STEM Sailing Winter Program Update

The winter STEM Sailing program is nearly half completed!

Tom McDonnell has been teaching students from: Dr. Lena Edwards Charter School; The Ethical Community Charter School; Sacred Heart School; and Hudson Catholic High School in Jersey City about sailing and the science, technology, engineering and math used every day by sailors for thousands of years. The program consists of ten sessions at each of the schools. Students that successfully complete the program will have the opportunity to go sailing in New York Harbor with STEM Sailing this summer.

STEM Sailing, Inc is a 501(c)(3) non profit company providing urban kids an exciting, hands-on opportunity in applied Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Our programs provide a unique, small group learning experience, in which students from city schools learn not only how to sail but how important sailing has been to STEM development historically. There is no charge to the students or their participating schools. For more information, contact Tom McDonnell at:

Below is a short video about STEM Sailing:




  • The program will begin in January 2016.
  • Each session will be approximately one hour long.
  • Sessions will start after the school day concludes. There will be a total of 10 sessions.
  • Sessions will be held twice monthly, January through May.
  • Your school will provide a classroom/meeting room with audio/video capability.
  • Each Session will introduce STEM concepts in the context of learning the fundamentals of sailing.


Program Topics (preliminary)

Session 1-2             Introduction To Sailing

Session 3-4             Basic Sailing Skills

Session 5-6             Safety and Seamanship

Session 7-8             Basic Seamanship Skills

Session 9-10            Basic Coastal Cruising

 The winter program is designed to introduce students to science, technology, engineering and math concepts as they apply to sailboats, develop self-confidence and to prepare students to go sailing next summer.

Space and availability in the STEM Sailing Summer Program is limited. Summer program acceptance priority will be given to students who have attended the winter program and have demonstrated that they have gained sailing knowledge and skills introduced during the winter program.


Established in 2011, Dr. Lena Edwards Academic Charter School (“DLEACS”) offers Kindergarten through eighth grade education to students in Jersey City. The School’s website states that its mission is to provide students with a character based education that instills high standards for academic integrity and that they are committed to excellence. STEM SAILING is pleased to be working with the school to create a year round sailing Program for the students at DLEACS.


The STEM/DLEACS program began, modestly, this August, with two students scheduled for a sail in New York Harbor on STEM’s Ensign. Unfortunately one of the students had to cancel. Undaunted, volunteer deckhand Ed Davis, helmsman Tom McDonnell and DLEACS eighth grader Isiah pushed off the dock to explore New York Harbor on a beautiful afternoon.

Before leaving the dock, there was a discussion of boat safety essentials. During the sail, Isiah had a chance to steer the boat, learn some nautical terms and experience New York City and his hometown, Jersey City, from an entirely new perspective; the waterside.


Visual highlights included: getting up-close and personal with the Statute of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Fort at Governors Island, and the Manhattan skyline!

Helmsman McDonnell talked about New York/New Jersey Harbor’s long history. Mate Ed Davis demonstrated sail and line handling techniques. Both offered examples of how sailboats and sailing are Science, Technology, Engineering and Math working in the real world.

On the way back into Liberty Landing Marina, while looking at his Father waving enthusiastically from the dock, Isiah said that he definitely wants to get back out on the water and learn more about sailing.


We look forward to having Isiah, and many of his schoolmates, on the water with STEM SAILING again soon.

STEM SAILING has several programs designed to give, primarily urban, girls and boys a fun, exciting, hands-on opportunity in applied Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at no cost to the participants. The programs offer a unique learning experience, in small groups. Programs can be custom designed for your school or youth group.

Please contact Captain Tom McDonnell @ for additional information.

4 Reasons Why New York Harbor is a Great Place for STEM Sailing

STEM SAILING ENSIGN                                                                      photo by T. McDonnell

New York Harbor is one of the finest natural harbors in the world. The Harbor is S.T.E.M. Sailing’s home and it provides a spectacular and unique setting for us. Here are four reasons why we think it is so great for us.

1) Sailing in a boat, is the best way to see New York City’s awesome and amazing structures and buildings. When we sail, we see the Liberty Tower, the Battery, the Brooklyn Bridge, Governors Island, the Holland and Brooklyn/Battery tunnels air shafts and the Manhattan bridge; all at the same time. If we want more, we look over our shoulder and we see: the Statute of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Verrazano Bridge!

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

2) New York Harbor is the only place in the World where we can sail so close to the Statue of Liberty that we may have to move further away so that photo seekers can get all of Lady Liberty into the picture!

3) New York is not a place for those that lack confidence; neither is New York Harbor. And that’s what makes sailing in one of the world’s busiest harbors is always exciting. and the views are always stunning. Safe sailing requires skill and constant awareness of the other vessels moving in the harbor and the water and wind conditions. STEM’s Director and helmsman, Tom McDonnell has worked and played, in and around New York Harbor throughout his entire life. Captain McDonnell earned a 50 Ton Master (with sailing and towing endorsements) Certificate/License from the U.S. Coast Guard. The American Sailing Association has certified him as a Sailing Instructor. His knowledge and experience make him very well prepared to navigate New York Harbor’s many challenges and he is ready to teach young people about the STEM-Sailing connection, how to sail and have some fun while learning.

4) Governors Island, the unique, fortified Island, just southeast of Manhattan,  has played an important and fascinating role in U.S. military history. In 1794, a fort (Fort Jay) was constructed as part of the USA’s first coastal defense system. A second fort was completed in 1811 (Castle Williams), just in time to deter the British from invading New York from the sea during the war of 1812. The Island served, for nearly 200 hundred years, as an important headquarters for the U.S. Army and the U.S. Coast Guard until 1996. Today, the Island is a park open to the public seasonally. Part of Governors Island is maintained by the National Park service and part by the New York City and the State of New York.

Of course the Harbor views are incredible, but the views are just the icing on the cake for STEM Sailing. The cake, the main event for us, is the opportunity to see and discuss how these buildings, bridges and tunnels, so critical to New York’s emergence as one of the World’s great cities, only became possible because of advances in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Sailing principles and practices are at the root of many of the advances enabling the construction of these colossal endeavors.

S.T.E.M. Sailing believes that providing 7th through 11th grade students with the opportunity to get out in New York Harbor, in a sail boat, will stimulate the students to view STEM education and STEM careers in a way that will “broaden their horizons” and benefit our society as a whole.

If you are an educator, or youth program official, and you are interested in STEM education and development: S.T.E.M. Sailing would like to speak to you about our FREE, Jersey City based program. For more information, please email our Program Director:


Five Mistakes Guests Make When Sailing For The First Time

Stepping Stones Lighthouse
Stepping Stones Lighthouse

1. Arriving Late

Sailing is time sensitive: Tides (impact the depth, plus, the speed and directional flow, of the water) and the wind (its direction and strength) can change significantly in a short time. These changes can make sailing the desired course impossible, or even dangerous. So, arrive on time.

2. Wearing the Wrong Shoes

Two issues:
1) Owners take pride in their boats and keep the deck clean and shiny. Wearing shoes that may scratch, or scuff, the deck is bad style and inconsiderate. Wear shoes with light colored, non-scuffing bottoms, like boat shoes, closed sandals or sneakers. Wipe the bottoms before stepping onboard so no dirt or pebbles (both will damage the deck) come with you!
2) Sailboats have lots of hard, pointy surfaces: trip hazards waiting to smash into your feet. Many sailors like to sail barefoot (I do). All barefoot sailors have cuts, bruises and pain as a result. High heels and open sandals look great, but lead to tripping, injuries and pain on sailboats.

3. Not Properly Protecting The Skin

Sailboats provide limited protection from the sun and wind. The water reflects sunrays onto the boat. The breeze created by the boat’s movement can reduce awareness of the sun’s intensity because the wind may make us feel cool. But the damaging rays are still there. Sunburn is going to happen if we are not prepared. Sunscreen, a hat, light colored clothing and sunglasses are very important. On breezy, cloudy days, or in the evening, it can get cool on the water, so having a windbreaker, a light sweater or sweatshirt, just in case, is always a good idea (especially early or late in the season).

4. Worrying About The Boat Heeling

Sailboats are designed to heel (tip over to one side) while moving through the water. This is a good thing. It allows the boat to sail faster and safer. Like all good things, heeling has its limits. Boat designers build features into sailboats that, under most conditions, make it impossible to heel so much that the boat and passengers are in danger. Experienced sailors understand the forces impacting the boat’s stability and how to safely manage the boat in a variety of conditions. So, relax and enjoy the day.

5. Being Impatient

Sailing is unique because control of time and space is given over to the wind. If the wind disappears (and sometimes it will): relax, take in the scenery, eat lunch and have a real conversation with your boat-mates. In the end, you can always motor back to the dock.



STEM Sailing Summer 2015



Beginnings are always exciting. This summer STEM SAILING began our effort to “Broaden the Horizons” of young people through our sailing programming.

This is our inaugural Program offering:

STEM SAILING seeks to give, primarily urban, girls and boys an exciting, hands-on opportunity in applied Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at no cost to the participants. In two fun programs, STEM offers a unique learning experience, in small groups, to 7th to 11th grade students. The students learn how important sailboats have been to STEM development over many centuries.

In the half-day (4-5 hours) STEM SAILING INTRO program, the participating students will:

  • Learn how the need for faster, safer and larger boats was a primary goal of STEM research, development and applied science for thousands of years.
  • During a NY Harbor sail (on a Sail America “Sailing Hall of Fame” honored Pearson Ensign sailboat), students experience how STEM research is applied in the real world.
  • The students have the opportunity to work the sails and to steer the boat.
  • In addition to enjoying the fun of sailing and the incredible views of NY Harbor, students learn how various STEM principles come into play while sailing boats.
  • While under way, the history of NY Harbor, and environmental issues like: water quality, flora/fauna habitats, waste management and flood management are discussed.
  • The program concludes, back at the dock, with a discussion reflecting on and weaving together the experiences of the day.

After completing STEM SAILING INTRO, students may apply to participate in the twenty-hour (five day) Lean To Sail Program (also at no cost to the participants).

  • The Learn To Sail Program is designed to provide a high quality maritime experience connecting participants to safe, exciting, life enhancing boating activities.
  • Off-water program elements include sessions focused on the “Rules of the Road”, safe boating skills, sailboat handling concepts, basic navigation and marlinspike skills.
  • The program also offers: a historical perspective on boats and waterways and encourages discussion about protecting and improving our water resources.

Knowledge, and experience, is shared in a way that is fun, challenging and broadens the student’s “horizon”. Program elements develop self-confidence, self-assuredness and self-discipline. The ultimate goal is to provide a platform that empowers young people and helps them develop traits that will enable them to become successful adults.