The Pitch for Summer Sailing Camps for Children


This summer tens of thousands of children will take their first sail, with a friend or alone in their own little boat. No adults. Just a coach, or a counselor, and maybe their assistants—a couple of local teens. They will sail away from the WiFi connection, the YouTube videos, and the remote control. Away from the countless distractions along the path to becoming an adult.

Each day the pattern repeats, rig the boat, set out, de-rig. Each sail a little takes them further than the one before.

So You Need Convincing?

Perhaps you are on the fence this summer. The drive is too far, the cost too high, or the child says, “It doesn’t sound like much fun.” There are a million reasons to encourage your child (or grandchild) to sail this summer. Here are a few that I like.

  1. You get to sail your own boat. Independence. To take responsibility for one’s actions one has to first recognize them as your own. There’s no question who is trimming the sails or steering your boat. It’s a twist on the Spiderman motto: with great freedom comes great responsibility.
  2. You get to be out on the water. Immersion in nature. A number of studies have demonstrated how water lifts spirits, and even improves mental and physical health. Mastering a small boat heightens an awareness of the forces of nature, and nourishes the notion that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.
  3. You will make new friends. Connectedness with other people. In a two-person dinghy, the sailing partner is more than just a teammate. Over time, the feedback loop between trimmer and helmsman creates its own nervous system, a sensory-motor pathway in which two people can move as one.
  4. You will learn something new. This is a tough sell, especially in summer. But most kids recognize that mastering a new skill—defeating the next boss, as they say—produces its own special thrill.
  5. You will have fun. This is almost guaranteed, although the enjoyment factor rests on how capably the staff at the camp or sailing school fosters an environment of learning and growth. At this level, failure should be a friend—not something to avoid or be feared, but something to be accepted as part of the game. Where’s the game—or the fun—if there’s no risk?

Apart from choosing the right fit for our kid, a parent can’t exert much control over what comes next (another possible selling point). A lot can depend on the weather. The experience of the kid who spends the week hunting for wind is quite different from that of one who enjoys five days of brisk and wet reaches. In the ideal world, a squall will cause minor mayhem on the last day—a capsizes, mad bailing, a lost baseball cap—a bit of adventure to spice up the finale.

Sailing Gear for Kids

If you’re looking for kids sailing gear this summer, we’ve tested a wide range of equipment designed especially for kids: Testing a Deckvest Made for Children (see PS July 2017), Sailing Gear for Kids (PS July 2016), Kids Life Jackets for Active Sailors, (PS June 2013), Practical Sailor Reviews Seven Performance Sailing Dinghies (PS August 2011), Practical Sailor Tests a Ruggedly Built Safety Harness and Tether (PS September 2009), Making the Best Toddler Life Jacket with Harness, (PS June 2007), and Safety Gear for Kids, (PS July 2006), Infant Toddler PFDs, PS October 2006).

Summer Camp Recommendations

Many cities around the U.S.—from Boston, to Miami, to Mission Bay, CA—have outstanding community sailing programs, and many of these offer free or reduced tuition to families in need. If you have a sailing camp to recommend or one that left you with a lasting impression, let us know by leaving a comment below (please include any web links; although links are auto-rejected by our server and won’t post immediately, I’ll go through each day and approve them manually). You can also email your camp stories or recommendations to me at [email protected].

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at


  1. 35ish years ago my wife was that fun camp counselor who over the course of several summers led overnight sailing trips throughout the San Juan Islands in WA State at Camp Nor’wester. The kids learned to sail on Lasers and Lightnings, and on those boats they learned so much more than point of sail and reading telltales. They provisioned, operated in teams, set up and broke camp, worked the tides and currents and most importantly, they accomplished new tasks and experiences previously beyond their imagination. In doing so, they returned from camp with a bit more self-confidene.

    Today, my wife is my fun camp counselor. Every summer we take a week or more to follow the same routes and tuck into the same secret coves she did so many years ago. Almost everything I need to know I learned as a kid on a Laser back in the 1970’s. I now apply it to sailing our 38 foot sloop and I still have a competent sailing camp guide to help me to keep on learning and growing.

  2. In the Houston/Galveston area, I can reccommend the Mariner sailing program offered by the local Girl Scout Council. I am a sailing instructor and long-time parent volunteer.

    Girls 11 and up learn to sail on Sunfish, with three levels of increasingly challenging classes. Girls also have opportunities to learn to sail 420s and similar sloops, with three levels of classes, or keelboats with two classes. Older girls learn to coach and instruct, and have the opportunuity to earn US Sailing small boat instructor qualification. The program operates most weekends in the fall from late August to Halloween, then late march to May. Summer camp sessions include both introductory learn to sail camps, plus sailing for those who are already members of the program.

    For info go to and search on “mariners.”

    Girls do not have to be members of a Girl Scout Troop, but do have to register as a member of Girl Scouts.

  3. North of Boston, Marblehead (Pleon Yacht Club), Salem (city), Beverly (Jubilee Yacht Club), Manchester Sailing Association, Gloucester (city), and Rockport (Sandy Bay Yacht Club) all offer junior sailing programs of one sort or another. Pleon and Manchester are the most established, but all are good.
    Sail forever. Work whenever.
    Rich Hersey