Our UK Sail Training members are hiring and as part of an initiative to get more people into #SailTrainingCareers, we are sharing stories from Sail Trainers to highlight the benefits of working in this incredibly rewarding sector.
Recently, we spoke to Seas Your Future’s Ben Wheatley to find out about his experience of Sail Training and what it has been like working as Captain on board TS Pelican of London. Read the full interview below.
Q. What do you think makes a successful Sail Trainer?
“I believe that the key to success in Sail Training is to engage with young people and provide them with opportunities to succeed. This is often achieved by putting challenges in front of the Trainee and then supplying the knowledge and skills to overcome these challenges. Young people and those with different abilities are those who, in my personal experience, have made the best use of these opportunities. It is such a pleasure, and an honour, to lead Trainees through this process, and to see the [young people] develop and grow in a positive direction during their time on board.”
Q. Do you think that Sail Training has the power to transform young lives?
“I have no doubt that Sail Training changes lives for the better, and I feel it is my duty and responsibility to do my job as effectively as possible to contribute towards the improvement of these people’s lives. Sail Training does work with adults, but the voyage of personal development that is experienced by young people, and those who are not usually provided with such opportunities, is more fundamental.”
Q. How did you get involved with Sail Training?
“I started casual dinghy sailing on family holidays as a child (and hated it to begin with!); this developed into more serious dinghy sailing and team races at the club run by my secondary school. Aged 15, I embarked on my first voyage as a Trainee in a small Sail Training ketch; this was a big step up from sailing a Laser, but I enjoyed every moment.
Still, with no intention of following a career at sea, it seemed natural to try sailing in a larger vessel – when an opportunity arose to take part in the 1998 Tall Ships Race as a Trainee in the Malcolm Miller. It was at this time that I realised that ’sailing for a living’ was a viable option, and immediately decided that this was to be my vocation.
After building up experience volunteering in the sector and gaining some basic qualifications, I was able to get my ‘foot in the door’ with paid employment. The last 20 years have been spent gaining further experience and qualifications whilst working in Sail Training vessels large and small – and it has been my privilege to sail as Master of TS Pelican of London since 2019; this is definitely the best job I’ve ever had!”
“…When the engine is shut down and the trainees realise that the sails they have set are propelling the ship, the sense of achievement for them (and me) is profound.”
Q. What has been your favourite moment working in Sail Training?
“I think there have been so many memorable moments in my career it is really hard to single any one out; but in general, I just enjoy watching the trainees develop their knowledge and sail the ship. When the engine is shut down and the trainees realise that the sails they have set are propelling the ship, the sense of achievement for them (and me) is profound.”
Q. And could you tell us your least favourite moment?
“That’s a tricky question! I have, on a few occasions, had to send trainees home mid-voyage for personal or medical reasons. This is always gut-wrenching; all of us would rather that each trainee completed a voyage and had the opportunity to reap the benefits of such an experience.”
Q. Do you enjoy doing what you do?
“I think this is key; Sail Training is FUN! We get to spend our time at work “messing about in boats” whilst the vast majority of people who go sailing pay to do it, we get paid to do it. Sure, it’s not a pleasure cruise, and the work is undoubtedly hard, but part of a good Sail Training experience is to have fun along the way, whether it’s singing, having water fights, swimming from some amazing white sand beach or just joking around with your shipmates.”
Q. Can you tell us a bit about the responsibility that comes with working in Sail Training?
“Whenever we put to sea, I am incredibly conscious of the very serious responsibility that comes with taking a group of children or young adults sailing. As a parent, I understand the trust that the Trainees’ parents and guardians are putting on us to keep their charges both physically and also emotionally safe. We need to provide a positive environment for everyone to develop and grow; and we all need to know how to deal with the problems that can arise when a group of people are crammed into a small space and forced to spend so much time together in a challenging environment.
I take this responsibility very seriously; I am sure the crew who work with me would say I worry too much about this, but I believe it is such an honour to take youngsters to sea that I will do everything I can to keep them safe and well, even if it means making tough decisions or staying in port when the weather is rough.”
Q. How does your work allow you to develop transferable skills for future roles?
“There are a plethora of great skills and abilities that come naturally to a Sail Trainer; if you can live and work in the challenging environment and conditions that we are used to and make a success of your job, you will definitely be the sort of person who employers ashore wish to recruit; however, why would you want to leave such a great sector? I think we have the best job on the planet.”
Q. Is there any advice that you would give to other people who are considering working in Sail Training?
“I would say to any prospective Sail Trainer. If you can…
- Work very hard for little recognition
- Be happy to get your hands dirty on a regular basis
- Live in uncomfortable, sometimes wet accommodation
- Be proactive yet pragmatic in your work
- Relish responsibility in your job role
- Thrive in challenging situations
- Keep a smile on your face
- Cope with time away from home
- Ignore the lure of better pay in other, less fulfilling, sectors
…Then you will end up with an incredibly rewarding job where you get paid to go sailing(!), visit some of the most amazing locations on this Earth, and meet some really fantastic people along the way.”
To learn more about the life-changing work that Seas Your Future does on board T.S. Pelican of London, visit their website: https://www.seasyourfuture.org
Interested in a career in Sail Training? Check out our Careers page to view the latest UK Sail Training job vacancies and volunteer opportunities, or follow the UK Sail Training Careers page on Facebook.