Sail to Wellbeing

Research by the New Economics Foundation, promoted by the NHS and MIND, has found evidence of five steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing


How sail training contributes to wellbeing

Research by the New Economics Foundation, promoted by the NHS and MIND, has found evidence of five steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing. The NHS says “Trying these things could help you feel more positive and able to get the most out of life..”

Every one of these five steps is a natural part of a sail training voyage. You really can #SailToWellbeing.

The steps are:

1. Connect
2. Be active
3. Take notice
4. Learn
5. Give

Covid-19 and the five steps to wellbeing

1. Connect with other people

oytsouth sailing

Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. They can:

  • help you to build a sense of belonging and self-worth
  • give you an opportunity to share positive experiences
  • provide emotional support and allow you to support others

A voyage with Ocean Youth Trust South is a fantastic opportunity to connect with other people – making new friends, getting to know people from different places and backgrounds, or building links with others who have shared similar life experiences.

Hillingdon’s Virtual School For Children In Care arranged a voyage for young people who were in care having arrived in the UK as refugees – one of the group had walked for three months on a journey from Syria to the UK at the age of 13. Someone who has lost their own family and home can be hugely affected by the atmosphere on board: a 15-year old girl said: “My best bit was how we all just got on like a family, like how we didn’t know any of us, we didn’t know each other at the beginning but as the week went on we all just basically was like a big family”.

Jack Dignan was born unable to see out of his left eye and, aged 17, sailed with a group from MACS, the charity for children born without eyes or with underdeveloped eyes. He was later chosen to give a speech in front of an audience of dignitaries – including HRH the Countess of Wessex – during the Tall Ships festival in Greenwich. An extract: “As we were pulling into Plymouth to mark the end of our week-long voyage, the sea was still with the August sun gently sinking into the horizon, Freddie Mercury was belting out a ballad, and the entire crew were reminding nearby residents that we were in fact the champions. I soon realised I was experiencing one of those magical moments. Turning around to see 15 friends … friends that only 7 days ago, 148 miles and an obscene amount of fish finger sandwiches earlier were complete strangers, and yet, after spending a mere week working and living together it felt like we had always known each other.”

Naomi House Children’s Hospice used voyages to build connections between young people who have a sibling with a life-limiting condition, or who have already lost a brother or sister. Support worker Jenny Astall said: “Having a brother or sister with a life limiting condition puts them in a more vulnerable position than their peers. They often don’t get the same opportunities as their friends due to the complex needs of their sibling, so having this chance to have a week away with other young people in similar situations can relieve the isolation they may feel, give them time to share their experiences and to make new friends.” One teenager added: “Usually I am shy when I first meet people, mainly because I dread when they are going to ask how many brothers and sisters I have. Being in the same situation as everyone else helped me to feel more at ease and happier.”

Outdoor Lads is a charity which enables gay, bisexual and trans men to take part in outdoor activities. One participant commented: “I think the nicest part of this week is seeing how everyone has gelled and working in teams and it’s a really satisfying thing to think all the walks of life that we have in this room and everyone’s come together on this experience and I think it’s been amazing.”


This message was received in 2016 from a man in his fifties about a voyage he did with us as a teenager in 1979: “For me, not coming from any sort of nautical background, it provided a complete change from my normal environment, which was exactly what I needed following my mum’s death whilst I was only just 17. I found I had time to reflect especially when I was on the night watch and each of the adult crew was approachable. Not like teachers, more like much older siblings. I had a little tearful moment one morning, it was only a few weeks after she had gone so emotions were raw. One of the crew members noticed. Quietly went and made a couple of cups of tea. And didn’t say anything directly but just stayed with me for a while drinking his tea. And I got through that moment and felt better. It was the year of the Fastnet disaster when a massive storm cost several lives and we were outside the harbour unable to enter until the waves died down a bit. And for a lad who was even a little uncomfortable on a cross channel ferry, I have to say I was one of the only crew that wasn’t sick that night. Everything seemed safe – we had lines to secure us in the event of being swept overboard, and I seem to remember I was positioned as a lookout at the front of the boat being hit by the spray from the waves, and I found it exhilarating. I’ve never had a problem with nervousness since that experience. Now you’re going to think I’m being a bit over dramatic, but I remember thinking I have survived the death of my parent which also meant losing my home and even my dog was given away, that I could deal with any troubles in life. The boat going up and down all over the place became a positive exciting experience, as I was able to rationalise that I’d taken all the safety precautions and our boat was if I remember 75′ long and not some little dinghy. I went home feeling I’d grown up just that little bit more. Truthfully was the best experience at just the right time.

Nightwatch – a short story by Jo Clark on the theme of connecting with other people.

Sail training is an ideal environment for connecting with other people. Living together, eating together, learning new skills, enjoying new experiences, going through tough times as well as good times together, having fun, building lasting friendships.

As a crew member on board Prolific, you have a real role and responsibilities: you matter to other people and they matter to you. Teamwork counts: you can’t hoist a sail on your own.

It only takes a few days on board to build a connection with people you may not have met before.

Connect with other people:
Live, work and learn together on board a beautiful sailing vessel, bonding as a crew. 


2. Be physically active

Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness. Evidence also shows it can also improve your mental wellbeing by:

  • raising your self-esteem
  • helping you to set goals or challenges and achieve them
  • causing chemical changes in your brain which can help to positively change your mood


A voyage with Ocean Youth Trust South is a fantastic opportunity to be physically active: hoisting sails, grinding winches, working on deck in the open air.


OYT South works in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust. A young man aged 20 said “I’ve really struggled with confidence post-chemo; this trip has been the first time I’ve started feeling confident again… It’s definitely the most active I’ve been since chemo so it’s kind of been nice to sort of have that confidence that you can sort of do stuff again, which was much needed and very nice … The amount of laughs and smiles we’ve had has been exactly what I needed, for the first time I started feeling like my pre-chemo self which was so lovely.”

The Rotary Club of Hitchin Tilehouse sponsored voyages for young carers: “The difference that a trip like this makes to these youngsters is wonderful to see … The team spirit that this trip generates is a joy to see: getting their hands dirty, cooking in the ship’s galley or doing night watch gives them a real feel-good factor. They push themselves to limits they didn’t know they had.” Sue Manning, Youth Activities Chair


HMS President (London’s Royal Naval
Reserve Unit) raised funds for disadvantaged young Londoners to sail. Geoffrey (12) said: “It was so amazing when watchleaders teach how to drive the helm and when we were pushing and pulling every day and you know that gave me some muscle. I was very happy I went to the beach for the first time and it was so fun and we covered David in sand”.

And I would run 500 miles – a short story by Jo Clark on the theme “Be Active”.

Parking practice during Be Active week – plenty of activity!


A poll by Save the Children found that more than nine out 10 children (92%) felt the way they play had changed since the Covid pandemic. Half (51%) said they were playing outside with their friends less, a third (34%) were playing alone more, and almost a quarter (23%) were playing less sport than before.

During a sail training voyage, there is something active for everyone to do on board – from the most sporty people to those who really don’t enjoy competitive sports and team games, as well as people with physical and learning difficulties. And all that activity has a practical purpose and makes a real difference: you put your back into hoisting a sail – and now we’re going fast to a new port! Or you didn’t think you could climb onto the bowsprit but with encouragement and support, you found you enjoyed it – and saw a dolphin right underneath you!

Be physically active:
Hoist a sail, climb out onto the bowsprit, steer the boat – all in the open air.

3. Take notice and pay attention to the present moment

Paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental wellbeing. This includes your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”. Mindfulness can help you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges. Read more about mindfulness, including steps you can take to be more mindful in your everyday life.

YouGov research released on May 13th 2021 by the Mental Health Foundation shows that 65 per cent of people find being near water (coast, rivers, lakes and ponds) has a positive impact on their mental health.

A voyage with Ocean Youth Trust South is a fantastic opportunity to get away from all the pressures of everyday life and all the demands that life can make on you, and think about who you really are and what really matters to you.


“Just sailing in the stars last night and having everyone just in awe of what we were doing, it was amazing, absolutely amazing, seeing the Milky Way so strong last night, it was incredible. Many found real personal strength through genuine challenging experiences – the end of the voyage could now be a beginning … it was a wonderful experience that will live for many years to come.” Group Leader Paul, Skelton Explorer Scouts

Concrete Jungle – a short story by Jo Clark on the theme of taking notice.

Sail training gives you a chance to take notice of your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Out at sea, away from any pressures you face at home or at school, without the distractions of internet and phones and staring at a screen, you can find yourself sailing under the stars, seeing dolphins playing under the bowsprit, or keeping a lookout and taking the time to watch the sun slowly setting. Noticing the moment when you turn the engine off and 110 tonnes of boat moves under nature’s power alone. Taking time to reflect when you have finished a job – a sail hoist or a night watch – and you can think about what you have achieved and what you have learned.

Take notice:
take time to be aware of yourself and your surroundings, away from the pressures and demands of everyday life

4. Learn new skills

oyt south

Research shows that learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing by:

  • boosting self-confidence and raising self-esteem
  • helping you to build a sense of purpose
  • helping you to connect with others

A voyage with Ocean Youth Trust South is a fantastic opportunity to learn new skills in an environment which is entirely unlike a classroom and which has something to offer to people of all abilities and interests. You can also take away evidence of what you have learned: this can make all the difference for people who struggle with academic qualifications; but even if you have plenty of exam passes, your sailing experience can help you stand out from others who may have done equally well at school but may not be able to demonstrate the breadth of different life skills which you can develop on board.

Will Parker started sailing with OYT South at the age of 12 and rose to become a volunteer second mate. When he was accepted for initial Officer Training at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth to train as a Warfare Officer at the age of 22, he said: “Without my involvement with OYT South over the past decade – first as a young person, now as a watch leader – I doubt that I would have got to this point. In the first instance, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply. Every time I have stepped ashore after a voyage with OYT South it has been accompanied by a massive sense of pride and achievement. Whether that has been because I have earned my RYA Competent Crew as a young person, or because I have played my part in helping the Sea Staff team provide a memorable and lasting experience for the crew on board, the impact has been the same – slowly learning to believe in myself. More than this, the ability to demonstrate aptitude for leadership, teamwork and planning during the application process has largely been enabled by experience built-up as a watch leader with OYT South. To name just one example, during my interview board, I spoke at length about how I led my watch of young people in planning and running the pilotage of Prolific into Dartmouth (incidentally also the site of the naval college!); something that definitely helped me stand out from other applicants.”

“Every interview I’ve had so far, I think my experiences with the charity have come up, usually I use the charity as an example of where I’ve been able to develop different skills like teamwork, communication, confidence and it just sparks a conversation because for most interviewers it’s a unique thing to hear and they become really intrigued about it and I do genuinely think that because of that it has made me stand out in interview processes and got me the position such as my job at Primark over Christmas and so I know it sounds really cliché when we say like “oh this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it will help you in the future”, but then like I’ve experienced when you see it actually benefitting your life and helping you gain opportunities it does really make you grateful for all the memories and skills OYT South teaches you.” Trainee bosun Nathan, aged 17

“I learned about myself, that I CAN do things – and I could do things well on the boat. You don’t feel like you’re a passenger, you feel you are part of the whole voyage. it’s completely different to anything you will learn in a classroom. When you’re shown something, it’s not given to you as a little scenario where you think “When am I ever going to use that?” You learn about angles and then on the chart you measure an angle, and it makes a lot more sense to me than at school when the teacher tells you something and you think “I’ll never use that … what do I need to be here for?”

JP, who first sailed with OYT South at the age of 13 when he was struggling at school with dyslexia, and now as an adult runs his own fuel distribution business.

A 16-year old from a special school working with students with challenging behaviours, alongside a range of other conditions which can hinder academic progress, said: “My best part was conquering the fear of open water which is a bit of a problem when you are in the middle of the ocean … I think I’m gonna go and do more after this now I’ve seen I can do this, I’ll go and do more other things and then it’ll all have started from here so I’ll remember this for sort of doing everything else I’ll do.”

The Vyne School has an exceptional record of using sail training to make a lasting difference for their students, building on what was learned on board throughout the rest of their time at school. “On a few occasions I have had to remind one or two of the students how to use what they had learned on the boat to overcome a difficulty they were facing. I was really impressed to see that this experience had given them the confidence to deal with the situation in a mature and sensible manner. The students seem much happier since their trip and I believe that they will remember this for a long time to come. I was also speaking to some of our students who were on previous voyages as they wanted to come again. One boy in particular thanked me for the opportunity as it changed his life and his learning perspective. He has really put his head down and is focussing on his studies. Had he not been on the trip, I am not sure he would be as optimistic and confident as he is now.” Vyne School staff member

The XL Group from Sherborne Learning Centre includes young people who are unable to attend full-time mainstream school. One 14-year old girl wrote this review of her voyage: “I was completely dreading going sailing, I didn’t know what to expect, I never thought about sailing on a boat, I always thought it wouldn’t be my thing, not many kids like me get a chance to go sailing. After a while I started to like the idea and I was excited about going but I wasn’t too sure what the crew was going to be like, or the boat. I was so worried that everything would go wrong and it would be my fault and everyone would shout at me … I truly can’t put into words how much I enjoyed myself, I will never forget it. The crew were amazing, they were so welcoming and they didn’t shout they explained and it was quite easy once they explained … My best part was steering the boat, on the way back it was absolutely chucking down with rain. I wasn’t fussed I was enjoying steering the boat too much … I learnt so much about sailing and about myself. I feel so much happier since I came off the boat, my confidence is so much better and I don’t worry as much as I used to about doing activities outside of school with people I hardly know.

“Sail training voyages are an inspirational way of engaging disaffected or out of touch young people. They offer a structured environment enabling young people to remain focused on activities which produce positive outcomes. When young people, removed from their immediate environment, have a positive and enjoyable experience and are able to achieve tangible and real targets it allows confidence and self-esteem to grow and gives them a platform to build on and to raise their aspirations. Sail training voyages are able to make a very positive and often life changing difference to young people disengaged and in danger of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training).” Zandra Ranger, former Coordinator, Gosport Local Children’s Partnership

Snakes Alive! – a short story by Jo Clark on the theme of learning new skills.

oytsouthSail training is an ideal opportunity for learning new skills. On board Prolific, you can take part in everything from steering the boat to tying knots, navigating the vessel or helping with daily engine checks. You can pick up skills that are directly relevant to everyday life, such as how to cook a meal or how to cope with a new experience that may seem daunting at first. Once you have learned how fantastic it feels to conquer your fears or master something that seemed too difficult the first time you tried it, you can apply that experience to the next time life throws a challenge in your way. You can earn a recognised sailing qualification on board and take home a certificate to put in your record of achievement so that you can demonstrate in a college application or a job interview that you can work with others, take responsibility, be resilient, follow instructions, complete a task once you have started it, communicate clearly and more – all the skills that employers, families, schools and communities need.

Learn new skills: practical learning outside a classroom, developing skills that will make a real difference in everyday life.

5. Give to others

oyt southResearch suggests that acts of giving and kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing by:

  • creating positive feelings and a sense of reward
  • giving you a feeling of purpose and self-worth
  • helping you connect with other people

A voyage with Ocean Youth Trust South is a fantastic opportunity to give to others – whether that is a hot cup of tea during a cold night watch, an extra hand on a rope when they are struggling, a word of encouragement or praise if they are finding something difficult, a helping hand if you have already mastered a skill and they haven’t but want to learn, a listening ear if they need to talk to someone. It is also a chance for other people to do the same for you.


oyt southThe Ormiston Leading Lights Project brought together teenage girls plus highly successful women as mentors. It turned out to be a personal development experience for the mentors just as much as for the girls. One of the mentors, a lawyer, was very seasick on a passage down to Dartmouth and later wrote in her blog: “When a small voice appeared at my side and asked if I was going to go home I said immediately and without thinking, “yes”. But then I thought I heard a quiet sob followed by “It’s not fair Miss” and then louder, “I can’t go home. I never asked to be here. I have to stay on the boat and I don’t want to. My Dad can’t leave to get me and I really, really want to go home.” I felt dreadful. It struck me that I could not possibly go home. That no matter how bad it was, we had signed up for this together and I could not leave – I had to see it through. And I wanted to. I had signed up to this adventure to somehow give something back to those who are coming up behind us and will take over our roles as women in business and what would I be demonstrating if I chose to exit hastily, stage left? In that moment, I could and would be that person who stuck it out and showed that this too would pass and that all would be well. And how immensely grateful I am to that small voice who showed me the value of sharing difficult moments together and out loud and of being real to the difficulty of the moment and how, in acknowledging that adversity, we can most likely get through it.”

oyt south

Alfreton Park Community Special Schoolworks with pupils with multiple physical and learning difficulties: “The group really grew in confidence and worked well as a team. They began to look after one another, which is a great achievement for youngsters with these difficulties. The voyage also helped our teachers grow as they learned more about the children away from a school environment. The OYT South sea staff were absolutely brilliant and put in lots of effort to help our kids.”Rosemary Mackenzie, headteacher


oyt south

A girl who was starting to rebuild her life after exceptionally traumatic early experiences was awarded funding to take part in the Tall Ships races: “I can honestly say that it’s been one of the most challenging experiences yet; however, I have taken so much from this trip and I will never forget it.
I always as a child dreamt of doing things just like normal people did, but never thought it would happen. This was way beyond anything I could imagine and has touched my life in so many different aspects; and for that I cannot thank you enough. I feel that this is the start to many endless opportunities for my future.”


Nightwatch revisited – a short story by Jo Clark on the theme of giving to others. This story links back to the story from week 1 (connect with others) which you can find above!

oyt south

Sail training creates many opportunities for you to give to others – and for them to give to you. And as well as the small acts of giving to others which can happen on any voyage, Ocean Youth Trust South couldn’t function without our amazing volunteers – people who give up their time to come on our voyages and make it possible for young crew members to sail, stay safe and have fun. Many of our volunteers are young people who did their first voyage as an ordinary crew member, made a great impression on the skipper – and were invited back for volunteer training and lots of free sailing!

Give to others: make a positive contribution to those around you – and let them do the same for you.

Covid-19 and the five steps to wellbeing

Much has been said about the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns on young people in particular, after long periods of being cooped up, separated from friends, dealing with disruption to education, missing key milestones, worrying about the health of themselves and their families, and facing the prospect of beginning adult life amidst huge economic insecurity. Young people from all backgrounds have had to cope with immense difficulties and this has created real concerns about the prospects and mental wellbeing of a generation.

Sail training has a long record of delivering just what young people need in these times: confidence, teambuilding, resilience, communication, friendship, fun and more.

Sail training can help deliver the five steps to wellbeing, making a lasting difference to young people who have experienced the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Connect with other people:
  • Be physically active
  • Take notice
  • Learn new skills
  • Give to others


Booking a Voyage

Guide to booking a voyage

Tracking our boat

Find out where we are sailing

Prolific bookings

We look forward to seeing as many people as possible on board Prolific. See here for our current sailing programme.


View the current sailing programme

New sailing programmes tend to be published in the early summer each year for the following year, which means we start looking at the next year’s plans in around May each year. If you are involved with a group which would like to book one or more voyages on board Prolific, please contact to discuss your requirements.

How to sail with us

Ocean Youth Trust South is an adventure sail training charity which takes young people aged 11-25 to sea in our 30-metre vessel Prolific.

Individual Voyages

Voyages for people aged 11-25

 Group Voyages

Introduction for adult leaders

Adult Voyages

Voyages for people aged over 18