Sea Scouts BSA

All persons should report on board as the vessel is about to proceed to sea.

Ok folks, shore leave is over, time to get back underway! Many of our ships are still underway with an active program despite shelter-at-home. Some ships have even speeded up and are taking full advantage of the lack of distractions to get a lot of advancement requirements and training done. But some ships have shut down operations and are waiting for things to return to ‘normal’ and that’s a serious mistake. None of us can see the future, but it seems likely that it is going to be a while before we can get back on the water, yet our Scouting needs to actively continue no matter how long that takes. 

Most people today, including our Scouts and our leaders, are missing the social interaction and the sense of belonging from their many activities. Being stuck at home is already getting old, so let’s fill that need with Sea Scouting! This article is a great perspective on what Scouting can mean in times like these.

Virtual Scouting 

You may be wondering “what’s the point of an online meeting – what would we do?”  The answer is, you’d do pretty much what you’d do in an in-person meeting. You’d have some sort of opening, maybe some announcements, some sort of skills instruction, a fun activity or a game, some planning for future activities, and a closing. You might even invite a guest speaker – that’s easier now that most people have clearer calendars. And don’t forget some social time to visit with each other. Right now, that’s the most important part, because it is what everyone misses the most. Turn your boatswain loose on making it happen, and you’ll be surprised at how well it will work. Adults may need to help with skills instruction, but the youth will adapt easily to this – they’re already having to do it with schoolwork, and we’re way less boring than that! All of those things work fine in a video conference – if you are envisioning this is just a conference call, think again, it’s way better than that.

Considerations for Virtual Meetings 

Here are some suggestions from Dave Pickering from Sea Scout Ship 1909 in Rhode Island on holding successful Sea Scout virtual meetings:

  • In advance of your meeting, visit the software’s website and watch a few of the brief tutorials.  
  • Introduce everyone during the meeting, and give everyone a chance to contribute
  • Don’t stare at your phone while people are presenting
  • Test all technology (including camera/video, Wi-Fi, and screen sharing) before the meeting
  • Keep your microphone muted unless you are speaking.
  • Make sure you are in a quiet area without distractions.
  • Give as many scouts a “job” to help with the meeting, helping to keep everyone engaged.
  • It’s important to keep everyone engaged during remote meetings, including all scouts and adult leaders who might not be the most vocal or outspoken.
  • Have your Quarterdeck meet weekly, to establish the content of the meetings – THEY know what other sea scouts will be interested in.  We are Youth Developed & Youth Run.
  • Your Quarterdeck can address who is responsible for following up on each item or task for future meetings.
  • Set several dates for your future meetings.
  • And most important!  Get genuine feedback from the scouts on what they liked, didn’t like, and their suggestions for future meetings!

Dave also reports that using breakout rooms in the video conference to work on advancement works great. 

A typical online ship meeting!

Paul McDonald from Ship 7007 in Kansas suggests:

  • Online meetings are a new experience for our youth. Many of the adults often participate in conference calls and virtual meetings.  Youth have not had that experience. It’s brand-new to them.
  • Because it’s new, they don’t know how to behave or act, they are unsure about speaking up and communicating, and they may not know how to use the software.
  • I found success when I called on each member and then they spoke more freely.
  • Virtual school started for most of the scouts in our ship and they are apprehensive about it.  We can help them get more comfortable with this new adventure.
  • Our youth are wanting more meetings:  from twice a month to weekly for the immediate future just to connect with everyone—all virtual.

Mini Meetings

Ship 911 in the Capitol Area Council has gone from holding 2-3 meetings per month to holding multiple meetings per week. One of those is a typical all-hands meeting, but the rest are ‘mini-meetings’ usually focused around a single advancement topic that probably isn’t relevant to the whole ship. For example, “Everyone who needs to do Apprentice 7B show up at 6:15 on Tuesday” – and the 3-4 people who need that requirement show up and get it done. Since nobody has to drive across town to attend. It doesn’t really matter if you have a bunch of extra meetings and the frequent social interaction just makes the ship stronger. An additional benefit is that the youth can focus on teaching a short-focused lesson, and it is less scary than standing in front of a room.

Demonstrating Skills with Video Conferencing 

Teaching skills in a video conference works way better than you’d think. Consider a requirement like “Using both large and small lines, tie and explain the use of the following knots: stevedore’s knot, French (double) bowline, bowline on a bight, timber hitch, rolling hitch, marline hitch, trucker’s hitch, and midshipman’s (taut-line) hitch.”  There’s no reason you can’t do this via video conference. Or “Name the principal parts of the masts, booms, spars, standing and running rigging, and sails of a gaff- or Marconi-rigged sloop, schooner, and ketch or yawl.” will work just fine. 

Virtual Service Projects 

There are plenty of other things you can do from home – even community service! Options for that include things like making face masks, teaching something via video, or maybe calling your church and getting a list of people who are quarantined at home alone and would appreciate someone calling to check up on them each day. 

Other Possibilities

Online learning is an obvious way to spend time in isolation, and several ships are busy capturing video lessons for various Sea Scout skills. Some of the Sea Scouts on the National Quarterdeck have decided that there need to be Sea Scout podcasts and that producing those sounds like fun, so they’ve launched a podcast series under the title The Lookout. The first episode is already up, and more are coming soon. Check it out here and please relay this to the youth in your ships! 

Technology Options 

Many leaders are older folks who aren’t too technical, but you can’t let that stop you. If you’re not sure about how to proceed, get your boatswain involved. It’s a safe bet that several of the youth in your ship are technically literate enough to make things work, and it may be that you just need to get out of their way. 

So let’s talk about the technology for a bit. In addition to an internet connection, everyone is going to need some sort of computer with video and audio. Just about any laptop made in the last dozen years will work fine. Or, just about any smartphone made in the same timeframe should work too. Either way, you may need earphones to get the best audio – most of the ones used for music listening will work, and most of them have a built-in microphone too. 

Ultimately you’ll need some sort of video conference software. If you can, use commercial grade stuff – it’s more secure and reliable, but it usually isn’t free, or the free version has some limitations. Do your homework and you can find something that will work for your ship. I’m going to give a few examples, but this list isn’t exhaustive. Before you even start, poll the adults in your ship to see if any of them have a commercial account that you can use – my employer lets me use my work Zoom account for Scouting – they’re fine with that since using it for more hours doesn’t cost extra.  

Zoom is by far the most popular, and it works great for Scouting. It’s easy to use, reliable and includes the ability to have break-out rooms if you need to subdivide for advancement work.  A free Zoom account is good for up to 40 minutes, after that, it shuts the meeting down. Many ships use it anyway – everyone knows that when the meeting shuts down, they just dial back in and start it again. A paid account costs about $15 per month, and you can sign up month-to-month, so you could subscribe for now and terminate the account when you don’t need it anymore. That gets you the ability to host unlimited length calls for up to 100 people. Zoom provides some good tips for using Zoom in education here – many are relevant for us too.

Webex is a similar commercial video conferencing system. They have temporarily removed the limitations on their free account, so that may be attractive. They’ve got a page about using Webex in education here – again, much of it is relevant to us too.

Skype – not to be confused with a different product called Skype for Business – also makes free videoconferences possible. They have a great education resources page with some great ideas here.

Google Hangouts is now available only in GSuite (commercial) Google accounts, but it works great. Someone in your ship probably has a GSuite account for work or school. If not, you might consider applying for GSuite for Nonprofits. If your ship has an EIN (you probably had to get one to open a checking account) you can apply and it gives you the full suite of Google tools, including Hangouts, for free. 

There are many more choices but these seem to be the most popular among the ships I’ve heard from. No matter what technology you use, there are some important considerations:

  • Never post the links to your meetings in public on social media – that’s inviting unwelcome guests and we need to protect our youth!
  • Use a password for your meetings – that way, even if someone manages to guess the meeting link they still can’t crash your meeting
  • Avoid recording – while it’s tempting to record teaching sessions, be careful – in many states it is illegal to record video of a youth in any context without written permission from parents. Because of this and privacy considerations, BSA policy is to avoid recording video meetings when youth are present

Youth Protection

It’s critical that we all continue to keep youth protection top-of-mind whether our Scouting activities are taking place in-person or through a digital platform.  The youth protection requirements for a video conference are exactly the same as for any other kind of BSA meeting. In particular, remember that BSA prohibits any one-on-one interaction between an adult leader and a Scout – in person, online, through a web conference, over the phone, via text, or in any other form.

Skipper’s Minute

I’d like to close by sharing a Skipper’s Minute from Skipper Dave Aronson that I think is worth your consideration. By the way, Dave shared this with the ship virtually via email and social media, it (obviously) wasn’t delivered in person. Keep thinking of new ways to deliver what we’ve always done!

To be prepared to render aid to those in need

We say this in the Sea Promise all the time, but it isn’t only needed on the water.

Now is a very trying time for all of us; young and adult are trying to wrap our heads around this situation.  Everyone is experiencing disappointments and loss. It is ok to feel that disappointment and not attempt to measure that disappointment against someone else’s.  It is ok to be disappointed, but we can’t live in that state permanently. One of the best ways to get over disappointment is to help others.

I am not a doctor/nurse/essential employee. How do I help others? 

STAY AT HOME: This is a huge sacrifice for many of us but critical to help slow the spread of the virus. 

STAY Connected: Reach out to someone, text/call/video/email them. Human connections help make us feel better, and a short message or conversation can have a great positive impact on them and you.

STAY Involved: Find something you can do to help. Maybe it is making masks for people or teaching someone something over video.  Did you know we are having micro-meetings on video?

STAY Educated: Now is a great time to learn something new.  Learn it, then teach it.

If you need help with anything, ask for help.  We are here for you. If someone asks you for help, make time to help them.

Yours in Sea Scouting,

Mr. Aronson
Skipper, Sea Scout Ship 911 – SSS Response

Fair winds,
T.W. Cook
National Commodore

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