Ship 405 Christmas Cruise
photo by Linda Callaway

Happy Holidays Everyone!

This has certainly been an eventful year in Sea Scouting, and thanks to the hard work from a lot of you, much has been accomplished. Obviously we don’t have final numbers for 2019 quite yet, but we have accomplished growth in the number of ships nationally for the year. It’s too soon to know if we’ll manage growth in membership, which is the number that really counts. We’re still running behind there, due in large part to the loss of a couple of disproportionately large units that were other types of organizations registered as ships. You could claim that those don’t matter as they’re not ‘real’ ships but they do affect the numbers significantly. I’ll update you on the final 2019 numbers when I get them – mid January or so. With the Coast Guard Auxiliary relationship coming online, I think our prospects for growth in 2020 are excellent and I’m looking forward to watching it unfold. We’ve got a great team of Regional, Area and Council Commodores in place to lead the charge. Meanwhile, I have a few topics to update you on – some of which may require action, so please read on.

Sea Scout Manual – 2019 Edition
Since the beginning, the Sea Scout manual has been an evolving document that changed with the times. The 2016 edition incorporated some significant changes – perhaps the biggest of those was the addition of paddlecraft advancement requirements, making true paddlecraft ships a reality. National supply still has a big inventory of those 2016 editions in stock so it’ll be a while before another printed edition comes out – but several things have changed since then. Since 2016, we’ve been making available ‘errata’ files in the manual resource center on – if you print those and replace the appropriate pages in your 2016 manual, you can bring it up to current. The ability to update like this was the plan and is why the manual was produced as loose-leaf rather than bound. If like me, you prefer to refer to a downloaded PDF of the manual, you’re in luck – the PDF version available for download has been updated to 2019 so all you need to do is to download a fresh copy. Check the fine print on the title page to make sure you have the correct one – it should say “Updated to October 2019”. Either way, please do make sure your manual is up to date so that you’re looking at current requirements and standards!

Medical Forms
For the first time in several years, BSA has made some changes to the standard medical forms for 2020. There’s no need to panic, they’ve given us a year to transition – but do remind your people that if they’re going in for their annual physical, be sure to use the new form. Read more about this in Bryan on Scouting along with some good advice as to when you need parts A, B or C but if you don’t need that, you can go straight to the form here.

Coast Guard Auxiliary
As I’m sure you saw, the Coast Guard Auxiliary has gone nationwide with our new agreement making us their official youth program – so any Auxiliary flotilla anywhere can charter a ship, and any Sea Scout youth 14 and up anywhere can join the Auxiliary (whether or not they are in an Auxiliary chartered ship). If you somehow missed that, full details are here on our website. We have gotten tremendous support from inside the Auxiliary as you can see from the Sea Scout coverage in the current edition of their magazine, Navigator Express. It even includes an interview with me!

One of the challenges in this new relationship is explaining to our councils (both the professionals and the non-Sea Scout volunteers) what this whole partnership is about. The December newsletter for District Executives included a link to this 8-minute video that tries to explain the essence. If you need to make a similar presentation at a roundtable or whatever, you’re welcome to use or adapt the slides and the talking points for your purposes.

And finally, several of you have asked me where to get those navy blue shirts (featured in the last Commodore’s Corner) with both our logo and the Auxiliary logo on the back. We are working with the merchandising folks in the Auxiliary Association to make some things like that available and I expect you’ll see some of them appear soon. If there’s anything you’d like to see available, let me know and I’ll pass it along to that team. I’ve asked for a Coast Guard orange wicking t-shirt with the Auxiliary logo on one sleeve and ours on the other (so that they’re still visible with a life jacket on) but I don’t know if I’ll get that or not. We’ll see!

Sam Houston Area Council Change of Watch
photo by Neal Farmer

Dan Wilson
I had the honor this week to preside over the Change of Watch ceremony for Sam Houston Area Council. Dan Wilson, who has served as SHAC Commodore for 25 years, is retiring from that role. Dan has been a friend and mentor to many, including myself, and Sea Scouting has benefited enormously from his direct and indirect influence – among other things, he has been instrumental in spreading SEAL and Seabadge around the country. We recognized his service at the Change of Watch ceremony by awarding him the National Sea Scout Leadership Award. I will miss everything about him but the duck call! But I do hope he’ll continue to show up and to be involved. Meanwhile, he has left SHAC in the capable hands of Tony Scharp, who has big shoes to fill but who I believe will be a great Commodore.

Speaking of Council Commodores
We have tried really hard to increase the number of officially appointed Council Commodores across the country this year, with pretty good success. Out of 261 Councils, 74 have Council Commodores that we know about. That may not sound like much but it’s about double what we started the year with! If your Council doesn’t have a designated Commodore, consider trying to convince them to appoint one. Your Area Commodore can help. By the way, there is a myth floating around that a council can’t have a Commodore until there are 5 ships. That’s completely wrong – the national Standard Operating Procedures make it clear that a council with zero ships can appoint a Commodore – who then becomes the focal point for starting some ships. While it’s handy if the Commodore has some Sea Scout experience, that isn’t always possible. If it isn’t, consider someone who has been a commissioner – their knowledge of how to start and grow units is an important part of the role.

IOWLS on Lake Travis, Texas
photo by Dave Aronson

Please take advantage of the ‘off’ season to plan an Introduction to On-the-Water Leader Skills Training in your council. You don’t need national or regional or area authorization – it’s a council level course and can be approved by your Council Commodore or Council Training Chair. Everything you need is right here – if you don’t have the expertise to teach it, ask your local Coast Guard Auxiliary if they can help. This course is designed to be customized to the sort of boating in your area – you can use big or small boats, salt or fresh water, even paddlecraft. Reports so far from around the country have been excellent – my home council just hosted one on Lake Travis led by Skipper Chris Schuttger. This course is designed to help our ships onboard new adults and move them toward being useful Sea Scout leaders on the water, but it’s also relevant for more experienced adults. Please use it! (and let me know how it went!)

National Flagship Trophy

National Flagship
It is time to start working on your National Flagship applications! The requirements and scoring criteria remain the same as last year, but we’re going to switch to an online application that should make it easier for everyone and that will let you be sure your application was received and is complete. More information is available here – expect the new application form to be live there no later than early January. Right now would be a great time to take a quick check to make sure that you’ve done everything that must be done in 2019 to achieve JTE gold, which is a pre-requisite. The scorecard for that is here.

National/Regional/Area Boatswain Applications
It also almost time to apply for National, Regional, or Area Boatswain for next year. You can find that form here – National applications are due by February 15th!

SEAL 2.0
Sea Scout Experience Advanced Leadership Course (SEAL) is a week of adventure and leadership on the water. We have doubled the number of SEAL courses in 2020 to ensure that every Sea Scout who wants to go to SEAL, can go to SEAL, and we’ve revised and improved the curriculum. Moreover, we will have our first paddlecraft SEAL courses! And for the first time ever, we have SEAL courses being held in all four regions! Applications are now available here and are being accepted already – don’t wait to submit them!

If your Scouts aren’t sure about SEAL, have them check out the new SEAL testimonial videos that highlight the benefits and adventure of attending SEAL:
National Boatswain Hannah on SEAL
SEAL with Trinity from Texas
SEAL Seattle with Sea Scout Madi from Ship 993
Sea Scout Nick from Ship 24 on his SEAL Cruise
SEAL Prospective from a Skipper

I know most of you have already finished with your recharters – and it’s a bit more complicated than usual because of the new background check disclosure forms, but please do make sure that all of our ships get this taken care of on time so that we don’t have to start the year playing catch up and instead can focus on recruiting new youth! If you’ve been having trouble tracking down some of your off-at-college 18-year-olds to get their signatures, this week is probably your best chance!

Rules of the Road Requirements for Advancement
For many Sea Scout leaders understanding the Rules of the Road and being able to teach them to youth can be a challenge. Understanding what is meant by certain requirements can be misunderstood by even an experienced Skipper. Here is my take on a couple of requirements related to the Rules of the Road based on a recent conversation I had with a Skipper.

Ordinary 9b is written as: Know the general “Rule of Responsibility.” Flipping to page 173 of your Sea Scout Manual you would see that the Rule of Responsibility is Rule 2 of International and Inland Rules of the Road and it is quoted word for word in the Manual. The expectation is not that Scouts need to be able to recite this rule word for word. Flipping to page 174 you will see that the Rule of Responsibility is described as, “A rule may be departed from—that is, it may be disobeyed—only when circumstances of the case make it necessary to avoid immediate danger.” The paragraph goes on to describe an example where Rule 2 may apply. I think a Sea Scout who is able to briefly describe Rule 2 correctly and provide a reasonable example, which may be the one from the Manual, has met this requirement. A Scout is certainly welcome to memorize Rule 2 in its entirety, but I really don’t think that is necessary for advancement.

Able 9a asks a Scouts to “Demonstrate a working knowledge of Navigation Rules, International and Inland.” The keyword in this requirement is “Demonstrate.” The idea here is that the Scout is out on the water and correctly applying the Rules of the Road. Some Ships such as those sailing on Puget Sound and adjacent waters will always be in waters where the International Rules apply, while a Ship in Galveston Bay would rarely find itself outside of waters where Inland Rules apply. I don’t think a Scout would need to sail on both sets of waters to complete this requirement. As long as the Scout is able to demonstrate to their Skipper that they are able to correctly apply the rules on boating trips then this requirement is met. Some Ships operate on small bodies of water where contact with other vessels may be a rare event. In cases like that, Skipper will have to develop some sort of exercise to provide an opportunity for Scouts to demonstrate their knowledge. That exercise could occur on land, perhaps on a chalkboard. The Scouts have already passed a written Rules of the Road test when they completed a boating safety course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) in Ordinary 15, so using a USCG Rules of the Road written test (like those used for commercial licenses – there are plenty on the internet) is overkill here and isn’t really necessary. This requirement is meant to be about practical application. It will probably be difficult for a Scout to complete this requirement if they have not already completed Ordinary 15.

If you have questions about other requirements, please let me know and I will try to address them in a future update. Remember, if you are not sure about something, there are probably other Ships in the same boat. I can be reached at twcook at

Me paddling on the San Gabriel River last week

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Fair Winds! It looks like Christmas week here in Central Texas will be warm enough to go paddle, so I’ll see you on the water!

– T.W. Cook, National Commodore