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Gap Year at Sea

Gap Year: Pacific Odyssey

Engage in adventure with a purpose during your gap year... Immerse yourself in an experiential learning odyssey on shore in southern California and at sea aboard a sailing research vessel. Develop lifelong leadership and teamwork skills while voyaging on an extended ocean passage in the near-coastal ecosystems off California and further offshore in the Northern Pacific. Join a network of 10,000+ SEA alumni who consistently stand out from the crowd on college, internship, and job applications.

Spring 2021 | North Pacific Ocean

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.


This program offers 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: San Diego, CA » San Diego, CA
No anticipated port stops.


April 19 to June 14, 2021

April 19 – May 5: On shore in southern California
May 5 – June 14: At Sea

Program Cost: $16,000
Need-based aid available

Program Highlights

  • Take your learning out of the classroom and into the field
  • Build self-confidence and self-reliance that will prepare you for success in college and beyond
  • Develop lifelong skills in leadership, teamwork, communication, and critical thinking
  • Conduct environmental research on offshore California ecosystems while gathering real-time data that contributes to a global understanding of our oceans
  • Learn about marine conservation efforts and climate resilience initiatives of coastal communities along the US west coast

Who Should Apply?

This program is designed for students who are taking a gap year between high school and college or gap term from college who are looking for an in-person experience in spring 2021 and are not seeking academic credit for their participation.

Program Description

Uniquely Tailored to Gap Year Students
Gap Year ValuePacific Odyssey is a program specifically tailored to gap year 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 study coastal California and open-ocean Pacific 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 develop understanding of and appreciation for the ocean through hands-on research and personal experience. Students will critically examine the most pressing global questions related to the ocean environment from an interdisciplinary perspective and assess the resiliency of marine ecosystems and coastal communities to human impacts on the environment. 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
Pacific Odyssey begins with a 16-day pre-boarding quarantine at an educational science camp in beautiful southern California. While the primary objective of this time is to establish a COVID-free cohort who will join the SSV Robert C. Seamans students will also develop and practice scientific survey skills in local environments, and learn about ocean conservancy efforts off the U.S. west coast and in international Pacific waters. 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. Complementary maritime studies activities will provide a wider historical and social perspective on the impact of humans on the world’s oceans, and on our society’s relationship with the sea. Finally, time, materials, and instruction for observational and reflective journaling will be included during the quarantine.

Life & Leadership at Sea
Gap Year at SeaFollowing the shore component, the personal journey continues aboard the Sailing School Vessel (SSV) Robert C. Seamans for an extended 41-day voyage out of San Diego, CA. This journey traverses the western seaboard of the United States off California, exploring marine biology, chemical and physical oceanographic processes, and marine plastic debris in the near-coastal environments of California and further offshore within the Northern Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Student will study the California Current System, upwelling along the continental margin, and processes within submarine canyons that provide deep-water access relatively close to shore. 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 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

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How to Apply

  1. Complete an application form
    Apply online.
  2. Submit two writing samples (500-750 words each)
    List your full name on each. Use the red button below to upload or submit via email to or fax to 857-386-7986.
    1. Two-part essay (500-750 words): Why have you chosen to apply to a gap year program and what do you expect to gain from your experience? How will this program complement your future educational goals? Be sure to address all questions.
    2.  Academic writing sample of your own choosing (2-4 page excerpt, if longer than 4 pages). This should be a reflection of your best written work from a recent class, and on a topic applicable to the gap year program you are applying for. Please include your name and the context of the sample (class title and brief description of the assignment).

    Upload Essay and Writing Sample

  3. Request and submit transcript
    A complete high school transcript is required for all applicants. Transcripts may be submitted directly from your school via email to; via fax to 857-386-7986; or via mail to:
    SEA Office of Admissions
    P.O. Box 6
    Woods Hole, MA 02543
  4. Submit two (2) references
    One should be from a teacher who has taught you within the past year. The other can be from a teacher, coach, guidance counselor, etc. Download the PDF reference form.
  5. Schedule an interview with your Admissions Counselor
    Email to schedule your interview.
    Interviews may be conducted over the phone or via Skype. Topics of conversation may include life at your school, academic and extracurricular interests, why you’re taking a gap year, your expectations for life aboard our tall ship, and how you learned about our program. The interview is also a great opportunity for you to ask questions about us!

Apply for a Passport: Please note that all gap year students must have a valid passport - NOT a Passport Card - before joining the program.

Apply for Financial Aid: If you plan to apply for need-based financial aid, click here to learn about the requirements for gap year students.