As you are probably aware, BSA is committed to making sure that all of our programs and related materials are free of anything not inclusive. In Sea Scouts, one significant element that is questionable is the last line of the Sea Promise, which reads “seek to preserve the motto of the sea: women and children first.” While that was the original version, there was a period of time (during part of the time when we were Sea Explorers) when the last line instead was “to let those who are weaker and less able than myself come first.” It isn’t quite clear exactly when or why it was changed back to the original, but the National Sea Scout Support Committee made the decision that we needed to fix it. We considered returning to the verbiage we used as Sea Explorers instead, but decided that an even simpler form is better: “to let those less able come first.” At our request, that change was approved today by the National Program Development Committee, so it is now official.
While most of us know the story of the Birkenhead disaster and can explain why “women and children first” really isn’t meant to be not inclusive, many people have a negative initial reaction to it, and we really don’t need anything in our program that requires a detailed explanation to convince someone that there is depth of meaning that is not obvious. I think this revised version is clean, gets to the essence of the point, and will serve us well.
The Sea Promise is an important part of our program, but as William Menninger (author of the original Handbook for Skippers in the 30s) explained, “[the] Sea Promise is a set of instructions which should be observed by anyone on a boat. It does not replace or parallel the Scout Oath or Law.”
We’ll update the Sea Scout Manual to reflect this sometime soon, but the official version of the Sea Promise is now:
As a Sea Scout, I promise to do my best:
To guard against water accidents
To know the location and proper use of the lifesaving devices on every boat I board
To be prepared to render aid to those in need
To let those less able come first.
T.W. Cook – National Commodore