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HomeLifestyleSalty Vets – philanthropic seafarers

Salty Vets – philanthropic seafarers

Saltwater Veterans is a social sailing community run by and for ex-military veterans. They launch from Manly Yacht Club [MYC] on the East Esplanade, in vessels provided by Manly Sailing, and cruise around North Harbour.

Scott and Jen Reynolds are the co-founders and directors of the program, which trains sailing instructors as well as providing an activity through which former military personnel can meet and learn nautical skills.

Many of the participants are recovering from traumas linked to their military service, and the sailing brings them out of social isolation in a shared enterprise with others overcoming similar ordeals. Sometimes they sail with their assistance dogs – trained dogs that specialise in supporting people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], to aid with their independence and self-esteem.

Saltwater Veterans began in 2017, initially under the name Four Men In A Boat – which was a nod and a wink towards the 1889 comic novel Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome, recounting an amusing boating trip along the River Thames in London.

Saltwater Veterans sail past Dobroyd Head. Photo: Alec Smart

They’ve since progressed from a collection of like-minded mariners into a non-profit enterprise, and now Saltwater Veterans Sailing Project is a fully-fledged charity.


Manly Observer met the vets and followed them out from Manly Yacht Club into North Harbour where two teams harnessed the breeze on a generally windless day in two Force 24 (24ft) yachts.

Scott told Manly Observer, “From Manly we sail each month… But we’re establishing operations around Australia. We’ve just come back from two activities on the Sunshine Coast and two activities up in Darwin. We’re also sailing in Adelaide, Newcastle and Jervis Bay.

“The big thing we want to progress is crew training: training our communities so that they’ve got the enduring skillset to participate in sailing. Manly Sailing gives us that specific opportunity, because we can bring in our own sailing instructors. We started with zero, and we’ve now got 14 qualified Australian sailing instructors that are veterans, in addition to non-veteran instructors.”

Bronte Pollard, safety monitor whilst the Saltwater Veterans sail around North Harbour. Photo: Alec Smart

Bronte Pollard, escorting the sailboats as a safety observer in an inflatable dinghy, told Manly Observer, “I love the work that Scott and Jen have done with Saltwater Veterans… It’s a really good concept, really good model, and sailing is a fantastic opportunity for everyone of all schools and abilities…

“It gives you the ability to build confidence and skill in the sport of sailing. A lot of the veterans that have come to Saltwater Veterans have gone on to do their instructor’s course, which is another part of their recovery.”

What was Bronte’s service background?

“I did 9 years in the Royal Australian Navy,” he replied. “I jokingly say it was actually back when we still had ships made of wood! Which was, in fact, true, the mine warfare ships were wooden-hulled.

“I served in the 80s in the marine engineering world, so that’s probably why I’m a bit more comfortable in control of propulsion rather than wind! I’m probably a better boat operator than a sailor.”

He continued, “I’m also mental health first aid trained. So when we’re dealing with a cohort of veterans who, a lot of them, might have physical and mental injuries, it’s good to have someone there who can be that person who can get them in a quiet place and chat, that sort of thing. But I love going out sailing as well.”

Saltwater Veterans approach Manly Wharf. Photo: Alec Smart

Psychosocial rehabilitation

The sailing experiences are geared towards enabling psychosocial rehabilitation (also known as psychiatric rehabilitation), which, according to the Mental Health Coordinating Council (MHCC) “promotes personal or individual recovery, successful community integration and an improved quality of life for persons living with mental health conditions.”

Scott explained that mental health recovery is one of the primary incentives of the Saltwater Veterans.

“Beyond the sailing there is an advocacy aspect of what we’re able to do,” he said. “We’re using sailing as the vehicle to the outcome. And the outcome we seek is social connection – reducing social isolation. Particularly in relation to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.”

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide was launched on 8 July 2001 to inquire into and investigate a range of factors, including “systemic issues and any common themes among defence and veteran deaths by suicide, or defence members and veterans who have other lived experience of suicide behaviour or risk factors.”

Although the full findings won’t be published until June 2024, an Interim Report released in August 2022 revealed the commission was reviewing over 450,000 pages of material and made 13 recommendations for the management of veterans at risk of depression, social isolation and self-harm.

Saltwater Veterans return to Manly Yacht Club. Photo: Alec Smart

The Commission stated: “We are firm in our conviction that formal and informal leaders at all levels must embrace their responsibility to make a difference in the occurrence of suicide and suicidality among serving and ex-serving members.

“Whole systems for serving and ex-serving members need to be re-imagined and re-engineered. The theory of reform must translate into a reality in which people believe in change and will take action….”

Support sport

Scott continued, “We provide a support network and this community is here to support each other.”

Wendy Snapes is one of those thankful of that support.

“I feel that I fit very well into Saltwater Veterans and what Scott has developed here with his colleagues,” she said, “because I’m a currently-serving member of the Defence Forces, but I don’t have any family or friends here.

“I’m that isolated person that he talks about in the philosophy of Saltwater Veterans…  I can be with ex-ADF [Australian Defence Forces] personnel who have all had issues with their mental health…

“I’ve had mental health issues based on my service. I can be with like-minded people, but we don’t have to talk about it. It’s just a feeling of knowing and supporting. And this really gets me outdoors instead of sitting around the house, and it’s so beautiful to be on the water and in the harbour.”

Saltwater Veterans founder Scott Reynolds gives a safety briefing prior to sailing around North Harbour. Photo: Alec Smart

Wendy’s first sail with Saltwater Veterans was previously in Pittwater.

“That was difficult to go to because people who have got mental health concerns don’t necessarily like crowds and they try to stay home and not get out. I had to push myself to go to that event. But I did it and I felt supported when I got there.

“So that’s encouraged me to come back again and I feel really good now. I feel like I’ve moved down that journey of improving my mental health. I actually want to move forward… but to get to a point that I can be a coach to other people, to support those going through what I’m now going through.”

The time of the patient mariners

Scott appealed to the public to help the Saltwater Veterans move forward.

Manly Sailing support us. There’s support from Minter Ellison [law firm] too. That in-kind support is a massive help to us. Our biggest challenge, though, is funding. When you’re giving away a product for free, there are logistical costs to what we do…

“We would love to have local support from sponsors in Manly area. Whether it’s via donations or marketing opportunities, funding also gives us the capacity to have a flyway team to go to remote locations as well….”

Saltwater Veterans sailing around North Harbour. Photo: Alec Smart

He elaborated, “A real estate agent, for example, might allocate a small amount per year towards charitable donations, but the amount they allocate for marketing is significantly higher – it might be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“So, let us be a part of your marketing. We can wear your logos on our shirts or carry your branding, we can promote them on our website. Be a part of our journey and let us co-elevate our mission and your mission.”

He stopped and considered, “I think ‘co-elevate’ is a made-up term!

“Basically, we want to project you and we want you to project us as well…”

Saltwater Veterans website: https://www.saltwaterveterans.org/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/saltwaterveterans/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saltwaterveterans/

Saltwater Veterans approach the Quarantine Station on North Head. Photo: Alec Smart