Recently, Larsen Bay students got to learn about the inner workings of boats from a special piece of equipment

The 600 lb Vessel Systems Trainer. (Photo by Mitch Borden/KMXT)

Mitch Borden/KMXT

Understanding how to maintain and fix a boat is an important skill to have in many rural communities in the Kodiak Archipelago. Kodiak College is able to bring a variety of classes to villages in the region focusing on improving resident’s mechanical skills.

Recently, for the first time, the college was able to bring its largest training unit to Larsen Bay so eight students could better understand how boats work.


It took almost a year of planning before L.A. Holmes could have a 600-pound training unit, called the vessel systems trainer, flown to Larsen Bay. The piece of equipment shows how the major systems of diesel-powered boats work.

Holmes runs the Kodiak Community College Maritime Department. This is the first time the piece of equipment’s traveled to a rural community, which she thinks is exciting because it opens up the possibility of bringing the trainer all around the region.

Organizing classes across the archipelago focusing on maritime mechanics is a big part of Holmes’ job. She works to make all the equipment her department uses travel-friendly so classes can be taught anywhere.

“It’s all packaged with everything you need to do the work once you get to a classroom. And whether the classroom is across the street, across town, or on the other end of the archipelago this is easily transportable.”

The two-day class held in Larsen Bay was called Vessel System Overview. It examined many of the systems that make up a working boat. Holmes had to charter a specific plane to carry the large vessel systems trainer. The Larsen Bay class was paid for by the Kodiak Area Native Association. Holmes says it couldn’t have happened without KANA’s help.

The vessel systems trainer’s ability to clearly display the inner workings of a boat makes it a useful educational tool. Most of the equipment instructors use to teach these classes are much smaller than the vessel systems trainer. The purpose of the training units Holmes’ department uses is to clearly show students how mechanical systems work in a nice and neat package.

“You can actually take them to places where people can learn and to practice and you’re not moving a whole boat around. You’re not crawling around in a confined space with OSHA regulations. You’re not getting your knees in oil. You’re not banging your head on screws coming through the ceiling above you and stuff like that. ”

Heather Borgardus is a teacher at the Larsen Bay School and she worked with Holmes to bring the Vessel Systems Overview class to the community. She says the fishing industry drives the local economy. So, being able to understand how boats work and having the skills to do repairs is invaluable.

“When something breaks down out here they essentially can’t fish. So there are not making money because they are dead in the water. And  So it is really important to have people on board that can fix things and can do it with minimal time and expense.”

Many of her students have or will work in the fishing industry. Some as a career and others to make money for college. It’s not easy for young people to get on good boats. These kinds of classes teach skills that could help bolster a student’s resume.

“They try year after year to get on to a good boat. To get on a money-making boat or a safe boat, and it’s very competitive and  a lot of times ages can be a deterrent.”

Even if students don’t go into the seafood industry, it’ll be good for them to know how boats work because in Larsen Bay, Bogardus says, boats are used in the same way cars are used in other communities.

“It’s not just going out for subsistence or going out to commercial fish. It’s getting to your auntie’s house.”

Borgardus thinks her students knowing how boats work make it much safer for them to go out on the water. Since the class went so well Holmes says the maritime department is looking at other opportunities to bring the vessel systems trainer to other villages.

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