Sea Scouts BSA

“Helmsman, 10 degrees right rudder, make our course 87 degrees magnetic, get us out of this channel.” “Why, that’s a dumb course to make I’m not going to do that.” These are the kind of exchanges you don’t want to have and the kind of the responses you don’t want to hear as a Boatswain. When you are on the water, it is of critical importance that everyone does their job in an effective and efficient manner and that the crew as a whole works as a team. It is unfortunate though, that there are always those people who question every decision that’s made because they believe they know better in every situation. These people and situations can make outings hard for the crew and even harder for the Boatswain and Skipper. The answer to this problem is drill and ceremony.

Now what is drill and ceremony? Everybody has seen in the military movies with the recruits in basic training marching around and doing all the different facing movements that seem kinda funny. This is what is called close order drill and it is used to make formations neater and to instill discipline in the ones executing the drill. It is done through ‘facing movements’ such as left face, right face and about face. Then there is marching drill which is used to move units from one place to another in a formal manner, usually used in parades or color guard events. Examples of this are forward march, mark time march and ship halt. The father of scouting, Sir Lord Robert Baden Powell, a high-ranking officer in the British Army saw the value of drill and how it could be applied to scouting. He developed what is called “Scout Drill” for the Boy Scouts which used many of the same elements of military drill but it was not the same at all. While the Boy Scouts have lost some aspects of the discipline they once had, the Sea Scouts have executed and used drill for the past 105 years for a variety of things. There are several key reasons why drill is important why your Ship should practice and learn drill.

Firstly, it builds unit cohesiveness. When you conduct drill, you are doing it as a Ship. Your Ship and its crews are learning to work together and be a team. They are learning how to smartly and correctly execute commands as a crew. When you are on the water, this is something you definitely want to have. When the Boatswain, Skipper or OOD gives a command you want the crew to work together to execute. This will make your trips much more effective, safe and fun!

The second key reason is that is teaches scouts to execute commands when given to them. In the situation at the beginning of this article, the helmsman refused to follow an order from the Boatswain because he though he knew better. This can lead to arguing, tension and internal fighting among crew members that can endanger the ship and its crew. This is why it is important that when a senior crew member or officer of the Ship gives an order while on the water, it should be executed when given. Drill teaches this perfectly! Learning to execute commands like left face, right face and about face may seem silly except when you know that it builds a habit in your crew members that has a very, very practical application on the water.

Thirdly, drill and ceremony builds discipline. What is the purpose of Sea Scouts? We are trying to build the leaders of tomorrow by teaching seamanship, citizenship, leadership and a variety of nautical skills. The fact of the matter is that the sea or really water in general has a lot of risks and is a very dangerous place. One small mistake, like forgetting the plug on the back of the boat, or horseplay gone too far, can result in serious damage to life or property. That is something no one wants because it reflects poorly on the Sea Scout program and scouting as a whole. How can drill solve this issue? It teaches your crews discipline! When you’re standing at attention, you are looking forward, hands made into fists by your side, standing straight, you are practicing discipline. This level of discipline is called ‘bearing’. This bearing is maintained all while you are executing facing movements or while you are marching. This teaches your crews the discipline they need to perform effectively while on the water. Without discipline, serious accidents can happen and that is something nobody wants.

Drill is also a very effective recruiting technique. My unit (Ship 24, The Jolly Roger, hailing from Houston, Texas), performs flag ceremonies that are considered to be absolutely top of the line. We have performed in front of crowds as small as 15 people at churches we stayed overnight at on summer cruises, to our districts annual District Dinner with 150 people, to our councils Silver Beaver ceremony with 1000 people, to performing in front of local, county, state and national leaders and dignitaries, all the way to performing a color guard for the Houston Astros on the day after opening day in front of thousands of people on national television. Smart looking, well-disciplined flag ceremonies like these get people talking and wondering about Sea Scouts. This is nothing but helpful to the growth of the Sea Scout program.

Drill and ceremony is a tradition we as Sea Scouts have been practicing for more than a century. These traditions make us who we are and if we throw them out the window, then we aren’t Sea Scouts any longer. Ceremonies like land ships, Bridges of Honor, Bridges of Review, Piping the Sides, Side boys, saluting the flag and drill are all ceremonies that tie the us, the Sea Scouts of the present with the Sea Scouts of the past. As stated above, things like drill have very practical applications that can be used to better your Ships experience on the water as whole.

Good references for drill and ceremony are the following:
Sea Scout Drill Manual
Sea Scout Drill Manual Extension (This version has much more and lots of details)
Searching “Sea Scout Drill Manual” will return both of the above results in Google.

By: Nick Kramer, Sam Houston Area Council Boatswain

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