Category: Life Skills

Maritime Talks w/Captain Laurel Seaborn

How sailing changes lives

I met Captain Laurel Seaborn, founder of SEAMHAP earlier this week when she was speaking at an engagement hosted at the Moffat-Ladd House and Garden in Portsmouth, NH. Captain Laurel attended East Caroline University and Mastered in Maritime History and Marine Archeology and received her PhD in Maritime History from the University of New Hampshire. Captain Laurel gave a presentation about her life on the sea, starting as a child living aboard her family’s sailboat, her life aboard tall ships, and the general benefits of attending and teaching sailing programs to all groups of people.

Laurel has crewed on several tall sailing ships of various types; Brigs, Barqantines, and Schooners. She describes the coordinated tasks aboard that need to be completed and be in a perfect state of readiness in order for things to happen smoothly just when you need them to, such as the proper way to coil lines so they pay out smoothly, or how to belay lines to a pin rail so you know exactly which line you are grabbing when it’s too dark or foggy to see where the other end leads. Helming (steering) the ship is her favorite part, it feels the most empowering because it is the one thing that you do that has immediate affect on the whole ship and what the crew needs to do. I agree, it’s a real thrill to be steering a sailing ship that is moving along at a good clip and in perfect balance with the wind and the sea. You can feel the boat become an extension of yourself.

Laurel also shared how learning to crew a ship is beneficial to a person’s personal growth. According to Laurel, crewing on a ship and learning all the tasks to make it go builds a person in three major areas:

Building Self Confidence – When you first approach sailing, you have no idea what you need to do or even how much needs to be done and done right to make a sailing ship go. First you learn smaller individual tasks like tying knots, and how to properly coil a rope, and then build upon those to develop more complex sets of skills that are used in conjunction with one another to complete varying complex jobs that need to be done. When you have learned how to do all these individual tasks, and combine and use them to accomplish more complex goals such as rigging and hoisting the sails, or charting how to get from here to there, you feel accomplished at getting something really significant done. Using those combining smaller skills to accomplish even greater and more complex goals, such as actually getting the ship underway and reaching your destination is a huge confidence builder and builds that sense that your contribution has real meaning.


Team Work – Team work really starts right at the beginning, because no one new knows what to do. So you are shown how to perform tasks and you shadow and you are asked to help. Not to mention some tasks require a coordinated effort between more than 2 or 3 people. Tasks such as hauling a spar. Not only will it take a few people to haul it up, it takes a few other people to coax the spar into place as it’s being lifted. Lauren said, the first time crew learns how to do this, it can take several hours to get it into place. Thank goodness, you can tie off lines when you need a break. It’s all part of being aboard a small ship and even a small boat. You quickly develop friendships when you work together and get a task that is both monumental as well as complex like that completed. You all feel you deserve a good pat on the back and kick-back for a few minutes together with a soda. You feel you are ready to take on what comes next, and it instills a real sense of community and belonging.

Sense of Belonging – From the moment you leave port for the first time, you begin to realize that you are part of this boat and part of this crew. It quickly become’s “your home” for the time you are aboard, and the people become your friends and family. Indeed lifetime friendships are developed while learning to be crew mates and accomplishing great things together. It’s an amazing experience from which everyone benefits. There is nothing like become friends as part of a team that explores the coast and experiences sites and activities that others just dream about.


I am very glad I met Laurel, and I hope we run into one another again. Maybe our programs might end up collaborating with one another. Who knows. We wish her the best.


Five Reasons Your Kids Should Sail


1. Self-Confidence. There is simply nothing like being able to pilot your own craft at the age of 9 years old. Riding a bike is one thing. Skillfully steering and docking a sailboat is quite another. All of my athletic endeavors helped to shape my sense of self as a kid, but sailing was without a doubt the most instrumental. I have not only noticed this in myself; during my ten years as a sailing instructor, I have seen it again and again in my students.

2. Spatial awareness. When kids learn how to navigate a boat through narrow spaces and tight turns – how to avoid collisions, coast to a dock with finesse, or squeeze into a packed starting line at a regatta – they develop a spatial awareness that will bring them prowess all activities that involve coordination. Like driving, for instance.

3. Sense of direction. When I was 10 years old, I would sail all week with my class, and then go out on weekends by myself. I would pack a lunch and take my Optimist out for a couple of hours to explore. I believe that it was on those trips that I began to develop a good sense of direction. Noticing which direction I had come from, picking out landmarks, and knowing how to get back became a regular part of my stream of consciousness. That awareness is crucial to having a sense of direction.

4. Weather knowledge. Do you know from which direction thunder storms normally come? Do you know what the water temperature normally is on Long Island Sound in May? If your child is a sailor, he or she will know. Weather knowledge will come in handy both on-the-water and on land.

5. Shipshape habits. Sailing students learn how to properly rig and unrig a boat. Kids learn to put things away in the right place, and keep them tidy while on the water. That’s a skill no mom or dad can argue with. Longshore Sailing School even has a shipshape award for every class to encourage the behavior.

So if your kids haven’t tried sailing, have them give it a try. Teaching a kid to sail is to give them a gift for life. They might not stick with it, but after they age out of all the other youth sports, the sailing skills are still there. I’ve seen many people return to sailing after an extended absence.

How American Seafarers Can Help Your Child

The advantages of a summer program are numerous, and far more than those you might just think of. Learn more in this article.

Unlike the perceptible advantages that children gain from our summer expedition sailing program, the intangible advantages are harder to pin down. In conjunction with home and school, and maybe even a summer job, our program works with the many building blocks that create an adult. And while few children realize how much they’ve been influenced by their summer experiences as exploring sailors, as adults they will see how their lives were enriched and layers were added to their development.

A summer program offers communal living

Beyond facilities and activity schedules, the people whom your children encounter — shipmates, offers, and the people they meet at each destination— play an influential role. Kids living in shipboard situations soon find out that when they don’t treat one another well, there are consequences. As they learn and work together, they build a sense of community. If one person chooses not to cooperate, the whole group is affected. When they work well together, the whole teams feels the benefits of a done well done. It happens, and it’s a part of life that even as adults we witness and experience, and of course the experience of the staff is a key factor in guiding the individual and the group away from conflict and rather towards while allowing the kids to be key to a successful resolution. It is almost inevitable that the kids will face social challenges with the new people with whom they are living closely, however; in the end, they will grow through the experience of becoming an important part of the sailing crew, and share a singular unrivaled commraderie with the rest of their crew

Gaining new perspective

Chris Yager takes small groups of teens off the beaten path in Asia with his student summer program Where There Be Dragons. Teens, who are in the throes of questioning their social, political, and economic environment see themselves in another light as a result of being in such a foreign setting, notes Yager. He contends that when teens are far from their normal circumstances, they react in new ways. Kids who have never been leaders take charge. The popular outgoing teen becomes the quiet observer. It is a wonderful experience for a child or teen to come to a place where he or she is an unknown entity and freed from his or her usual context.

Trying new things

Trying out new things is another significant intangible benefit of a summer youth program. At home and in school, children can and often do dodge new experiences. At sea, they can’t. Of course, the primary goal of any well-run program is fun. Independence from parents also exerts a strong influence. The child who is away from home encounters new experiences independently. With the safety net of insightful staff children can risk finding out what works and what doesn’t in interpersonal relationships, tryout new shipboard skills, all while discovering new strengths and new facets of themselves.

Choosing a summer program

Though summer programs and camps can have a deep impact on a child’s development, not all summer programs have what it takes — a well-thought out philosophy, a mature and alert staff, and counselors who provide excellent role models and give kids a fun time. By looking at the intangibles, you can choose a program wisely.

American Seafarers allows your kids to explore their world in an entirely new way, and they develop a completely new set of skills that of course include sailing, but also those other intangible skills that help kids become adults that have a much better sense of how to interact with their peers, and their self worth and character.

Summer Camps by Jeffrey Carter

Jeffrey Carter is the Director of Rockbrook Summer Camp for Girls, a traditional girls summer camp located in Brevard, NC. He publishes the summer camp blog “The Heart of a Wooded Mountain.”
I wanted to share one of Jeffrey’s articles about Summer Camp with you, and draw some comparison with seafaring as a backdrop for some of these experiences. Some of the topics he discusses directly point to the benefits that a team working and mutual benefit program like American Seafarers brings to our youth, while other points he makes have analogs that translate well, but aren’t immediately apparent in the article because the image of summer camp is often thought of a place with cabins in the woods and doing endless activities during the day. American Seafarers is much more than a summer camp, because we are bringing the camp with us on a grand adventure that allows the kids to realize their real value and potential by being the team that makes it happen for all of us. Not only do we teach your kids how to sail, our program experiencially teaches them to be responsible and accountable to themselves and to others, and also that the effort put in gives you the time later when it ok to just let loose and enjoy life and enjoy the fruits of the effort you put in to it.

Parents send their children to summer camps to have fun, to experience new activities, and maybe to see a different part of the country, but there are also some incredibly important, and lasting, benefits that campers enjoy. What can parents expect their children to gain from their summer camp experience beyond the razzle-dazzle entertainment? What will stick with your kids after camp and when they’re back at home? Here are a few of the areas of self-development a summer camp experience can enhance.

Relating to others: Summer camps are highly social environments where everyone is a member of a close-knit community. At the same time, they are often quite diverse. Children will meet others from different families, from different parts of the country, even from abroad. They will also interact daily with children of different ages. These different backgrounds, values, habits and ways of living can be disconcerting at first, but with encouragement and guidance can really help a young person learn to get along with people. Another way to say this, is that by encountering kids who are “different” a child learns to see past those differences and become friends. Learning to relate like this makes it much easier to make friends later in life.

Developing Creativity: Most summer camps provide numerous opportunities to make things, to practice different crafts, and to explore the arts. From woodworking, to fiber arts, to ceramics, to knitting, to blacksmithing, and so on, there are fantastic ways to be creative. Plus, kids are encouraged to try new things, to not worry about how “good” they are, and to be excited about the process of participating. Everyone realizes that we can create some pretty cool stuff if we give it a try.

Self-Confidence: Summer camps are supportive places, communities where everyone will look out for each other, and usually encourage each other. This kind of positive peer relationship is the perfect recipe for trying new things and being proud of your accomplishments. Kids might think they won’t be able to do something (like climb a ropes course, for example), but when they try and succeed, it’s strong evidence that they can do it. Doubt is transformed into bravery, fear into confidence, and the result is an enhanced sense of self-worth.

Independence: It’s almost inevitable when a child goes to camp and sleeps away from home, away from the watchful eye of his or her parents- she will gain greater independence. Kids at camp make a lot of their own decisions, make choices about what to do, how to behave, and how to spend their free time. Of course, they also get to see the consequences of their choices too, and when it’s their choice and not their parents, those consequences are all the more meaningful.

Being suddenly responsible for their own choices, is a very formative experience in a growing habit of independence.

Social Etiquette: Being around so many people and interacting with them so closely day after day, summer camps also require kids to develop certain social skills. Sharing, recognizing others’ interests, dealing with arguments, showing empathy, being kind, offering to help, making honest suggestions- all of these are key ingredients. Every quality summer camp will create an environment where all of this is fostered and taught.

Of course most of these areas can develop at home and at school during the year, but summer camp provides an opportunity to practice these qualities, develop these aspects of a child’s personality, and further develop the mature skill that make them effective. It’s really remarkable how powerful the summer camp experience is in this regard. Sure it’s fun, but it can also be so crucially formative too.

At American Seafarers, kids gain confidence because of their successes in their accomplishments as a team, by working together to develop a plan and charting the next leg of our course, and thinking creatively about the best way to approach new challenges they haven’t experienced yet. I think Jeffrey would agree there is nothing more powerful than your kids’ successes contributing to the success of the whole team and its ability to get something real accomplished from start to finish and enjoying the end results, whether that seeing a new beach, or visiting an amazing landmark. This isn’t running the ropes course, but being part of how the entire group gets to visit one amazing location after another, and being relied upon and enjoying the sense of accomplishment by being a member of the crew that made the summer such a grand adventure, there can be no other real sense of being independent by virtue of trusting in yourself and you ability to be responsible when needed.

Researching the Summer Experience

ACA Research

In the past decade, the American Camp Association (ACA) performed two major studies to better understand the impact of the summer camp experience.

The 2005 study was the more substantive. It surveyed campers, parents and camp staff from over 200 camps across the country and looked at 10 areas of potential improvement:

  • Positive Identity: Self-Esteem
  • Positive Identity: Independence
  • Social Skills: Leadership
  • Social Skills: Friendship Skills
  • Social Skills: Social Comfort
  • Social Skills: Peer Relationships
  • Physical & Thinking Skills: Adventure & Exploration
  • Physical & Thinking Skills: Environmental Awareness
  • Positive Values & Spirituality: Values & Decisions
  • Positive Values & Spirituality: Spirituality

“The results tell a consistent story of overall positive growth in all four domains and almost all of the ten constructs. In addition, there was substantial evidence that much of this growth was maintained 6 months later.”

American Camp Association

In short, campers and parents both perceived growth in areas important to long term success, including self esteem, independence, leadership, social comfort, and friendship skills.

Unfortunately, this study was conducted prior to the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the research described in Paul Tough’s book. As a result, they are not measuring the “non-cognitive skills” (like grit, collaboration, self control, communication) that are now the focus of developmental psychologists. Nevertheless, the results of the 2005 study suggest that a quality summer program is a highly effective experience for teaching critical skills.

In 2006, the ACA did a study that showed that camp provides “supportive relationships.” Research by the Search Institute suggests that “supportive relationships with adults” is a powerful asset for positive youth development.

Typically, children find “developmentally optimal levels” of such relationships in 15-20% of secondary schools and 40% of youth, community and church activities. By contrast, campers experience such “developmentally optimal” relationships over 70% of the time! This is where American Seafarers shines, because these are relationships developed with other people who have developed the critical life skills that we discuss so often. Powerful relationships, friendships and beneficial partnerships are developed between people of known grit and gratitude and often between people who share that brother and sisterhood of being alumni of the American Seafarers program.

Character Skills

In 2013, a journalist named Paul Tough wrote a book called “How Children Succeed” that became a bestseller (rare for books about education) and a national phenomenon. The book focuses on a simple question: “what are the skills that children need to be successful, particularly in college?”

Tough summarizes the best current research in Education, Cognitive Development, Developmental Psychology and Youth Development. The conclusion of the research was unexpected and remarkable and is as follows:

We, as a society, have placed too much emphasis on the “cognitive theory” that holds that success in college is a function of IQ, academic skills and SAT scores. These measurements have some relationship to collegiate success, but not as much as certain “non-cognitive skills”, including grit, self-control, optimism and gratitude. Tough also calls these “character skills”.

In short, a student with self-control, grit and optimism is more likely to graduate from college than a student with high IQ or top SAT scores.

The research is essentially indisputable and leads us to a tricky question: if these are the most important skills, then how do we foster them in our children?

The good news is that these “character skills” are, in fact, skills and not inherited attributes. Children can develop grit, learn self-control and cultivate optimism.

Our traditional education system, however, is not designed to produce these outcomes. While great teachers can help with some of these skills, teachers are limited. They only get a few hours a week with students. More importantly, they are evaluated on how they teach specific knowledge (math and reading) and not on character. Typically, we manage what we measure. As a result, schools spend most of their time and effort on academic skills and not on character skills.

American Seafarers, on the other hand, focuses on character skills 16 hours a day. In fact, it is inherent in our seafaring environment. We focus on the “4 Rs” of Responsibility, Respect, Reaching Out, and Reasonable Risks.

I have had several conversations with Paul Tough about summer programs and developing character. He has led me to some of the researchers that he encountered doing his research. We are talking with them about ways to make American Seafarers the most effective summer sailing program in the nation for teaching and growing character in our children!

Homesick and Happy

Michael Thompson and Summer Camp

Dr. Michael Thompson is one of the leading experts in Youth Development. He has written 7 books on youth, including the New York Times bestseller “Raising Cain,” which was made into a special on PBS and led to appearances on The Today Show, Good Morning America and Oprah.

His most recent work is called “Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child.” It is the best book I have read about the benefits of summer camp for children.

Dr. Thompson has a wonderful sense of humor and a deep appreciation for parents. He is deeply sympathetic to the challenges of parenting and strives to help parents raise the best children they can.

Early in “Homesick and Happy” he makes an interesting observation. He notes that whenever parents ask for advice, they always ask some version of the same question: “what else should I be doing?” He notes that parents always assume that they should be doing more for their child. He, however, notes that children can benefit in important ways from parents occasionally doing less.

For example, if parents want their children to learn to deal with challenges and the occasional failure, they must be willing to let their children occasionally struggle and fail.

Specifically, he describes 8 things “that parents cannot do for their children.” I know this list has informed our thoughts about our own children.

  1. We cannot make our children happy.
  2. We cannot give our children high self-esteem.
  3. We cannot make friends for our children or micromanage their friendships.
  4. We cannot successfully double as our child’s agent, manager or coach.
  5. We cannot create the “second family” for which our child yearns in order to facilitate his or her growth.
  6. It is increasingly apparent that we cannot compete with or limit our children’s total immersion in the online, digital and social media realms.
  7. We cannot keep our children perfectly safe, but we can drive them crazy trying.
  8. We cannot make our children independent.

These are important parenting goals, but we parents cannot control them. We need partners that love our children and share our goals.

We at American Seafarers want to be your partner in this wonderful challenge. Please feel free to call us with any questions about how attending our summer program can help facilitate the growth of your child!

American Seafarers and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

 In 2002, some of the leading employers and educators in the US realized that high school and college graduates were entering the workforce with a significant deficiency in some critical skills.

These groups (which includes Apple, AT&T, Intel, Ford, PBS, the Children’s Television Workshop and Cisco) decided to do something about it. They came together to form the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21). The purpose of the partnership was simple:

  • Determine what skills are the most important for success after school.
  • Identify where there are deficits among recent graduates.
  • Develop plans to address these skill deficits.

Over the years, they have conducted multiple surveys and created reports that have been highly influential. In fact, Singapore completely changed their educational curriculum after reading one of their reports – and this was AFTERthey were named one of the top 3 education systems in the world!

The conclusions are powerful and surprising. In particular, the “skills critical to success” were not what most people would anticipate. The most important skills are not math, science or reading. Instead, they are as follows:

  1. Oral communication
  2. Collaboration
  3. Work ethic
  4. Written communication
  5. Critical thinking

Simply put, this is a love letter to summer programs. With the exception of written communication, I believe that a good summer program fosters these skills better than even the best schools. Oral communication and collaboration are difficult skills to teach in a classroom. When teachers need to teach algebra or verb conjugation, they must focus on transferring their academic knowledge to students, not creating active collaborative environments.

At American Seafarers, we focus on developing these skills. Every day, we work on their communication and collaboration skills – heck, that is the essence of a good seafaring team dynamic. On their own they will work on these skills 16 hours a day.

Few parents of middle and high school children worry about the workplace, but we think it is exciting to think that American Seafarers is not just fun, but also a rich learning environment.

Functional Optimism – what is it?

I have gathered several pages of the research I have done about what the leading experts have to say about our nation’s youth, their education and what is lacking from it. The things that are most lacking are what I like to call life-skills. They are the skills we need to function successfully in society. These skills aren’t the math, science, history and language taught in school. Those aren’t skills at all, but they are knowledge areas that we can leverage using our skills. Knowledge areas are things we can learn about, but life skills are thing we can learn to do. Life skills are applicable no matter you choose as a career path and are the tools that kids need to work through their personal challenges.

For our youth these challenges are usually either academic or social, but could also include sports and hobbies. As parents we have the challenge of watching our children struggle with homework, or trying to fit in at school, or maybe even trying to fit in at home. Maybe they procrastinate with their homework because they have a problem with attention. Attention problems can be truly painful. Although it’s not the same kind of pain as physical pain, it is akin to holding your hand too close to a fire and trying to hold it there. You have the need and instinct to pull your hand away, and it’s just as hard for those with attention deficit problems to stay focused on something relatively disinteresting to them. Look at the signs, the fidgeting the leg bouncing, constant shifting of position, the need to pee…ANYTHING to save one self from another minute of the dreary home work. Those are the same responses to real physical pain.

For adults, maybe it’s focusing on finishing the sales presentation due in the morning, or paying attention during a large and way too long meeting. Whether is struggling through homework, or the board meeting, it’s the very same challenge, and that’s why it important to learn these life skills early whatever the challenge is, whether it’s attention based challenges, difficulty of the assignment, or getting along with and being part of a team. It doesn’t matter what the challenge is, having a strong set of core life skills will help our youth all the way through adulthood succeed in life no matter which knowledge area they have chosen for their career.

The real secret of course is to find something you love and are passionate about. Then these challenges seem to melt away, however our kids don’t have that choice while in school, and college or university, and if we end up in a career in which we are good at but not necessarily passionate about, we may face these challenges for our adult lives. Our kids need to learn to succeed thru their own self esteem, grit, tenacity, and optimism.

Today, I’d like to discuss that optimism and what it means. This isn’t the kind of optimism that means you have a great outlook on life, although that certainly is a part of it. The kind of optimism I am talking about I like to call functional optimism. Functional optimism is what allows a person to approach a challenge rather than run from it. It is a combination of grit and self esteem, but it’s also more than that. It is how we approach a challenge. People who have a functional optimism approach challenges as gateways to success and see the positive outcomes of properly facing life’s challenges. Regardless of the result, each challenge we face makes us stronger, more resilient, and more ready to face the next challenge. Optimists see the benefits of putting effort into the challenges set before them, and working through the choices of which challenges to face. People without optimism become victims and view challenges as preventative obstacles rather than as gateways to success, they get stuck never finishing what they aimed to accomplish, they let their mountain of unfinished homework grow and grow and break down with anxiety when their parents make them sit down to work through it, and they become functionally paralyzed and unable to make a decision, get through their task, or get themselves up to go to work. If we face our challenges, whether we get what we wanted, we take something away from each of life’s challenges whether that’s new knowledge, experience or perhaps just more grit and readiness for the next. That is why a functioning optimism is so key to a person’s success. Functioning optimism means the difference between being a leader and a do-er or being a victim.
Optimism comes from both nature as well as nurture. We are all born with a greater or lesser baseline tendency to be an optimist, but our experiences as young people and young adults can affect our optimism. Through guiding our kids successfully through progressive challenges our kids start to develop and grow their optimism and ability to show their grit when tackling even tough challenges that require more than just a little effort. While continually allowing our children to fail time and time again, including the simple failure to just go do something, increases the chances that our children will continue to give up when they really need to step up.

At American Seafarers, we believe that a sailing ship is a perfect platform for working with youth to introduce them to small challenges at first and progress through new tasks and team dynamics to keep that optimism expressed thru each other their individual contributions and the greater outcome of the team bringing us from one awesome place to the next to enjoy our summer that wasn’t handed to us, but a real summer expedition that was created by us.

It takes a lot of sail a boat. Each small task is easy, but it’s a gathering of skills that allows a person and team to operate a vessel from launch to voyage to docking. We may start one person with manning the helm, first by reading and discussing a little theory then practice while underway and reinforcing with some follow-up discussion. Then we move on to learning how to keep the boat going straight ahead despite wind and waves. When they see that wasn’t so hard to learn, we move on to tacking into the wind to continue moving towards an upwind destination, and continue through tougher and and more complex tasks while continuing to reinforce older individual skills learned until we get to things like docking practice.

Try to show someone to dock before learning the other necessary skills and we show them they’ll fail. Working through each task and skill and building their optimism at each step, our young person will have the esteem to keep working at it, even when we get to docking and we bump the dock a little harder than we really wanted too, it will be OK, because we had the opportunity to learn from it. After six weeks of progressive challenges and successes, and being an active part of the team that made the six weeks of voyaging, exploring and vacationing a major success your kids will come home true and experienced sailors, capable of sailing large sailboats, as well as leaders and community organizers, and have that optimism to continue tackling personal challenges through the school year and throughout their lives.

The six weeks spent with American Seafarers will be a summer that is never forgotten and one that leaves a positive lifelong impact to your kid’s self esteem, optimism and grit.