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Ahoy loveys! It may be dipping into negative degrees outside, but indoors we’re celebrating picture-perfect regatta weather. Yes, this Valentine’s Day we have blue skies, a fair wind, and following seas for the 1st Annual Cupid’s Cup.
Super-sleuth sailors may notice our flags are flying a secret message for the day…care to guess what we’ve spelled out in nautical code?
Inspired by our own secret message morse code valentines, we thought it would be fun to use the nautical flag alphabet and turn our secret code into a high-seas STEAM-learning adventure. You can make these to use for play, decoration, or as small tokens to gift to friends – OR – turn them into actual sailing boats. Read on for the details!
To make your own secret message cardboard sailboats you’ll need:
Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains a few Woodpeckers Crafts and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*
- Scrap cardboard
- Paint and a foam brush
- Twine, string, or ribbon
- Scrap fabric, newspaper, or similar for sails
- A craft stick or dowel like these, or a twig for the mast (you can use BIRCH5 at Woodpecker Crafts for 5% off!)
- A glue stick and hot glue gun (I like using this low-temp kind with kids)
- Our printable nautical flag and Morse code alphabet sets
- Inkjet sticker sheets (like this kind) for nautical flag letter stickers
- Wine corks or old styrofoam (to make your boats float!)
- Outdoor Mod Podge or similar to waterproof your cardboard boat
Secret Message Valentine Art Instructions:
- Print Morse code and nautical flag alphabet references
You can download and print our handy secret message printable pack or just google reference pages to use for coding your own secret messages.
- Cut a simple boat shape out of cardboard
Cut a simple boat shape out of scrap cardboard.
- Paint your cardboard boat
Paint the top of your boat using tempera or acrylic paint and a foam brush.
Tip: If you’re making boats you plan on setting sail in real water, you can either use a water-safe paint (I get samples of exterior house paint from the hardware store) or seal your painted cardboard boat with a coat of Outdoor Mod Podge or similar.
- Cut our your nautical flag letters and arrange
Before you start putting your string of flags together, cut out the flag letters you’ll need from our nautical flag alphabet set and arrange them in order. For our sailboats, we wrote out “I LOVE YOU” in nautical flags.
Note: When you cut out your letters, be sure to leave a white tab at the top as we did. This will allow you to fold the tab around your flag line and glue.
- Create your nautical flag message banner
Cut a long length of twine (longer than you’ll need – this gives you some extra twine to hold on to when you glue).
Fold the tab of each nautical flag around the twine and glue it on with a glue stick.
- Add your mast
Using a glue gun add a mast to the middle of your boat. I had some small basswood dowels I used for ours, but you could use craft sticks, thick cardboard, or a twig instead.
Before hot gluing in our masts, we made a small hole in the top of the cardboard we could push them in. This isn’t necessary but is an added layer of stability for the mast.
- Hot glue a sail and your nautical flag banner to the mast
Cut a simple sail from scrap fabric, cardstock, newspaper, or whatever you have! Hot glue it to the mast, then add your nautical banner. Once the hot glue has completely dried, trim the excess twine from the banner string – your sailboat is complete!
- Gifting these? Print out or draw you own decoder sheet
Once you’ve finished your boat, print out or draw a decoder sheet to fold up and send along with it to help the recipient crack the code!
You can make this into an honest-to-goodness seaworthy craft (well…backyard sea-worthy) by hot-gluing a few wine corks or a piece of old styrofoam to the bottom. You’ll want to make sure you have them equally and evenly spaced (2 wine corks at the front and two at the back for example) to keep your boat from tipping. Pop them in a water-filled bin or the tub for high-seas adventure from the comfort of your own home.
More ways to have fun with nautical flags
- Read more about nautical codes with beautiful picture books like Alpha, Bravo, Charlie: The Complete Book of Nautical Codes (for older kids) or Boats are Busy (for younger kids).
- Create a nautical flag scavenger hunt by coding your clues using our flag printable.
- Use our printable alphabet set to make your own nautical flag bingo cards. When you call out the letters, your kids can find the corresponding flag on their cards.
- Learn more about the many meanings of nautical flags.
- Turn your messages into yummy secret code snacks with a recipe from Handmade Charlotte.
- Use our nautical flag printable to make handmade cards or cute summery cake toppers (from Design*Sponge) – perfect for a sea-themed birthday party!
- Make a set of big nautical flags you can use for life-sized banners (like this DIY felt set from The Gathered Home, or this paper set from Oh Happy Day).
If you’re eyeing our “sails” and wondering where I found the hip fabric patterns, I have to admit, they were gifted! I received the amaaaaazing fabric scraps I used for this project from Bergen of Lilla Barn Clothing. She very generously sent her leftovers my way and if you’re a fan of modern patterns, you MUST visit her shop full of cute clothing and handmade gifts for kids and adults. Not sponsored – I just swoon over her selection every time a new season rolls around!
One more tip…finding that you need to stiffen your sail? I have found that using a foam brush to paint on a thin layer of Elmer’s glue, then hanging to dry works just as well as using an old fashioned fabric stiffener.
*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon or Woodpecker Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click-through to make a purchase, we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!