The North Frisian Islands have a long seafaring tradition and memories of the once so prominent seamanship are still an important part of the Frisian identity.

Up until the 19th century, more than half of the male population worked on board of ships, usually on whaling vessels or international trading ships.

Many of the Frisian seamen were highly qualified and worked as captains, commanders, helmsmen and navigators. This was made possible through the highly respected, privately organised nautical schools of Föhr. Those who taught there were retired seamen themselves. They shared their experiences and knew what kind of lessons would turn out to be useful on sea. These classes were almost entirely free and therefore enabled even those with a low-income to rise in rank and, by consequence, in society.     

The Prussians banned private nautical schools in 1870, which ended the century-old seafaring culture.