People: Darrah James – getting her hands dirty building boats

Darrah James

Aug 25, 2022

By Allegra Smith-Herriot

Darrah works on the east coast of Canada in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia for Rock Solid Composites as a certified Boat Builder.

She completed her education with the Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association (NSBA) through Women Unlimited; an east coast program supporting and helping women succeed in trades and technology.

School: NSCC (Nova Scotia Community College)

Program: Women Unlimited in partnership with Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association (NSBA): Boat Builder Apprenticeship Program

Graduating Year: 2016

Current Workplace: Rock Solid Composites, Cornwallis, Nova Scotia

What is your background in the marine industry? Tell us a bit about how you got into the marine industry.

My father was a marine engineer and machinist who started on boats at the age of 15. His father (my grandfather) was the 14th man in Canada to be certified as a marine engineer. My father’s uncle, who had a good part in raising me, was a local fisherman. Another uncle close to me built homes and did fine woodworking. I grew up on the water around boats and mechanics, always helping and being taught in the family’s trades. I was always interested in building, fixing and getting my hands dirty.

What made you choose your program and school?

I needed to get back into the work force after being a stay-at-home mother with four children, as my husband was injured at work and could no longer partake. I have a degree as a computer service technician as my family wanted me to become one out of high school. I did this type of work for years, but it never really interested me. My passion was to get into trades and construction of some sort, but I couldn’t even get a position as an assistant because I was a woman.
Having a family that relied on me, I had to stay close to home and needed to make enough to support our household. I then found out about Women Unlimited, a program that assisted women in finding a career path and education into the trades through the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) locally in Bridgewater. That year, the program happened to be in partnership with the Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association (NSBA). I was lucky to be accepted into their limited space program.

It was then that I started to learn skills including introduction to the Marine Service Technician trade and of course the Boat Building trade.

Darrah WorkDarrah's Work












– Some of Darrah’s Boat Building Work

What was your path after graduation and what are you currently doing now?

I was hired straight out of my program after my on-the-job shadowing part of my class work. It was at a local boat shop where I proceeded to learn and construct in the boat building trade. As the work started to slow down, I started networking myself into another position where I currently work now, Rock Solid Composites.
I really enjoy my work from basic construction to fine cabinetry and working with the customers to take their vision and bring it to reality for them.

What kind of practical experience did you get through your program?

Hands on experience in local boat shops and I got to sit in on several trade classes I was interested in at the Community College.

One thing you learned or experienced in your program that you were not expecting?

The help, support and assistance I received in the program was beyond what I expected to receive in any regular educational setting. It was exceptional.
What was a highlight of your program?

I have a short attention span and had severe dyslexia when I was younger. I also have a repetitive mechanical/mathematical/problem solving thought process. Sometimes I have a hard time verbalizing or writing, but I’m much more comfortable with hands on work, which is what my program encouraged and what I excelled at.

What is one piece of advice you could give someone entering the marine industry?

Be open to continue learning. Nothing is ever cookie cutter. It’s an extremely diverse trade, requiring hard work, dedication and a broad range of skill and tools.

What do you hope to accomplish in the marine industry?

To entice more young workers to follow a trades career path, especially women, as I’m one of very few journeymen certified. I strive to be known for my skill and quality of work.

Are you a power boater, sailor, or both?

I enjoy both the speed of power and the tranquility while under sail.

Your fondest/funniest memory out on the water?

I have two great memories of being out on the water. One where I would take trips on my great uncle’s lobster boat out to the islands to hand line whales while watching the sunset.

The other was visiting my father when he came into port on massive vessels. I was able to go onboard to tour them and specifically see their onboard machine shops and enormous engine rooms.

Watch more about Darrah’s story HERE.

Allegra Smith-Herriot is a recent Sport Media graduate from Toronto Metropolitan University as well as an active sailor and power boater on Georgian Bay. She can be reached at

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