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In 1956, the first race of the sail training Tall Ships took place and we’re celebrating our diamond anniversary this year.

The race took place from Torbay, UK to Lisbon, Portugal, and it was organised by the Sail Training International Race Committee (STRC).

It was supposed to be a celebration of the world’s remaining magnificent Class A Tall Ships – everyone thought they were close to retirement. But things didn’t quite go as everyone expected… in the best way possible.

The event was so incredibly popular that STRC decided to make it biennial. They wanted to encourage friendly rivalry amongst seafaring young people, while giving them the opportunity to develop themselves through sail training.

During these early days, the UK’s Duke of Edinburgh became a Patron. As a result, a new association was born: the Sail Training Association (STA). STA organised a number of successful races – with as many as six square-riggers and up to 27 smaller vessels entering.

The modern Sail Training International (STI) was formed in early 2002, and we were granted charitable status the following year. The original team was made up from the directors and members of the International Committee of the International Sail Training Association (ISTA).

Previously, the original STRC had become ISTA – it had continued to organise the Tall Ships Races in Europe since its beginnings in 1956. In late 2002, we acquired ISTA’s assets, including its fantastic people and exciting host port contracts.

  • 1956 – The first Tall Ships race took place.
  • 1964 – The division of the fleet into Class A and B was introduced.
  • 1967 – STA successfully organised a series of popular races with an international fleet. It also provided sail training for 78 young people every fortnight, from March-November.
  • 1968 – The “Rule of Rating” was introduced to give every competing vessel an equal chance.
  • 1972 – The “crew interchange” idea was introduced. Essentially, this involves changing around several crews to mix nationalities from different sized vessels.
  • 1972 – Cutty Sark Scots Whisky started sponsoring the Races.
  • 1972 – The American Sail Training Association (ASTA) was created.
  • 1973 – The Races grow internationally, with the USSR entering its first vessels.
  • 1976 – More elaborate Races begin. This year, it started in Plymouth, UK and finished in New York, with races to the Canaries and Bermuda.
  • 1978 – The ASTA affiliated itself with STA, inspired by its ethos. It began organising annual races in North and South American waters.
  • 1980 – VHF radios were introduced as a compulsory piece of equipment. This improved safety and allowed the organising race team to keep in contact with competitors. It was also an incentive for trainees, as they were now able to track the position of their rivals.

Over the next few years, the sail training community continued to grow. The fleet sizes increased and the crew interchanges became more and more popular.

  • 1989 – 145 sail training ships gathered in London, and 120 of these went on to race.
  • 1992 – The Columbus Regatta set a new record. A total of 32 Class As and around 160 ships set off from Cádiz, Spain to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • 1996 – This year marked the 50th anniversary of the first Tall Ships Race. A number of the vessels that had taken part in the very first race joined the fleet again.
  • 2002 – Sail Training International (STI) was founded.
  • 2002 – Cutty Sark Scots Whisky stopped sponsoring the Tall Ships Races.
  • 2003 – STI was awarded charitable status.
  • 2007 ­– STI was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
  • 2013 – The Tall Ships Races has acquired a fleet of loyal vessels, which compete as often as they can. More than 100 vessels took part in this race, with around 10,000 trainees on board. Around five million spectators visited the four ports: Aarhus, Helsinki, Riga, and Szczecin.
  • 2016 – STI launches Sail On Board, a website dedicated to promoting sail training to young people.

We’re a registered charity. This means that we’re not out to make a profit – we’re trying to get as many people as possible on board a sail training Tall Ship. To achieve this, we work closely with the world’s sail training vessels, National Sail Training Organisations (NSTOs), and host ports. We arrange lots of events and work with our members from around the world.

Our activities include:

  • Planning Races, Regattas and other events for sail training Tall Ships.
  • Organising conferences and seminars.
  • Publishing leaflets and books.
  • Undertaking international research.
  • Supporting the Ships Council (whose membership of the Tall Ships Forum and Small Ships Forum are the operators of many of the world’s sail training tall ships).
  • Promoting Sail Training International Youth (whose members are under the age of 26 and represent the interests of young sail trainers around the world).

Check out our events for more on our Races and Regattas.

We’re effectively “owned and controlled” by our member national organisations, so we can continue our work as an independent voice for international sail training.

Our members represent lots of different countries around the world. They aren’t individual people – they’re the National Sail Training Organisations (NSTOs), and you can find out all about them on our Local Sail Training page.

We also work with lots of other countries who have sail training vessels and participate in our events. These include:

Argentina Brazil
Bulgaria Cayman Islands
Chile Colombia
Czech Republic Faroe Islands
Indonesia Japan
Malaysia Mexico
Oman Romania

Young people are at the heart of Sail Training International’s purpose and activities. STI Youth was launched in March 2009 and continues strongly to this day. The objectives of STI Youth are:

  • To represent a youth voice in decision making within the Sail Training International community.
  • To inspire, support and promote the involvement of young people in all aspects of sail training.
  • To provide opportunities for the development of the next generation of sail training leaders.
  • To support sail training communities in enabling young people to become active contributors.
  • To promote individual growth through international friendships and multicultural understanding.
  • To create a positive environment for the exchange of ideas and innovations.
  • To support and assist Sail Training International to achieve its goals.

The Youth Council comprises of representatives from nearly every one of Sail Training International’s 26 member national sail training organisations (NSTOs), and it is hoped that all 26 members will have a representative in the future.

The STI Youth Council meets as a whole once a year in November at the International Sail Training and Tall Ships Conference, where they review the previous year and plan for the next. In addition, the Executive Committee (Chair, Vice Chair and Secretary) meets during the International Council meeting in April of each year.

Their goals are:

  • To create a promotional toolkit to encourage sail training everywhere.
  • Supporting the development and growth of youth/trainee alumni groups in national sail training organisations, thereby expanding and improving the network of contact between youth who have been or may become engaged in sail training.
  • To serve in an advisory capacity to Sail Training International as it develops its social networking and web based connections with youth and creating and implementing a communications strategy for STIY.
  • To advise in the creation of a template for abuse prevention policies amongst sail trainers world wide.
  • To prepare and deliver youth oriented workshops.
  • To hold a youth social event.
  • Spearheading the reintroduction of inter-ship exchanges during the Cruise in Company leg of the International Tall Ships Races.
  • To further the presence of STI Youth at port-events during the International Tall Ships Races.


You can find out who your national Youth Council representative is and their contact details on our Sail Training International website using the link below.

Youth Council

In 2007, we were honoured to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Norwegian MP Svein Roald Hansen put us forward. He said, “The vision they share, exemplified by the traditions and achievements of their international events and other activities, demonstrate such a strong coherence with the ethos of the Peace Prize.

“Those involved in Sail Training International today have been the main architects of the international sail training activity over recent decades,” he added. “I am proud to propose the organisation for the Nobel Peace Prize.”