The TopSail Youth Program is an education and adventure experience aboard a tall ship consisting of day sails, voyages, or both. Skills gained include team-building, problem-solving, decision-making, planning, self-reliance and leadership. The program is offered aboard our twin brigantines, the Exy Johnson and Irving Johnson, traditionally rigged 110-foot vessels, and the Official Tall Ships of the City of Los Angeles. The ships are docked at Berth 78 in San Pedro, California.
Our goal is to help youth develop the problem-solving skills and attitudes difficult to teach in the classroom, yet necessary to stay in school and become healthy, productive adults who better understand their responsibilities as involved and informed members of society. Youth are able to explore and gain an understanding of the marine environment through hands-on experiences during their time aboard our vessels. They raise and trim sails; stand lookout in the bow of a rolling ship; take the helm and steer the course they’ve set, and even climb the rigging to furl sails standing only on footropes. Youth develop leadership and team-building skills, which include personal values such as respect, patience, self-discipline, integrity, and tenacity. Our program has a rich history of fostering environmental awareness and Ocean Literacy, and inspiring young people to pursue maritime and STEM careers.
The TopSail Youth Program exposes at-risk and educationally disadvantaged youth to a world beyond their communities where they are provided with real-world challenges not available in the traditional classroom. Founded in 1992, we have served over 60,000 young people with transformational experiences at sea and changed the course for thousands of youth who were on a dropout path leading to gangs, drugs, and crime.
Los Angeles Maritime Institute is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that relies solely on individual, corporate, and foundation support to keep our educational programs afloat.
For 30 years, the TopSail Youth Program has been changing the lives of youth in Los Angeles County through a highly interactive educational program at-sea aboard the twin brigantines, SSV Irving Johnson, and SSV Exy Johnson. This 110-foot traditionally rigged tall ships were named after experiential learning pioneers who sailed around the world seven times with young crews in the ’30s and ’50s, with a short hiatus as a result of World War II. Recognizing the extraordinary value of “hands-on learning,” TopSail founder and retired science teacher Jim Gladson designed an innovative program that incorporates every aspect of operating a large sailing vessel to engage youth in a real-world classroom at sea. In addition to bringing subjects like science and math to life, the shipboard environment challenges youth to work together, improves communication skills, stimulates critical thinking, builds confidence, and provides a safe environment to address feelings of inadequacy. The experience of learning at sea is an educational adventure many young students never forget and instills a love for lifelong learning.
Our Topsail STEM program builds on our signature TopSail Youth Program and leverages the STEM framework inherent to our program. Though many aspects of sailing a tall ship fall into science categories, we focus on the ‘M’ in STEM (Mathematics) for our day sail program. We use the navigation component of our program to enhance students’ interest in mathematics. Our navigation curriculum is designed to teach students the basics of simple navigation and how to identify the symbols and data on a nautical chart. In this process, they are introduced to charts, its geometry, and many of its symbols. They use this information to determine a course. During this program, students will also focus on the aspects of mechanical advantage on board a tall ship and the skill of rigging block and tackle. It is here at sea, where students realize that mathematics can have very real and practical uses.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email us at or give us a call at 310-833-6055.
For questions regarding program scheduling, contracts and payment, please contact:
For program-related questions, please contact: