Discovery FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I find the Thompson Island Ferry?

The Motor Vessel Outward Bound (our ferry) leaves from the EDIC dock off of Drydock Avenue in South Boston, two hundred yards from the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal and Boston’s Design Center, behind the North Coast Seafood Building. Look for flag pole banners that will lead you to the dock. A parking garage is located on Drydock Avenue across from the Design Center.


Who are the instructors and what are their qualifications?

Thompson Island instructors range in age from 21-45 years old and must meet rigorous national standards for the skills and competencies required for the courses they instruct. Instructors are trained first and foremost to ensure the physical and emotional safety of program participants. All lead instructors are certified in Wilderness First Aid and CPR. Many instructors are also certified Wilderness First Responders, which provides even more in-depth medical training. When youth groups are on island, there is always senior field staff on island who are trained Wilderness First Responders.

Are instructors subject to background checks?

All Thompson Island Outward Bound instructors undergo a thorough background check prior to employment. Thompson Island Outward Bound utilizes the GIS background check system, which includes a 7-year nationwide background check. The GIS system is far more comprehensive than the CORI system (only limited to Massachusetts).

What is your student-to-instructor ratio and what is the supervision like?

Our learning is group-based, and groups are typically 10-12 students paired with two instructors. When students participate in climbing activities, there are additional personnel present including a trained high ropes Site Manager. Younger students (up to the age of 18) always remain 100% within instructors' line of sight and earshot.

What is the staff’s experience with homesickness and what are the procedures for extreme homesickness?

It is not unreasonable to expect that some students have not spent more than a night away from home. The scenario for homesickness is pretty standard and instructors have strategies to divert students from focusing on feeling homesick; ranging from keeping an eye out, talking with them, keeping them engaged in the activities, etc. Generally students are comforted but encouraged to stay on course unless they are so homesick that they are not getting anything out of the program. If the problem persists, the teachers, staff or other adults may become involved in a conversation with the child. If it is still a problem, parents may be called, and in extreme cases students go home. It is rare that we send students home, but it has happened. Usually they work through it. Some of the best comments we have come from youth who are proud they worked through their homesickness and stayed.

What are the sleeping arrangements and how many children are assigned to each room?

The students will either sleep in dormitories or camp on the island. The students will be separated by gender, typically on separate floors or in different buildings. Adults will stay in the dorms with the students- either our staff, or the adults who accompany the students to the island- depending on arrangements made prior to the group’s arrival. Our dorms range in size from 2-5 beds per room. The rooms feature nice, clean wooden single beds. Bathrooms are shared, dorm style, with multiple sinks and toilets. There is a bathroom on each floor. Camping is usually in raised platform tents or in shelters. Thompson Island provides linens (sheets and towels) in the dorms or sleeping bags and camping equipment if camping, unless other arrangements have been made.

What should I bring?

For each program, Thompson Island Outward Bound will provide an appropriate clothing list to the person organizing the trip. On all courses, close-toed shoes are required. And electronics (example: cellphones and iPads) are not allowed on course. Water bottles and sunblock are requested. Jewelry and valuables are highly discouraged.

What about medicines?

All medicine and over the counter drugs should be in their original containers and packed separately in a ziplock plastic bag, with the child’s name clearly written on the bag, as well as the prescription directions and doctor’s instructions for taking the over the counter medicine affixed to the medication’s container. 

What is the policy regarding serious food allergies and dietary restrictions?

Generally, we offer a variety of foods at each meal, such that most people can find something appropriate to eat. If the student’s allergy/restriction is such that they cannot eat most food generally available, we ask that you contact us well in advance of the course so we can make specific arrangements. We also ask that participants be very specific and clear about this restriction on their medical form.

What about safety?

Safety is built into all our procedures and is our number one priority. Thompson Island Outward Bound meets or exceeds safety guidelines established by Outward Bound USA, the recognized pioneer in developing industry safety standards. Thompson Island conducts yearly safety inspections of all ropes courses and related climbing equipment. Each year emergency response plans and safety manuals are updated and distributed to instructors and other staff as part of a rigorous safety-training program. Staff training also includes multiple days of student management skills training, which addresses emotional and physical safety of all students. To further oversee safety, there is both a full-time Safety Director for the entire island and a full-time Programs Safety Manager. Additionally, periodic safety reviews and safety audits are conducted by independent experts which focus on operational assessments of course elements, emergency procedures of specific programs, and all aspects of Thompson Island Outward Bound operations as they relate to safety.

How can our child contact us or how can we contact our child if necessary?

There is a staff person at Thompson Island Outward Bound on-call 24 hours for emergencies. Accompanying each course, a Course Director is on call 24 hours for emergencies. The on-call phone number is 617.438.5621. You can also activate the emergency system AFTER BUSINESS HOURS by calling 617.329.3900 and following the emergency prompt. These numbers are for EMERGENCIES ONLY.

Will there be other groups on Thompson Island at the same time our children will be there?

During the course there may be other programs on the island. All programs are run separately and do not concurrently share resources.

What if it rains? What are the provisions for inclement weather which either prevents the children from going to or returning from Thompson Island?

Thompson Island runs programs “rain or shine,” and students should plan/dress accordingly. Thompson Island will stop running the ferry, however, if the winds become too high during a storm. The weather is monitored by the Waterfront Director, the Safety Coordinator, and the General Manager. Decisions to evacuate students are made before the winds get too high. Typically the school or organization is notified and a plan is created for notifying families so that students can be picked up at the dock or at their school/organization. If a storm threatened to affect the start of the course, then the school/organization would be contacted with a plan to delay the start of the program.

What if a student is afraid of heights or some other activity that is planned?

The activities during the program are “challenge by choice”, meaning that students are encouraged to participate, but the level of participation is based upon how much they choose to challenge themselves.

Do we have to fill out the medical forms?

All participants must have a completed and approved medical form and all questions on the form answered to participate in the Thompson Island Outward Bound program. Thompson Island Outward Bound’s Medical Screener must carefully review each form and call parents/doctors with any questions. The medical forms are the appropriate place to state allergies so our staff can make accommodations.

Do we have to sign the liability release form?

In order for your child to participate in Thompson Island Outward Bound’s activities, you and your child will need to sign our assumption of risk and liability release form. This form lists some of the activities in which your child may participate and the risks of those activities. Outward Bound expends considerable energy assessing and addressing risks associated with its programs and invests significant effort to care for your child’s safety. The release form helps to explain the risks that you are assuming and asks that you release certain liability. Outward Bound has a culture of self-responsibility, but in today’s society where lawsuits are prevalent, we must have some insulation from litigation because litigation takes the precious resources of both time and money from the core mission of our non-profit organization. In addition, our insurance is provided with the understanding that all participants on courses like yours will sign the release form. However, if you ever have a question, please let us know. We will work with you to resolve your concerns. We care deeply about our students and want you to have a positive experience with Outward Bound. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Thompson Island Outward Bound Discovery at [email protected] or 617.830.5144.