It gave me a vision of what I wanted to do for college, because I wasn’t sure.” Hoff said he had considered studying business until he signed up for the Marine Technology program.
Having worked for years as a boatbuilder and operator of a charter boat business, Keblinsky said one reason for starting a high school marine technology program was to fill a need in the industry.
Particularly in boatbuilding, he said, “we could never hire any help.
“There were a few people that were willing, but even fewer people who were willing and able.
“They just thought it was romantic to work on boats. It’s just the opposite. But it can be lucrative.”
In addition to the two-year Marine Technology program, Keblinsky also teaches a boatbuilding class at this high school, which is an elective any MDI student can sign up for.