Outdoor Education R&E Center

Sail Training Research

James Neill
Last updated:
11 Nov 2006


Kurt Hahn was an early advocate of training people through engagement with the sea

Kurt Hahn (1947) lamented the loss of sail ships to steam ships during the industrial revolution.  Hahn believed that this has contributed to a loss of craftsmanship (and the self-discipline involved, for example, with splicing a rope) and the wherewithal to handle the difficult challenges life at sea under sail offers.  Hahn also believed in the importance of rescue and saving others' lives.  Hence, at Gordonstoun School, for example, Hahn had the students (boys) running local surf life saving and fire brigade.

Garibaldi, the boat used in the first Outward Bound courses
(from OBI Photo Gallery)

The initial Outward Bound courses, conducted at Aberdovey, Wales, were run in conjunction with the Blue Funnel Shipping Line, and the courses were largely for young merchant seaman, and took place mostly aboard the Garibaldi, a tall ship.

To this day, several Outward Bound schools have a strong sea and sailing theme.  The Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, for example, uses cutters (or pull boats), for example.

There are also Hahn-inspired sail training organizations, such as the International Challenge of Seamanship, which involves building and sailing 18th-century style gigs, yoles and longboats.

A typical mission of sail training schemes today is that of the Sail Training Ship Leeuwin:

"To challenge and inspire the education and development of our youth and wider community in terms of leadership, team skills, community spirit and environmental awareness"

Sail training research studies

Here's are some brief overviews of sail training research studies:

  • Dan Garvey's doctoral thesis examined the effects of the Semester at Sea program on students' moral development; results showed minimal change.  The Semester at Sea program is conducted aboard a powered ship, rather than a sail training ship, and focuses on university-level studies and cultural engagement with various countries visited.
  • In the early and mid-1990's, three studies of the effects of two sail training vessels in Australia were conducted (the Young Endeavour Youth Scheme and the Sail Training Scheme Leeuwin), with the assistance of Outward Bound Australia (Neill & Richards, 1994a, b; Richards, Barrett, Neill & Seidel, 1992).  Overall, the results were positive, however there were some notable differences between the life effectiveness outcomes of the two tall ship training schemes, with one producing results approximately twice as strong as the other.
  • A 4th year honours thesis by Crane, supervised by John Hattie, was later published in the Australian Journal of Psychology (Crane, Hattie, & Houghton, 1997).  The study examined the effects of a sail training program on long-term unemployed people's goal setting, and found that those who set more goals at the start of the program tended to benefit more through the program.  The study also found that goal setting skills improved as a result of the program, and participants had more clear and a greater number of goals through the sail training program.
  • There was a doctoral thesis about ocean cruising through Murdoch University, Western Australia, on sail training ~mid-1980s.  I haven't been able to track it down.
  • Joanne Finkelstein, Susan Goodwin, Naomi Berman, and Margaret Powell conducted a sociological study of the development of social capital through Young Endeavour Sail Training Scheme (YEYS) voyages, titled "Sailing into the Future: Training Australia's digital generation for the future demands of the new economy".  The study was funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant (2002-2004).  The study used telephone interviews with past participants and ethnographic observations on a voyage. The findings were supportive of the claim that YEYS programs enhance the social fabric of young people's lives, but also made suggestions for improvement (Berman, Finkelstein, & Powell, 2005; Billson, 2006; Finkelstein, 2005).

Sail training research in progress

  • Pete Allison & Ken McCulloch will be giving a 30 minute presentation on "International study of sail training experiences" at the forum to be held at Trinity College, University of Wales, on Wed 14 March, 2007
  • Andrew Brown (andy@thinkwow.ws) and Greg Tonnison (from STS Leeuwin) are currently writing a paper on program design aspects of sail training programs.
  • Chris Biggins (cbiggins@omantel.net.om) is doing an MBA, focusing on sail training as an aspect of Outdoor Development Training.  Chris is from the UK and has been conducting sail training programs for 20 years in Oman.
  • Neill (in progress) is reporting life effectiveness outcome data about Outward Bound Australia's combined sea/land programs, which used a tall ship, the Challenge of Outward Bound.



Berman, M., Finkelstein, J., & Powell, M. (2005). Tall ships and social capital: A study of their interconnections. International Journal of the Humanities, 2(2).

Billson, B. (2006). New study confirms social benefits of Young Endeavour Youth Scheme.  August 30, Defence Direct.

Finkelstein, J. (2005). Final report on ARC Linkage research project 2002-2005 between Young Endeavour Youth Scheme and the University of Sydney. Sydney: University of Sydney.

Gordon, S., Harcourt-Smith, K., Hay, K., & Priest, S. (c.1995). Case study of 'Blue Watch' on STS [Sail Training Ship] Leeuwin. The Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Leadership, 13(1), 4-8.

McCulloch, K. (2002). Four days before the mast: A study of sail training in the UK.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Edinburgh, UK.

Norris, R. M., & Weinman, J. A. (1996). Psychological change following a long sail training voyage. Personality & Individual Differences, 21(2), 189-194.

Redmond, C. S. (2001). Diversity in sail training programs: The effect of captains' and directors' racial identity attitude stages.  Unpublished honors paper.  Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA.