The Sea Scouts is a youth program within the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) that has been around for over 100 years. For those lucky enough to live among the Puget Sound region’s salty waters, the Youth Marine Foundation makes opportunities like becoming a part of this seafaring tradition a reality.
The Youth Marine Foundation is a non-profit organization that collaborates with a number of youth groups in the community, including one of their main partners, the Sea Scouts. They provide the campus and dock space where the Tacoma Sea Scout Base is located.
Sea Scout Unit #110 (SS #110) has been operating continuously on several different vessels on the Foss Waterway, in Tacoma, since 1924.
To say that adventure awaits by joining is quite an understatement. There is that, and so much more, but it’s not easy. In fact, it’s a lot of work. However, the skills gained here are sure to last a lifetime.
The co-ed program, which is open to youth ages 14-21, operates year-round. Adolescents learn a host of hands-on skills within the maritime industry, but more than that, it’s a leadership program.
“We’re teaching them how to handle the boats, and get out on the water, and teaching them about their community, and a different generation,” says Monique Valenzuela, Executive Director at Youth Marine Foundation. “Many of the kids that have trained on our vessels are now business leaders and entrepreneurs.”
Under the guidance of some fantastic volunteer Skippers, each licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, the youth of today can choose one of two main Coast Guard certified small passenger sailing vessels to serve on.
The Charles N. Curtis is a 78-foot wooden-hulled, motorized vessel built for the Coast Guard in 1931. Outfitted with modern technology and propulsion, the Curtis remains a stalwart contender after all these years.
The Odyssey is a 90-foot sailboat built in New York in 1938 for a granddaughter of the infamous Vanderbilt. Interestingly, it was conscripted for use by the navy during and after WWII, before making its way to the Foss Waterway in Tacoma.
Both boats have stringent maintenance requirements and are inspected yearly by the U.S. Coast Guard.
No salty sailors here, but through the help of a strong group of passionate volunteers, the Sea Scout legacy continues.
It really takes many people for everything to run smoothly, not just of the nautical variety. From carpooling to cooking, administrative, to social media, there’s a role for everyone to fill.
There have been several major skippers over the course of Tacoma’s Sea Scouts, each investing numerous years into the program. One of those is Tom Rogers, Captain of the Charles N. Curtis, President, and co-founder of Youth Marine Foundation.
Rogers began his journey with Sea Scouts in 1964, putting him at the helm for 57 years. “I’ve always enjoyed the boats and the water,” says Rogers. “Working with youth and making a difference in our community is what keeps me young.”
Another long-time volunteer is Bud Bronson, naval architect and Board Treasurer for Youth Marine Foundation. Bronson serves as regional Commodore upon all Sea Scout ships, with a primary focus on Odyssey.
“The vessels, one powered by engines, and the other, half the time powered by sails, are not entirely different training,” says Bronson. “But it’s a different process for each. Both teach highly valuable skills.”
Roger Neal started volunteering when his son joined over 30 years ago, and he’s still at it.
“Young people often come into the program fairly shy and lacking in self-confidence,” says Neal. “Regardless of if they spend a few months or six years in the program, they all leave with skills that will help them be successful in life. It is rewarding to play a small part in that maturation process.”
The Sea Scouts alternate roles on board each different vessel. From deck crew, to engine crew, to navigation crew, everyone gets their chance among a host of duties. The young mates handle the boat from every angle, always under adult volunteers’ supervision and Coast Guard certified veterans.
Teens within the program gain essential skills like communication, conflict resolution, and self-discipline throughout the process.
For many, it becomes a multi-year commitment. Some go on to earn BSA Eagle Scout merits or advance through the ranks of Apprentice all the way to Quartermaster. Each year exceptional Sea Scouts are distinguished at the Bridge of Honor ceremony.
“It’s a meritocracy. How hard you work, how respectful you are, how much you train and study, when you’re on the water, it’s a great equalizer,” says Valenzuela. “It doesn’t matter what your shoes look like, how tall you are, how much money you have. The sea respects people that work hard, who are diligent, and responsible. It’s one of the only places teenagers and adults can be peers.”
But don’t be fooled — it’s not ALL work, and NO play. It is an adventure on the Salish Seas. Manning shorter excursions during passenger charters as the actual working crew, the Scouts get to voyage to places like the San Juan Islands and Canada, when international waters are open. There’s camping, and swimming, and learning about marine life.
Past participants have said the program ‘really helped to give them a direction and focus in life.’ The camaraderie formed by these budding adults among one another, as well as with their mentors, is incomparable. Hear what young people have to say about Sea Scouts here.
One thing that continues to capture the interest of both young and old, bringing them together with common goals, is the water. The Puget Sound Region offers a unique opportunity for youth to learn and grow as leaders, gaining skills that will last a lifetime through the Sea Scouts program.
“From no radio, and no TV, to color TV, and MTV, to Tick Tock, the one thing that has stood the test of time with young teenagers is being on the water, and being on the boats, which is just amazing,” says Valenzuela.
Become a part of this 100-year-old Seafaring tradition by joining Tacoma Sea Scouts.