Niagara Sail Training

Niagara Sail Training


An Overview for the Prospective Trainee

Perhaps you are here because you have a deep interest in history, because for you, the Age of Sail is a living thing, and you knew Niagara’s name, and you sought her out. Perhaps, though, you are here for reasons you can only dimly explain: you turned a dockside corner on a moonlit night, and there the ship was, ephemeral, a vision from another age. And you came closer to this creature of spectacle and majesty, her towering masts dancing slightly with the swell, as if in latent anticipation. And you spoke to some mariner there, who said he came here on this ship, and that he would soon go away upon it, that this was something that people did. That you could bag groceries, or peddle home insurance, you could take the cross-town bus every day, and provide adequate customer service by telephone or instant messenger. Or you could cut a wide blue swath across the wave-trammeled seas. You could practice an ageless craft in an unforgiving element.

“In any pre-industrial society, from the upper Paleolithic to the nineteenth century A.D., a boat or (later) a ship was the largest and most complex machine produced” — Keith Muckleroy Maritime Archaeology

Niagara is a singularly complex machine. It represents one of the last and most refined expressions of a technology millennia in its evolution. Yet beneath this complexity lies a willful simplicity. A sailing ship is a fugue of simple ideas and simple machines, repeated in subtle and complex variation. And as magnificent as it is, the ship is simply a tool. The purpose of a ship is the practice of seamanship, the craft and the science of making a home and a living in a hostile element. While it is no longer necessary for us to take to the sea in wooden sailing ships for the practice of war or trade or exploration, it remains necessary for us to, from time to time, take the measure of ourselves against the wilderness.

What do we do?

While underway, the U.S. Brig Niagara operates as a Sailing School Vessel. This means that we accept paying trainees, who are, both legally and practically, considered part of the crew. Trainees eat and live with the crew, onboard the ship. While sailing on Niagara can have a classroom component, most of our training is hands-on. By becoming an active part of the crew, trainees learn the skills of traditional square-rig seamanship, through sailing, maintaining, and living on the ship. The nineteenth-century maritime environment is far enough removed from our own lives that simply living on board the ship, and helping her make her way from place to place, is an education in and of itself.

We prefer that trainees stay on board for a minimum of two weeks. This is because it takes time to learn the fundamentals of square-rig seamanship: terminology, physical skills, familiarity with the vessel, and the social structure of shipboard life. By the end of two weeks, most trainees are comfortable operating in this new world, and can recognize that they have become a valued part of a close knit community.

Trainees participate fully in all aspects of the life and work of the crew. This work includes both the romantic and the commonplace: setting and taking in sail, washing dishes, painting and varnishing, giving deck tours, steering by compass in the gathering dawn, and charging along under a quartering breeze. Niagara does not take passengers – she makes mariners.

A trainee berth includes room and board, whether the ship is underway or in port. Trainees sleep in hammocks and stow all their gear in one seabag each. The galley provides three meals a day, all cooked on a wood-burning stove.  Niagara’s seamanship program is intended for healthy adults, ages 14 and up. Passports are required on most voyages, and anyone who does not legally reside in the USA or Canada must present to the Captain upon arrival, a valid Passport and B-2 Tourist Visa to participate in live-aboard sailing programs.

What is Niagara’s schedule?

Niagara’s year consists of four unequal seasons, varying in length from year to year. In the summer, Niagara sails throughout the Great Lakes. In the fall, crewmembers and volunteers remove the majority of Niagara’s rig using methods and technology largely unchanged in the last two centuries. The ship is then covered with a canvas superstructure to protect her against harsh Lake Erie winters. In the spring, the ship is reassembled, or up-rigged, once again using traditional methods and technology.

Throughout the 2016 season, Niagara will participate in races and parades of sail as part of the Tall Ships Challenge on the Great Lakes. Our anticipated schedule is as follows:

2016 Sailing Programs:

Tuesday, May 10 through Wednesday June 1: History Under Sail:

College-level program focusing on the fundamentals of square-rig seamanship and comparative public history. Program begins and ends in Erie, PA, and will include sailing voyages to the major maritime museums and monuments of Lake Erie. College credit is available through partnering institutions, but participants are not required to be actively enrolled college students.

Wednesday, June 8 through Wednesday, June 22: Exploring the Great Lakes, First Session:

A program for ages 14 to 18, beginning and ending in Erie, PA, and including a voyage to Put-In-Bay, OH for the island’s Maritime Heritage Festival. Curriculum will focus on the fundamentals of square-rig seamanship and developing the skills and personal qualities to meet the challenges of life onboard a ship.

Thursday, June 29 through Sunday, July 17: Exploring the Great Lakes, Second Session:

A program for ages 14 to 18, beginning and ending in Erie, PA, and including Independence Day festivities in Erie, PA and a voyage to a Lake Erie port. Curriculum will focus on the fundamentals of square-rig seamanship and developing the skills and personal qualities to meet the challenges of life onboard a ship.

Monday, July 18 through Thursday, August 4: Maritime Academy Program:

A program for cadets age 14 to 18 at maritime academies, and maritime-focused high schools, focusing on developing seamanship skills and providing experiences that are directly relevant to careers in the maritime trades. The program begins in Bay City, MI and concludes in Green Bay, WI.

Thursday, August 4 through Sunday, August 21: College Environmental Science Field School:

Our seventh Environmental Science Field School is a multi-disciplinary experience incorporating marine sciences, underwater archaeology, and square-rig seamanship, and in past years has contributed leading-edge research on micro-bead pollution in the Great Lakes. The Program will begin in Green Bay, WI and conclude in Duluth, MN and will include a transit of the pristine Lake Superior. College credit is available through partnering institutions, but participants are not required to be actively enrolled college students.

Sunday August 21 through Sunday, September 11: Individual Trainee Program:

This three week period is available to any interested individual, age 16 or older, with no upper age limit. The program begins in Duluth, MI and ends in Erie, PA, with our triumphant homecoming at Tall Ships Erie 2016. The prevailing westerly winds at this latitude should ensure that this 1,000 mile passage is largely downwind or on a beam reach – in other words, excellent sailing. We anticipate that the roster for this program in particular will fill up well in advance.

Trainees can join or leave at any scheduled U.S. port stop, although adherence to the itineraries above is strongly encouraged. (In order to comply with Canadian passenger trade regulations, we cannot take on or discharge trainees in Canadian ports – we must arrive and leave with the same people.) In some cases, transportation between Erie and away ports can be provided, and, in all cases, we are happy to assist with planning and logistics for your arrival and departure. Dates and destinations are subject to change.

How much does it cost?

Tuition for Niagara’s live-aboard sailing programs is $1,500.00 for two to four weeks, per individual student. Tuition for students enrolled in group programs organized by partner institutions (such as colleges and universities) may vary. Room and board is covered; travel to and from the vessel is not.

Trainees who wish to remain onboard after the end of their scheduled sail may do so only with the captain’s approval, and only when space is available. An additional fee of $300 per week will be charged for any time on board beyond the first four weeks. Returning trainees will receive a 15% discount on tuition during their second season, and a 25% discount if they return as a trainee during any summer sailing season thereafter. Enquire by phone or email for early registration discounts, for returning trainees who apply by December 31, 2015.

The Flagship Niagara League strives to make our sailing programs as affordable as possible, and scholarships may be available. Call for details.

How do I apply?

Go to  for more information and instructions on how to apply.

You can also email the Director of Marine Operations, Joseph Lengieza, at to request a hard copy of all necessary forms, or call (814) 452-2744, Ext. 214 if you have any questions









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