The Boat Carpenter’s Level

Main piece:

So, there’s this ritual among boat carpenters, right? Where on your first day you show up, ready for work – and all these guys, y’know, none of them are really new to carpentry? They’re all usaully guys that have done some work for someone for a while before going into the wooden boatyards.

They walk in, and half the time they have their tools in their hands. But sometimes they don’t, and the older carpenters will send them back out to grab them. Then right there, before they can start, all the guys will start diggin’ through their toolboxes and makin’ a big deal out of it.

When they find a level, they hold it up in the air and parade it around for a minute. They give the new guy a hard time about it, and ask him what it’s for. By this point, he usually has no idea what’s going on. Then they’ll say – go see if that seat over there is level. And when he tries, they’ll rock the boat back and forth so the bubble is goin’ all over the place, laugh their asses off, and then they throw his level into the harbor.

Can’t use a level in a boat yard.


Ritual described by Randy Peffer at Boatswayne Yard in San Pedro, CA. Randy is a career seaman, educator, and writer.


Boat carpenters have a strong brotherhood, as they do a highly specialized job. They are often forced to work together in tight spaces, and their safety is mutually assured rather than guaranteed.


This is a transitional ritual which is tied to a carpenter’s entry into the trade of boat carpentry.