What is Tall Ships America?

This July, tall ships will be visiting Portland harbor. But how are these impressive vessels connected to the larger Maritime world? How can everyday people get involved with Tall ships outside of events like Tall Ships Portland 2015? An organization called Tall Ships America can provide the answer to all of these questions.

Tall Ships America

Founded in 1973, Tall Ships America (the organization originally known as the American Sail Training Association - ASTA) the TSA was founded to promote sail training and provide sail education to the youth, and is the largest sail training organization in the world. In addition to focusing on sail training, the organization is dedicated to teaching and preserving North American maritime history. TSA operates as a nonprofit, and some of it’s major programs include organizing the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE Series, a set of international sail races and maritime festivals, and providing scholarships for crew members on Tall Ships America vessels.


Cadets training on the USCGC  Eagle

Cadets training on the USCGC Eagle

What is Sail Training?

Sail Training is the primary goal of Tall Ships America. According to the organization’s handbook: “‘Sail Training’ is a relatively modern phase describing the ancient practice of learning the skills of seafaring while serving in ships at sea”. One of these skills is sail handling, which involves manipulating the sail in a few of ways. These include “setting”, “reefing” and “trimming”, which work together to ensure the sails are properly mounted, unfurled, and pointed as to catch the most wind. 

    Another important sail training skill taught by TSA is marine spike seamanship, which is the term for using, repairing and maintaining the ropes on a ship. This includes tying complex knots, setting ropes up on shackles, and “splicing”, or weaving ropes together. These rope skills together with sail handling are important for keeping the sails, the most important part of the ship, working correctly . 

    Other sail training skills taught by TSA include Ship Handling, or driving the ship, and Navigation, which teaches sailors to navigate with tools like a compass, sextant, or the night sky. Finally, TSA also stresses the importance of teamwork as a sail training skill, because in order for a tall ship to function, many people have to work together efficiently. All these skills are important, but there is no replacement for good teamwork!

    Tall Ships America does not directly provide Sail Training. Instead, it acts as a mediator to introduce people interested in sail training to programs and opportunities. The organization urges those who are interested in a Sail Training program to carefully consider the programs advertised, because Tall Ships America cannot evaluate programs that are always changing. This means that those who wish to pursue Sail Training must investigate for themselves when looking into a program, and this self sufficiency is in keeping with the spirit of Sail Training stressed by Tall Ships America. For any fan of Tall Ships and the maritime heritage of the United States, Tall Ships America represents an incredibly opportunity to pursue this interest with likeminded people, and learn valuable sailing skills.


If you have not yet experienced Tall Ships firsthand, but are interested in these magnificent vessels, Tall Ships Portland 2015 is a chance to see Tall Ships in historic Portland Harbor. Tickets for the event, which runs from July 18 to 20th, are on sale now!