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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!

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

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Ocean Exploration

Spring 2022 | North Atlantic >> Caribbean

Voyage Map

Click map to enlarge.

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.

What?

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.

Where?

Cruise Track: St. Croix, USVI » Key West, FL
Destinations: No planned port stops at this time.
Port stops subject to change.

When?

January 3, 2022 - March 25, - 2022

January 3, 2022 to February 14, 2022 – Shore component in Woods Hole.  Please note that Covid uncertainties may necessitate a partial remote shore component before boarding the ship in St. Croix.

February 15, 2022 to March 25,2022 – At sea, St. Croix to Key West. No planned portstops at this time but this will be evaluated based on current CDC guidance for Covid travel.

Program Description

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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 St. Croix to Key West.  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 from the North Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean. Perhaps most importantly, students will learn to challenge themselves and will develop new skills in leadership, teamwork, and research.

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 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

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.

Your Choice of Research Courses:

Directed Oceanographic Research (300-level, 4 credits)
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Three lab science courses (one at the 300-level or higher) or consent of instructor.
Design and conduct original oceanographic research. Collect data and analyze samples. Compile results in peer-reviewed manuscript format and share during oral or poster presentation session. Emphasis on development of research skills and written/oral communication abilities.

-- OR --

Practical Oceanographic Research (200-level, 4 credits)
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.

Syllabi