Sea Org

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Sea Org
Sea Organization
FounderL. Ron Hubbard (Commodore)
HeadquartersGold Base, California (Church of Scientology headquarters)
LeaderDavid Miscavige (Captain)
PublicationHigh Winds
Parent organization
Church of Scientology
Formerly called
Sea Project [1]: 90 

The Sea Organization or Sea Org is the senior-most status of staff within the Church of Scientology network of corporations, but is not itself incorporated. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Sea Org was started as L. Ron Hubbard's private navy, and adopted naval uniforms and ranks.[2]: 263 [3]: 124  Today, all Scientology management organizations are exclusively staffed with Sea Org members.[4] The Sea Org maintains strict codes for its members, beginning with a symbolic billion-year pledge of service to Scientology upon initiation.[3]: 125  David Miscavige, the leader of Scientology, is the highest-ranking Sea Org officer with the rank of captain. The rank of commodore is permanently reserved for the late L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.[1]: 139  Some ex-members and scholars have described the Sea Org as a totalitarian organization marked by intensive surveillance and a lack of freedom.[3]: 125 

In a 1992 memorandum by the Church of Scientology International, the following information was provided to the Internal Revenue Service with regards to nature of the Sea Org:[5]

[The Sea Org] does not have an ecclesiastical organizing board or command channels chart or secular existence such as an incorporated or unincorporated association. [...] Although there is no such "organization" as the Sea Organization, the term Sea Org has a colloquial usage which implies that there is. There are general recruitment posters and literature for "The Sea Org" which implies that people will be employed by the Sea Org when in reality they will join, making the billion year commitment, at some church that is staffed by Sea Org members and become employees of that church corporation. [...] The Sea Org exists as a spiritual commitment that is factually beyond the full understanding of the [Internal Revenue] Service or any other but a trained and audited Scientologist.


The Sea Org was established on August 12, 1967, by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Dianetics and Scientology, initially on board three ships, the Avon River, the Enchanter, and HMS Royal Scotsman. Hubbard later rechristened the three vessels to the Diana, the Athena, and the Apollo. The Apollo served as the flagship, or simply called "Flag", and Hubbard was referred to as Commodore.[1]: 93 [6]

In 1971, the Sea Org assumed responsibility for the delivery of the upper levels of its auditing and training, known as the Operating Thetan or "OT" levels.[7]: 46–47  In 1981, under the aegis of the Commodore's Messenger Organization led by David Miscavige, Sea Org members dissolved the Guardian's Office (GO) and assumed full responsibility for the church's international management, later reassigning the GO's duties to the Office of Special Affairs in 1983 during the corporate restructuring of the Church.[8]

It moved to land-based organizations in 1975, though maritime customs persist, with many members wearing naval-style uniforms and addressing both male and female officers as "sir".[9] In 1985, the church purchased a 440-foot (130 m) motor vessel, the Freewinds, which docks in Curaçao in the southern Caribbean and is used as a religious retreat and training center, staffed entirely by Sea Org members.[10] Sea Org members make a lifetime commitment to Scientology by signing a billion-year contract officially described as a symbolic pledge.[7]: 53  In exchange, members are given free room and board, as well as a small weekly allowance. Sea Org members agree to strict codes of discipline, such as disavowing premarital sex, working long hours (on average at least 100 hours per week)[11] and living in communal housing called berthing.[12] They are allowed to marry, but must leave the Sea Org if they have or want to raise children.[13]


L. Ron Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology in 1953 and the Sea Org in 1967.

According to Hubbard, much of the galaxy, including Earth (known as "Teegeeack"), was ruled tens of millions of years ago by the Galactic Confederacy. The confederacy was controlled by a tyrant named Xenu, who was eventually overthrown by a group within the Galactic Confederacy known as the "Loyal Officers". Religious scholar Hugh Urban writes that the Sea Org is modeled after these Loyal Officers.[3]: 124  Urban also describes the Sea Org, with the naval uniforms and ranks, as an idealized re-creation of Hubbard's own World War II military career. He also states that the Sea Org is reminiscent of the "Soldiers of Light" in Hubbard's science fiction story collection Ole Doc Methuselah.[3]: 124  The publicized goal of the Sea Org is to "get ethics in on the planet".[3]: 125 

Academic Stephen A. Kent has argued that at least part of the reason for the establishment of the Sea Org was that the Church of Scientology's practices encountered resistance from the American Food and Drug Administration and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as from the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, and Rhodesia. Sailing on the high seas meant the church could escape their attention.[14]

In 2000 the number of Sea Org members was listed at around 5,800.[7]: 53  Most Sea Org members reside in church complexes in Los Angeles, Clearwater, Copenhagen, London, Saint Hill, and Sydney, with some at smaller centers or on assignment elsewhere.[7]: 53  According to reports filed with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission in 2022, the Church of Scientology Religious Education College Incorporated, Scientology's UK arm, claimed to have a total of 700 "volunteers" (including Sea Org) across Saint Hill, London, Manchester, Birmingham and other UK organizations.[15][failed verification]

According to scholar Susan Raine, Hubbard created the Sea Org as a "kind of space navy, melding SF space ideas with Earthbound naval ones." Hubbard biographer Jon Atack recalled a confidential Sea Org executive directive that claimed that governments of the world were on the verge of collapse: "The Sea Org would survive and pick up the pieces."[16]: 21 


Sea Org Day is August 12, during which ceremonies are held to commemorate the achievements and contributions of Sea Org members, and when rank and promotion ceremonies take place.[17][18][19][20]

High Winds is the magazine of the Sea Org. The first issue was released on Sea Org Day 1980.[21]

Estates Project Force[edit]

All new recruits are required to complete compulsory novitiate before they are allowed to join the Sea Org, which has been described as a boot camp.[22] During this phase, known as the Estates Project Force (EPF), recruits are not considered to be full Sea Org members. They are required to address all members as "sir", regardless of rank, and must run everywhere instead of walking.[23] Married couples are separated for the duration of the EPF and are not allowed to have private or intimate contact with each other.[citation needed]

While on the EPF, recruits are assigned an intensive daily regimen divided between five hours of manual labor and five hours of study and indoctrination known as "Product Zero". Scientology courses that are required to complete the EPF include:[24][25]

  • Basic Study Manual, an introductory course in Study Technology, a simplified version of the Student Hat course.
  • Introduction to Scientology Ethics, a basic course in Scientology ethics and justice.
  • Basic Sea Org Member Hat, a course on the basics of membership in the Sea Org and what is expected.
  • Welcome to the Sea Org, a series of taped lectures originally given by L. Ron Hubbard in October 1969 to new recruits.
  • Personal Grooming Course, a course on personal hygiene.

The EPF does not have a definite schedule. A recruit graduates the EPF as soon as all the required courses have been completed and upon successfully undergoing a mandatory "7A Security Check", they are then allowed to join the Sea Org as full members.[23] Sea Org recruits verbally agree to an 18-point code or pledge as part of a swearing in ceremony. Members formally reaffirm their acceptance of this code annually on August 12, the day when the organization was founded.[7]: 54–56 

Ships and land bases[edit]

The church's cruise ship, the Freewinds, staffed by Sea Org members

In 1967, the Church of Scientology purchased HMS Royal Scotsman which they renamed the Apollo, which was used as the Sea Org's flagship. In 1975, the church sold the Sea Org's ships and moved the organization to land bases around the world, which as of 2003, were operating in Clearwater, Copenhagen, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Saint Hill Manor in the UK, and Sydney, with smaller offices in Budapest, Johannesburg, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, and Toronto.[7]: 53  In 1987, they purchased a ship, La Bohème, which they renamed Freewinds. OT VIII, the highest auditing level of Scientology currently available, is exclusive to the Freewinds and can only be undertaken there. The ship also hosts various courses, seminars, conventions and events throughout the year, including the annual Maiden Voyage celebration.[26][1]: 284 

Billion-year commitment[edit]

According to Hubbard, the Sea Org's mission is "an exploration into both time and space".[3]: 124  Sea Org members act as goodwill representatives and administrators of Scientology; all policy and administrative posts in the church's key organizations are held by Sea Org members.[7]: 49  Sea Org are housed in communal housing, which they call berthing, and receive a basic allowance of about $50 per week.[13]

In accordance with Scientology beliefs, members are expected to return to the Sea Org when they are reborn; the Sea Org's motto is Revenimus, ("We Come Back").[16]: 175  Members must therefore sign a symbolic billion-year commitment, pledging to "get ethics in on this planet and the universe".[3]: 125  The church contends that the agreement is not a legally binding contract and is merely a symbolic demonstration of the dedication members are expected to give to the organization, and that they are free to leave if they wish. After signing, members report to the Estates Project Force, the Sea Org's induction program; J. Gordon Melton writes that members may take several years between signing the commitment and attending the induction. Once induction is completed, the final decision to join is made.[7]: 54 

Members who leave the Sea Org are issued a "freeloader's bill", retroactively billing them for any auditing or training they have received. Although the bill is not legally enforceable, these Scientologists may not receive services at any Scientology organization until they pay the bill and perform an amends program.[27]

Marriage and family[edit]

From the early 1970s to the start of the 21st century, the children of Sea Org members were often placed in the Cadet Org. Sea Org members may marry one another but are not permitted to marry outside the organization; extra-marital sex is also prohibited. Couples with children must leave the Sea Org and return to other staff positions within the church until the child is six years old; thereafter the children are raised communally and allowed to visit their parents in the Sea Org on weekends or about an hour a day.[28] Children of members have themselves joined the Sea Org when they came of age.[7]: 57  Several former members have said they were advised (or even forced) to have an abortion when they became pregnant to avoid being sent to lower organizations. Scientology presents itself as opposed to abortion and actively speaks out against it in its publications.[29][30][31]

Rehabilitation Project Force[edit]

The Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) was created in January 1974 as a system of work camps set up by the Sea Org, intended to isolate and rehabilitate members who have not lived up to the church's expectations, have failed security checks, or have violated certain policies. RPF groups are located within Sea Org facilities, and there are no locks on the doors.[7]: 65 

Many ex-Sea Org members have reported gruelling treatment. On the RPF, one works eight hours of physical work six days a week, such as painting, plumbing, and upkeep of grounds. The work may involve teaching the member a skill such as carpentry. Members also spend five hours a day studying with an auditing partner.[7]: 65  Former Scientologist Jon Atack argued, in A Piece of Blue Sky (1990), that treatment of Sea Org members in the RPF was a "careful imitation of techniques long-used by the military to obtain unquestioning obedience and immediate compliance to orders, or more simply to break men's spirits ..."[16]: 206  One former member, Gerry Armstrong, said that during his time in the Sea Org in the 1970s he spent over two years banished to the RPF as a punishment:

It was essentially a prison to which crew who were considered nonproducers, security risks, or just wanted to leave the Sea Org, were assigned. Hubbard's RPF policies established the conditions. RPF members were segregated and not allowed to communicate to anyone else. They had their own spaces and were not allowed in normal crew areas of the ship. They ate after normal crew had eaten, and only whatever was left over from the crew meal. Their berthing was the worst on board, in a roach-infested, filthy and unventilated cargo hold. They wore black boilersuits, even in the hottest weather. They were required to run everywhere. Discipline was harsh and bizarre, with running laps of the ship assigned for the slightest infraction like failing to address a senior with "Sir". Work was hard and the schedule rigid with seven hours' sleep time from lights out to lights on, short meal breaks, no liberties and no free time ...

When one young woman ordered into the RPF took the assignment too lightly, Hubbard created the RPF's RPF and assigned her to it, an even more degrading experience, cut off even from the RPF, kept under guard, forced to clean the ship's bilges, and allowed even less sleep.[16]: 206 


Rank group General/flag officers Senior officers Junior officers Officer cadet
Sea Organization No equivalent
Captain Commander Lieutenant
Lieutenant Lieutenant
(junior grade)
Rank group Warrant officers
Sea Organization
Warrant officer Midshipman
Rank group Senior NCOs Junior NCOs Enlisted
Sea Organization No insignia
Chief petty officer Petty officer
first class
Petty officer
second class
Petty officer
third class
Able rate Swamper


Several scholars, writers and former members have compared the Sea Org to a paramilitary group.[32] In Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography (2008), Andrew Morton described it as a "fraternal paramilitary organization", and wrote that members are instructed to read The Art of War by General Sun Tzu, and On War by General Carl von Clausewitz. He wrote that Scientology leader David Miscavige created an elite unit within the Sea Org called the "SEALs", named after the United States Navy SEALs, who receive better lodging, sustenance, and uniforms than other Sea Org members.[33]

Lawrence Wright wrote in The New Yorker in 2011 that the Sea Org used small children drawn from Scientology families for what the article described as forced child labor. The article described extremely inhumane conditions, with children spending years in the Sea Org, sequestered from mainstream life.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Reitman, Janet (2011). Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780618883028. OL 24881847M.
  2. ^ Miller, Russell (1987). Bare-faced Messiah : The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0805006540. OL 26305813M.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Urban, Hugh B. (2011). The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691146089.
  4. ^ Davis, Derek; Hankins, Barry (2003). New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America. Baylor University Press. pp. 48–49. ISBN 0918954924. OL 3572139M.
  5. ^ Church of Scientology, Nov. 23, 1992: Third Set of Responses to the IRS in support of Scientology's application for 501(c)(3) tax exemption.
  6. ^ Lewis, James R. (2009). Scientology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199715954. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Melton, J. Gordon (2002). "Chapter 3: A Contemporary Ordered Religious Community : The Sea Organization". In Davis, Derek; Hankins, Barry (eds.). New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America. Baylor University Press. ISBN 0929182642. OL 3572139M.
  8. ^ Chris Owen (August 1997). "Scientology's Secret Service 2. The Guardian Office (1966-83)". Operation Clambake. Andreas Heldal Lund. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  9. ^ Reitman, Janet (February 23, 2006). "Inside Scientology". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on April 30, 2009.
  10. ^ Burke, Daniel (May 4, 2019). "Here's what happens on Scientology's cruise ship, the Freewinds. It sounds pretty intense". CNN.
  11. ^ Tony Ortega. "Scientology's Own Promotional Material Attests to 15-Year-Olds in the Sea Org". Runnin' Scared. Village Voice. Archived from the original on January 8, 2014.
  12. ^ Headley, Marc (2009), Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology, BFG Books, p. 358, ISBN 9780982502204, retrieved July 8, 2013
  13. ^ a b c Wright, Lawrence (February 14, 2011). "The Apostate : Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology". The New Yorker.
  14. ^ Kent, Stephen A. (2001). From Slogans to Mantras: Social Protest and Religious Conversion in the Late Vietnam War Era. Syracuse University Press. pp. 111–112. ISBN 0815629486. OL 15521204M.
  15. ^ Church of Scientology Religious Education College Incorporated Financial Report 2021 (PDF) (Report). Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission. September 16, 2022. Retrieved May 8, 2023.
  16. ^ a b c d Atack, Jon (1990). A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed. Lyle Stuart Books. ISBN 081840499X. OL 9429654M.
  17. ^ @Scientology (August 12, 2015). "Today we celebrate Sea Org Day, to commemorate the achievements and contributions of all Sea Org members everywhere!" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  18. ^ "Religion, Belief and Culture in our Community" (PDF). Cumbria government. 2019.
  19. ^ Hill, Jenna Miscavige. Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape. William Morrow and Company. pp. 95–96. ISBN 9780062248473. OL 25424774M.
  20. ^ Westbrook, Donald A. (2016). "Researching Scientology and Scientologists in the United States: Methods and Conclusions". In Lewis, James R.; Hellesøy, Kjersti (eds.). Handbook of Scientology. ISBN 9789004330542.
  21. ^ High Winds. Issue 2 (1980).
  22. ^ Pesta, Abigail (July 6, 2012). "Scientology's Sea Org: A Story of Escape for Katie Holmes and Suri Cruise". The Daily Beast. Newsweek/The Daily Beast LLC.
  23. ^ a b
  24. ^ Ottman, Martin (April 19, 1996). "Affidavit of Martin Ottmann (19 April 1996)". Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  25. ^ Schless Pressley, Karen. "Joining the Sea Org". Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  26. ^ Palmer, Brian (December 1, 2011). "What Do You Do on a Scientology Cruise Ship?". Slate. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
  27. ^ Farley, Robert (June 24, 2006). "The unperson". St. Petersburg Times. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011.
  28. ^ Welkos, Robert W.; Sappell, Joel (June 26, 1990). "Defectors Recount Lives of Hard Work, Punishment". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 31, 2008.
  29. ^ Kent, Stephen A. (1999). "Scientology -- Is this a Religion?". Marburg Journal of Religion. 4 (1). University of Marburg: 1–56. doi:10.17192/mjr.1999.4.3754. Retrieved June 30, 2006.
  30. ^ "The Sea Org / Cadet Org". Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  31. ^ Lattin, Don (February 12, 2001). "Leaving the Fold: Third-generation Scientologist grows disillusioned with faith". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on March 12, 2008.
  32. ^
    • Dawson, Lorne L (2006). Comprehending Cults: The Sociology of New Religious Movements. Oxford University Press. p. 38. ISBN 0195411544. OL 72434M. Members of the paramilitary Sea Org sign billion-year contracts of absolute loyalty and service to the highest leadership of the Church of Scientology.
    • Squires, Rosie (November 29, 2009), The L. Ron scandal, Sunday Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), The Sea Org is like a military organization. You live in cramped quarters, are served food in the cafeteria area and you basically work from 8:30 in the morning through to 11:15 at night. (former member Aaron Judge)
    • Cooper, Anderson (December 2, 2005). "Inside the Church of Scientology". Anderson Cooper 360°. It's very much a military organization. You wear a uniform, there's saluting, marching, standing at attention.
  33. ^ Morton, Andrew (2008). Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography. pp. 126, 135–137.