What is NESS?

New England Science & Sailing (NESS) is a nonprofit ocean adventure program. We engage students in experiential learning that builds confidence, teamwork, and leadership skills. With core values of inclusiveness, personal growth, experiential learning, and stewardship, we offer marine science, sailing, and adventure sports programs for children (age 4 and up) and adults in our locations in Stonington, CT, New London, CT, and Westerly, RI. As a 501(c)(3), we rely on both program revenues and donations to cover our operating costs.  Financial aid is available for eligible students. See Why NESS? for more information.

What makes classes at NESS so special?

As much as possible, NESS’s programs integrate adventure education, STEM education, environmental stewardship, and inclusiveness for a fun, powerful learning experience.  NESS is large enough to have the scale to offer a diverse range of classes, yet NESS’s low student to instructor ratio means students truly become part of the NESS family.  What could be more fun than being on (or in!) the water, learning new skills, surrounded by friends old and new, and guided by knowledgeable, dedicated staff?

Why Sail at NESS? Please see our Top 10 Reasons to Learn to Sail at NESS

What is adventure education?

In short, it’s an effective and increasingly popular combination of hands-on learning and adventurous fun.  For the academically inclined, the book Adventure Education: Theory and Applications defines adventure education as “direct, active, and engaging learning experiences that involve the whole person and have real consequences.”  Continuing, the book suggests that “adventure education can offer participants a broad spectrum of psychological, physical, and emotional outcomes that are not often readily achievable in more traditional forms of education.”

What is STEM education?

STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  NESS has been successfully integrating what we now call STEM education in its programming for years, and over the past several years we began to formalize STEM in our curricula while keeping the fun factor high.  We were delighted to be chosen by US Sailing in 2012 as one of five community sailing centers nationwide to pilot their new REACH curriculum that integrates sailing and STEM education.  Check out US Sailing’s cool REACH video, filmed at NESS in 2012 and featuring NESS students and staff.

Do I have to be a member to take classes at NESS?

No!  NESS is an open community organization and has no memberships.  Anyone is welcome to take classes at NESS.

Can students and their families benefit from NESS resources outside of class hours to enjoy the ocean?

NESS makes its fleet of kayaks, standup paddleboards and some sailboats available for use by students and their families.  Check out our charter program for more information.




How do I find out more about NESS summer programs?

This website has tons of information about our youth summer programs in Adventure Sports, Marine Science, Powerboating, and Sailing. Also check out sections on New London, Westerly, and   summer programs for adults & families.

How do I find out more about what’s expected of students and parents in the summer program?

Check out the NESS Parent Guide.

What are adventure sports?

Adventure sports at NESS include surfing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and fishing.

Does NESS offer full day programs?

Yes.  NESS offers the option to have students stay at NESS through lunch for full day programming.  While we have some specific classes that are full day, many students choose separate morning and afternoon classes that best meet their interests.  If students register for both morning and afternoon classes in a given week, they may stay at NESS for lunch at no extra charge.  Students not registered for both morning and afternoon programs who wish to stay for lunch may do so only with permission, if space is available, on a first come first served basis.  These “open” lunch slots, if any, may be filled beginning at 9 am on Monday of each week.

Do students bring their own lunch to NESS?

Yes.  NESS does not have food service capabilities.

Does NESS offer early drop off and late pick up?

Yes, but students must register for early drop off and late pick up on a weekly basis.  Early drop off starts at 8 am; classes begin at 9 am.  Late pick up runs from 4 pm, when classes end, to 5:30 pm.  There are additional fees for early drop off and late pick up.

How do I decide which class would be best for my child?

For marine science and adventure sports classes, please follow the ages set for each class.  We tailor classes for different age groups and have found over the years that these age groupings work well.  We find that older children in a given age group are often ready to take advantage of leadership opportunities within the group, which we actively encourage.  If you have questions about which class would be appropriate for your child, please contact us.

In addition to age ranges, sailing classes also have a skill and experience component, which makes class placement both important and more challenging.  If a student has taken a session-long sailing class at NESS, then we have on file our instructor’s evaluation of the student that recommends the next class.  If you have questions about which class would be appropriate for your child, please contact us.  NESS strives to place students in the classes best suited for them.  We find that children enjoy their time at NESS most when they’re having fun, are surrounded by similarly aged friends, and are being challenged to learn.

What’s the difference between week-long and session-long sailing classes?

Sailing, like many sports, is a “time invested” sport.  The more time students spend in a boat and on the water, the more they’ll learn and the more proficient they’ll become.  Sailing is easy to enjoy but can take years to master, and our session-long classes offer a logical and proven progression to enable students to develop their skills.

Our week-long recreational sailing classes serve to introduce students to sailing or to a new type of boat.  They also can work well for students visiting from out of the area for a week or two.

Our two-week and four-week sailing classes build upon the skills and concepts taught previously so students get a longer, more immersive experience.  This is where the big improvements in skill development take place and we strongly encourage the longer sessions.

What’s involved in racing classes?

Some sailors get the racing bug (not all do!) and for those children who desire to compete, racing offers great opportunities for even more fun, camaraderie, skill development, confidence building, and travel.  Sailboat racing has been likened to “chess on the water” with a fun mix of intellectual, psychological, and physical challenges to master.  It’s also one of the few sports where girls and boys can compete together on equal terms (even in college sailing is a coed sport). “Bigger & stronger” does not necessarily translate into winning on the water.  NESS classes offer opportunities for young sailors to develop their racing skills locally in fun, recreational regattas supported by experienced NESS racing coaches.  Typically a highlight of the summer, local regattas involve full day field trips to nearby sailing venues where kids meet new friends, try out and refine new skills, and have a blast at the same time.  We encourage parents to attend these events as well – they often have just as much fun as the kids!

NESS racing classes offer a progression of instruction for students from young, novice racers in Opti Green Fleet to teen racers in Advanced 420 Racing.  Please see the course descriptions for more detailed information on NESS’s racing classes.  If young sailors desire more serious racing support, NESS staff have the experience and skills to guide them to regional, national, and international competitions.

Why do NESS students sail Optimists and 420s?

The modern single-sailor Optimist prams and the doublehanded 420 dinghies that NESS provides for classes are proven platforms for youth sailing worldwide.

The Optimist, or Opti, is the world’s largest youth sailboat with over a hundred thousand boats in use.  This small boat is sized just right for young sailors taking their first steps on the water.  NESS endeavors to have each student confident enough to sail an Opti alone by the end of our beginner classes.  There’s nothing quite like being in total control of a boat – it’s quite empowering for our students – which is why we teach our younger students in one-person Optis. For our littlest sailors, we offer the colorful Opti trainer, which is sized even smaller with a RAD (reduced area design) sail.

The two-person 420 dinghy is a larger, higher performance boat, and the students who sail it must be bigger and older.  With two sails initially to control (main and jib) and with experience, growing into spinnaker and trapeze use, it offers more challenges and is a logical progression for eager students.  The Club 420 is the boat of choice for many sailing programs and there’s an active racing scene throughout the US.  The Collegiate 420 (similar to the Club 420 and without spinnaker and trapeze) makes up the fleets of many high school and college sailing programs.

New for 2015 is our fleet of Hartley 12 dinghies, which offer a suitable learning platform for older beginners and kids who are too big for Optis and not quite ready (or big enough) for the higher performance Club 420.   We also offer classes in O’Pen Bics for the more advanced sailor coming out of Optis, windsurfers for some real excitement, and keel boats for even greater diversity and fun.




How do I register my child for NESS summer programs?

You can register for NESS summer programs through the registration link on our programs pages; detailed registration instructions are also available.

Do I have to register online?

Yes.  Our office staff is available by phone to walk you through the registration process if you have any questions.

How do I submit medical forms and waivers?

All medical forms and waivers must be submitted to NESS; electronic copies can be uploaded by logging into your online account after you have completed your registration.  All medical forms and waivers must be on file at NESS for a student’s registration to be complete.  If these forms are not on file then the student cannot attend class.

Can I tell my friends which class my child is registered for?

Yes.  During registration you’ll have the opportunity to share your child’s class schedule with friends by entering their email addresses if you choose.  Our online registration system will automatically send your friends an email detailing your child’s classes.

How do I apply for a scholarship?

Confidential scholarship funding is available by application for those who qualify.  Any questions regarding our scholarship process can be directed to Jordan Slocum, Registrar. Please see our scholarship policies and guidelines, instructions on applying for a scholarship, and NESS’s scholarship application.

Can I register more than one child at one time?

Each family will have its own account in our registration system and you will have to fill out an online registration form for each child, but you will be able to register multiple children at the same time.

Does NESS offer a discount for military families?

Yes.   NESS’s military discount of 10% is available to all active duty military member families.  Evidence of military service must be provided with the hardcopy waiver and medical forms.

Will I get a confirmation of my child’s class registrations?

Yes.  The registration system will automatically email you a course confirmation once registration is complete.

Why is there a $35 annual registration fee?

The registration fee is required for each student upon registering for NESS classes.  The fee helps defray the costs of the online registration system and of managing student files and records.  Once a student pays the annual registration fee, he or she may register for as many NESS classes as desired throughout the calendar year.