Teen Summer Sailing Expeditions – Not A Party at Sea

Summer brings hundreds of opportunities for teens to break from the rigor of school and explore a passion such as a language, community service, sports, art, or wilderness adventure.

Suggest a sailing expedition, and a parent might react, “That kind of money for my teen to live on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean? I don’t think so!”

But look deeper and find a substantive experience that can have a transformative effect on a burgeoning teen.

Most sailing programs operate in the British Virgin, Leeward, and Windward Islands. The weather couldn’t be better – sunny and around 85 degrees each day – with constant cooling winds.

But even these ideal sailing conditions provide a backdrop for intensive learning opportunities. While some kids have experience aboard small boats, most have never been on – much less skippered – a 50-foot boat.

With an emphasis on instruction, students become a crew and learn how to handle almost any situation. Of course, there are always two to three experienced staff members to guide, instruct, and supervise.

A sailing expedition is a small group of teens, living on a boat, sailing from point to point, and usually participating in scuba diving and water sports.

Lessons learned onboard a boat can be as meaningful as those learned at school. Think leadership, teamwork, problem solving, and decision-making.

Such skills are put to the test every day as participants rotate through onboard jobs. The participants are responsible for everything from navigating to cooking to cleaning to maintaining an organized boat. Through rigorous navigation exercises and communal living, teens return home with new leadership skills, confidence, and the vital ability to compromise.

Some programs offer community service hours through ecological projects, such as turtle tagging, maintaining coral reefs, or monitoring coastal areas to prevent erosion. Others offer people-to-people service like youth outreach or teaching island children to swim.

Parents might consider whether a fleet experience or a single boat experience would better suit their teen.

The fleet option gives the youths a small and large group experience – the small crew experience for sailing, eating, and living and the larger onshore group experience for water sports and social activities. Some instructors believe that fleet sailing better teaches some skills, like right-of-way rules and racing tactics.

The single boat model allows for an extended period of smaller group bonding. Without social pressures sometimes found in larger groups, small groups can liberate teens to be themselves. Some instructors believe that this arrangement allows for increased flexibility and spontaneity.

Teens develop leadership as they take their turn as Captain of the day, confidence as they read the maps and knot the lines, and stretch their limits as they negotiate life in confined quarters or learn to dive.


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Helene Abrams

Helene Abrams, of the free advisory service Tips on Trips and Camps, helps parents find enriching summer overnight experiences for their children. Reach her at 214-484-8141 or [email protected]

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