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.


We recently reached out to The Island Trust’s Craig Young to tell us about his experience working in Sail Training. In this two-part interview, Craig reflects on some of his favourite moments working with young and vulnerable people and shares some advice for anybody looking to start a career in the Sail Training sector.


Part 1.


Q. Tell us about how you first got involved with Sail Training, and why you decided to pursue a career in this sector.

My own journey in Sail Training began as a Trainee myself, with a trip on the Sea Cadet’s brig TS Royalist in 2004. I’m open about the fact that I didn’t want to go, having no interest in the sea, but as a Marine Cadet, my commanding officer at the time awarded me a bursary and was insistent. That voyage didn’t teach me much about sailing, and I came home none the wiser about what a sheet or halyard really was, but I learned so much about myself, my attitude, and the way that on a big traditionally rigged vessel like that, you are part of a machine that can only function if everybody, literally, pulls their weight. 


A quote I stole from a great captain I once sailed with, that I often tell Trainees myself, is that “nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something”. On Royalist, whether your interests were cooking or steering, and whether you were good with heights, or strong, or a quick learner, there was a job for you – and I was hooked.


The following summer I worked hard to be able to return to Royalist, and this time accidentally took part in the Tall Ships Race from Waterford to Cherbourg. This blew my mind because a year earlier, I didn’t even know Royalist existed! Now, I discovered there was a Sail Training world with a hundred or so vessels of all sizes, types, and nationalities taking part – and I realised, that this was a real career sector rather than a single ship. I sailed again on Royalist in 2006, and also on one of the Sea Cadet’s Tradewind 35 yachts to do my RYA Competent Crew certificate, the same boat that years later would be my first full-time Skippering job. By this time, I had worked out that I wanted to work somehow in Sail Training, to experience more of the Sail Training world and to give something back in the way that I had been supported by the ship’s staff, and so I started looking at what options there were. 


While at University, I spent my summers in a variety of voluntary and paid roles with the Sea Cadets, Trinity Sailing and the Jubilee Sailing Trust, gaining in experience and moving from bosun to Second and then relief First Mate at Trinity. As Uni came to an end, I was lucky that a full-time Mate’s job opened at Trinity Sailing, and I was able to step into full-time work in Sail Training in 2011. Since 2016, I have worked for The Island Trust in Plymouth and as of 2022, I am stepping back from being at sea full time, to support The Island Trust in a new office-based role looking at staff and volunteer training and development, whilst still managing at least one week a month at sea as a relief Skipper.”


Q. What has been your favourite moment working in Sail Training?

I have far too many great memories of Sail Training to pick a favourite, but almost without fail, they’re always about the people; the staff, and the trainees on board. Yes, the boats are incredible and sailing them well and fast on a sunny day is great, but the moments that can’t be predicted, with young people really rising to the occasion to say or do something hilarious or show a brilliant side of themselves that they didn’t know existed is what I will remember. For people of all ages, who have been limited somehow in life through socioeconomic factors; learning difficulties; emotional or family trauma; or physical disabilities, to name a few, to then encounter their first dolphin; shooting star; pat on the back from a friend when they were feeling low, they’re the memories that I will remember. 


“…the moments that can’t be predicted, with young people really rising to the occasion to say or do something hilarious or show a brilliant side of themselves that they didn’t know existed is what I will remember.


How blown away a 14-year-old is who has been told that they’re useless, and they bring a ninety-ton schooner smoothly alongside, or when someone with a fear of heights gets up the mast and out onto a yard with your coaching, being cheered by their classmates down below who will go back to school and tell everyone how amazing and brave that person is… that’s why we do it.


Q. …And what has been your least favourite moment?

“The law of averages says that the longer you do this, the more things will go wrong. Work in any sector at sea can be physically and emotionally exhausting, and there will be some long days dealing with issues on board, either people related, or fixing broken boats, when friends and family at home may want more of your time […] I also think for me, the greatest downside to Sail Training is that beyond our own small world, there is not much recognition of it as a true maritime career sector.”


Q. Can you tell us about the importance of working with young and vulnerable people?

“To the people taking part, Sail Training is an incredible platform for building confidence, awareness of the world, awareness of those on board, and reassessing their own abilities, strengths and shortcomings. As a Skipper, I facilitate that journey. I plan a voyage that will give all the challenge and fun that it should, but it’s up to the young people to respond and seize the opportunities that we sea staff provide.


I tell young people at the start of a trip that it will be their own effort and enthusiasm that decides how their week turns out, and that is so true. One of the greatest aspects of this job is seeing each individual and the crew as a whole develop as the week goes on. For me, it’s the little things: The way they move around the boat with added confidence; the way they instinctively go to the right part of the boat when you use a term that three days earlier was completely foreign; the way they look out for each other when times are tough. Seasickness can be a great leveller and that quiet person who is able to go below and cook lunch when it’s rough gets elevated to stardom amongst their peers when you review the day. 


As sea staff, it’s our job to draw out the best in people, identify where they need a little push or some support to help them on their way, and then let the amazing world that is sailing a boat take over. The sailing is the easy bit; it’s the way you sell an idea; calm a tough situation on board; deal with a medical crisis or choose the right moment to look silly in front of everyone to get a laugh where one is needed that makes you a Sail Trainer. That’s what makes the job so varied and rewarding.”


Part 2.


Q. How enjoyable do you find working in Sail Training?

“There’s no doubt that working in Sail Training is an enjoyable and immensely fulfilling job. Even if you remove the variety provided by the different groups you work with, the changing weather and seasons means that literally no two days, or weeks, are ever the same. Being in the open air, and being in tune with nature is incredibly important to me. Sail Training is a job that makes you aware of the stars, tides, phases of the moon, the types of wildlife that you’ll see at different times of year, and the key events of each season which gives a routine to the working year that most jobs lack. 


“Being at sea in a traditional vessel provides you with an amazing platform for encouraging teamwork and activity without any falsehood or artificial teamwork tasks.


Being at sea in a traditional vessel provides you with an amazing platform for encouraging teamwork and activity without any falsehood or artificial teamwork tasks. Putting sails up will make us get there faster, and even keeping a lookout on watch to allow your teammates to sleep, empowers the young people in a way that simply being outside in other activities cannot. As sea staff, we get the immense reward ourselves of knowing we made that happen.


On the other hand, people working in Sail Training full time will also reflect that it can have an adverse effect on mental health too. There is the anxiety of being away from important events at home, and there is also the worry that what you are doing is not quite enough because there are not enough hours in the day.”


Q. Tell us a bit about the responsibilities that come with working in the Sail Training sector.

“I’ve already mentioned the level of responsibility that working in Sail Training brings: there is the opportunity to Skipper from a young age, and take on the personal and legal responsibilities that someone of the same age in perhaps an office-based job would not have to face in the same way. Despite this, there seems to be a lack of recognition that being a Sail Training Skipper brings in the wider maritime world.

I am very aware that ultimately, we take the most valuable cargo of all to sea; other people’s children, and this is something that not everyone is comfortable with. There are easier sailing jobs out there if the youth work side of things isn’t of interest to you. That said, with the situations you find yourself in, whether it is dealing with a behavioural issue on board, or having to react to damage with the boat or heavy weather, there is no doubt that Sail Training will give you responsibilities and a decision-making environment that you can thrive in.


Q. Are the skills that you have developed throughout your career transferable to other aspects of your life?

“So many of the skills that you develop on a Sail Training voyage are transferable to other aspects of life. The confidence to make decisions quickly and unsupported from ashore can make you more decisive in leadership situations elsewhere, and the huge array of practical boat maintenance skills learned will give you a bit of a head start in everything from DIY to problem-solving. The tricks and skills of dealing with challenging behaviour can be invaluable in all sorts of situations. Although, the interesting thing about Sail Training is we rarely are able to quantify these skills to something useful by an employer, so while they build you as a person, it’s all about how you can then sell yourself forward for other roles.”


Q. What would be your advice to other people who are thinking of starting a new career in Sail Training?

“I would say two things… I think that as rewarding a job as it is, you must realise that except for very, very few people, it doesn’t last forever and the skills you develop alone are not necessarily enough to achieve the next step or role in life. It’s important to plan ahead and be clear about what you want to get out of your time on board. Further development and MCA qualifications are available, both for Sail Training and other types of vessels […] Take every opportunity for training and development, as it will help you in the current role, and what may come next, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance from those who have been doing it for a while. 


Sail Training is full of clichés, but they are almost all true… [We say] it changes lives, and it will change your life. The places you go and the things that you see by themselves are reason enough to work at sea, but to then share those experiences with other people who have not had the chance to even see the sea before, see a dolphin or leave their inner-city area, and you will give yourself job satisfaction found in very few careers. It does not get the same respect as a teacher, or the armed services, or healthcare, possibly because of all the benefits you see, but to the young people who sail with you, you will be their role model, and for a few days you have a really active part in shaping their life.




To find out more about the essential, and life-changing, work that takes place on board a voyage with The Island Trust, click here. If you’d like to book a voyage, check out The Island Trust’s groups and individual’s bookings page here.


Do you want to make a real difference to young people’s lives? A career in Sail Training could be just for you! 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.