Message in a Boat: Unmanned Vessels Crisscross Atlantic

Most people love the idea of sending off a message in a bottle, seeing where it goes and hearing back from the finders. But most of the time, the bottle goes off into the ocean and it’s gone forever. Maine-based Educational Passages has come up with a much better idea: sending well-built mini-boats to sea with sturdy sails and GPS units.

Since 2008, the organization has sent 30 little boats to sea, usually partnering with schools up and down the New England Coast to keep track of the small vessels and record their data. This fall, another nine boats will be dropped into the Atlantic Ocean from freighters, fishing boats, and others in three locations: George Banks, the Canary Islands, and off Jamestown, Virginia, to report back to schools in Maine and New Jersey on their travels through the trade current of the Atlantic Ocean.

Self-steering and powered only by the winds and currents, the boats will travel the ocean alone for months, providing unique learning opportunities to students who study map- and chart-reading, oceanography, wind and current patterns, boatbuilding, and design. As a vessel approaches a foreign shore, students practice international relations by arranging for rescue and recovery.

One of the newest little vessels is being sponsored by Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors and the Riley School in Rockport. The students at Riley, an independent school serving children through the eighth grade, will help the magazine document the mini-boat’s travels on this page and on Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors‘ website. Riley students are currently decorating the boat and deciding what to name it and what messages to include. In a few weeks, it will be shipped to the Canary Islands, where an oceanographer and school children there will release it into the Atlantic current. Stay tuned!