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What is the Sea Challenge?



To provide an opportunity for high school students to participate in and adventure experiential education program aboard a tall ship including providing scholarships for those deserving and underserved youth from the Seacoast Region who could not afford to enroll. The benefits are three-fold: to build character and change lives, to teach seamanship skills and, occasionally, to inspire some to follow a career in the maritime industry and, finally, to provide a safe space for young people to have fun.


Sea Challenge operates under the auspices of the Piscataqua Maritime Commission (PMC), a 501(c)(3) charitable, non-profit. We are an all-volunteer organization. The PMC hosts a summertime tall ship festival, Sail Portsmouth, held in Portsmouth Harbor carrying on a tradition begun nearly 30 years ago by  business leaders who wanted to transform the image of the City of Portsmouth. Because we have no office or paid staff, our overhead is low. Therefore, net proceeds raised during Sail Portsmouth go to the Sea Challenge program. We also rely heavily on donations from generous sponsors and program partners.

The PMC Sea Challenge does not own or operate any vessels. We do not design a course syllabus. The ships we use are all sail training ships. Because we do not work with directly with youth, we rely on local high schools and community organizations to recruit each Sea Challenge participant.

Philosophy of Sail Training 

Sail Training is experiential, adventure education on board a sailing vessel. Participants, often referred to as ‘trainees’, are presented with challenges the moment they walk onto the dock before boarding. Often the greatest challenge is the simple act of stepping off land and onto the deck of a ship about to sail away from family and home. Trainees must be willing trade the familiar for the unknown. They must overcome the anxious thoughts of sailing away minus everyday comforts like smart phones; of living with strangers; of climbing masts; of working as a team member to sail the ship efficiently and safely, of always depending on team that is equally dependent on them.

Academic Curriculum 

Each ship’s formal syllabus addresses nautical and seamanship skills such as navigation, taking the helm, ship safety, standing watch, knot tying and much more. Usually, marine science is part of the course. Certainly, it is when whales are sighted. For many seeing the night sky clearly for the first time and learning about the Milky Way and shooting stars will become indelible memories. Often, trainees are eligible for high school academic credit.

Sea Challenge Program

For more than ten years, Sea Challenge has been placing high school youth from the Maine/New Hampshire seacoast on tall ships for one week during the summer. We began with eight students. For each of the past two years, we sent40 high school students to sea on three different tall ships. Because the feedback from trainees, parents and educators has been so positive, we hope to grow that number in 2019.


We contract only with ships and crews that specialize in sail training. They may depart from Portsmouth, Boston, Portland or elsewhere. The      voyages usually end in Portsmouth. The one-week trips can begin on any day of the week, depending on the ship’s schedule. The ships can be two-masted schooners and three-masted square rigged ships. All are regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard and certified by them to sail in local, coastal waters with overnight passengers. The safety of the ship, crew and passengers are the captain’s number one priority.

Recruiting Organizations

The Piscataqua Maritime Commission works with a variety of traditional and alternative high schools as well as several community organizations that serve teenagers.  These organizations identify and often sponsor teenagers they believe will benefit from an experiential adventure education program such as sail training.


High SchoolsCommunity OrganizationsMilitary Organizations
Bellamy AcademyBig Brothers Big Sisters of NHSea Cadets
Berwick AcademyChase Home 
Big Fish Learning CenterSeacoast Youth Services 
Lister AcademyWhittier Falls Housing Authority 
Oyster River High School  
Portsmouth High School  
Somersworth High School  
Spaulding High School  
Traip Academy  
Winnacunnet High School  

PMC Contacts

For more information about enrollment or joining the team as a recruiting school or organization, please contact one of the following:

John Considine,, (617) 513-0996

Leonard Seagren,, (603) 765-6249

Phil von Hemert,, (603) 833-0844


Video Links

Sea Challenge 2018:

Lettie G. Howard:



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