“The Sea Scouts are the best kept secret in scouting,” said Tom McMullen, Committee Chair of the local Sea Scouts. The program has been around since 1912, and is a part of the Boy Scouts of America.
According to McMullen, this high adventure program is designed to keep kids in scouting longer, because boys may lose interest in it when they reach high school. Sea Scouts is open to boys and girls age 14 to 21, and the median age is 16 to 17.
The Sea Scouts can do anything in the water, McMullen said. Ship 185, one of the eight Sea Scout ships in the Tampa area, meets in Apollo Beach, has been around since 1988 and specializes in cruising and racing sailboats. Every summer they have a long cruise which lasts for a week and a half. They have traveled several times from Tampa to Dry Tortugas, which is 60 miles north of Cuba. They also do weekend cruises every couple of months. In addition, they require two hours of community service each month from their scouts.
Ship 185 is sponsored by the Tampa Sailing Squadron of Apollo Beach. Every April, Ship 185 and the Tampa Sailing Squadron host the oldest Sea Scout regatta in Florida, called the Tampa Bay Sea Scout Regatta. About 10 to 13 ships come in from around Florida and they usually have about 125 people attend the event.
“Not only do you get all the benefits of scouting in terms of leadership development, citizenship development, character development, all of the things that you get in scouting, but you get to do things that are all high adventure,” said McMullen. “You get to push yourself, test yourself in a safe way.”
Once a Boy Scout earns first class rank in their troop, they can finish up their Eagle Scout rank in the ship. The Sea Scouts also have their own advancement program. The Quartermaster rank is the highest in the Sea Scouts. It is the equivalent of the Eagle Scout rank, except it is harder to achieve because more is expected and required of the older scouts. Jackson Pentith, former 185 member, earned the rank in 2013. According to McMullen, if a scout achieves the Quartermaster rank and decided to join the military, they go in as an E3 right away versus an E1 rank, which is about $350-$400 more pay each month. Only one in about 180 Sea Scouts ever earn that rank. One in 20 Boy Scouts earn their Eagle Scout.
Ship 185 meets every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Tampa Sailing Squadron. If you are interested in joining, you can come to a meeting and pick up an application. For more information, visit TampaSailingSquadron.org.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said McMullen. “We do a lot of things that most teenagers don’t get to do. Not many people get to sail from Tampa to Dry Tortugas on a 36 ft. sailboat.”