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Study at Sea

Gap Year Programs at SEA

SEA is based in the world-renowned oceanographic research village of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Since 1971, we have educated more than 10,000 students about the global oceans through preparatory studies on shore followed by a tall ship sailing research voyage at sea.

Modeled after our Boston University accredited SEA Semester undergraduate program, SEA gap programs offer any student interested in the oceans the opportunity to study the marine environment through the disciplines of science, maritime history & culture, policy, and leadership.

Choose between an academic, credit-bearing program or an experiential not-for-credit program - either way, no sailing experience is required!

SEA Fall Program Planning: COVID-19 

An Investment in the Future

At SEA, we understand that taking a gap year is a major investment. But we also know that a gap year is more than just a “break.” It's the beginning of a lifelong journey.

So, what sets SEA apart?

  • Our unique shore-to-sea model promotes learning by doing: a powerful element of our approach to education. Students take what they learn during a preparatory shore component in Woods Hole and then apply it in the field as a crewmember at sea.
  • Our shipboard environment fosters learning communities that allow students to develop teamwork, decision-making, and problem-solving skills while assuming increasing levels of responsibility.
  • Unlike many other programs that take students to sea, our ships are U.S. flagged, inspected, and regulated vessels, and have been designed and built specifically for SEA with student and crew safety foremost in mind. Learn more about our safety philosophy.
  • 98% of our alumni report that SEA resulted in personal development, and 92% cite SEA as generating useful career skills.

Developing Skills for Success

Looking for an adventure at sea without the pressure of grades? Atlantic Odyssey is a 9-week gap year program specifically tailored to students who are looking for an experiential, non-credit bearing learning opportunity. Students will join an active learning community where they'll develop leadership and teamwork skills while gaining a deeper understanding of what conducting science at sea is all about! 

A Gap Year without the Gap

  Accepted to college as a winter admit and want transferable credit? Or looking to strengthen a college application for next year? Ocean Exploration is a 12-week gap year program that offers a full semester of credit from our school of record, Boston University. This interdisciplinary program combines insights from the natural and social sciences to deepen students’ awareness of and appreciation for the ocean. Students will take their learning out of the classroom and into the field while developing new skills in leadership, teamwork, and research. 

Where will you go with SEA?

Gap year programs are limited in capacity with a maximum of 24 or 25 student spots per class, and admissions operate on a rolling basis. Challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and onboard our ship - you'll never look at the world in the same way again.

Start an application now

Climate & Society

Spring 2021 | Gulf of Mexico

Voyage Map

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Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions

Sea Education Association (SEA) continues to monitor advice from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, helping to guide our thinking during the COVID-19 pandemic. Detailed mitigation plans are developed for each program individually. Read a sample plan.


A humanities and social sciences semester at sea program that takes a human-centered approach to solving the challenges present by global climate change.


Cruise Track: Key West, FL » Key West, FL
Destinations: Key West › Everglades National Park › New Orleans/Grand Isle › Galveston Island › Dry Tortugas National Park › Key West
Port stops subject to change


January 4 - March 25, 2021

Jan. 4 - Feb. 11: On shore in Woods Hole
Feb. 16 - March 25: At sea

Program Description

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Skills Gained

  • Leadership through shipboard and group project work
  • Ability to effectively communicate to stakeholders, fellow researchers, and the public
  • Partnership-building to develop & improve initiatives such as community resilience and outreach

Finding solutions to the problems brought about by climate change requires going beyond scientific data. We must also consider the possibilities found within social and political institutions, economic systems, cultural practices, and the creative forces of art, literature, and design. The humanities and social sciences contribute to knowledge of how our changing climate impacts human lives and societies, and they play a vital role in building strategies for global climate resilience and adaptation.

This SEA Semester includes a shore component in Woods Hole and a sailing research voyage roundtrip from Key West, FL. In Woods Hole, you'll develop your semester-long research project, review essential climate humanities literature, and design a plan for original field research. You’ll meet with experts to discuss a range of climate-related issues such as public health, coastal and urban resilience, environmental justice, clean energy, displaced communities, and national security. Dynamic interactive courses in oceanography, communication, and leadership will prepare you for the sailing phase of the program.

After six weeks in Woods Hole, you'll board the SSV Corwith Cramer in Key West for six weeks of sailing. Along the journey you will explore the effects of climate change on coastal cities and towns, estuarine areas, wetlands, nesting grounds and mangrove forests, and coral reefs. The program will trace major environmental events in the Gulf including the Deepwater Horizon spill and Hurricane Katrina, examining topics such as climate justice, energy production, coastal adaptation and restoration, and fisheries management in a changing climate. Along the way, you will get a first-hand look at a changing ocean from the deck and lab of the Cramer as you head out across coastal and open ocean environments, including Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, the first-known manta ray nursery. At sea, you’ll work with fellow students and the shipboard science team to examine the changes to our oceans brought about by shifting climatic conditions, and develop strategies for connecting scientific data to observable climate impacts on human societies. Through daily oceanographic surveys, “classroom” discussions, and navigational training while at sea, you'll gain a unique and valuable perspective of climate change that links oceanic and terrestrial systems.

The semester concludes aboard our ship at Key West with a student showcase of your original field research and digital storytelling projects.

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

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Academic Credit

SEA Semester: Climate & Society carries 18 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.

Course Descriptions

Climate, Society and the Humanities (300-level, 4 credits)

Survey of climate literature across humanities and social science disciplines. Explores interpretive and comparative approaches to understanding human-climate interactions in maritime contexts and identifies collaborative potential with the natural sciences. Requires interdisciplinary research, field journal writing, and team projects.

Environmental Communication (300-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Junior standing or consent of instructor.
Seminar focusing on communication skills development for environmental scholars. Introduces the field of environmental communication, examines environmental attitudes and behaviors, and develops a toolkit of communications strategies. Includes projects in data visualization, multi-media presentation and digital storytelling.

Leadership in a Dynamic Environment (300-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Be an effective leader while leveraging the individual strengths of a team. Use leadership theory and case studies to understand how decisions affect outcomes. Participate as an active member of a ship’s crew, progressively assuming full leadership roles.

The Ocean & Global Change (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Ocean ecosystem change in the anthropocene: warming, acidification, fisheries depletion, and pollution. Review principles of circulation, seawater chemistry, nutrient dynamics, and biological production to understand causes and consequences of change. Conduct field measurements for contribution to time-series datasets.

Your Choice of Research Course Options:

Advanced Research Topics (400-level, 4 credits)
Advanced humanities and social science seminar focusing on contemporary climate-related issues including urban/coastal resilience, poverty and justice, clean energy, human displacement, and national security. Emphasizes case study analysis and research methods. Requires field data collection, research paper and symposium presentation.

-- OR --

Directed Research Topics (300-level, 4 credits)
Seminar exploring humanities and social sciences approaches to understanding and resolving contemporary climate-related issues. Development of research and writing skills through analyses of case studies and guided seminar exercises. Requires field data collection, research paper and presentation of results.


Atlantic Odyssey

Fall 2021 | North Atlantic » Caribbean

Voyage Map

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Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions


This gap year program offers gap and winter start students a deeper understanding of the complex marine environment through field-based research, a sailing adventure aboard a tall ship, and innumerable opportunities for skill-building, leadership development, and personal growth both on shore and at sea.


Cruise Track: Woods Hole, MA » St. Croix, USVI
Destinations: Woods Hole › Dominica › St. John › St. Croix
Port stops subject to change.


Sept. 20 - Nov. 17, 2021

Sept. 20 - Oct. 9: On shore in Woods Hole
Oct. 9 - Nov. 17: At Sea

Program Description

Uniquely Tailored to Gap Year & Winter Start Students
Gap Year ValueAtlantic Odyssey is a program specifically tailored to gap year/winter start students who are looking for an experiential, non-credit bearing learning opportunity. This gap year program explores the conservation and sustainable management of marine environments, and introduces students to the coastal and island communities that depend upon these natural resources.

Students will join an active learning community where they'll develop leadership and teamwork skills while gaining a deeper understanding of what conducting science at sea is all about! They'll explore three climate zones and study numerous ecosystems while participating in cutting edge research, contributing to active citizen science efforts, and lending a hand in multiple service learning projects.

Program Mission
Our mission is to assess the resiliency of coastal communities and ecosystems as they come face-to-face with the impacts of climate change. The program offers opportunities for comparative analyses of coastal and near-shore ecosystems as well as an introduction to and assessment of ocean environmental health.

Life & Community on Shore
Atlantic Odyssey begins on the temperate shores of beautiful Cape Cod, Massachusetts with a 3-week shore component. Students will develop scientific survey skills in local salt marshes, beaches, and harbors in partnership with local research and conservation groups. Working with additional SEA partners from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the New England Aquarium, and Mystic Seaport Museum, students will learn about climate policy and adaptation measures adopted throughout the Southern New England region. When not actively engaged in field experiences, students will receive practical instruction in basic navigation techniques and ship management skills to prepare for their time at sea. In preparation for coral reef survey work in the Caribbean, students will also learn proper snorkeling and reef surveying techniques. Finally, time, materials, and instruction for observational and reflective journaling will be included.

Life & Leadership at Sea
Gap Year at SeaFollowing the shore component, the personal journey continues on board the Sailing School Vessel (SSV) Corwith Cramer for a 40-day voyage from Woods Hole to the Caribbean. This journey traverses the remotest region of the North Atlantic gyre, the Sargasso Sea: home to drifting communities of golden algae and more recently, marine plastic debris. Once on board, students become working members of the crew - one of the hallmarks of all SEA programs. Commitment to the successful functioning of a team, in a supporting role or as a leader, is an essential element of the sea component as students learn the operations of the vessel on deck — steering by compass and by the stars, setting and striking sails, plotting the ship’s position using modern technology and traditional celestial navigation tools — and in the lab — deploying nets to catch marine plants and animals, sending sensing equipment hundreds of meters below the surface, listening to the underwater soundscape to observe dolphin and whale behavior, and otherwise contributing to ongoing research projects focused on human impacts on marine ecosystems.

Life at Sea

While the shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA Semester – providing important preparation for a successful ocean voyage – not surprisingly, students look forward to the day they ship out.

As your time in Woods Hole comes to an end, you’ll feel a mix of excitement and perhaps some trepidation as well. You and your shipmates may ask, “Can we really do this?” Because of the intentional design of all SEA Semester programs, you can be confident that the answer is, “Yes!”

The sea component of SEA Semester immediately immerses you in applying practically what you have just learned in the classroom on shore. As you set sail, you take on three roles: student, crewmember, and researcher. Life at sea is full as you take ocean measurements and samples; participate in classes; stand a watch as part of an around-the-clock schedule, on deck and in lab; and assist with navigation, engineering, meal preparation, and cleaning. Depending on the voyage, you may also make port calls – an opportunity to break from the rhythm of life at sea and to visit a foreign destination, not as a tourist, but as a working sailor and researcher.

Privacy and sleep are both limited aboard ship, yet there is always time for personal reflection. Teamwork takes precedence as you assume increasing levels of responsibility for the well-being of your shipmates and the ship itself. “Ship, shipmate, self” will be your new mantra, representing a shift in priorities for all on board. A phased leadership approach over the course of your time at sea will allow you to gradually assume the majority of shipboard responsibilities under the watchful eye of the professional crew. Near the end of every program, each student will lead a complete watch cycle as part of a rewarding final capstone experience.

When you step off one of our ships, you’ll take away academic credits, self-confidence, lifelong friends, a toolbox of skills and knowledge, and a sense of direction that will serve you far beyond your voyage.

"Life at sea is concentrated: every moment holds more substance, texture, and complexity than I am ever aware of on land. Tapping in to the rhythms of a ship, you slip like a cog into a well-oiled machine: each part has purpose, and together things run smoothly. This environment is one where actions have meaning, repercussions are real, and each moment teaches the meaning and value of hard work done well. At sea I learn that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for.” SARAH WHITCHER, Clark University, Biology Major

Ocean Exploration

Fall 2021 | Woods Hole >> Caribbean

Voyage Map

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Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions


This interdisciplinary study abroad program combines insights from the natural and social sciences in order to deepen students’ awareness of and appreciation for the ocean.


Cruise Track: Woods Hole, MA » St. Croix, USVI
Destinations: Woods Hole › Dominica › St. John, USVI › St. Croix, USVI
Port stops subject to change.


August 30 – November 17, 2021

August 30 – Oct. 9: On shore in Woods Hole
Oct. 9 – Nov. 17: At sea

Program Description

Photo of SEA Semester

Understanding the oceans is an essential component of appreciating how the world works and how we relate to it as human beings. The sea is so complex that it is impossible to comprehend from the perspective of a single academic discipline. With that in mind, this interdisciplinary program combines insights from oceanography, the humanities, and the social sciences with practical skills in seamanship, allowing students to deepen their awareness of and appreciation for the ocean through hands-on research and personal experience. In this semester, students will address and answer some of the most pressing global questions related to the ocean environment.

During an initial 6-week shore component in Woods Hole, academic coursework will prepare students for their research voyage from Woods Hole to the Caribbean. With full access to SEA faculty, guest lecturers, and the world-renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/Marine Biological Laboratory Library, students will design original research projects to be completed at sea. Maritime Studies coursework will complement this research by offering a wider historical and social perspective on the impact of humans on the world’s oceans, and on the experience of going to sea. Finally, Nautical Science coursework will introduce practical seamanship skills and the theoretical background necessary to for students safely operate a tall ship at sea.

As full, working members of the scientific team and sailing crew aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, students will then spend the next six weeks at sea managing shipboard operations, navigating by the stars, analyzing oceanographic samples, while making a blue-ocean passage in the North Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps most importantly, students will learn to challenge themselves and will develop new skills in leadership, teamwork, and research.

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

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Academic Credit

SEA Semester: Ocean Exploration carries 17 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.

Courses Descriptions

Maritime Studies (200-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Relationship between humans and the sea. History, literature and art of our maritime heritage. Ships as agents of contact change. Political and economic challenges of contemporary marine affairs. Destination-specific focus.

Nautical Science (200-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Learn the fundamentals of sailing ship operation, in preparation for direct application at sea. Navigation (piloting, celestial and electronic), weather, engineering systems, safety, and sail theory. Participate as an active member of the ship’s crew on an offshore voyage.

Oceanographic Field Methods (200-level, 4 credits)

(Previously titled Practical Oceanography I)
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Exposure to basic oceanographic sampling methods. Participate in shipboard laboratory operations to gain experience with deployment of modern oceanographic equipment and collection of scientific data at sea. Emphasis on practicing consistent methods and ensuring data fidelity.

Oceanography (200-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Explore how interconnected ocean characteristics (bathymetry, seawater chemistry, biological diversity) and processes (plate tectonics, surface and deep-water circulation, biological production) shape global patterns across multiple scales. Discuss destination-specific environmental issues and hot topics in marine research.

Practical Oceanographic Research (200-level, 4 credits)

(Previously titled Practical Oceanography II)
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Introduction to oceanographic research. Design a collaborative, hypothesis-driven project following the scientific process. Collect original data. Conduct analysis and interpretation, then prepare a written report and oral presentation.