A challenge to find out who rules the waves has proved a winner with schools in the South-west. The third Schools Marine Challenge is about to pit 25 schools against each other in a test of design, technology and teamwork. The quest is to design and build scale-model boats using various energy sources, then race them at Roadford Lake in Devon next summer.
Each school has been issued with a starter kit and over the next few weeks they will be visited by project manager Rob Austin who will offer hints and guidance on how to create a race-winning powerboat.
The design of the boat is up to each school and there are three categories to enter: solar energy, electric power or petrol engine. The teams, which can be an after-school class of eight pupils or a whole year-group studying GCSE design and technology or engineering, are expected to bring on board local companies to provide technical support.
Sarah Dhanda, director of training services with the British Marine Federation, the trade association which organises the challenge in conjunction with Marine South West, says race day is an exciting but nerve-wracking climax for the students.
"It's a culmination of months of designing, building and testing their boats," she says. "They are encouraged to construct displays of how they have designed and built their boats and must prove that they have worked as a team and with local industry."
Preparing to defend the title is the team from Budmouth Technology College, where the challenge makes up a module in GCSE engineering. Last summer, the team took the top prize of a visit to an America's Cup yacht at Southampton. Jane Fooks, industry liaison manager at the college, says:
"It's a magical project, a fantastic opportunity, and it is raising standards. The students are so enthusiastic about it - they've found something they really enjoy that's part of a lesson."
Funded by South West Regional Development Agency, the challenge is aimed at raising the profile of the marine industry and to encourage young people in the South-west to consider the range of careers on their doorstep, such as boatbuilding and maintenance, sailmaking, electronics (including satellite navigation and communications), engineering and yacht design.
"To a large extent we are a hidden industry," says Sarah Dhanda. "People see the marine industry in terms of leisure and tourism but not necessarily as a career. People are attracted to the glamour side of sailing, powerboats and marinas but there are many other diverse and rewarding careers available."
She says the challenge is already benefiting local companies by giving them access to schools and potential new recruits. The challenge has prompted Budmouth College to team up with industry and other bodies to set up a training centre to offer high-quality, marine-related careers. More and more schools are joining the waiting list for the challenge, and the numbers taking part in the challenge has grown from just 10 schools in 2002-3 to the present 25.
Following the success of the challenge the BMF wants to extend it to the south-east and East Anglia.
* The BMF also operates an on-line Schools Concept Boat competition available nationwide at www.conceptboat.com