Ernest F. Braatz - 1936-1996
Founding Editor – Seaworthy
There is a widely held notion that most men got started in boating by playing with toy boats in the bathtub. In Ernie's case may well have been true, although it also seems likely that he developed an equally strong fascination with the sea itself at an early age. It isn't hard, if you knew Ernie, to imagine him as a young boy playing in the surf near his childhood home in New Jersey, watching the incoming waves with a mixture of wonder and apprehension. Wherever it started, Ernie's love of the sea and all things nautical lasted throughout his life.
He went to sea at an early age, joining the Coast Guard soon after graduating from high school. Ernie wasn't one to reminisce, but when he did it was usually about the years he spent at sea staring at mountainous waves through a tiny porthole on the way to places like Newfoundland and Guantanemo. When Ernie reluctantly left the Coast Guard to go back to school, it seems fair to say that he left a part of himself, perhaps a significant part, on the rolling deck of that Coast Guard cutter.
Ernie soon earned his college diploma and then a Master's degree in Communication. He married Ronnie, his wife and, more important, his closest friend. But his career, for the first few years after graduation, anyway, seemed to be a frustrating search for the sort of satisfaction he had gotten from his early years at sea. Always there were boats: building boats, selling boats, skippering boats, and repairing boats, but it wasn't until he came to BoatUS that Ernie finally seemed to find his niche. For awhile he managed the Claims Department and was instrumental in the creation of the BoatUS Catastrophe Team, an elite group of adjusters and marine surveyors who wrestle with the daunting problems of salvaging and repairing boats after a hurricane. Beginning as far back as Hurricane Alicia in 1983, Ernie "campaigned" every major storm with the BoatUS Field Unit—Gloria in '85; Hugo in '89; Bob in '91; Andrew in '92; and Opal in '95.
As editor of Seaworthy, Ernie presented a unique perspective on boating safety to a generation of boaters. His commitment to principle was legend among his friends here at BoatUS --- integrity, honesty, loyalty --— and boating safety through good seamanship. More than anyone at BoatUS, Ernie knew the necessity of good seamanship.
As Manager of Technical Services, Ernie represented the Association in groups that established boating safety standards—The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). He also conducted countless training seminars for boaters, marinas, and BoatUS staff. Ernie had a lot of plaques on his office walls thanking him for all the work he did to further the cause of this or that boating organization. He was justifiably proud of those plaques.
Two days before he died tragically in an senseless automobile accident, the victim of a drunken driver, Ernie celebrated his 60th birthday. Like most things he did, it was a low-key affair with friends stopping by his office to offer their best wishes and make the usual jokes about getting older. Ernie was a youthful sixty year old; he was surprisingly trim with a full head of dark hair and a natural curiosity for the world that showed no signs of diminishing. Standing next to some flowers that his wife Ronnie had sent, surrounded by the plaques and photos of various boats in his office, and with a shy smile on his face, it was still easy to imagine Ernie as a young boy, playing with small boats at the edge of the sea.
Farewell dear friend; your contribution to BoatUS as well as to boating, will be with us for many years to come.
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