Homeschooling Hits the High Seas: How Parents Are Educating Their Kids Aboard Yachts

In 2021, Mischa and Linda van der Vliet spent a year on their 80-foot sailing catamaran, Kokomo, with their three children. During that extended adventure exploring the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, the kids—then ages 9, 11 and 12—were homeschooled for 20 hours each week. “We took it seriously because we didn’t want them to fall behind,” says Mischa, who adds that the kids “soon adapted to the routine.” 

The van der Vliets are part of an increasing number of families going on extended sabbaticals while also taking advantage of the numerous educational programs available. “Tutoring at sea has become much more common since people are spending more time on their yachts,” says Angus Gibson, of Carfax Education. The London firm recently partnered with broker Burgess Yachts to answer that growing demand. 

When Judy and Mike Ryan set sail with their three daughters on the 128-foot Tenaz, they opted to bring not just one teacher but two, both provided by Tutors International. “If we needed family time alone, they were more self-sufficient as a pair,” Judy says. During the family’s yearlong world tour, the onboard instructors were tasked with preparing the children for their British school-entrance exams. 

“Having structure was essential for a framework, but it came with the proviso that we needed to be flexible at a moment’s notice,” says John Gardener, one of the educators who accompanied the family on its trip. “Many times, in the middle of lessons, one of the crew would spot dolphins off the bow and pencils went flying as we dashed up to see them,” he says. “Or Mike might come down yelling, ‘Diving in 10 minutes.’ ” 

The freewheeling but rigorous educational approach included visiting the burial chamber of a collapsed pyramid, learning about lava flows at the edge of a caldera, dissecting the eyeballs of a freshly caught mahi-mahi and performing a self-written Greek play in Corfu. Such multicultural and multidisciplinary adventures were also valuable for practicing foreign languages and calculating currency conversions. 

For some parents, handling the homeschooling route themselves made more sense than hiring a tutor. “We just felt it was unnecessary,” says Kate Eccles, who, with her husband and two daughters—then ages 10 and 12—sailed the 65-foot Man of War in the 16-month Oyster World Rally 2022. “We were confident the rally would offer the girls an education in itself, which we then supplemented with more traditional learning.” The family went old-school with textbooks and, like the Ryans, balanced conventional methods with experiential learning, from discerning weather patterns and making potable water to provisioning and prepping meals. “I constantly felt the weight of responsibility for their education,” Eccles says, “but the rally offered incredible life experiences, and I’m sure their love for the ocean will stay with them forever.” 

It’s a sentiment shared by Judy Ryan. “The year aboard Tenaz is a benchmark in our lives,” she says. “All three flourished in a one-on-one tutoring environment. My eldest is now in law school, and my middle one is finishing a master’s degree in nursing, having started in marine sciences.” And the youngest? “She is halfway through a marine biology program in Hawaii.”

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