Los Angeles Maritime Institute

TopSail Youth Program

The Program – Download the program brochure

The TopSail Youth Program is an education and adventure experience aboard a tall ship consisting of day sails, voyages, or both. Skills gained include team-building, problem-solving, decision-making, planning, self-reliance and leadership.  The program is offered aboard our twin brigantines, the Exy Johnson and Irving Johnson, traditionally rigged 110-foot vessels and the Official Tall Ships of the City of Los Angeles.  The ships are docked at Berth 78 in San Pedro, California.

Our goal is to help youth develop the problem-solving skills and attitudes difficult to teach in the classroom, yet necessary to stay in school and become healthy, productive adults who better understand their responsibilities as involved and informed members of society.  Youth are able to explore and gain an understanding of the marine environment through hands-on experiences during their time aboard our vessels.  They raise and trim sails; stand lookout in the bow of a rolling ship; take the helm and steer the course they’ve set; and even climb the rigging to furl sails standing only on footropes.  Youth develop leadership and team building skills, which include personal values such as respect, patience, self-discipline, integrity and tenacity.  Our program has a rich history of fostering environmental awareness and Ocean Literacy, and inspiring young people to pursue maritime and STEM careers.

The TopSail Youth Program exposes at-risk and educationally disadvantaged youth to a world beyond their communities where they are provided with real-world challenges not available in the traditional classroom.  Founded in 1992, we have served over 60,000 young people with transformational experiences at sea and changed the course for thousands of youth who were on a dropout path leading to gangs, drugs and crime.

Los Angeles Maritime Institute is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that relies solely on individual, corporate and foundation support to keep our educational programs afloat.

STEM programs at sea Los Angeles

The Benefits of Experiential Learning at Sea
The sailing vessel provides an educational venue, rich in potential for the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are necessary for the education of today’s youth, but may be difficult for some youth to grasp in the classroom. It is effective with those youth who are not coping well with the demands of society and are “at risk” of dropping out of school and/or giving up on the quest for a successful and productive life. Our educational program is coupled with a sailing experience to enrich, validate, challenge and enhance conventional school curricula. Science, mathematics, physics, biology, geography, history, and literature come to life in this real world, outdoor classroom. Students don’t even realize they’re engaged in a curricula learning environment or growth sequence of developing skills: Awareness, Understanding, Communication, Cooperation, and Teamwork. At the same time, the students’ attitudes are able to mature in: Persistence, Patience, Endurance, Courage, and Caution. Our program offers “real life” experience in: problem solving, decision making, planning, self reliance, and leadership. Not only is this an impressive list of outcomes for any educational endeavor, it is demonstrably cost effective to achieve these goals with sailing vessels.


Participants and Program Cost
During the 2018-2019 school year, the TopSail Youth Program provided at-sea learning experiences to more than 7,000 young people. Our program’s primary focus is underserved youth in middle and high schools, 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. In 2014, we expanded our program to include upper elementary grades. We can adjust our program to fit the age or ability of any participant. It is also important that adult leaders accompanying the group are prepared to be active participants.

Our vessels can each accommodate up to 30 participants on overnight voyages and up to 40 participants on day sails. A day sail is up to five hours at sea; an overnight voyage is up to 24 hours at sea. Each year, through generous funding from the Port of Los Angeles Community Investment Program, we are able to offer a certain number of Port-sponsored programs to Title I schools and youth groups in low-income communities in the City of Los Angeles, which means, there is no cost for the schools to participate in our program. The Port-sponsored programs are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Once the Port-sponsored programs have been allotted, we offer a reduced program rate to Title I schools and youth groups located in low-income communities.

Our reduced program rates are contingent upon our year-round fundraising efforts to offset the actual costs of our program, which are substantial. Thus, we utilize a variety of fundraising activities to make our program as affordable as possible. We also work with schools to help them find program sponsors through collaborative grants and personalized crowdfunding campaigns. If you are interested in learning more about fundraising opportunities for your school or youth group, please contact our Director of Development, Micheal Sheehy, at michael.sheehy@lamitopsail.org.

Please note that all groups are responsible for food and transportation to our dock, and other options are part of the planning discussion we have with each group.

Any school or youth group can book our program at non-Title I rates, which are also subsidized and the reason we work hard to raise over one million dollars each year in order to reach as many students as possible with our mission-driven program.

For program rates and to check date availability, please contact our Director of Sales, Alice Taylor, at 310-833-6055 or email Alice.Taylor@lamitopsail.org.

Since our inception, Los Angeles Maritime Institute has been committed to “never be at the dock when we could be at sea, to never sail with an empty berth, and to never turn away a young person because of lack of money.”  We strive to keep this commitment; however, this commitment depends upon the continued support of foundations, businesses and individual donors.  We will do everything possible to work with your school’s budget in keeping with our mission and history of serving at-risk youth in the Harbor Region and throughout Los Angeles County.


The Curriculum
Topics within the curriculum cover a wide range of subjects and hands on experience. The ship is a classroom without appearing to be and the topics are a natural part of this classroom. Here the curriculum comes to life in an environment which can be difficult to replicate in the traditional classroom.

Seamanship (Language / Problem Solving)

Navigation (Geometry & Algebra)

Sail Training (Physics of Airfoils & Lift / Mechanical)

Marine Environment ( Science)

Sample Lessons within the TopSail Educational Environment

1) Speed/Time/Distance

Description: The correlation and interaction of these three forms of measurement are easily demonstrated and have real life meaning and application on a sailing vessel. First we begin with a tape measure and measure a section of the deck so that we have a known distance. Then we throw a biodegradable object such as a cracker over the side ahead of where our measurement on deck begins. Using a stopwatch we mark the time it takes the “cracker” to travel between our known distance. This gives us a know time. All that’s left to do at this time is calculate the speed. We can then check the accuracy of our measurement against the ships electronics.

California State Standards:

Grade Eight – Focus on Physical Science
Motion 1. b. Students know that average speed is the total distance traveled divided by the total time elapsed and that the speed of an object along the path traveled can vary. c. Students know how to solve problems involving distance, time, and average speed.
Grade Six-Algebra and Functions
2.3 Solve problems involving rates, average speed, distance, and time.

2) Mechanical Advantage

Description: Mechanical advantage plays an important part in raising sail on our vessels. We use block and tackle systems throughout the vessel. To illustrate this concept in a hands-on format we set the kids up to play tug of war with a block and tackle with a 4 to 1 mechanical advantage. Smaller kids stand on the side with the greater advantage with the larger kids opposite them. The smaller kids will dominate the exercise.
This concept can then be applied to calculate the force needed to raise various sails on the vessel with different known masses and mechanical advantage systems. For example, if the main sail has a mass of 800 pounds and a 4:1 mechanical advantage the students will determine that the force that they need to apply is 200 pounds.

California State Standards:

Grade Seven – Focus on Life Science
Physical Principles in Living Systems (Physical Science) 6. i. Students know how levers confer mechanical advantage and how the application of this principle applies to the musculo-skeletal system.
Grade Six- Number Sense
1.2 Interpret and use ratios in different contexts (e.g., batting averages, miles per hour) to show the relative sizes of two quantities, using appropriate notations (a/b, a to b, a:b).

To book the TopSail Youth Program for your school or youth group, please contact Alice Taylor at 310-833-6055 or email Alice.Taylor@lamitopsail.org.