Why are navies using sail ships for training?

A question I recently asked about the Trafalgar celebration reminded me of a question I often wondered about.

A number of navies use sail ships as school/training ships. For instance, the french navy, besides a number of modern ships used mainly or solely for training sailors, also has three school ships (I understand only for training officers, but I’m not sure). And it’s not the only one.

I just don’t understand the point. Army officers aren’t trained in the use of flint pistols or horse-riding. So, why on earth would a navy use sail ships for training?

WAG, it’s a teamwork exercise. Also many of the skills learned (ropes wise) may go to good use out “in the fleet.”


Shouldn’t a sailor know how to sail? Even with modern GPS technology they still learn how to navigate with an astrolabe.

The trainees develop skills like obedience, self-discipline, and teamwork.

But the Army does conduct marching and drilling, which is equally archaic but serves the same purpose.

You may find some answers from looking at our own premier sail-training ship: Coast Guard Cutter Eagle.


The OP is a valid question. Even some in the Coast Guard question the need to maintain and sail the Eagle, especially when budget issues arise. The Eagle may be fuel efficient, but everything else on her is damned expensive.

As mentioned by butler180, it’s the ultimate “learning the ropes” team-building exercise. If the guy I spoke with on the Spanish training ship Elcano is to be believed, that crew often does no-lifeline drills up in the rigging (as in, let go and you splat 40 feet down onto the deck or 50 feet into the drink), which I’m sure really focuses their attention.

Like Little Nemo mentions, land forces still do rank-and-file formation close-order drill, which are the tactics of the age of pikemen and musketeers, so that they may develop the mentality to function as a unit.

Not only that but it the sailing school-ship also gives the midshipmen valuable experience doing physical grunt-work AND getting a “feel for the sea”, being able to asess conditions w/o constantly looking at the computer and, this is quite important, developing a sense of respect for what the elements can do. Mostly officer candidates get this training because they will be the ones responsible for steaming theiir crew into a bad situation. On a sailboat, getting out of trouble is even harder than on a powerboat, you can’t even shout “Full Reverse!” and hope it works before you hit the rock.

Besides, sailing into a port-of-call on a Tall Ship rather than some squat grey retired minesweeper probably means half your local-babe-pickup work is done before you lower the gangplank :smiley:

In the USA, the academy that uses a Tall Ship is the Coast Guard’s, not the Navy’s. And I see where it makes a lot of sense since they will have to deal a lot with interventions (rescues, seizures, inspections) on sail vessels, AND be called on to go out in foul weather.

I think you mean a sextant. But yeah, someone should be able to get the boat safely into the harbor if the computer bluescreens.

Now we know the real]reason!

Duh! They’re preparing for the Waterworld scenario!


I think it would be a little embarrassing for the Navy if one of their destroyer captains, docked in a foreign port, was invited aboard a local dignitary’s sailboat and had no freaking clue what was going on.

'Cause sailors look so cute in their “traditional” dress. :stuck_out_tongue: :stuck_out_tongue: :stuck_out_tongue:


I’ve heard a rumor that we are running out of oil, so knowing how to sail could give one side an advantage.

Isn’t most of the navy nuclear these days?

Besides which, you just don’t get a “feel” for the sea on a ship under power like you do on one under sail.

Well, what passes for “capital ships” today, the full-size aircraft carriers, fast attack subs and ballistic-missile subs of the USN, RN and French Navy(*) are all-or-mostly nuke. But the cruisers, destroyers, cutters, gunboats, hospital ships, freighters, amphibious assault ships, etc. are still combustion-powered, and never mind the airplanes. We retired all our nuke-powered cruisers, including a whole relatively new class, when we brought in the Aegis. But yes, for the big naval powers, a “no oil” scenario just means going all-nuke, switching to high-tech sail won’t cut it for a major-power military.

(*Russian Navy ommitted since the Soviet Navy was heading there but nowadays who knows what actually works in that fleet)

They’re lucky it was NT and not 98 or they’d still be stuck.