Sea Scouts douse burning boat they encountered during long cruise

When the Sea Scouts of Ship 202 boarded the S.S.S. Propeller for a long cruise this past June, they were ready for a fun 10-day journey cruising by the San Juan Islands in Washington. They didn’t anticipate battling a fire while on the water. But they were still prepared for it.

The ship, based out of Portland, Ore., chartered the 65-foot Propeller for its trip and took off from Seattle. Sea Scouts often go on extended on-the-water excursions. When these trips last two weeks or accumulate up to 14 days, the Sea Scouts can earn the Long Cruise award.

As the Sea Scouts headed to Port Townsend, Wash., an emergency call blared over the radio. The U.S. Coast Guard was calling for assistance to a boat fire. The boat’s two occupants had safely boarded another vessel, but their boat was still burning. If it were to sink, the fuel could contaminate the area, causing environmental damage.

Sea Scouts live by the Sea Scout Promise:

As a Sea Scout, I promise to do my best:
To guard against water accidents
To know the location and proper use of the lifesaving devices on every boat I board
To be prepared to render aid to those in need
To let those less able come first.

The ship changed course, turning its boat toward the site of the accident.

Rendering aid

Within 35 minutes, the Propeller was on the scene — before the Coast Guard.

“When we got there, the vessel was pretty much ablaze with black smoke,” says Tanner Wilson, 19, the ship’s boatswain.

The Sea Scouts had trained for such a situation, thanks to attending a Safety at Sea event the year prior. Safety at Sea events focus on equipping young people on what to do during emergencies at sea, including training them to use survival suits, rescue people who have fallen overboard and fight fires.

Last year, council Sea Scout committees worked with Coast Guard commands and Coast Guard Auxiliary divisions/flotillas to host seven Safety at Sea events. Ship 202 attended one held at the Seattle Maritime Academy. The training kicked in on that sunny day near Foulweather Bluff in the Puget Sound.

After getting the OK from the Coast Guard, the ship pulled out its two 1½-inch fire hoses.

“Everyone was calm; everyone knew where to go and what to do,” Tanner says. “Having all that knowledge definitely helped.”

Aiming at the base of the flames, the Sea Scouts worked on dousing the flames from the Propeller. They were not going to board the flaming vessel.

“We do lots of drills; this wasn’t a drill,” says the ship’s Skipper Neal Smith. “They had to get the fire hoses and get them charged up. They got to put what they learned into practice.”

A local fire boat pulled up a half-hour later, but their firefighters couldn’t help as they were having trouble with a pump. The Sea Scouts continued battling the blaze.

“By the time we were done, the smoke had gone from black to white,” Tanner says.

Another local fire boat arrived less than 10 minutes later and took over. Thanks to the Sea Scouts’ efforts, the boat did not sink.

Sea Scouts in action

This wasn’t the first time Sea Scouts have relied on the Safety at Sea training. Last New Year’s Eve, a Sea Scout in Texas used a fire extinguisher to put out a fire in his backyard that threatened to spread to propane tanks.

The Sea Scout leadership plans to have more Safety at Sea events later. It’s not a required training, but it can prove valuable — as demonstrated by Ship 202.

“The youth and adult leaders from Ship 202 are to be commended for their action,” says Ben Feril, national Sea Scout program chair. “Their actions exemplified the Scout Law of being Helpful, Brave and the Sea Scout Sea Promise.”

The ship safely completed its long cruise — one they’ll always remember.

If your youth is interested in joining the Sea Scouts program, contact your local council service center or visit BeAScout.org to find a unit near you.


About Michael Freeman 438 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is an associate editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines.