A shipwright is the soul of a ship, as he or she conceived the basic design after meeting with the ship owners before executing it on paper and finally translating it into a physical form. While anyone who builds a boat can be called a shipwright, the term most frequently calls tall ships into mind, because they involve a lot of hand work, time, and love. A professionally trained shipwright, however, can work with anything from small pleasure boats to large naval vessels, and the larger the ship, the more complex the job and crew coordination. Many large ships involve a team of shipwrights, combining skills and experience for a high quality final product.
When a ship is built, the design usually starts in the minds of the owners, who commission a shipwright to build a ship to their specifications. Most ships are designed for a particular use such as fishing, carrying cargo, transporting troops, or pleasurable outings. Once the owner has determined what kind of ship is needed, a shipwright who specializes in building that sort of ship is sought out, and a meeting is held to discuss what exactly is desired. The shipwright renders drawings of the ship for the owners which illustrate how the ship will look, how much it will hold, and how the interior of the ship will be organized. Once the designs are approved, the shipwright starts work in a shipyard.
The first step is to build a scaffolding or slip for the ship to be built in. This strong network of supportive trusses will hold the hull of the ship as it is built up from the bottom, or keel, and will continue to surround the ship until it is ready for launching. Once the scaffolding is in place, the shipwright starts to oversee a team of skilled craftspeople as they build the hull and set up the interior of the ship.
A shipwright draws upon a lot of skills while practicing his or her trade. Basic construction is a major element, of course, but a shipwright must also be good at physics, engineering, and math. Many shipwrights are also good with electrical components, so that they can design sound electrical systems for their ships, even if they do not install them themselves. A shipwright must also be good at organizing a complex team of individuals with radically different skills, keeping them on task so that ships can be completed on time.
There are several ways to learn to be a shipwright. Traditionally, shipwrights trained in shipyards as apprentices, working their way through the ranks of workers. Apprenticeships are still available in many ship building communities, and are an excellent way to learn. Many maritime schools also offer training to shipwrights which includes the scientific skills needed to build good boats, and also provides students with internships and other learning opportunities. Depending on the level of training achieved and specialty, shipwrights can also make a great deal of money over their lifetimes, by providing a unique and vitally needed service.