Building Strong Boats Sailing Rough Waters

Tacoma Community Boat Builders works with at-risk youth crafting and sailing small wooden boats

Boat Building Skills

Youths work with mentors to learn woodworking and boat building skills. Through the practice of craftsmanship and patient skill building they develop a sense of accomplishment


As the youths work with mentors building boats they create a community of trust where building relationships and teamwork are essential

Building Whole People

Participants learn how to shift out of crisis mode and into a more steady, intentional path, learning the value of goal setting, critical thinking, planning, problem-solving, and successful work

On the Water

In addition to learning the principles of boat handling and sailing, participating youths discover the rewarding experience of getting on the water in boats they have built together

Tacoma Community Boat Builders

Building Strong Boats. Sailing Rough Waters


TCBB Wins 2017 Grant from Tacoma’s Rusty George Creative

Rusty George Creative is Tacoma’s leading branding and advertising agency. Each year, Rusty George awards a grant for advertising, creative design, and marketing work, pro bono. For 2017, Rusty George selected us!

“Every year Rusty George Creative provides full branding services to one non-profit organization in the community and 2017 was a tough one because we had to choose from so many well-deserving entries. After much deliberation we chose an organization who’s brand elevation will be an exciting challenge and wonderful opportunity. Tacoma Community Boat Builders serves local wayward youth to gain skills and confidence to build a better future for themselves. They help these great kids develop craftsmanship, discipline, patience and social skills they may have not had access to in their lives up until now and teach them techniques to build everything from wooden boats to furniture and other items.”

We are thrilled that Rusty George has given us this great opportunity. Watch here for news and updates as this exciting project proceeds!

TCBB Family and Team Boat Building and the 2016 Tacoma Maritime Fest

The 2016 Tacoma Maritime Fest, July 16-17, was a great success. We set out to build boats by families and other teams – Completely, in two days – Our first time at this ambitious venture! – And the project was a great success! Four teams of people spanning decades of life experience, catalyzed by the incredible energy and spirit surrounding them, made four boats and took them out on the Foss Waterway! 

Here’s a video/slide show of the weekend’s fun!


New friends were made across every walk of life. 100’s of toy boats went home with as many little and big kids. No less than 8 coolers were on sight. 2 Fire extinguishers became glitter encrusted. 5200 glue got on everyone everywhere – and no one complained! Countless memories of a lifetime were formed for aduts and youth from every walk of life

Heart, help, and hands made it possible and brought a vision of what could be to life: The people of the TCBB community! 

Tacoma program helps troubled youths build more than boats

by Adam Lynn, Tacoma News Tribune, September 7, 2015

“To say the program saved his life would be hyperbole, but it certainly showed him a path he otherwise might not have taken… That path includes the smell of sawdust, the screech of a circular saw, the comfort of fellowship, the satisfaction of hard work and that beautiful feeling of being at the oars of a floating boat and commanding, if only for a sunny summer afternoon, your own destiny.”

In interviews with founder Paul Birkey, executive director Shannon Shea, and volunteer mentors working with youths in the TCBB boat shop, writer Adam Lynn explores how the Tacoma Community Boat Builders program helps troubled youths build successful and purposeful lives. Lynn takes an in-depth look at TCBB’s successes to date and the challenges, plans and ambitions that lie ahead, and the importance of the TCBB program in the Tacoma community.

“… the kids, the volunteers, even himself, were building something bigger than boats: camaraderie, responsibility, friendship.”

Video link.

Link to complete story.  Includes photographs and video.

News in Brief

July 16/17, 2016. First TCBB Family and Team Boat Building event successfully debuts at annual Tacoma Maritime Fest. See story and video above left, front page.

June/July, 2016. TCBB featured in story in South Sound Magazine“Rebuilding Lives.”  See news item, excerpt, and link, to left,  front page.

February 6, 2016. TCBB opens an exhibit in Community Gallery at the Washington State Historical Society. The exhibit, featuring photographs, boats, and other objects made in the TCBB boat shop, runs through April.

February 5, 2016. Tacoma Community Boat Builders begins publishing a periodic newsletter with information about events and happenings at TCBB. Sign up here.

February 4, 2016. TCBB is mentioned in a News-Tribune article about significant Pierce County alternatives to youth detention.

September 24, 2015. New fall term begins, averaging 17 boys a week. Some boys from previous terms return as “mentor assistants.”

September 21, 2015. Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, and Schools Out Washington present “Youth Program Quality Initiative” award to TCBB.

September 19, 2015.  Mahogany “Peanut Class” sailing dinghy, built in the early 1960s on west coast of Norway donated, latest addition to TCBB fleet.

September 7, 2015.  TCBB featured in front page news story by Tacoma News Tribune.

July 28, 2015. TCBB co-founder Judge Tom Larkin retires from office after 28 years.

July 3, 2015. Over $39,000 raised at July 1 event, “Promises Made, Promises Kept,” including $11,000 in challenge matching grants.

For news in depth, visit TCBB/News.

“Rebuilding Lives: Working on boats helps troubled teens”

The June/July 2016 issue of South Sound Magazine featured a wonderful article by Lauren Foster about Tacoma Community Boat Builders.

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Photo by Rachel Coward

From the article:

“Minors who enter the juvenile court system are vulnerable to committing more crimes later and being locked up as adults. However, there is something that’s been proven to divert a young man from following a dangerous path toward prison: community. Studies have shown that hands-on, safe community activities can alter the trajectory of a teenage boy in trouble, members of the nonprofit point out.”

We are thrilled to receive this great coverage. The informative article features interviews with Paul Birkey, TCBB chairman and founder, and Shannon Shea, TCBB executive director.

Read the complete story here.

New Boats Christened by the TCBB Community!

On Thursday, July 21, 2016, over 50 people – founding members of the advisory board, current leadership, alumni and current participants, our mentor-craftsmen, staff of Pierce County Juvenile Court Remann Hall, volunteers and donors – gathered at the head of the Thea Foss Waterway to christen new boats and and restored boats.

1. A traditional Lumber Yard Skiff built under mentor Dan Mason. The boat was named the Kathryn Anderson after one of the essential partners in the early days of creating the boat builders.

2.  A Strip canoe, partially built with all necessary materials donated by Howard Heyer (now deceased), was newly completed under mentor Peter Hales. This is the canoe we see in so many of the photos. Its a beautiful craft with many loving hours of work put in by mentors, youth, and Mr. Heyer himself before giving the craft to TCBB to complete. The boat was christened the Howie in honor of Mr. Heyer by his family Chris Heyer, his wife, two children and Mr. Heyer’s widow.

3. A newly built TCBB Skiff, also known as the family boat which is the model built at this year’s Tacoma Maritime Fest, was completed under mentors Chuck Graydon, Paul Birkey, and Ken Wilson. Her name is Kinship and the line of boats will now be referred to as the Kinship Skiffs.

4. A restored Norweigian-built Peanut sailboat was donated by Mary Hammond in the Fall of 2015. The boat was restored under Keith Cameron, Peter Hales, and Chuck Graydon along with a lot of help from youth and volunteers, is now officially called Peanut.

5. A Cape Ann Dory, restored under Ken Wilson and with many hands on it for over a year, was rechristened the Spirit

6. Newly purchased rigid inflatable purchased by PCJC/Remann Hall was christened the Remann by the youth of our program.

Warmth and solidarity permeated this christening event. All were moved by the sense of family and the completion of cycles that came about as each boat was talked about and the people involved named.  After the naming, all stayed after for a bbq! Quite night!

What We Do

We provide programs engaging at-risk youths in a one-to-one relationship with adult mentors. Our aim is to break down the barriers that inhibit at-risk and other youths; help them acquire the skills, integrity and confidence to be citizen and work ready; develop a sense of belonging, learning and growing together; and restore their sense of self-worth and value to the communityYouths are enrolled in one or more 10-week sessions where, under the guidance of their mentors, they learn the craft and practice of woodworking and wooden boat building, boat restoration, and boat handling. Out goal is to provide the meaningful experiences that give at-risk youths a reason to stay out of trouble and reconnect with the community.


Both Number 6 (November 22) and a special 2016 Year-End Greeting (December 21) are available. Read them here! And if you're not a subscriber you can sign up there as well! Or enter your information below.

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