You may remember the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, when debris from the wreckage washed up along the coasts of Oregon and Washington.

In fact, one of those items, a fishing vessel, is still on display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. That boat — and its journey across the Pacific Ocean — became the inspiration for building the Columbia River Maritime Museum’s Miniboat Program.

Supporting vessels  

The program was developed by the Columbia River Maritime Museum in partnership with the Consular Office of Japan in Portland, Educational Passages and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It's also supported by Pacific Power, the U.S. Coast Guard and many others.

Elementary and middle school students in both Oregon and Japan work on separate sides of the Pacific to cooperatively design, build, launch, and track GPS-equipped, seaworthy vessels. Built from nautical roots, this one-of-a-kind education program introduces students to ocean science, international exchange, and the STEAM fields of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math, helping to inspire future careers.

Gather at the summit  

Now in its third year and with more than 55,000 nautical miles traveled to date, the museum’s Miniboat Program is readying to launch this year’s fleet of student built boats — and the community is invited to get involved. On Tuesday, the museum will host its first-ever “Miniboat Summit,” where students from three schools will present their boats, conduct a sparkling apple cider christening and make an official hand-off to the Columbia River Bar Pilots and U.S. Coast Guard, who will launch the small boats on their voyage across the ocean.

“Miniboats may be small, but they are mighty,” explains Nate Sandel, education director at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. “They have the power to create substantial and lasting impact — in the community and well beyond. We’ve seen these boats capture the imagination of our students, but also many people from around the world who encounter the boats, help with a rescue or simply follow the boats’ progress online. It’s an exciting adventure we’re so happy to share during this year’s Miniboat Summit.”

Lasting impact  

Through the Miniboat Program, students take on roles as quartermasters, sail designers, keel engineers, cargo trackers and documentarians. Along the way, they learn real world skills and make friends overseas while they track their boats online — boats packed with mementos curated by the students. 

“It’s not everyday that you get to balance a keel, design a sail, or navigate the waters of the Pacific Ocean,” Alisa Dunlap, Clatsop County regional business manager at Pacific Power, said. “The Miniboat Program offers an extraordinary way for 5th through 7th grade students in our region to learn crucial STEAM skills, discover future careers and build international connections that will last a lifetime. We know STEAM skills are important part of building opportunity for the future, especially in the small communities we serve. We are excited to support a program dedicated to enriching the education of young learners and empowering them to try new things and explore their creativity.”

An international endeavor  

Since the program’s start in 2017, 1,213 students on both sides of the Pacific Ocean have been involved in the launch of 24 miniboats, traveling a total of 55,236 nautical miles (a number that climbs daily). These boats are tracked every day and students are still building on the skills they honed to launch them.

This year’s participants include 7th graders from Warrenton Grade School, 5th graders at Columbia City Elementary School and 7th graders from Wy’East Middle School in Vancouver, Wash. These three schools partnered with three schools in Japan: Tanesashi Primary School, Okuki Elementary and Kanehama Elementary in Hachinohe City, in the Aomori Prefecture. 

Follow the miniboat adventures on Facebook at CRMM Miniboat Program or through the museum’s website at

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