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STEM Activity: Yo Ho Ho, Let’s Build a Pirate Ship!

Ahoy, me hearties! Are you ready to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day with some adventurous fun? Let your imagination set sail as you make a DIY pirate ship at home. Follow the blueprint below to become the creative captain of your nautical vessel!


Materials Needed

  • Cloth material (e.g., sheets, blankets, fabric)
  • Large binder clips
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Pulley and rope (optional)
  • Rubber bands


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Choose a room you can transform into a seaworthy pirate ship!
  2. Gather your materials, including sheets, blankets or large pieces of fabric that will help you set sail.
  3. Play a sea shanty (pirate music) to inspire your sail making.
  4. Take a look at the Sail Parts poster to explore the anatomy of a sail, and the Types of Sails poster for design inspiration.
  5. Consider the details of your ship. How many sails will your ship have? What are the shapes of your sails? Where will the sails be placed around the room?
  6. Decide which end of the room will be the bow (head of the ship), and which one the stern (back of the ship).
  7. Using your paper and pencil, sketch your ideas for the ship’s design.
  8. Look around your room to identify objects that could be ideal for attaching the cloth material to make sails.
  9. Arrange the objects around the room as needed so your sails can be placed where you want them.
  10. Use binder clips and rubber bands to secure the cloth to the objects. Try folding the cloth to create different shapes.
  11. If you have one available, hang the pulley up high. Drape the rope over the pulley and attach one end of the rope to the cloth. Test to see if the sail raises when you pull on the rope.
  12. Now it’s anchors aweigh*, matey! Get your sea legs ready, climb aboard and hoist the sails as you embark on an epic adventure!

*Anchors aweigh is a term that means the anchor has been raised high enough to clear the sea bottom, allowing the ship to move forward and begin the journey!


What Are We Discovering?

Sails have been used for thousands of years to capture the power of the wind, propelling seafaring vessels and the people onboard — across the water. While at sea, sailors can adjust the angle of the sails, and raise and lower them to help change the boat’s direction and speed.

Design engineering plays an important role in developing watercraft that can sail the high seas or dive to the deepest parts of the ocean! National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Harold Froehlich designed the deep-sea submersible Alvin to withstand the crushing pressures of the deep ocean and collect samples for research with a mechanical arm. When creating a vessel that could withstand a long ocean journey, Froehlich had to consider the density, waterproof capabilities, weight, size and other physical characteristics of the materials used to build the watercraft.

What other variables might be important in the design of a sailing ship? Which ones do you think are the most important and why? Batten down the hatches and head out to the high seas to continue your design thinking!


Share Your Design With Us!

We’d love to see your pirate ship! Share photos with us on Facebook and Twitter, then visit our blog for more fun STEM activities.

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