Our Mission & History

Mission Statement

Salish Sea Expeditions inspires youth to connect with the marine environment through boat-based scientific inquiry and hands-on learning, instilling curiosity, confidence, and critical thinking.

Our Work

Salish Sea Expeditions delivers meaningful, boat-based learning experiences to students in grades 5-12, giving them the opportunity to conduct real scientific research, and engage in STEM exploration and maritime skills training. Our programs offer a unique combination of powerful place-based learning and hands-exploration:

  • Our programs invite students to own scientific discovery unlike any other program in the Pacific Northwest. The core of our programs is student-led scientific discovery, where science comes alive for students as they engage in real-world data collection and analysis.
  • We partner with schools to deliver unique and meaningful STEM curricula not possible in a classroom setting. We offer a unique educational experience aligned with national standards to help teachers reach their students at a whole new level.
  • Our programs inspire students to pursue STEM-related and maritime fields. Approximately 80 percent of our alumni reported increased interest in STEM-related, maritime or environmental fields of study.
  • Our programs develop critical thinking skills in tomorrow’s citizens and leaders. Our students develop critical thinking skills so that they better understand the connection between activities in their community and potential impacts “downstream.”


Salish Sea Expeditions was formed in 1994 by co-founders Kathy Murphy and Sophy Johnston.  That same year, Four Winds * Westward Ho Camp on Orcas Island, Washington, was planning the construction of a 60-foot sailboat to be used by the camp during the summer months.  Kathy and Sophy, connected to Four Winds and well-experienced in the world of boat-based education, saw an opportunity to create a unique science education program that would utilize the vessel during the school year.  After consulting with teachers and administrators, it became clear that there was a need for a program to give middle and high school students the opportunity to do real hands-on science through student-designed, boat-based research expeditions.  Following inquiry-based methodologies, students are given control and ownership of all aspects of their Salish learning experience, with the belief that students would develop a joy for learning and a new-found appreciation for science that they would carry back to their traditional classroom settings.

As construction of the new vessel progressed, so did exciting plans for Salish Sea Expeditions. Much of the original vessel design was influenced by the programmatic visions. In 1996, Salish Sea Expeditions was granted non-profit status and the vessel, christened Carlyn, was completed. Salish Sea Expeditions’ first programs were conducted in the spring of 1997. Since then, we have rapidly evolved into a full-fledged educational institution that has served more than 17,000 students.

The programs’ growing success is a result of the commitment of an inspired group of staff, board members, volunteers, donors, and others who believed in these unparalleled learning experiences and their impact on thousands of lives.

Salish Sea Expeditions joined the Northwest Maritime Center family of programs in 2019. NWMC’s mission is to engage and educate people of all generations in traditional and contemporary maritime life, in a spirit of adventure and discovery.

Programs are organized at our headquarters in Port Townsend and occur throughout the Salish Sea between March and October; expeditions take place as far south as Tacoma and as far north as the San Juan Islands.

Integral to the success has been a history of outstanding organizational and program leadership and our continuing ability to recruit gifted educators.  As our success grows, so do our plans to expand: to reach more students, especially those at lower income levels, to create more learning opportunities for all ages, and to integrate more fully into the regional science and environmental communities through novel partnerships and collaborations.

The web service endpoint returned a "HTTP/1.1 307 Temporary Redirect" response