Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Center for Wooden Boats: Programs that’ll get you on the water

For skilled and unskilled boaters alike, the Center for Wooden Boats is an excellent resource

If you’ve lived in the Seattle area for a while, then you probably already know about the Center for Wooden Boats (CWB). If you don’t then it’s an organization located right on Lake Union that you don’t want to miss, especially if you and your family want to try boating and are interested in sailing.

The Center for Wooden Boats: Mission and programs

According to Leslie Smith, Youth Programs Manager, the Center for Wooden Boats exists to “provide accessible access to the water,” and to “get as many people out on the water as possible.”

The CWB hosts a few free programs for youth and families, such as the Public Peapod Program. In this program, families can rent a boat for up to an hour. Reservations fill fast, so be sure to check frequently for open spots.

Additionally, the CWB hosts a Public Sail once per month, where volunteers take people out for a sail on a variety of different watercraft (sign up is first-come, first-served); a monthly storytime on the docks; a speaker series; and, the Toy Boat Building program are also available.

Other programs: Camps, classes and rentals

The CWB also hosts youth summer camps, boat rentals, and woodworking classes. All of these programs exist to encourage community members to get out on the water. Smith highlights that, at the CWB, they believe that “anyone can get on a boat.” You don’t need any specific experience to participate in programs at the CWB. “Learning how to be around the water is such a great skill,” Smith notes, so the CWB creates opportunities for folks to do just that.

Anyone can visit the CWB, whenever the center is open. The public is welcome to go out on the docks. Smith notes that the center is a great place to visit and hang out, even if you’re not planning to go out on a boat. You can watch boats come and go while soaking up some of Seattle’s summer sunshine.

Our experience with toy boat building

Along with some preschool classmates, my four-year-old twins and I headed down to South Lake Union for storytime at the Center for Wooden Boats. As we prepared to leave when storytime finished, a staff member announced that they were hosting the Toy Boat Program, an opportunity to build a small wooden boat with tools and materials provided by the Center. It was an easy decision to stay for the program and build a toy boat!

The kids got to use a variety of tools and art supplies to create and individualize their toy boats. They could sand the boat, use a hand drill to create a spot for the mast, hammer nails, use markers to decorate, and string sails or flags – there were many options for the kids to use. Depending on the age and skill level of the child, caregivers provided various assistance throughout the activity.

After we finished constructing the boats, the kids gleefully pulled them back and forth (they’d each attached a long string to the boat) across the room before we headed out to a pond nearby, where they plopped them in the water and watched them float. (Another parent had a great tip: Have kids lay down on their stomachs as they reach over into the pond to prevent them from falling in!).

We played in the pond for a while, had lunch, splashed around at the South Lake Union Spraypark, then headed home. For a few weeks after the activity, my kids would get the boats out and drag them down the street (kind of like walking a pet on a leash). And our neighbor set up a kiddie pool for us, where the kids watched the boats float.

Currently, this program is offered at Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island. A $5 donation is requested for the cost of supplies.

Make a day trip of it:

You may finish your activity at CWB and have the rest of the day to explore. Walk on over to MOHAI (Museum of History and Industry) It’s just steps away from the CWB. Learn about the history of Seattle from beautiful, interactive exhibits. Make sure to check out the kid’s room on the second floor, and check in at the front desk to see if they have Exploration or Innovation Packs (backpacks filled with resources and activities) for kids to use as they tour the museum.

After, go to South Lake Union Spraypark where your little ones will love splashing around. Located in South Lake Union Park, just outside of the MOHAI and CWB, it’s an easy escape to another activity on a hot day. If you haven’t had enough of the Lake, head back over to watch the seaplanes take off from the south end.

Want something different to do? Consider a trip to the Amazon Spheres via the South Lake Union Streetcar. The streetcar runs right past South Lake Union Park. Once on the car you can stop by the Spheres or get dropped off about a ½-mile from the Space Needle. Enjoy the Spheres and learn all about the natural gardens that make for a peaceful setting or head up to the top of the Space Needle for a bird’s eye view of the city.

For skilled and unskilled boaters alike, the Center for Wooden Boats is an excellent resource for folks to get out into Lake Union. Whether you want to build a toy boat, learn from a lecture about boating, or go for a sail around the lake, make sure to check out the CWB!

Read more

9 places to take your kids kayaking

Row, row, row your boat at one of these destinations

Check out more things to do

About the Author

Ellie White

Ellie had the privilege of growing up in our beautiful Pacific Northwest. She currently lives in the Green Lake neighborhood with her husband and twin toddlers.