Heritage Courses

Both trade and Leisure Courses which focus upon traditional Maritime Skills. content

Both trade and Leisure Courses which focus upon traditional Maritime Skills.

Set in the heart of old Stromness, the Maritime Studies Department of Orkney College UHI has provided training for Seafarers for over 40 years. As well as training for modern mariners we also want to keep the old skills alive with a new range of Heritage courses. We have set up the first and (at time of writing) only Sail Making course in Scotland, as well as other traditional disciplines such as rope or canvas work. Courses can be run in a variety of formats from evening classes to summer schools or winter warmers. Times given below are guidelines and we are happy to respond to enquiries from individuals and groups.

Sail making

The course was first written by local sail maker Margaret Crawford and is now delivered by maritime lecturer Mark Shiner who also specialises in design theory and traditional handwork. Mark has 15 years experience of sailmaking and repair in Orkney.

The Course is now taking on a new lease of life in 2018, with assistance from the UK sailmaking industry to create a modern sailmaking course that is fit for purpose for the trade, as well as being accessible to self-reliant sailors or other enthusiasts.

The course is divided into three parts:

1, Online theory module: this can be studied at home in your own time and deals with sail plan design, aspects of aerodynamic shaping, cloth selection and sail drafting. Work is submitted for assessment and feedback from the lecturer.

2, 1 Week practical course in Orkney: Visit our maritime training centre on the pier at Stromness and build a sail in a group. Learn practical lofting, assembly and machining skills.

3, Training record book: For those in employment, a training record book, building up to a work portfolio, can be completed and signed off by your employer. Portfolio and evidence is then submitted for marking to the course lecturer for issue of a certificate of completion.

Course includes:

  • Sail theory, designing and planning your own sails.
  • Machining Skills on a variety of sailmaking sewing machines.
  • Measuring and lofting.
  • Drawing a sail plan and sail design.
  • Building a project sail as a group.
  • Measuring old sails for replacement.
  • Construction methods, materials and assembly.
  • Aspects of sail repair.
  • Traditional hand work for vintage sails.
  • Setting and adjusting.

Our project sail is of a fairly contemporary design but skills are transferable to more traditional designs. There are also opportunities to study traditional hand working techniques such as hand roping and cringle corners.

For further information, please contact Mark Shiner at: mark.shiner@uhi.ac.uk  or call 01856 569406.

Rope work, knots and splices.

This course should appeal to enthusiasts, artists and seafarers alike.  We will look at knots and their uses – a rope in your pocket is a toolkit in your hand! We will also be learning all the common splices and a few unusual ones as well.  If time allows we will explore decorative maritime rope work, bell pulls, mats and work applied to sea-chest handles.  So, if you work at sea and want to expand your repertoire beyond using a bowline for everything or if you fancy making a garden swing or a bell pull for the pub this course should have it covered.

Sail repair

This course usually runs over several evenings or weekends.  If you want to be self-reliant and repair your own sails this is the course for you.  We look at common areas of damage that sails suffer and practice the correct methods of repair.  You will learn how to use sail-makers sewing machines and other tools and equipment while also learning about the right materials to use.  We will even show you how to put together an emergency tool kit.

Sail Making Course at Maritime Department at the Nav School content

Sail Making Course at Maritime Department at the Nav School

This course has been designed in consultation with the sail making industry and has been developed to appeal to both enthusiastic self-builders and those who wish to enter the industry.

Two men repairing a sail

An online study module includes essential sail design theory, lofting techniques, drafting and design. The online content also includes several assignments involving designing a balanced sail plan. A range of online resources is available to help you do this, as well as support from the course tutor and a learners discussion forum.

Candidates must be 18 or over.

Sailing experience is a definite bonus for sail makers.


Course content is constantly being added and a CAD (Computer aided design) section is planned soon but included in the course is:

  • Online Study.
  • Residential Practical Week in Stromness, Orkney.
  • Sailplan Design.
  • Design and drafting techniques.
  • Cloth and material selection.
  • Traditional lofting floor techniques.
  • Sail construction.
  • “Trad Night” a midweek evening session covering traditional handwork techniques.
  • Make your own ditty bag – kit provided.
  • Measuring a boat rig.

 incomplete sail with tools

Study Mode

Online and Face to Face.


Cost is £550.

No external funding is currently available but as this is a course covering endangered heritage crafts, you may be able to access funding local to yourself. We are happy to advise about this.


The UK Sailmaking industry indicates that skilled sailmakers are in short supply and individual makers nearing retirement are finding it difficult to find makers to carry on the trade. Skills learned will also be useful in the textiles industry, particularly covers, bags and repairs.

Find out more by contacting the Maritime Studies Department at: 01856 569 401 OR mark.shiner@uhi.ac.uk