The secret of their success: How Sea Scout Ship Viking develops leadership, character

Members of Sea Scout Ship Viking
Members of Sea Scout Ship Viking celebrate their accomplishments at the Ancient Mariner Regatta, a Sea Scout competition. Photo courtesy of the SSS Viking

Each year, a handful of landlubbers join Sea Scout Ship Viking having never sailed before.

A few years later, not only are they comfortable on the water, they’re teaching a new crop of recruits how to sail.

A year or two after that, they age out of the program and enter the real world with confidence and leadership skills they wouldn’t otherwise have obtained.

And then the cycle repeats.

That’s the SS Viking program.

For their efforts, the SSS Viking (also known as Sea Scout Ship 100), an all-girls unit chartered to the San Francisco Whaling Sailboat Association, was recently named the BoatUS National Sea Scout Flagship.

“Like all Scouting programs, we’re focused on leadership and teamwork and character development,” says Viking Skipper (Sea Scouting’s equivalent to Scoutmaster) Tamara Sokolov.

Scouting is designed to take place outdoors. For the SSS Viking, that means sailing on the San Francisco Bay as often as possible.

“It’s such an incredible place for sailing,” says Sokolov. “I think that’s the draw. The cool, uniqueness of sailing. It’s very, very cool to go sailing in the Bay, at any age.”

Scouting … on the water

A Scout unit can’t exist without a reliable meeting space. For the SSS Viking, that space is the Viking, an 85-year-old wooden boat that the girls of the SSS Viking maintain and sail.

It’s the same ship Sokolov sailed when she joined the ship as a youth in the late 1990s.

In 2001, she earned the rank of Quartermaster, Sea Scouting’s equivalent to Eagle Scout.

Many of her fellow adult leaders were also once youth members of the ship. Now, it’s their job to provide guidance and mentorship to the youth who plan the program.

When a storm comes in the middle of the night, they’re the ones who go out and bail out the ship.

“The key is having good activities,” Sokolov says. “It has to be fun. It’s Scout run, but they need guidance. A new Scout doesn’t know everything that’s available to them in the program.”

For the Viking, the result of strong adult leadership is a culture of friendship and respect.

“The highlight of the program for me is the people,” says 14-year-old Peregrine Kurpius. “Everybody’s really cool, and it’s a really good community.”

Many Scout units participate in camporees and Jamborees. Sea Scout ships participate in regattas, a series of races and competitions.

And while other Scout units go to summer camp, the Viking goes on a summer cruise — a two-week trip in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“I really enjoyed my first cruise,” says 16-year-old Katherine Scannell. “I learned a lot about cooking and working together, learning how to get into a groove with sailing every day and learning all the little things you need to do for sailing.”

The Viking sails across the San Francisco Bay.
The Viking sails across the San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy of the SSS Viking

Learning life skills

Technically speaking, anybody can sail the San Francisco Bay. All you have to do is buy yourself a boat and teach yourself how to sail.

“It’s a little bit cost prohibitive if you don’t know where to find programs like Scouting,” Sokolov says. “You can join the sailing team at your private school or join the yacht club … but otherwise Sea Scouts is it.

“That’s part of our pitch (to parents). Where else can you sail for this price?”

Like other Scout programs, the members of the SSS Viking often don’t realize they’re learning resilience, practicing making decisions under pressure and developing a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors. They just think they’re having fun.

“It’s really cool to know you’re part of a team of teenagers that are piloting a boat,” says 14-year-old Eowyn Wassman.

It was the youth who had to create the video used as their Flagship application. The Viking also won the award in 2016.

“You start knowing nothing,” says Sokolov. “By the time you’re a senior, you’re teaching all of the younger kids everything. You’re coordinating a service project … planning a 48-hour cruise. That’s so much leadership experience, and that’s the real draw for parents, I think.

“These are life skills they can take with them everywhere.”

Read more about the SSS Viking in the August 2023 issue of sailing magazine Latitude 38.

What is Sea Scouts?

Sea Scouts, one of the five programs offered by the Boy Scouts of America, is a maritime program open to young men and women ages 14 to 20.

Like the other four programs, Sea Scouts offers a fun, safe environment for Scouts to learn, build friendships and develop character while earning advancement.
Sea Scouts are organized into units called ships. A Sea Scout ship may participate in activities such as paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, sailing and SCUBA. Scouts can earn certifications in specialties such as boating safety, lifesaving and CPR—credentials that mark their growth as sailors and leaders throughout their time in the program.

Elected youth officers plan and conduct the program under the guidance of adult advisors. Coast Guard Auxiliary and Flotillas are among the chartered organizations interested in teaching youth activities in, around or underwater. Each ship is typically sponsored by a business, service organization, religious institution or other organizations within the community.

The history of the BSA’s version of Sea Scouting goes back almost as far as the organization itself. In fact, the first issue of Scouting magazine featured the headline, “Sea or Water Scouts: New Branch of Boy Scouts of America Will Be Started With Aid of the Secretary of the Navy.”

Click here to find a Sea Scout ship near you.

The Scouts pose for a group photo after receiving the Flagship award from Rear Admiral Leonard C. “Butch” Dollaga, Chief of Legislative Affairs for the U.S. Navy. Photo courtesy of the SSS Viking

Share your “success” stories

We’re always on the lookout for Scouting success stories. Know any units or leaders who have gone above and beyond expectations? Email us and let us know! We might feature them in our next “secret of their success” story.

About Aaron Derr 438 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.