There are many sail training programs, and choosing the right one depends on your personal needs and desires. Each tall ship has its own specific program, but you can usually expect to be involved in the running of the ship by handling sails and lines on deck and aloft, standing watch, ship navigation, working in the galley, or performing routine cleaning or maintenance duties.
Things to consider are:
Your goals- are you looking to learn about maritime history, marine biology, or are you starting a career in the maritime world? Do you need a program that offers academic credit or maritime career pathway licenses? Or are you simply looking for a new adventure?
How long you want to be at sea- a day, a week, a school semester, or longer?
Where you want to sail- Tall Ships America member vessels can be found on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, and they often journey to other countries.
Important things to remember
Take a close look at the vessel’s credentials. In the US, check to see if the vessel operates under United States Coast Guard regulations. Does the vessel currently hold a USCG-issued Certificate of Inspection or comparable certification from the authorities of the country in which it is registered? Don’t be afraid to talk to the program provider and ask questions, including about the experience level of the captain and officers. Look at the organization’s website and, most importantly, visit the ship if you can. This will help you get a sense of the professionalism of the operation and the quality of its program.
With some exceptions, no prior sailing experience is required of trainees. Trainees are encouraged to develop a comfort level for living and working in and around the water; however, many programs have no formal swimming requirements. Some programs accept non-paying volunteers as crew members but may require some previous experience in similar vessels, a long-term commitment, or both. Paid crew positions sometimes require a license or mariner’s credential, like an “Able-bodied Seaman” endorsement from the US Coast Guard. Higher level licenses can be acquired based on additional time underway, the tonnage of vessels served in, waters sailed, considerable technical training, and additional testing.
Most voyages are planned with a specific age-range in mind. This varies from program to program, but many sail training programs start accepting unaccompanied trainees from the age of 13. Ask what the composition of the ship’s complement will be and, if you plan to send a young person on an extended voyage, what the in-port supervisory arrangements will be. Day sails and dockside education programs are readily available for elementary school students and overnight trips can be arranged for older school groups as well. There are a tremendous variety of adventure programs for adults of all ages, including voyages for seniors.
Prices vary considerably depending on the nature and the duration of the program and the type of vessel. Some vessels have limited financial assistance available, but it’s worth checking with the sail training program you are interested in to see what opportunities may be available.
Tall Ships America offers sail training scholarships; the criteria and applications can be found on this website or by calling the Tall Ships America office.
Dockside interpretation: The vessel does not get underway. Programs are delivered while the vessel remains moored.
Public/passenger daysails: The vessel sails for all or part of a day, but not overnight.
Overnight voyages: The vessel sails around the clock, with crew and participants rotating in shifts called “watches”. Sleeping accommodations and meals are provided.
Private charters: The vessel may be hired for excursions, business entertainment, private parties, weddings, etc.
Sail training: The primary purpose of sail training voyages or daysails is to provide participants with hands-on experience in sailing the ship and learning arts and skills of seafaring.
Sea education: A core purpose of sea education voyages or daysails is to provide academic instruction in maritime subjects. Sea education programs usually incorporate sail training elements in addition to academics.