Boating's Lessons for Successful Living
For almost 25
years I’ve been booking students for Florida Sailing
& Cruising School. Some time along the way as I
watched students work with their instructors
something occurred to me. I think it’s important.
the dock I’d overhear the instructors showing
students how to set the anchor properly, how to
radio a bridge tender to open the span, how to
diagnose an engine problem, or how to back a big
wide boat into a tight little slip.
And over and
over what I also heard the instructors say were
things like “plan ahead,” “accept responsibility,”
and “know the rules.”
occurred to me was this: They were teaching exactly
the same things you would hear if you attended one
of those success-in-life seminars. Set goals, they’d
say. Prepare, practice, challenge yourself. Be a
team player, accept responsibility, follow the
rules. Even, get your sleep. And, importantly, laugh
So over time I
became even more convinced that the big lessons we
need to learn to lead a successful life are the very
same lessons we need to know to be a successful
boater. And vice versa. I’m sure that other
recreations require many of the same skills but I
can’t think of any except boating that combines all
My theory got an
endorsement of sorts last year when the Harvard
family of Roswell, N.M. came to Florida in August to
take a six-day live-aboard yacht course and cruise.
The students were parents Jeff and Jane and their
two adults-in-training, Jeremy, 15, and Julia, 11.
Captain Gary Graham, their instructor, said the
Harvards were terrific students and applied
themselves individually and as team members to make
their week aboard successful.
said he liked the continuing series of challenges
and solving them in a relaxed, non-stressful
environment. Jane told me she liked the adventure
of it, the confidence building, and the opportunity
for the family to pull together for a common goal.
Of course, this was all music to my ears.
I don’t mean to
give all the credit to our boating school. I
believe that boating itself is a good teacher. Capt.
Chris Day, another one of our instructors, tells the
story of a rich investor in the northeast who lost
all his money and took to drinking. His wife made
him leave home. A good friend gave him an old
sailboat with no sails, just a place to sleep
really. Something inspired him to make it move. He
went to Wal-Mart and bought some blue tarps with
grommets. He put up the mast and his tarps and left
Boston, heading south. Along the way he encountered
many challenges, all of which he managed to solve.
Finally, years later, he arrived in Key West and
when he arrived, he was sober. In fact, he had given
up drinking entirely.
In the last 23
years we’ve had many students including some tough
characters who probably wouldn’t sit still for a
life-success seminar but who would bust their fanny
to excel at an assigned task from the instructor.
school is about better sailing and cruising, and not
about leading a successful life, but whether
students make the connection or not, learning to
operate a yacht can be like the honey that helps the
medicine go down.
I like to think
that all of our boating school students return to
their various worlds better people as well as better