A group of local seafarers can teach both beginner and seasoned veteran boaters alike the ropes of safety, sailing, shrimping and more.
The Deception Pass Sail and Power Squadron, which is beginning to use the name America’s Boating Club of Deception Pass to attract more members, is an 80-strong group of mariners from Whidbey and Fidalgo islands.
A significant amount of its work is in promoting boater safety, but it also offers a wide range of classes from celestial navigation to the fine art of fishing in local waters.
Jennifer Geller and her family moved to Whidbey from California and joined the club about a year and a half ago. She said the club has been a great resource for local sailing knowledge.
“There are so many experienced mariners in this group. You would never get this on your own,” she said.
Club member Shawn Haugen chimed in, saying that someone could learn vital lessons the hard way.
“But mistakes are hazardous,” he added.
Haugen has a live-aboard at the Oak Harbor Marina and has been part of the group for six years. He is passionate about educating people about water safety.
One of the most popular classes the club offers is a course to get a Washington State Boater Education Card that most boaters need. Anyone operating a vessel with a 15-horsepower motor or greater, born after Jan. 1, 1955, and 12 years old or older is required by law to have the education card, although there are some exceptions.
The class goes over safety requirements, nautical “rules of the road” and other important information for people taking to the water.
Besides the boater education card course, the group has offered hands-on learning in the past like kayaking, docking and rescuing.
The club also supports a loaning program for free kids’ life jackets that can be found at local marinas. Some members will also do vessel safety checks to make sure a boat meets U.S. Coast Guard requirements.
There is a group of people who are prepared to ferry supplies and aid to the island should an emergency occur. Haugen said the Squadron Emergency Response Assistance Team is a small fleet of boaters who could transport people and supplies on and off the island if needed.
One of the club’s newest efforts is to encourage people to put reflective stickers on their paddles, along with stickers that list their contact information. The increased visibility can help boaters avoid dangerous collisions, Haugen said. Listing contact information on gear can help rescuers in their search when someone reports an empty kayak or canoe.
Haugen said rescue teams spend a significant amount of time and resources every year looking for potentially missing people, when in reality the small boats may have simply been taken by the tide. He said he hopes the stickers will shorten searches so rescuers can focus on other efforts.
The club offers more than just safety education.
“I came for the boater education, but I stayed for the social benefits,” Geller said.
The club offered classes on how to cook on board and used to host a jamboree in the summer before COVID-19 restrictions halted events.
There is a free, online shrimping seminar on May 8 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in preparation for the upcoming one-day season. Shrimping can be a little complicated for beginners and will be open May 19 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the marine areas around Whidbey, although state Fish and Wildlife officials said more days may be opened if quota remains.
Those interested in attending the seminar can contact Pat Waters at 360-720-2589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ultimately, the two club members said it is a group that welcomes both advanced and beginning sailors whether they have a boat or not.
“It’s a bunch of people who have a lot of knowledge and want to share it,” Haugen said.