Steve Cansler, beloved captain who helmed Sea Base’s Bahamas program, dies at 65

Sea Base Capt. Steve Cansler, who ran the Bahamas-based sailing adventures at the BSA’s Florida Sea Base, died Dec. 24, 2017. He was 65.

During Capt. Steve’s time in the Bahamas, countless Scouts and Venturers arrived with high expectations but little sailing experience. The BSA entrusted Capt. Steve and his wife, Kim, to help these young people feel at home on the water.

Time and again, the couple delivered. Participants plan, train and fundraise for years before arriving at Sea Base. Capt. Steve and Kim helped make it all worthwhile.

“Steve was a man of principle, who had an amazing work ethic, was an astute businessman and a truly wonderful person,” says Paul Beal, who was general manager of Florida Sea Base until his 2016 retirement. “I’m proud to have been on the same team as Steve and Kim.”

The Canslers started at the Bahamas Sea Base in 2007. They operated their boat, “Natures Way,” in the Sea Base fleet until 2012 when they were asked to run the entire Bahamas Sea Base program.

“Steve was a natural and so happy to be working with youth again,” says his wife, Kim Cansler. “He had coached youth sports for 18 years and loved every minute of that. He embraced every crew and remained friends with many of the kids and leaders until now.”

Capt. Steve’s family has chosen to honor his memory with Sea Base scholarship donations in lieu of flowers or other memorials. Anyone who wishes to make a donation in his memory can do so using the instructions at the end of this post. Every penny collected will support youth who might otherwise not get to visit Sea Base.

Passionate, professional

Capt. Steve was passionate about teaching leadership skills to young people through hands-on experiences, says Tim Stanfill, Sea Base’s director of program operations. This passion made Capt. Steve a natural fit for the Bahamas job — first leading Scouts on his boat and later running the program’s day-to-day operations from land.

“He taught life lessons that will live on in the young men and women served at Bahamas Sea Base,” Stanfill says.

Charles George saw this first hand. A Venturing Advisor from the Laurel Highlands Council, George joined a crew of young men and young women for a Bahamas Adventure with Capt. Steve in 2011.

“That was a formative week for all of the crew, as most high adventures are,” George said. “However, Steve helped make every crew feel special, especially the youngest of the group who learned the hard way the she had a full-blown seafood allergy. He and his wife, Capt. Kim, were truly professional, and they were a model couple. Their boat was their home, and they were perfect hosts.”

George said his Venturers learned a lot from Capt. Steve, but one lesson really hit home. Capt. Steve told them to see the boat as a metaphor for life.

“You have map, compass, tools. They help you maintain control over your vessel. But they won’t control it without you,” Capt. Steve told the crew. “Never give up control of your vessel.”

Eyes on the water

Steven Richard Cansler, was born May 30, 1952, in Shawnee, Kan.

At age 28, he married his best friend, Kimberly Jo Cress. Steve was a hairstylist and with his wife owned a salon called Natures Way. For years, the couple thought that name — “Natures Way” — was really better suited for a sailboat than a salon.

Steve and Kim’s dream of owning a sailboat came true soon after they retired in 2003. Steve and Kim became registered maritime captains with the U.S. Coast Guard and started a career as charter boat captains. Naturally, they named their boat “Natures Way.” They operated out of Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas.

In 2007, the BSA partnered with Capt. Steve and Kim to operate “Natures Way” as part of the Sea Base Bahamas program, led by Capt. Joe Maggio. Thousands of young men and young women had the time of their lives sailing around the Bahamas with Capt. Steve guiding them.

When Maggio died unexpectedly in 2012, Beal, the Sea Base general manager at the time, needed someone he could trust to run the Bahamas program.

“There were a lot of people interested, but Steve and Kim stood out head and shoulders above the rest,” Beal says. “We knew them, trusted them implicitly. They believed in the program as much as we did. It was a decision I never looked back on.”

A new chapter on land

In spring of 2012, the couple took over the day-to-day operations of the Bahamas Sea Base.

“Although we missed getting to go out with the kids, Steve did a great job handling all the logistics of the program and working with and training the captains,” Kim Cansler says. “He added great positive changes to the program every year.”

“Positive” is an ideal word to describe Capt. Steve.

Rob Kolb, the Sea Base’s former director of program, says Capt. Steve always greeted arriving Scouts with a smile.

“All Scouts and leaders left their Bahamas adventure with fond memories of Capt. Steve and his wife,” Kolb says.

Stanfill, the current director of program, says his friendship with Capt. Steve went beyond business.

“Obviously the business of Sea Base is important, but Steve always put friendship and family first,” Stanfill says. “He took the time to give me fatherly advice and encourage me to spend more time with my family. I will forever cherish those talks.”

Donate to the Capt. Steve scholarship

Donations may be made in Capt. Steve’s honor; 100 percent of money received will go to help Scouts or Venturers attend Sea Base.

Make your check payable to the Boy Scouts of America, writing Capt. Steve scholarship on the memo line. Mail it to P.O. Box 1906, Islamorada, Florida, 33036.

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this, Bryan.
    It’s amazing what an impression one week of adventure can make. Each of Steve’s one-liners was a Scoutmaster’s minute in its own right. In addition to his “parable of the vessel,” I went through my advisor’s log and found these:

    This was my second Seabase sailing adventure, so I knew that once we were under way, the best thing any advisor could do is make his way to the bow, fashion a makeshift recliner from lines and bumpers, settle on the fore-deck, and take a nap in the sun and spray. After we motored clear of the harbor into the Caribbean blue, Steve shouted to me, “So Charlei, how do you like MY office?”

    From then on, I keep a second hammock in my gear box in case a scout or scouter wants to visit *my* office. I look forward to those days “at the office”.

    When dropping youth off to tour an island, he reminded them, “Do you know the drinking age around here?”
    Holding up an open hand he’d say, “Five dollar. But, every bartender has a radio, and word about a scout ordering alcohol would fill the airwaves. Guess what I don’t want to hear about on my radio?”

    In prep for snorkeling from the boat, Steve went over the usual hand signals. Then he started waving his arms over his head … crossing and un-crossing them. “From time to time, lift your head out of the water and look back to see if I’m doing this. If you do, come back to the boat.”

    At the end of the week, we cleaned up, signed out, and waited at the Conch Inn Marina for our cab to the airport. Steve and Kim said their goodbyes to us and left to attend other errands. But, as we were pulling out of the resort, there they were parked on the corner waving good-bye. Well, Kim was. Steve had his arms over his head, crossing and uncrossing them. The gesture was not lost on our youth: he wanted us to “come back to the boat!”

    Unfortunately, that boat’s a little further away now. But, I bet he’s still waving on the other shore. Sail on, Steve! The Good Book says the Master takes his berth in worthy vessels. I have a feeling that you’re up to the task, and the “office” you now have outshines any day here.

  2. What a great man Steve was to help so many young men and women. My son went to Sea Base and although we didn’t have to opportunity to meet Steve and Kim we are fortunate to have seen first hand how hard these captains work teaching our scouts. Anyone considering a trip to Sea Base should make it a priority, my Eagle Scout considers it at the top of his adventure list. Prayers for you Kim, how blessed to spend each day with Steve doing what you both loved.

  3. Having been a sail boater for over 45 years, I can vouch that there is no lack of opportunities to learn and practice leadership, responsibility, and every point of the Scout Law and the Scout Motto when on the water. Then sharing what you know and seeing young hands grow more confident by the day is a reward that can’t be measured in dollars.

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