About Us 1

Training by the sea… for life!

Since our founding in 1992, the mission of the TopSail Youth Program is to provide youth with real-life challenges that develop knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to live healthy, productive, lives.
  Program Profile and History  
Los Angeles Maritime Instiute   The Organizational Structure
The Los Angeles Maritime Institute (LAMI) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public-benefit corporation, founded by retired science teacher and sailing program pioneer, Captain Jim Gladson.  We are a volunteer-based organization with a small paid staff and Executive Director, governed by a Board of 12 Directors. We rely upon the skills and enthusiasm of several hundred volunteers to sail, maintain and support the ships and the programs and have historically produced almost $4 worth of program for every donated dollar spent.

Last year our volunteers logged over 47,000 job specific hours (the equivalent of about 24 full-time employees). Volunteering requires a background check, but no minimum time commitment, no previous experience and no fees. Volunteers are required take a series of ‘Sail Training’ and ‘Program Delivery’ classes to ensure consistent educational approaches and effective interaction with youth and adult crews.

Los Angeles Maritime Instiute   The Venue
Our educational venue is the ocean on board classic-rigged sailing vessels. The two 110' brigantines, Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson, and the 70' topsail schooner Swift of Ipswich make a unique and challenging environment that nurtures the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are both necessary for the education of today's youth, and difficult to teach in the traditional classroom. Youth are encouraged to explore and respond to the world around them. Science, mathematics, physics, biology, geography, world trade, economics, history, literature, and even poetry suddenly come to life in this real world classroom.

The ships sail with a crew of mariner/educators/mentors. They are charged with encouraging and fostering the growth of: awareness, understanding, communication, cooperation and teamwork, along with the maturation of youth attitudes and skills regarding persistence, patience, endurance, courage and caution. These are all definite milestones, with the ultimate destination being individual responsibility, competency and leadership.

Los Angeles Maritime Instiute   The TopSail Youth Program
The TopSail Youth Program brings education, adventure and experience together aboard the Institute's sailing vessels. During these sails, the participants literally "learn the ropes", becoming familiar with their crewmates and the vessel and its dynamics through the real work needed to sail a large vessel.

The first part of the program typically consists of three to five one-day sails in and around the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor area over a period of several weeks. Each day's activities build on the skills and knowledge gained during the preceding days. Daily differences in weather, shipping traffic, wildlife and participant skill level make each day a unique and challenging learning adventure.

In the second part of the program, participants utilize their newfound sense of empowerment and teamwork on a multi-day voyage to an off-shore island. The specific activities that take place between departure and return are conceived, planned, and carried out by the students with advice and assistance from the staff as appropriate. Thus each voyage is distinctive and very much the product of that group. Single day events are good for exploration, fun and an introduction to the world of the sea and sailing. Multi-day programs provide the structure to create a life-changing experience for participants.
Los Angeles Maritime Instiute   Program Profile and History (continued)

The miniature community created on a vessel with her crew as they voyage together is, by necessity to be self-sufficient. Each member of the crew must act independently yet interdependently. Everyone has a job. In addition to sailing duties, participants become the fire department, plumbers, engineers and cooks. If something breaks, it is a case of "fix it, replace it, or do without."

Our tall ships require young crews to do real work that can be physically demanding but still more than a “game” or just exercise “that’s good for you.” The youth who sail on our vessels are really needed - at whatever level they are able or willing – to pull together to meet the actual, practical demands of a complex machine. They raise and adjust sails, stand lookout in the bow of a pitching, rolling ship, take the helm and steer the set course and even climb the rigging, balancing while furling sails. In this environment of immediacy and adventure, every person aboard is challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally. The relationships between individual rights, power and responsibility come into sharper focus providing real life experience in the workings of society.

Los Angeles Maritime Instiute   Participants and Program Cost
During the 2012-2013 school year, the TopSail Youth Program provided over 2,500 youth sailing days to 35 different schools and youth organizations. Our Program’s primary focus is under-served youth in Middle and High School, 6th – 12th grade, but is flexible enough that we can offer it to any school or organized youth group, regardless of income, race, ethnicity or social status. We can adjust it to fit to the age or ability of any participant weighing 70 pounds or more (a safety requirement related to life jacket sizes). It is also important that adult leaders accompanying the group are prepared to be active participants.

Our vessels can each accommodates up to 30 participants on overnight voyages and up to 35 participants on day sails. Program cost for youth groups are $1,700 per day for day sails and $2,000 per day on voyages. Groups are responsible for food and options are part of the planning with each group. While we strive not to turn any group away for lack of funding, we can only exist if each group pays at least what they can realistically afford to offset the program cost incurred when providing our program and can help groups with fundraising ideas.








The Los Angeles Maritime Institute (LAMI) serves to empower youth to discover their greater potential through extraordinary at-sea experiences. We envision a thriving community where every child can look to the future with confidence.

The TopSail Youth Program takes place aboard the twin brigantines, Exy Johnson and Irving Johnson, the Official Tall Ships and Maritime Ambassadors of the City of Los Angeles.

Our thanks to the Port of Los Angeles for supporting the TopSail Youth Program for more than a decade!

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