Who doesn’t love spending a day on the water? With all that fresh air, sunshine, and breathtaking views, there are plenty of reasons to love a day spent on the water. But did you know that spending time out on the water on a boat can also have genuine health benefits?
In fact, leisure activities, like boating, have been promoted for years now by occupational therapists and mental health professionals because they provide freedom from the demands of work or responsibilities and allow us to rest, restore our energy, and have fun.
As such, boat therapy is now a well-known practice used to help people for several reasons, such as mental illness, physical health, and overall well-being. So, let’s take a closer look to learn more about this practice and the benefits it provides.
What Is Boat Therapy?
Boat therapy is a form of treatment that uses therapeutic sessions and activities on a boat to help people manage or overcome a wide range of challenges and issues. And though you might just now be hearing about it, boat therapy has been around for years.
While the notion of being on the water helping people feel more calm, peaceful, and relaxed has existed for centuries, boating as a genuine form of therapy is a newer concept that supposedly originated in the early 2000s.
Joe Sabien, a mental health clinician, started a charity called Sea Sanctuary back in 2006 after spending his youth realizing the many benefits of spending time out at sea. The program uses various forms of boat activities and evidence-based therapies to help people who experience a range of mental and emotional challenges.
Participants can apply on their own or be referred by a medical professional. They then spend four days sailing up and down the coast, partaking in various activities such as hoisting sails, trimming ropes, and scrubbing the decks. They also have informal chats and sessions with an onboard therapist.
No one is forced to do anything, though — they can participate as much or as little as they like. But the idea is that most of the therapy and healing happens as they disconnect and “lose themselves” in simple tasks while being surrounded by the restorative powers of the sea. There is also therapeutic healing that happens when they build meaningful connections with others onboard.
As Sabien puts it, “there’s something about the sea — something visceral, precognitive, and beyond language. It allows us to feel connected to something greater than ourselves.”
Of course, Sabien’s program is not the only one available now. And you don’t necessarily have to sign up for a specific boat therapy program to reap the many benefits of spending time out on the sea — though a guided trip with a medical professional does help.
But even just going out on the water in your own boat, a rented boat, or on a leisurely boat excursion or vacation at sea can connect you to the restorative powers of the ocean and help you disconnect and work through your troubles.
Who Is Boat Therapy For?
Technically, anybody can partake in boat therapy. While some boat therapy programs are geared toward helping specific groups, anyone can take advantage of the therapeutic benefits by spending more of their leisure time out on the water.
Still, boat therapy can be incredibly beneficial for certain people. There are boat therapy programs to help those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, programs for children with special needs or battling life-threatening illnesses, and programs for anyone of any age struggling with mental health issues, illness, and disabilities.
Boat therapy or boating in general can even be helpful for certain populations, such as the elderly. Older adults often struggle to stay happy and healthy as they age due to a lack of socialization and activity. But leisure activities like boating or participating in a boat therapy program can help them stay connected to others, keep their minds sharp, and stay physically fit.
What Are the Benefits of Boat Therapy?
What a person gets out of boat therapy can vary depending on their individual situation, as everyone’s personal experience with therapy and what they need help with is different. For example, a child with special needs participating in boat therapy may gain something different from the experience than an adult battling addiction or general mental health issues. It just depends.
But some of the overall benefits of boat therapy include:
- Learn to be less guarded and more open to healing trauma;
- Become more in tune with yourself;
- Learn to develop balance in life;
- A safe space to deal with emotions;
- Overcome challenges;
- Develop mindfulness;
- Release stress;
- Learn to focus on more positive things;
- Learn to be more appreciative of life;
- Learn new skills and coping mechanisms;
- Manage anxiety and depression.
Being out at sea and participating in physical boat activities is also excellent for the body, not just the mind. Humans need fresh air and time spent outdoors to feel better and live healthier lives. And working on a boat certainly provides a significant amount of fresh air and physical activity to keep you strong and fit.
There is also a psychological and self-affirmative benefit to boat therapy regarding overcoming fears. One of the biggest things that fear stems from is self-doubt. But boat therapy can help people to overcome their fears by teaching them to be more self-aware. It can also help people build confidence in themselves and their capabilities.
Finding a Boat Therapy Program That Works for You
There are numerous boat therapy programs available today, all of which have different things to offer. The best way to find what you are looking for is to simply do an online search. Everyone’s situation is unique, so it’s all about finding a program that will cater to your individual needs, whether that’s for addiction recovery, managing a disability, overcoming mental health issues, or to simply finding companionship and building supportive relationships.
Of course, you also don’t need to participate in a specific boat therapy program to benefit from the healing powers of being at sea. Lots of companies and organizations offer boat trips and excursions to help people escape and relax or even to learn boating skills.
Just make sure if you plan on spending a significant amount of time out on the open water that you stay safe and are prepared for medical emergencies, especially if you already struggle with a disease or a disability.