Class Afloat

West Island College International

The town of Lunenburg, situated on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, offers a history of shipbuilding and ocean-based commerce. While Lunenburg’s population is about 2,200, Class Afloat students do not complain about living their academic years in a small town — that is because they study while sailing the world aboard SS Sørlandet, a majestic 210-foot Class “A” square-rigged Tall Ship built in 1927.

Class Afloat – Canadian high school and university programs – provides students with unique learning experiences in unparalleled settings sailing the high seas and bringing the classroom to the world. This experiential education program was launched in 1984 as a pilot project and an interpretation of themes of participation, development, and peace under the banner of United Nations’ International Youth Year.

Over the nine months at sea, around 50 students, 10 teachers and 12 professional mariners sail through some 20 ports worldwide, studying at sea and learning about different cultures at ports of call. Since 1984, more than 1,500 alumni graduated from the ranks of Class Afloat, sailing more than 700,000 nautical miles landing in over 250 ports of call worldwide.

The goal of Class Afloat is as modest as the ocean breeze — to provide personal growth and perspective through participating in sailing a traditional ship, seamanship, building character, strength, leadership and team building abilities, and acquiring the ability to work with the unpredictable elements of wind, weather and sea. 

While life at sea presents exceptional challenges, Class Afloat provides an exceptional study environment. The program has been accredited by Nova Scotia Ministry of Higher Education, and Class Afloat’s university students study with Acadia University in Nova Scotia, through a partnership with Open Acadia, Acadia University’s online learning initiative.

The Canadian Business Journal spoke with David Jones, President and CEO, about Class Afloat. “First and foremost we are a school, so our primary objective is to deliver quality education, and we are dedicated to doing that in the context of our unique international program where our students form a strong community that sails a tall ship around the world. Sailing the ship 24/7 presents a unique set of challenges and experiences that contribute to the personal development of our students. During these nine months at sea the community creates its own ethics and values, and they strive to live by those every day. That’s part of the ‘experiential’ education aspect,” says Jones.

“The students onboard experience a variety of challenges, such as sea conditions and weather. For example, students may be writing exams in a classroom that is rocking and pitching in less than perfect weather conditions. We teach when we are sailing, and don’t teach when at port, so if the leg of the journey is 10 days, we will teach for 10 days and when we get to port the students will spend their days on our organized port programs exploring and learning about the local cultures.

“We are still in touch with our alumni of the last 28 years, and most still view this experience as their most important life changing experiences. Our model tests young people’s capacities. It is both physically and intellectually demanding for them to be a meaningful part of our learning and working community.

They go home with a better understanding of the world around them, the place they hold in their own communities, and the potential of their leadership skills,” says Jones.

Voyage 2013

Every year, safety, climate, favourable sailing conditions, politically stable environments and other criteria define Class Afloat’s travel itinerary; also taking into account the academic suitability and offerings of each port of call, effectively combining the lessons taught with hands-on field studies, whether its marine biology, political systems, and the history and geography of any one nation.

The 2012–2013 voyage takes students across five continents, traveling 30,000 nautical miles. The voyage started in Istanbul, Turkey, with 20 ports of call in the itinerary. The semester break comes after the first 10 ports (including ports in Portugal, Morocco and Senegal) landing in Rio de Janeiro, and after the break, pressing on back across the Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa and Namibia, through the Caribbean, with homecoming in Lunenburg scheduled for June 2013.

Two-thirds of students come from Canada and the rest from abroad, coming from Spain, Germany, Norway, Japan, Macau, Mexico and others, nations, however the school plans to move toward a 50/50 ratio in order to increase the diversity onboard.

The merging of advanced educational theories backed by exceptional educators and the millennia old marine tradition creates one of the most daring educational propositions, and most challenging educational experiences for youth worldwide, producing exceptional and confident young leaders.