Executive Summary

Recognizing the essential role of Leadership as the foundation of all safety-at-sea, and the general absence of specific Leadership training in current Safety-at-Sea training and education, the Storm Trysail Club convened the Offshore Sailing Leadership Symposium in November 2020. Our objective was to better understand the elements of good Leadership in offshore sailing, develop a set of Leadership best practices, and make recommendations for improved Safety-at-Sea training and education.  

The Symposium began with a keynote interview with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, followed by panels featuring the advice and counsel of diverse Leaders, including America’s Cup sailors, around-the-world racers, military commanders and pilots, merchant mariners, mountain climbers, technology experts and public health professionals. Leveraging this advice and their experiences, over 90 highly experienced offshore sailors broke into groups to focus attention on eight Leadership topics. The groups identified 42 best practices, 20 behaviors to avoid, and made 52 training recommendations to improve offshore safety through better Leadership skills and practices.

This report summarizes the Symposium discussions and findings, including highlights of the keynote interview and panel discussions, detailed best (and worst) Leadership practices, and proposals for improved Safety-at-Sea training and education.

During the Keynote, Panel, and Breakout Group discussions, several themes emerged as best practices critical to successful Leadership: 

  • The Skipper/Owner is Ultimately Accountable 
  • Leading with High Character
  • Selecting and Training the Team
  • Planning and Preparation
  • Establishing Clear Roles and Responsibilities
  • Placing Team Before Ego
  • Promoting Open Communication
  • Maintaining Situational Awareness
  • Adjusting Goals and Plans as Conditions Require 
  • Remaining Calm in an Emergency
  • Instilling Optimism
  • Never Giving Up!

Using Storm Trysail Club’s existing activities for “beta-testing,” the proposed training changes include refinements to Storm Trysail Club’s Junior and Adult Safety-at-Sea Seminars, Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta, Block Island Race, and Block Island Race Week. The Report also describes significant new initiatives for web-based Leadership resources, sailing-focused bridge resource management training, joint sailing club Leadership education programs, and a new approach to Safety-at-Sea training utilizing on-the-water training events.  The proposal concludes with ideas for expanding these initiatives, after testing, to the sailing community at large, and working with US Sailing and World Sailing to incorporate Leadership training into offshore certification. 

Storm Trysail Club’s hope is that this Report represents a significant step forward in offshore safety. Storm Trysail Club thanks all the sailors, Leaders, and organizations that made this Report possible and looks forward to working collaboratively to further improve safety-at-sea.

The Storm Trysail Club was established in 1938 to foster offshore sailing, and in particular SAFE offshore sailing. 

The Storm Trysail Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to effecting, promoting and enhancing (i) the education of young sailors, (ii) safe and knowledgeable transitioning from dinghy to big boat racing, particularly through intercollegiate big boat racing, (iii) safe boat handling in all conditions for all sailors, (iv) safe blue water racing and passage making for all sailors, (v) Leadership, seamanship, and navigation, and (vi) environmental stewardship.

The Storm Trysail Foundation supports a national program of events, including Junior Safety-at-Sea Seminars, Hands-On Safety-at-Sea Seminars for adults and juniors alike, regattas, and other on-the-water training, while also offering grants to other institutions to foster similar education and training.

The 2021 Offshore Sailing Leadership Symposium was made possible thanks to the following partners:

Presenting Partner


Supporting Partners