SAIL Program


What is SAIL Champion?

SAIL Champion (Success Always Involves Learning) is a hands-on sailing experience that teaches leadership, team-work, and responsibility in conjunction with onboard, one-on-one therapeutic counseling sessions.

Sailing a tall ship requires teamwork, patience, and responsibility. Participants transition into crew and develop the physical, mental, and social skills required to sail Champion. Their experience is both challenging and therapeutic.

Who is involved?

Youth (ages 12-19) become the crew for Champion, a 39’ classic, wooden, Great Lakes sailboat in Traverse City, MI. The program is  Monday-Friday from 9am-3:30pm.  Over the course of the week, youth are responsible for the safe operation of the boat under the tutelage of a professional USCG Captain, volunteers from the Maritime Heritage Alliance (MHA), and a licensed therapist. Click Here to meet our staff.

SAIL Champion relies on community generosity to fulfill its important mission.  Please Click Here to participate!


How is SAIL Champion Unique?

Experience-based therapy programs, like SAIL Champion, allow for far greater results than therapy alone.  There are currently no other experiential therapy programs conducted on sailboats including one-on-one therapy with a licensed counselor. What Maritime Heritage Alliance has developed is very unique. Youth that participate are primarily referred by non-profit agencies in the Traverse City area such as Child and Family Services of Northwest Michigan.   The youth generally have experienced a past that included neglect and abuse.

Sailing Champion for a week is often the best event of their lives.  They love the new experience of learning to sail, learning to work as a traditional crew, seeking out anchorages, hiking, swimming, and more.  Moreover, the kids love to meet with the therapist for their daily therapy session.


Because the program is so concentrated and intense, the kids are quite changed by the end of the week.  SAIL uses several metrics to measure the results. A few of them are:

  • 70-80% drop in the intensity of the symptoms in one week (how intense they are)
  • 65-75% drop in the frequency of the symptoms in one week (how often they happen)
  • 100% of youth report being more likely to go to college as a direct result of the program
  • 100% of youth report being more interested in maritime history and sailing as a direct result of the program

The lasting result of experience-based therapy is most remarkable.  The principle is that as the youth think back on their exiting experience on Champion, they recall (either consciously or subconsciously) their therapeutic progress that was made.