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Launch a Sea Scouting program with this Mate’s advice

ALTHOUGH ADAM TUNKS had been involved in sailing and Scouting for most of his life, he never heard about Sea Scouting until the end of high school. When he was about 18 and his mother took over Sea Scout Ship 1000 in Dallas, he jumped at the chance to come aboard, eventually earning the Quartermaster Award—the top rank in Sea Scouts, equivalent to the Eagle Scout Award. And he’s never disembarked. 

Tunks recently ended a six-year stint as the ship’s Skipper (the unit’s top adult leader) and now serves as a mate (the equivalent of an assistant Scoutmaster or associate Advisor). But he’s done plenty of Scouting on land as well.

An Eagle Scout, he completed a Rayado trek at Philmont Scout Ranch and served two summers on Philmont staff. He has completed both Wood Badge and Seabadge.

What should other Scouters know about Sea Scouting? Our mission is their mission. We all share the same BSA mission and vision statements. At the end of the day, we’re here to create Scouts. We’re not here to create sailors. We’re taking all the same conceptual and structural components that make a Boy Scout troop work and doing it around water activities that are interesting to older youth.

What makes Sea Scouting appeal to teenagers? The main driver for a number of our youth is the opportunity to be in charge of what the ship does. By truly handing the reins to them, and acting as an adviser and peer rather than someone they report to, you give them what is probably the only forum in their life to learn how to make good decisions and do things for themselves. You’ve got to give them something to do that they think they can get hurt doing. It’s our job to make sure they don’t get hurt, but they have to have that sense of adventure mixed with true responsibility.

Is proximity to the ocean important in Sea Scouting? No. You just have to have access to some sort of water activity during the year. You can do small-boat sailing or focus on river rafting, canoeing, or kayaking. Or you can have a scuba ship that trains in a pool and then takes trips to practice scuba somewhere else. The basic message is that Sea Scouting encompasses anything having to do with being on top of or under water.

What have been some of your ship’s activities? We anchor out in the middle of Galveston Bay and have a night out on the water. We go to an event called Safety at Sea, where the youth get to go out on Texas Parks and Wildlife patrol boats, practice emergency procedures with a Coast Guard simulator, work with Texas Department of Safety water-rescue folks, and train with live flares and live smoke signals. We’ve also taken a 10-day trip down to the British Virgin Islands. That’s just fun stuff. I don’t care how old you are.

Are your Sea Scouts mostly former Boy Scouts? Most of my youth were never in Scouting before. One thing I like to do, when I talk to Boy Scouts who are interested, is ask them if they have a sister. There are a lot of sisters who watch their brothers do really cool stuff in Boy Scouting and are envious that they don’t get the same opportunities. Sea Scouting is something they can get into.

Do you need boating expertise to be a Sea Scout leader? If you don’t have any knowledge at all, you can go to the United States Power Squadron, which has ready-made curriculum and instructors that match up with Sea Scout rank requirements, or the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which also has an education program. You can also bring in consultants to help deliver the content.

How can Sea Scout leaders find support when theirs may be the only ship in their district or council? Use Facebook pages and online message boards. Right now, there’s a guy out in Atlanta who’s getting his ship up and going. He’s tapped into the Texas network because we’re actually getting to be quite strong. Find us on the Web; every Sea Scout leader I know would love to get a call from a new Sea Scout program trying to grow and improve. We all want to see more ships chartered and help existing ships grow their program.

Where do Sea Scout ships get the boats they use? Some councils own boats, and you can figure out how to do some service for them to get access to those boats. Another option is a personal vessel of adult leaders in your ship. I know of one ship that has a relationship with a yacht club that has a youth sailing program and allows the Sea Scouts to use those boats.

What about donated boats? Most Sea Scout ships that I know obtained their equipment through donations. Typically, these are boats that sit in marinas and driveways that never go anywhere. There are two important criteria for accepting a donation: The owner has a clear title in hand to transfer, and you have to make sure that the vessel is seaworthy and is not going to end up being a sinkhole. People do try to donate trash.

How do you know you’ve been successful as a Sea Scout leader? At Seabadge, I made a presentation on empowering youth. I think that’s the point of what we’re doing as Scout leaders. To me, if youths who get out of your program are accountable decision-makers, who take responsibility, you’ve done your job.

Talk about one of your successes as a Skipper. I had a girl who was unsure of her capacity for responsibility but who ended up being my boatswain [the unit’s top youth leader]. There was a lot of upset that happened as she learned to be a leader and decided to be responsible. She tried lots of times to have me do her job, and I wouldn’t do it. I had Mom mad at me and the girl crying and everything else. But at the end of her tenure, she told me that she appreciated the work that we had done together and that now she felt she was ready to go off to college. It wasn’t scary anymore. She felt like she could navigate through life. That’s the coolest thing; that’s what we’re trying to do.

How do you get the word out about your ship? I participate in the Boy Scout roundtable. There’s a breakfast meeting of Scoutmasters that I go to once a month. We invite Boy Scout troops to come out and sail with us, and we host Girl Scouts on guest sails. We host troops and crews getting ready to go to Sea Base and give them some skills before they go. This spring, I organized a district camporee tailored around Sea Scouting skills. It’s just a big effort to create more presence.

To learn more about Sea Scouting and find a ship near your hometown, visit


Years as a Scout Leader: 12

Current City: Dallas, Texas

Current Positions: Mate, Ship 1000

Day Job: Asset manager for a real-estate investment firm that specializes in apartment complexes

Favorite Camp: Sea Scout Base—Galveston, Galveston, Texas. They are putting together a great facility. I’m excited about what they’ve already got going and where they’re taking it.

Proudest Moments in Scouting: When I have a youth on my quarterdeck [a Sea Scout ship’s youth leadership group] come to me and say they have made a decision about anything at all. When they do that without my asking and actually step into leadership roles, those are really my proudest moments.