The love of boating is more often than not a trait passed down from generation to generation. Strike up a conversation at any yacht club or at your favorite waterfront joint and it’s likely that person will have a fondly remembered childhood tale of fishing or sailing with a parent or grandparent. With over 123 million people residing in coastal counties or parishes in the U.S. alone, there are surprisingly only 12 million recreational boats in the country according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Obviously there is plenty of room for growth on many waterways, and one way to ramp up the next generation of boat owners is early exposure to boating and its way of life that many may not have access to via family members. A lifetime love for the water can come about simply by instilling that sense of adventure, self-reliance and the freedom found in boating to young kids. A new $100-million facility in Galveston, Texas, seeks to do just that.
Originally conceived as a modest high-adventure boating summer camp for the Sea Scouts—an offshoot of the Boy Scouts—the scope of the project on Offatts Bayou in Galveston rapidly broadened and now even includes a Community Youth Sailing Center and a maritime education facility for merchant mariner students and others. Financed almost entirely by a donation from a private Texan donor who is very active in the Sea Scouting programs, the 60,000-square-foot facility—including lodging, offices, classrooms, a cafeteria, and an endowment for accredited instructors—recently finished construction on their adjacent floating docks and piers. The complex will be capable of hosting 200-300 scouts on a weekly basis by the middle of this summer.
The Galveston Sea Base is already home to a fleet of donated and purchased Sonar and FJ sailboats, plus a retired 82-foot Coast Guard cutter that’s been converted to a functioning on-the-water classroom. They will be adding a variety of vessels ranging from kayaks and Optimists to large schooners with the goals of emphasizing sailing instruction, seamanship, navigation, and high-adventure. Novice sailors will be held to the protected waters of Offatts Bayou, and more advanced sailors will graduate to heavily supervised racing and offshore programs. These boating programs are expected to draw over 20,000 scouts per year from throughout the country and have already hosted scouts from Louisiana, Missouri and throughout Texas while the facility was in its construction.
Conceived as complementary and not as a competitor to the Sea Scout’s hugely successful Sea Base in the Florida Keys, the Galveston Sea Base will draw from scouting programs throughout the west and central United States and the Northern Gulf Coast. With many children lacking exposure to boating through a family member, this immense state-of-the-art program and facility is, and will be, a game changer in youth boating education for decades to come.
By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating July 2014