Growing up in rural Arkansas, T.W. Cook spent only a year in Cub Scouting. But adult involvement was pretty much inevitable once he joined a Scouting family — his father-in-law, Verl Underwood, was a 70-year veteran — and had two sons.
Cook served as Scoutmaster for five years, producing 21 Eagle Scouts during that time, and spent a year as a crew Advisor. When his older son, Cory, decided he wanted to try Sea Scouts, Cook helped launch Ship 911, which is still going strong. He also served as commodore (chairman) of the Capitol Area Council’s Sea Scouts Committee and then spent three years as Southern Region commodore. In June 2019, he began a two-year term as national commodore.
WHAT KIND OF BOATING BACKGROUND DID YOU BRING TO SEA SCOUTS?
Growing up in the Ozarks, a bunch of friends and I canoed a lot, including multiday trips on the Buffalo River. Then, in college, some buddies and I got into kayaking. I did one sailing trip in college and was grateful that someone knew how to operate the boat, because I didn’t. Then I mostly left boating behind until I got into Scouting with my sons.
HOW DID YOU GAIN MORE SKILLS?
By staying a step ahead of the kids. I was the beginning sailing instructor and then handed them off to the Skipper, because he was by far the more experienced sailor, but I learned a lot from that process, and I took advantage of training from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron. I currently hold a 100-ton master’s license for inland waters, including an auxiliary sail endorsement.
WHY DOES THE BSA NEED A SEPARATE PROGRAM RELATED TO BOATING?
It goes back to the Baden-Powell quote: “If you want to catch fish, you don’t use bait you like; you use bait the fish like.” Kids like on-the-water activities a whole lot.
COMPARE SEA SCOUTS TO SCOUTS BSA.
In any part of Scouting, we’re using outdoor activities as a laboratory to develop leadership skills. That could be a patrol collaborating to figure out how to cook pancakes over a campfire or Sea Scouts planning a multiday trip down a river or a crew of Sea Scouts sailing a 30-foot sailboat on the Gulf of Mexico.
HOW DO RIVERS CONNECT WITH SEA SCOUTS?
We revised Sea Scouts requirements in 2016 to add a paddlecraft track. You can now have a ship that focuses on kayaking or canoeing or even scuba. Sea Scouts covers a whole spectrum, all the way from paddlecraft up to 100-foot steel-hulled retired military vessels; we can go everywhere there’s enough water to float a boat, and rivers are fair game!
WHAT ELSE IS NEW IN SEA SCOUTS?
We recently updated our agreement with the Coast Guard Auxiliary to allow their flotillas (local units) to charter ships. One of our biggest limitations has been the availability of adults with boating skills. This gives us chartered organizations that are full of useful people. That’s a game-changer for us.
WHAT’S THE SECRET TO SUCCESS IN SEA SCOUTS?
The kids have got to get the adventure, or they won’t stay. That’s pretty easy, because this stuff is really fun — as long as we make sure they actually get out on the water and don’t spend all their time doing fiberglass repair. Actually, some kids think fiberglass repair is fun — but not very many of them.
EAGLE SCOUT VS. QUARTERMASTER: WHICH IS HARDER?
Quartermaster. Kids tell me getting to Ordinary rank, which corresponds roughly to First Class, is harder than Life to Eagle. For Quartermaster, they have to do a project that is basically identical to an Eagle project; they have to teach most of the skills they learned along the way, but they also have to do a Quartermaster cruise, in which they take command of a vessel, supervising a crew of at least four Sea Scouts for a significant voyage over a period of 40 hours. A Quartermaster is someone who is capable of taking command of a vessel in Galveston and sailing it to Key West. They have the complete set of skills.
DO MANY SEA SCOUTS PURSUE BOATING CAREERS?
We did a survey a while back, and about a third of Sea Scouts expressed interest in maritime careers, whether that’s Navy, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine or something like marine biology. One of the original kids from our ship is flying jets for the Navy in the Middle East; another is a Coast Guard engineer on a ship in the Pacific. But a lot of them simply leave with a love for boating that turns into a hobby.
WHERE CAN PEOPLE LEARN MORE?
Seascout.org is a good place to start.
Fact Sheet: T.W. Cook
Years as a Scout Volunteer: 19
Current City: Georgetown, Texas
Current Positions: National Sea Scouts Commodore; mate, Ship 911
Day Job: Vice president, Caringo, Inc.
Most Satisfying Moments in Scouting: “Watching the sunset on the last day on the trail at Philmont with my younger son, Joseph, when he turned to me and said, ‘Dad, thanks for making me do this.’”
Favorite Camp and Why: Sea Star Base Galveston, Galveston, Texas. “Having a facility where lots and lots of Sea Scouts can come and collaborate and get access to fantastic sailing is pretty awesome.”