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Sailing: A Great Leadership Training Activity for Youth

Updated on August 7, 2012

Sailing and Leadership Quotes

"If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable." - Lucius Annaeus Seneca

"If you live a life of make-believe, your life isn't worth anything until you do something that does challenge your reality. And to me, sailing the open ocean is a real challenge, because it's life or death." - Morgan Freeman

"It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage." - George William Curtis

"No one is fit to judge a book until he has rounded Cape Horn in a sailing vessel, until he has bumped into two or three icebergs, until he has been lost in the sands of the desert, until he has spent a few years in the House of the Dead." - Van Wyck Brooks

"The effect of sailing is produced by a judicious arrangement of the sails to the direction of the wind." - William Falconer

"The sooner we learn to be jointly responsible, the easier the sailing will be." - Ella Maillart

5 Leadership Traits Taught Through Sailing

Sailing is an excellent way to introduce youth to foundational leadership skills in a fun and active manner. Although sailing can be slow and relaxing for those who desire such, for the energetic and adventure-seeking, finding a slot with 25-30 knot winds can make sailing a challenge and a thrill.

Whether seeking out an activity for a family, youth group, or school class, sailing is a great way to add a bit of excitement and develop youth into effective leaders of today.

Benefits of Sailing for Youth Leadership Development:

Reveals the Value of Planning

Sailing involves significant planning and preparation. From developing a route that will be sailed, to verifying that all of the rigging and equipment is ready to sail, a youth learns the value and necessity of thinking ahead. It is extremely easy for youth to get caught up in the moment and make decisions on pure impulse. An activity such as sail helps reveal the value behind thinking before acting.

Develops Strong Communication

One of the most important aspects of leadership, if not the most important, is good communication skills. Having a great idea is one thing, but being able to effectively communicate that idea in a manner that reveals understanding and inspires others to act is what makes a great idea into something tangible.

Communication is absolutely necessary for sailing because the entire team must work together as one unit. When the captain decides to come about or jibe, the sailors at the jib and mainsail must be ready to act on their part. Timing is essential to effective sailing. If an action is not communicated clearly, it will certainly be embarrassing, and potentially dangerous.

Builds Team Work

The entire crew must work as one unit. When the man at the helm states it is time to tack, the crew must let the jib out and pull it in on the other side at exactly the right time to keep the craft sailing efficiently.

Imagine being able to move only a single part of your body when eating. If you control the mouth I control the hand, and someone else controls the arm. Meanwhile, another person is the eyes. Unless all of the body parts work together, the food will end up in our lap and the spoon will bonk us on the ear.

An effective sailing team is one body. The more you sail with a group, the better you understand when and what is happening. Ultimately, a team should be able to develop into such a smooth unit that one might think the ship is being sailed by a single person.

Improves Decision Making

Especially when racing, it is essential to make fast, educated decisions. When is the best time to tack? Is it time to put a reef in the mainsail? It looks like the wind dies down ahead, should we go straight through or try to go around?

Sailing requires intelligent decisions to be made by all, but especially whoever is at the helm at the time. When the helmsman declares an action, the rest must follow through with it. This places a lot of pressure on the helmsman to make quick, effective decisions. Additionally, it demands a significant amount of trust on the part of the crew members to know that their captain is making the best decision.

Requires Educated Risk-Taking

Great leaders are able to say "yes" when everyone else is thinking "no". Leaders are those who are willing to try something that has never been done before, or worse, has been tried at failed by others. While a successful leader does not take stupid actions, her actions may appear poor to the average person - only to be considered brilliant after the fact.

The split instant decisions that must be made while sailing provide many opportunities for the young mind to learn how to take intelligent risks.

Two Man Sailing: US Team

The Value of Leadership

The world is changing. There are no longer thoughtless jobs that provide a significant income. Between machines and outsourcing, the lucrative assembly line jobs have dwindled and shrunk over the last several decades.

Leaders and innovators are going to be the successful of the coming decades. Those who can think creatively, act intelligently, and take beneficial risks have always been ahead of the crowd, but even more so in the coming years.

Parents and youth leaders interested in providing their teens with the skills necessary to succeed in a changing world will benefit tremendously from looking into the potential of getting their students on a sailboat.


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    • Robert Erich profile image

      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      Your absolutely right. Sailing a ship as opposed to just sitting around on a motorboat gives you a whole new perspective. Rather than fighting against the natural wind and waves, you are learning to harness that power - very important for anyone joining the Coast Guard. The skills and leadership they learn will benefit them for the rest of their lives. And man, Tall Ships are such amazing vessels. It would be fantastic to see them appreciated more.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      This Hub is right on target Robert. I couldn't agree more that sailing is an excellent way to teach leadership. Some criticize the US Coast Guard for training it's students on an anachronism, the USS Eagle, the four masted sailing ship. The the criticism misses the point, which is to teach these future officers how to lead, not how to sail.