ROCKLAND, Maine — A 35-year-old local boat-building school has gone to its board of directors to solve an impending leadership gap.

Atlantic Challenge will lose six-year veteran executive director Warren Kaericher in February when he goes to sea to get his limited master’s license.

Meanwhile, Atlantic Challenge board member Rick Palm, a former executive with Baxter Travenol Laboratories Inc. (now Baxter International), a maker of medical equipment, has agreed to serve as interim executive director while a committee conducts a search for the next few months for a new leader of the nonprofit organization.

“Warren and I are doing a transition, and I can pick up all of the information that he has, between now and February, so that the school is not deprived of the six years of history that Warren has had,” Palm said in a recent interview.

“Small schools are small businesses,” said Palm, who conducts local business counseling workshops for SCORE, a partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. “Changing from one leader to another is critical to getting the organization continued.”

Educator Lance Lee founded the school in 1972 at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.

It has been in Rockland since the 1970s and at its current site at 643 Main St., Rockland, since the early 1990s.

Palm said one of the things the school does is replace the apprenticeship program that used to take place in industry but that doesn’t really exist anymore.

“We maintain the tradition of the first apprentice shop,” said Kaericher.

“Our manner of education is common throughout the world, especially in Europe, but less so in this country,” he added. “Apprenticing is a very thorough way to learn a craft.

“Most schools of our kind are producing boats for commission clients, which makes for a very real education and makes us somewhere between a schoolyard and a boatyard,” he said.

The school over the years has served more than 200 students of all ages. Most students are college graduates and they come from around the world. About 10 percent of the students are women.

“For the last 20 years I’ve worked for schools like this — afloat and ashore,” said Kaericher.

Programs range from two weeks to two years. Apprentices are at the school for a two-year program, and about 90 percent of the students are apprentices.

“We have a novel sort of enterprise here,” Kaericher said. “Our students pay different tuition from some of the other schools because of the commission work.

“Students are teachers working for us in senior classes, they’re workers for us producing work for clients, and they’re students who are paying tuition, which is partly subsidized by the first two roles,” he explained.

“We also rely in great measure on contributions, such as the one this year from the Rockland Rotary Club,” he added.

Atlantic Challenge’s waterfront property, with 2.5 acres and 600 feet of waterfront, supports the school’s boat-building and sailing activities and provides access to Rockland Harbor, according to the school’s Web site.

Along with a three-story shop and an administrative building at 643 Main St. housing the library, business offices and sailing classroom, the site features a 400-foot pier, 400 feet of floats, a launch ramp and 10 moorings. Situated on historic Lermond Cove, the facilities provide the school opportunity to offer boat sales, boat and float storage, dinghy slips and mooring rentals.

Looking at the task ahead of him, Palm said a lot of nonprofit groups are struggling, and they have to regroup and rethink what they do.

Kaericher believes one of the school’s strengths lies in its community relationship.

“One of the school’s assets is for the students to be able to serve the community at a time when nonprofits are struggling,” he said. “Like many nonprofits and small schools and small businesses, that’s something that concerns us. We know we’ve got to be creative in the months and years ahead.”

Kaericher characterized Atlantic Challenge as an institution that’s “full of dedicated people, who will steer us through that, and we hope that many others will find the energy and resources to do so.”

Also among Atlantic Challenge’s strengths are its versatility and willingness to build boats for anyone, said Kaericher.

“Right now we don’t have any orders to fill for next year, but we’re going to build a couple of boats on speculation,” he said.

“We’ll build a boat for anyone as long as it’s less than 30 feet,” he added. “We’re unique among many places like this — a little bit of business, a little bit of school and a little bit of nonprofit,” Kaericher said.

“I think that’s where all nonprofits are headed, in time,” he said.