Frequently Asked Questions

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General

What kind of student joins your adventures?

Students join us from all over the United States and from all around the world. Their ages typically range from 11 (finishing sixth grade) to 18. Echo and Ocean courses are for college age students and Charlie Pro scuba participants must be 18+. Each boat has 10-12 students of similar age with a balance of males and females. Our fleet size is 20 to 60 teens, depending on the adventure. Each day offers sailing and meals with your crew and then activities, electives, and socializing with the entire group. The majority of our students come alone, and friends are certainly welcome.

Can I come with a friend and be assigned to the same boat?

The majority of our students come on their own, though friends are certainly welcome. Requests to be on the same boat as a friend can be accommodated if both friends make the request. We do limit the number of teens who know each other on the same boat.

Is there a deadline for signing up?

No. We accept applications year round. As long as there are openings on the programs, you can sign up. It’s rare, but we have had student’s sign up just days before an adventure starts! Please call us for program availability.

What are the advantages of selecting combined programs?

Combining two different adventures is often done to create a longer summer experience. Students who attend two consecutive sessions can experience diverse Caribbean locations, participate in different activities, and advance their learning even further. And, they meet an entirely new group of crew mates on their second program. Those who choose these longer voyages receive a 10% tuition discount on both adventures.

Have students ever been sent home? Why?

Our policies are clearly outlined on our application and are stated emphatically by Mike Liese to all students upon their arrival. Sail Caribbean students are strictly prohibited from using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Those who violate these rules, as well as those who remain in the company of anyone violating the rules, are sent home immediately. Students and parents often say they appreciate that our rules are fair, well understood, and enforced without exception.

What Do I Pack?

Our Packing List is very thorough!

Safety & Medical

Why do we sail in fleets?

We sail in fleets for safety and instructional purposes, and also for the fun and social opportunities it provides. In addition to the captain and mate on each boat, a staff boat accompanies the fleet, carrying additional safety equipment and support staff. Our Mates rotate from boat to boat on a regular basis, each sharing his or her own unique knowledge and enthusiasm for sailing, navigation, scuba, marine biology, and cooking, the list is endless. Ashore, the crews gather to enjoy new found friendships, the variety of ages, backgrounds, and news about how each boat is meeting their challenges. And of course there’s the excitement of yacht racing. There’s nothing quite like a fleet of large yachts tacking upwind together!

How large or small are the Sail Caribbean groups?

Our voyages combine the best of small and large group qualities. Each boat has 10-12 students of similar age, ensuring an intimate, experiential learning and living environment onboard. Each crew bonds as a close unit. The boats in each program also sail together as a fleet. Our fleets have from two to five boats, with 20-50 students.

When are life jackets worn?

Life jackets are worn for all watersports, small boats and even on our 50’ yacht boats while under sail or power. Harnesses are worn during all night sails.

What are the supervision arrangements onshore?

On land, safety continues to be our highest priority. In every case students are given clear boundaries (and the attractions and highlights within those boundaries so students are not tempted to stray). During daytime excursions, our staff members wear their staff shirts and join the students ashore to provide area supervision throughout the designated areas and particularly at points of interest. Students must travel in buddy groups and check in on a regular basis. During evenings ashore, students and staff are together at all times. The venues are carefully chosen for the students’ enjoyment and with foremost consideration for safety and supervision.

How strictly are the rules enforced?

Mike Liese, Sail Caribbean founder and director, clearly states our policies to all students upon their arrival. Without exception, Sail Caribbean students are strictly prohibited from using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Those who violate these rules, as well as those who remain in the company of anyone violating the rules, are sent home immediately. Students and parents often say they appreciate that our rules are fair, well understood, and enforced without exception.

If a participant has fair skin, how can he/she be protected in the sun?

Protection from the Caribbean’s strong sun begins with our Packing List, which helps you get ready for your summer trip with Sail Caribbean. We ask you to bring a hat, a lightweight long sleeve shirt, sunglasses and sunscreen for sun protection. You may also want to consider bringing a “rash guard” top that can be worn in the water. Additionally, our staff members continually remind students to re-apply sunscreen throughout the day. If a student shows the beginnings of a burn, the captain will place them on “shirt duty”, for as long as necessary. We also emphasize hydration and play games that encourage drinking water during particularly hot weather. The students themselves also share responsibility for these healthy practices, as one of them is in charge of the crew’s health and safety each day. All of our boats have a bimini (a canvas canopy over the cockpit area) that provides shade while onboard.

What kind of medical training does your staff have?

Our entire staff undergoes Wilderness First Aid training (WFA), a 16-hour program which far exceeds basic first aid training. This specialized training allows them to assess and initiate treatment for injuries and illnesses before seeking professional help. In addition, each program has a dedicated medical officer with an EMT certification, or has completed the more advanced Wilderness First Responder training (WFR), an 80-hour certification. During our comprehensive pre-season training, we use emergency simulations to further prepare our staff for the specific conditions.

Communication

Is there contact by Sail Caribbean before the program starts?

Yes. Once you submit an application and you have selected an adventure, we will contact you with instructions on how to log into your secure online account where you’ll have access to all of your enrollment forms and be able to check your progress and manage the rest of the enrollment process yourself. As the summer approaches, you will hear from us frequently with helpful hints to make your trip a complete success.

Are cell phones permitted?

We encourage students to bring their cell phones since this has proved to be the most dependable method of communication. Cell phones can be used while in transit to and from the Caribbean, but we collect them once students arrive at their destination. Cell phones would detract from the purpose of our adventures. During the program, there are opportunities for students to use their phones to call home every 5-6 days. Prior to the trip start date, parents will be given their teen’s itinerary including phone call schedules. We encourage you to check with your carrier for details on an international plan. Those traveling with smart phones should make sure that they disable the voice and data roaming capabilities, as these have proved to be costly charges.

How can I reach the program after hours?

Parents can reach their son/daughter with messages through our base office on Tortola at 631-676-1203, and in case of an emergency, each fleet carries a cell phone. Additionally, Mike Liese is in daily contact with all our programs and can be reached during the summer 24-hours a day on his cell phone at 284-499-1759.

Will I get updates on my teen's adventure?

We’re sure you’ll be eager to keep up with your teen’s adventures in the Caribbean and it’s easy to do so with Trip Blogs on the Sail Caribbean website. You will be automatically subscribed to receive trip blogs to your email. If you want other family members to receive the Trip Blogs via email, please send us their email address. Full details will be supplied after you enroll.

Staff

Who is the Caribbean staff?

All Sail Caribbean instructors are handpicked from a pool of over a hundred candidates each year. Only those with excellent credentials from recognized sailing and scuba institutions or exceptional backgrounds in marine science and outdoor education are considered for positions. Because this is an important time in your life, and because this program can make such a positive impact on your personal growth, we require that all staff also have strong backgrounds in working with teenagers. Being a skilled sailor, diver, or marine biologist, is not enough. Personal interviews with our senior staff (most often Mike Liese), and extremely thorough reference and background checks are done without exception.

To ensure that only the best person will be in charge of each boat, all new staff must first prove themselves as Mates before being promoted to the role of Captain. As Mates, they regularly rotate through the fleet, bringing a fresh perspective and teaching style to the day’s sail and activities. In doing so, they learn the specifics of our adventures and demonstrate their skills, before earning the important leadership position of Captain.

The average age of Sail Caribbean’s senior staff is 23 and our overall student-to-staff ratio is 4:1.

How are the programs staffed?

Each boat has a Captain and Mate who live onboard and who are personally responsible for the safety, well-being and success of the crew. Each fleet has a Program Director overseeing the day-to-day operations of the fleet, and supervising and supporting the staff. A staff boat may also accompany the fleet, carrying additional equipment and support staff. With an overall student-to-staff ratio of 4:1, you can be sure you’ll get plenty of individual attention.

What formal training do staff members complete?

Prerequisites for all Sail Caribbean staff are Wilderness First Aid and current CPR certifications. Then, at the beginning of the summer, our staff spends 12 full days onsite in the Caribbean training in safety procedures, our curriculum and our philosophy, including concepts of group dynamics and team building.

Every day our Program Directors lead staff meetings to discuss the progress of each boat’s crew and to address student and program concerns. Our Founding Director, Mike Liese, oversees and supports the Program Directors first-hand the entire summer in the Caribbean, sharing the knowledge gained throughout his 37 years of experience running hundreds of Sail Caribbean programs.

Our dive staff is made up of all professional dive instructors, representing a range of instructor level certifications from PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors). Mike Rowe, one of our Dive Directors, is a PADI Course Director (an instructor of instructors) and has certified over 800 dive instructors over the past 10 years.

Are staff members required to have a boat captain's license?

While many of our captains do have captain’s licenses, we don’t require it. Doing so would exclude too many strong candidates. The typical captain’s license often referred to as a “6-pack”, meets U.S. Coast Guard standards for operating a vessel in U.S. waters with six or less people onboard. It requires only a written test and a recorded number of sea hours. It does not require any practical test of seamanship or boat-handling ability.

Importantly, having a captain’s license does not ensure that a person will excel at teaching sailing to and managing a group of teenagers – an imperative for having responsibility for one of our boats. Sail Caribbean staff must demonstrate they can expertly handle a 50′ sailboat with 12 students onboard – all new staff must first prove themselves as mates before being promoted to the role of captain.

How many adults are on each boat?

There are always at least two, and sometimes three, adults onboard for 10-12 students when the boat is underway. A support staff boat may also accompany our BVI and Leeward Island fleets, providing a “main office” for the Program Director, Fleet Captain, Provisions Manager, and Medical Officer, as well as carrying additional supplies and equipment. These additional staff normally sails with the students each day, rotating through the fleet. Our overall student-to-staff ratio on all programs is 4:1.

Who are the dive staff?

Our BVI Dive Instructors are full-time, dive professionals, working year-round for our dive center in the BVI, Sail Caribbean Divers. In addition to their teaching certifications from PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors), our dive instructors are thoroughly trained and experienced with our BVI diving operations, procedures, protocols, safety policies and dive boats. They are intimately familiar with the many dive sites in the BVI.

Our dive instructors are solely focused on educating and supervising divers at an exceptional level of safety. They do not have responsibility for the sailing or living experience of the students onboard the sailboats.

Our programs outside the BVI team up with trusted PADI dive facilities who have worked with us for many years in each location, providing excellent staff, boats and dive equipment. The combination of one of our Sail Caribbean Divemaster or Dive Instructors and the local knowledge of these PADI professionals ensure that our students get the utmost from their underwater experiences.

Sailing & Life Onboard

What kind of boat will I be living on?

You’ll live on a modern 50-foot monohull or 45-foot catamaran depending on the adventure you choose. Each has 4-5 cabins (bedrooms) shared by 2 or 3, 3-4 heads (bathrooms), a main salon (living & dining room), fully equipped galley (kitchen) and cockpit (outside seating area). Our Foxtrot, Sierra, Tango and Ocean adventures sail on catamarans to accommodate the community service and diving activities. You’ll live and sleep on a modern 50-foot monohull sailboat. Cabins are mainly used to store your belongings and to change clothes. Most nights the stars are so beautiful and the breeze so refreshing that you’ll set up your hammock or sleeping bag and decide to sleep on deck with the rest of the crew.

How much sailing or diving experience is needed?

None! Many students come with little or no experience at all, but you do need to know how to swim and enjoy being in and around the water. Our captains, mates and professional dive instructors will teach you everything you need to know about sailing and scuba diving safely and at your own pace.

How are different ages arranged on the boats in the fleet?

For ages 13-18, our fleet size is 20 to 50 teenagers with 10-12 students of similar age aboard each boat and a balance of girls and boys. Students form the closest friendships with the peers of their crew as they learn, work and play together. But there are many opportunities to socialize with all participants on the trip (and even other fleets) during watersports and land activities. Our teens and staff come from all over the US and the world. That combined with the diversity of ages and experience levels means everyone will meet lots of interesting people.

How many staff members are on each boat?

There are always at least two, and sometimes three, adults onboard for 10-12 students when the boat is underway. A support staff boat may also accompany our BVI fleets, providing sleeping quarters to the Program Director, Fleet Captain, Provisions Manager, and Medical Officer, as well as carrying additional supplies and equipment. These additional staff members normally sail with the students each day, rotating through the fleet like the Mates. Our overall student-to-staff ratio on all programs is 4:1.

How much of a time commitment is required for the ASA optional sailing courses?

We always incorporate free time into our days and evenings. When we’re not sailing, students can take advantage of a wide range of activities, including watersports and optional courses. The ASA courses are “challenge courses”. Candidates will learn the theoretical requirements for this certification along with everyone else during our regular sailing instruction. Additionally, ASA 101 Basic Keelboat, ASA 103 Basic Coastal Cruising and ASA 104 Bareboat Cruising candidates will participate in a few seminars and have two or three opportunities to practice their sailing skills on small keelboats, before being challenged by a practical exam. During the exam, they must competently and single-handedly demonstrate certain sailing maneuvers on small keelboats. A passing grade on a written test and a practical exam complete the certification requirements. These electives involve about one-fourth of the participants’ free time.

Scuba Diving

How much scuba diving experience is needed?

To participate in our introductory Discover Scuba (DSD) course or our PADI Open Water Certification (OW) course, no experience is necessary, but you should be comfortable in the water, have a spirit of adventure, the ability to take on responsibility, and a desire to be challenged.

All other scuba certifications and specialties will have prerequisites. Please visit our Scuba Dive Certification page for details. To participate in Recreational diving, you must be an Open Water certified diver or equivalent.

How safe is scuba diving?

Scuba diving is very safe if done with the proper equipment and under careful training and supervision. We are very proud that Sail Caribbean is the only teen program with its own year-round dive operation, Sail Caribbean Divers. Our dive courses are taught by our own full-time PADI professionals. Our equipment and staff are first-rate and we pride ourselves on our expertise and track record.

Is there an advantage to using dive boats versus diving off sailboats?

Our fleet of custom dive boats enables us to keep bulky, wet scuba gear and noisy compressors off our sailboats. The dive boats rendezvous with the sailing fleet to easily transport you to the best dive locations. During the ride, students prepare their equipment under close supervision, discuss dive knowledge reviews, are briefed on the site where they’ll be diving-and enjoy the ride! Our dive boats provide spacious and stable platforms to ensure easy and safe entry and exit from the water for everyone aboard. We strongly believe that using dive boats is the very best way to dive.

What is the instructor to student ratio when scuba diving?

The maximum student to instructor ratio on dives at Sail Caribbean is 6:1 and for DSD, it’s 4:1. PADI’s recommended ratio is 8:1/4:1 respectively.

Is your scuba equipment up to date?

Sail Caribbean Divers operates as a year-round scuba diving center in the British Virgin Islands. We carry the Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ (PADI’s) highest rating, its coveted 5-Star Gold Palm Instructor Development Center designation. Our equipment is excellent and is continually maintained and updated to meet our ongoing instructional needs.

What scuba equipment do I bring?

We require that scuba participants bring their own personal mask, fins, and snorkel. If you have your own dive gear (BCD, Regulator, etc), you are welcome to bring it down with you. We will provide any and all necessary gear needed. SC Divers operate year round and use the highest quality and the most current technology. They have new gear every year.

How long does e-Learning take?

e-Learning is an online PADI course that lets our Open Water (OW) participants get the “classroom work” out of the way before you arrive in the Caribbean. After a brief refresher discussion and exam, this allows us to get right into the water. The course is a series of video tutorials each followed by a knowledge review test. The course takes between 6-8 hours and must be completed before arrival in the BVI. This is a prerequisite to participating in the diving portion of the Sail Caribbean PADI OW course.

How deep will I dive?

For Discover Scuba, you start in waist-deep water and progress to a maximum depth of 40 feet. The maximum depth for all divers under age 15 is 70 feet, regardless of certification level. Open Water Divers are trained for dives up to 60 feet; Advanced Open Water to 100 feet. The deepest that any Sail Caribbean student will dive is 80-90 feet.

Finances

What does the tuition cover?

Tuition covers all program expenses except for airfare, ferry and taxi transfer fees, a one-time departure tax (about $30), medical expenses and personal spending such as souvenirs, snacks, phones, and optional meals ashore. All divers must have their own diving insurance (or be covered by our Trip Mate insurance policy, which does not exclude diving). Some Optional Courses have additional fees.

Should I have travel insurance?

There are absolutely no refunds after March 1st.  For this reason, we highly recommend that all Sail Caribbean families opt into our trip insurance program.  Coverage benefits include:

  • If you cancel for a covered injury, illness or other covered reason prior to the start of your trip, you are eligible for a complete reimbursement of your unused, non-refundable, prepaid expenses for your Sail Caribbean trip fee.
  • With the CFAR (Cancel for Any Reason) option, if you cancel for any reason not otherwise covered by the plan, up until 48 hours prior to departure, you are eligible for a 75% reimbursement of your Sail Caribbean trip fee.  We will apply the 25% balance to tuition for the student or a sibling for the following season.  (This option is not available to NY residents.)
  • During the trip, if your teen must leave early for a covered injury, illness or other covered reason, you will be reimbursed for the unused, prepaid, non-refundable portion of your Sail Caribbean trip fee and the additional cost paid to return home.

For complete information about the trip insurance, please visit this website (select your state from the drop-down menu)

If you have any questions regarding the coverage, please call Trip Mate’s benefit specialists at 800-888-7292 and refer to plan ID F433D.
See our Trip Insurance page for details.

When is the tuition due?

A $700 deposit is due with your application to hold a spot. You may pay by credit card with your application, or send a check. Your submitted application will hold your spot while your check is in the mail.

Full tuition is due by March 1st, unless you’ve arranged a payment plan with us. We continue to accept applications after March 1st, accompanied by the full tuition unless you’ve arranged a payment plan with us.

What is your refund or cancellation policy?

Before March 1st, a $700 deposit is due with your application.  Full tuition is due by March 1st, unless you’ve arranged a payment plan with us.  Payment on account (less a $350 non-refundable application fee) will be refunded if written request is received by Sail Caribbean on or before March 1st.  After March 1, no refunds will be made.  For this reason, we highly recommend that you purchase a travel insurance policy to suit your specific needs.

Do you offer a payment plan?

Yes. You may spread your tuition payments out over several months, as long as full payment is received reasonably before the program start date. When you submit your application and deposit payment, you’ll have the option to indicate your interest in a payment plan for the remaining tuition balance.

Do you offer Financial Aid?

We offer financial aid awards ranging from $800 to $2,850 and cover between 20% and 50% of the program tuition (excluding airfare, personal spending money and optional courses). All financial aid awards are dependent on need and the availability of space and funds. Please contact us if you would like a financial aid application.

How much spending money is needed?

For incidentals such as phone cards, several optional meals out, soda, ice cream, candy, and souvenirs, we recommend approximately $100-$125 per week in the form of cash (depending on spending habits).  Alternatively, some of the merchants in the BVI accept credit/debit cards.  If you choose to bring a credit card, please inform your financial institution that you will be traveling outside the country to avoid a freeze or other security measures taken on the account.

In addition to personal spending cash, you will need to save a small amount of cash for checked luggage fees that will need to be paid upon departure check-in.  Please check with your respective airline and plan accordingly.

Food

What are the meals like?

On all of our programs, we provide high-quality meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables so that you and your crew mates can prepare fresh, well-balanced meals. Everybody helps cook and many bring home new-found recipes, from banana pancakes to curried chicken Caribbean style. We are able to accommodate vegetarians, but with a limited menu offering. On each voyage, there are several opportunities to eat ashore and taste the unique flavors of the Caribbean. These meals are optional and are not included in the tuition.

Who prepares meals, and how do they know what to cook?

Aboard the boats, students do all of the cooking with instruction and guidance from of our staff. Students take turns with meal preparation, so everyone has an opportunity to pitch in with the more experienced kids helping those less experienced. Each boat has a copy of Sail Caribbean’s very own cookbook – full of tried and true recipes. Often, students return home able to cook a few meals for their family! Each program has a Provisions Manager on staff who is responsible for ordering provisions, planning menus, and working with any special dietary requirements.

What if I don't eat fish?

No problem. Whenever we have fish for a meal, there is always an alternative main course.

What about special diets (kosher, vegetarian, etc). How is this handled?

Before the program begins, parents need to alert us to any dietary needs and food allergies their teen may have. Our Provisions Managers use this information to plan and provision accordingly. The captains also check with their crews at the start of the program. Each boat may request special items, and if it is within reason and available, our Provisions Manager will get it. They meet with students and staff throughout the program to ensure that their dietary needs are being met.

What about food allergies (peanuts, fish, etc.)?

If there’s a food allergy, please make certain that you describe it clearly and thoroughly on your signed medical form. Our Provisions Managers, Medical Officers, trip leaders and boat captains are informed of all dietary needs and medical concerns of all our students. We will work closely with you to ensure the healthiest possible arrangement.

Students with prescriptions to carry EPI pens for allergies are expected to bring a supply of 3 EPI pens with them to the Caribbean – one to be carried by the student, one to be kept by the student’s captain or trip leader and one to be kept by the staff Medical Officer. Unused EPI pens will be returned to the student at the end of the program.

Travel

Do participants need a passport (or visa)?

Everyone entering or leaving the United States through airports and seaports going to the Caribbean islands must have a passport that is valid through the entire period of travel. Your passport will be collected upon your arrival to Sail Caribbean and will be held by our staff until your departure. If you are not a U.S. citizen, please check immediately to see if you are required to have a visa. For details on passport & visa information, please visit the travel page of our website.

How are flight arrangements made?

Prior to your search for flights, please review our guidelines for travel to the BVI.  After purchasing your ticket, please email or send us the itinerary including the record locator/airline confirmation code.  It is important that we have your travel information so we can monitor your flights, meet you at your destination, and ensure you make your scheduled departure.  If you have any questions when booking your flights, please dont’ hesitate to contact our NY office at 800-321-0994 or 631-754-2202.

What are the arrival and departure airports for the programs?

For all programs, students will arrive and depart from the airport on St. Thomas (STT). We will have staff at St. Thomas airport meet you and then accompany you on the 45-minute ferry ride to Tortola. Once on Tortola, staff will escort the students to their final destination Hodges Creek Marina.

Alternatively, you may choose to arrive and depart from Beef Island Airport on Tortola (EIS), connecting through airports in Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, Antigua, Barbados, etc.

Do staff members travel on flights with the teens?

Since students are departing from all over the United States and the world, it isn’t feasible for us to be in every departure airport. A staff member will meet you at the St. Thomas airport and will accompany you on the ferry to Tortola. If you fly into Beef Island,Tortola, our staff will pick you up at the airport and bring you to base.

How will parents know that their teen has arrived at his/her destination safely?

Students have the opportunity to call home when they arrive at their final destination and have settled in at our base. We encourage parents to discuss this with their teen to be sure that both parties are clear on whether or not a call is expected upon arrival. There will also be opportunities for students to call home as we travel from port to port.

Is travel insurance necessary?

We highly recommend you purchase travel insurance, which will reimburse you for non-refundable costs should you have to cancel or interrupt your trip and reimburse you for any medical expenses incurred during your trip. We offer a thorough and inexpensive plan for US citizens or residents. A similar plan is available for international students through Seven Corners. For more information, visit our Trip Insurance page.

Weather

What is the weather like?

Summer may be the best time of year in the Caribbean, with temperatures in the mid-80s, a constant breeze, and comfortable evenings. Rainy days are very unlikely. Water temperature is around 84 degrees, making it a comfortable place to swim, snorkel, scuba and waterski, without ever getting cold!

Are there hurricanes?

Hurricanes rarely approach the islands we sail and dive in. In fact, hurricanes have forced us to alter our itinerary only twice in our 37-year history. Even so, we have a comprehensive emergency plan for each program location. In the rare event of a hurricane warning, our fleets head to pre-arranged safe harbors and everyone is moved onshore to designated shelters. Once the threat has passed, we would re-board our boats and complete the program.

Exactly what precautions are taken to prepare for bad weather?

Part of basic seamanship is to monitor the weather every day. In addition to the crews on each boat, our base monitors the weather very carefully. Our staff meets daily with the program director to review the weather forecast and fleet captains are easily able to communicate with each other about changing weather conditions.

If a weather system organizes in the Atlantic, modern weather forecasting services provide plenty of advance notice of its projected path. We plan for boats to return to sheltered areas (“hurricane holes”) should the system strengthen and head our way. By knowing days in advance, we are able to move our boats and students to a safe harbor and, if warranted, move students to a designated shelter on land.

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