BoatUS Reports

News From The World Of American Boating

Edited by Ryck Lydecker and Chris Landers

Photo of Bill and Jeri OakersonBill Oakerson and his wife Jeri are looking forward to retirement.

Your Man Behind The Scenes

Every organization needs a visionary chief executive who can orchestrate the people and create the processes that make that organization successful. At BoatUS, Bill Oakerson, who retired in December, was that man, and the funny thing is, you may never have seen his name before now.

When Bill came to BoatUS 36 years ago, he recalls, it wasn't for the money. He was offered only $10,000 to join the insurance division, which would mean a serious pay cut from his underwriting job at Connecticut General. But no one sympathized with his argument — "If I take this job, I'll have to sell my car to live on that salary!" — because every BoatUS employee at that time was living frugally, working for a future and an association they believed in. So why did he come aboard? First, he said, because he loved boats. Second, because he'd learned something about himself in his previous job: "I wasn't going to be a rich salesman, because I loved educating my clients more than I liked closing the sale." He never did sell the car, but for a time BoatUS's new underwriter went home every night to an efficiency apartment with no bed and didn't care. He remembers having the time of his life in his new job.

Put together Bill's fierce commitment to his clients and his love of boating, and you know just about everything you need to know about how Bill managed BoatUS Marine Insurance from 1980 to 2004, and then how he ran BoatUS itself, as CEO from 2004 until his retirement. Bill embraced the BoatUS members and was always guided by what was best for them. When faced with difficult management decisions, he'd often end a debate by saying, "This is the right thing to do." That didn't always mean it was the most profitable thing to do, or the best business decision. It meant that he thought it was the right thing to do for an individual member, for all of our members, or for boating in general.

It was Bill who worked relentlessly to strip the BoatUS Marine Insurance policy language of every bit of legalese possible. He put in place our claims-handling policies and procedures, wrote our underwriting guidelines, and designed both to be tough but fair, while giving the benefit of the doubt to the policyholder. When he realized that knowing what went wrong on boats would benefit boaters, he created the damage-avoidance program, published the findings in Seaworthy, and sent it out free to all our members. When Hurricane Alicia ravaged Texas in 1983, Bill personally went to the scene to help close claims and process payments on the spot, an initiative that evolved into today's Castastrophe Teams that put BoatUS in the field first after a disaster to help our members in a way unmatched in the industry. When Congress legislated that the Coast Guard should leave towing to the private sector, Bill built TowBoatUS, setting standards for the towers designed to ensure our members were treated fairly.

All along the way, Bill instilled into the very fabric of BoatUS a deep loyalty to our members, an absolute pledge to stellar customer service, and the ethical backbone to "do the right thing." Our new CEO Brian Wesselman, who's worked side-by-side with Bill, is just as committed to those values. Bill may have left BoatUS, but the strong foundation he built will ensure that we remain true to what he shaped as we close out our first 50 years and enter our second half-century.

The Winner Is ...

It's award-show season for more than just the movies.

Hollywood has its Oscars and TV its Emmys, but most boaters probably don't know that their favorite pastime has its own "best of the best" — for facilities that give them access to the water. It's the States Organization for Boating Access Awards, an annual competition among all those behind-the-scenes professionals — engineers, aquatic biologists, environmental technicians, grants administrators — who get us on the water.

The big winner (Large Project Category) in 2013 was the M. James Gleason Boating Facility on the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon, with 75-foot-long ramps divided into four lanes, parking for 120 cars, plus spaces for 145 tow vehicles and trailers, 360 feet of courtesy docks, and an additional 320 feet for transient tie-ups. But the pièce de résistance is the innovative debris deflection wall made up of 17 concrete panels that divert waves and reduce floating debris accumulation. The panel sections create a staggered wall with openings that allows for unobstructed passage, at any river level, for the Columbia's legendary salmon runs. The panels include designs by artist Buster Simpson that suggest the river's flow, whether the fish appreciate it or not.

The facility, which reopened to the boating public last June, is operated by Portland's regional government authority, Metro, and includes a new floating boathouse headquarters for the Multnomah County Sheriff's River Patrol. Funding for the $6.5 million rebuilding project, some 15 years in the making, came through the Oregon State Marine Board, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other sources, including $3 million from the federal Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund.

Chicago Cleans Up Its Act

With a history of serving as the sewage canal for Chicago residents, and the offal and carcass pit for the Union Stockyards, the Chicago River has never been the crown jewel of the Windy City's waterways. But due to a policy change by city leaders and pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to disinfect the city's sewage flow, this little river is beginning to shine a bit brighter. With equal shares of city funds and private donations to help increase water quality and access for recreational boating, city officials opened the second of four approved boathouses in October 2013 — part of an ongoing cleanup program including a renovated 1,000-slip marina on 31st Street that received a Leadership in Energy Efficiency Design award in 2012.

Photo of kayaking the Chicago River at nightLights are a good idea if you'll be kayaking in the evening. (Photo: Waveriders)

The newest boathouse sits on the east bank of the river at Clark Park and will offer kayak and canoe rentals. A partnership between the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Rowing Foundation will also run low-cost community programs out of the boathouse and support the local recreational and competitive rowing programs. The Ping Tom Boathouse, named after the developer who expanded Chicago's Chinatown, was the first to open in June of 2013. It will offer paddle craft rentals and a floating kayak and canoe launch.

Don Abrams with Wateriders has been guiding kayak tours on the Chicago River for over 15 years. "We get about 8,000 to 10,000 customers on our tours annually. The real question is how clean we can get this river the way everything's set up right now." Prior to 2011, Chicago was the only major U.S. city that did not disinfect effluents from its sewage as part of the treatment process. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the agency responsible for meeting water pollution standards, expects the new disinfection facilities to be complete in December 2015.

Fishing Line Recycling Makes History

One of the 2,000-plus bins the BoatUS Foundation has provided to local groups to gather used fishing line for recycling is itself being recycled ... in a manner of speaking. It's a featured artifact in the redesigned Oceans exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Leveraging more than $250,000 in grant funds from NOAA's Marine Debris Program, the BoatUS Foundation partnered with the Berkley Conservation Institute to keep spent fishing line out of the nation's trash stream — or worse, the nation's waterways. The "Reel In and Recycle" campaign offered the free collection bins for placement at boat ramps, fishing piers, and other convenient spots. Since 1990, Berkley has recycled 9 million miles of fishing line — enough to reach the moon and back 19 times. (Perhaps the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum will pick up on that fact.) Learn how to build a bin at

Not So Sweet

An industrial spill in Honolulu harbor killed thousands of fish in September when a pipeline from a ship to an onshore tank burst, dumping 200,000 gallons of, not oil, but molasses. The sweet syrup sank to the bottom of the harbor, displacing oxygen and smothering bottom-dwelling sea creatures like coral and crustaceans. The sugar in the molasses is also food for algae, which can bloom and take even more oxygen out of the water. Gary Gill, deputy director for the Environmental Health Division of the Hawaii Health Department, told Hawaii News Now that the spill was "the worst environmental damage to sea life that I have come across, and it's fair to say this is a biggie, if not the biggest that we've had to confront in the state of Hawaii." Matson, the company that owns the ship, has taken responsibility for the accident, and Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie said the state would do whatever it takes to clean up the spill.

Humpbacks Roll For Their Repasts

Any boater who has seen humpback whales feeding at or near the surface is lucky indeed. Even on TV the behavior is an awesome sight. Circling a school of fish while blowing a curtain of air bubbles around them allows whales working in teams to corral, then scoop up their massive meals. But sophisticated tagging technology now shows that bottom feeding is a much more common technique, at least in the waters of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and Great South Channel, the deepwater passage between Nantucket and Georges Bank. There, researchers use tagging equipment and software that produces images for whale movement in three dimensions. These allow them to follow a whale from surface to seafloor while also observing all the pitch, roll, and heading changes the animal makes while underway. This feeding behavior, particularly on schools of sand lance, could make the humpbacks vulnerable to entanglement in bottom-set fishing gear, a major mortality factor for the species.

True Believer? Well, That's One Way To Look At This

Nebraska's top boating safety official, Herb Angell, is such a firm believer in auto-inflating life jackets that he personally demonstrated how they work by jumping in Holmes Lake in the capital city, Lincoln. But Angell, who is boating law administrator for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, took the plunge Houdini-style, with his hands cuffed behind his back and ankles strapped with duct tape (well, we did say "believer," right?). Two seconds after hitting the water, the device inflated and brought him back to the surface, face up and, later, smiling. (We don't recommend doing this at home.) To see a video of Angell's feat, visit this story online at

I Think I'll Name My Shark ... Cuddles

Saltwater Anglers catch nearly 3 million sharks every year in the U.S. but about 96 percent of sport-caught sharks are now released alive. In addition, many shark-fishing tournaments have become catch-and-release-only for those anglers who want to preserve sharks but still get the bragging rights to a formidable fish. In fact, NOAA Fisheries is able to collect data for more than 150 oceanic sharks at fishing tournaments in the Northeast. Even in Montauk, New York, home of the late Frank Mundus, the model for Captain Quint of "Jaws" fame, anglers in the Shark's Eye Tournament get to name any fish they catch, tag, and release for NOAA's tagging program.

Blackbeard's Revenge

After nearly 300 years on the bottom at Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, five cannons from pirate Blackbeard's ship Queen Anne's Revenge were recovered by nautical archeologists last October. Further investigation should determine whether the infamous Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, intentionally ran the 40-gun ship aground, as legend would have it, or if the sinking was accidental. North Carolina's Department of Cultural Resources has retrieved some 280,000 artifacts since the wreck's discovery in 1996.

Taking Saltwater Anglers' Temperature

Illustration of fishing attitudes and preferences surveyPhoto: NOAA

Late last year NOAA Fisheries conducted its first-ever national survey of opinions and attitudes held by more than 9,000 saltwater anglers in 22 coastal states. Insights to anglers' motivations, trip successes, and preferred management objectives will help NOAA Fisheries better understand what makes saltwater anglers tick — or at least fish. For more details and regional breakdowns, see this story online at

Here Be Monsters

If you're on the West Coast, you may have noticed an invasion of sea monsters last October. First, an off-duty crewmember of the tall ship Tole Mour found a dead 18-foot oarfish while diving near Catalina Island in California. (She did what any of us would do — dragged the 300-pound fish back to shore to show her friends and take pictures.) Oarfish are long, eel-like fish, which can grow to around 50 feet and live at depths of up to 1,000 feet. Encounters with live oarfish are extremely rare, but a few days later, another dead specimen came to shore in Oceanside, California — this one 14 feet long.

Photo of oarfish washed up off Catalina IslandCatalina Institute's catch of the day. (Photo: Catalina Island Marine Institute)

The appearance of the two "sea serpents" led to speculation in the news about Japanese folk wisdom linking the fish to upcoming earthquakes, but scientists were skeptical of a connection. NOAA collected the remains of the smaller oarfish for further study, and the larger one was dissected by scientists at the Catalina Island Marine Institute and sent to other institutions. Milton Love, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, received the internal organs from Catalina. He told the LA Times that the deaths of the two fish could be related. Weak swimmers, they may have been caught in a current, and forced into more turbulent inshore waters. Then again, in between the two oarfish, a rare saber-toothed whale washed up in Venice Beach. If Godzilla shows up next, all bets are off.

Advisory Council Meets

As the sounding board for BoatUS, its National Advisory Council met November 12-13 in Ft. Lauderdale. Council members took on topics from ethanol in boat fuel to waterway infrastructure and even "virtual" aids to navigation. Front: Chris Edmonston, BoatUS Foundation president; with Brian Wesselman, BoatUS CEO; and Mack Maloney (Chapman Piloting & Seamanship), council chair emeritus. Second row: John Flynn, former staff, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee; Karen Rhyne, president, Recreational Boaters of California; Doris Colgate, president, Offshore Sailing School; Bob Adriance, retired editor, Seaworthy. Third row: Lenora Clark, California Boating and Waterways Commission; Frank Dvorak, United States Power Squadrons; James Vass, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Fourth row: Margaret Bonds Podlich, BoatUS president; Thom Dammrich, president, NMMA; Herb Angell, president, National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. Last row: Dean Travis Clarke, former editor, Sport Fishing Magazine; Chuck Hawley, retired V.P., West Marine; Jim Ellis, retired president, BoatUS

Photo of the BoatUS National Advisory Council

Undersea America

The borders OF the United States extend 200 nautical miles from the coast, accounting for more than 3 million square nautical miles of water and the land underneath it. Most coastal nations have Exclusive Economic Zones, which give them special rights to resources like oil and fisheries, but most of the area off the U.S. coast remains unexplored territory. That started to change last summer, as NOAA and independent explorer Robert Ballard began a long-term project to survey the areas.

Photo of the Okeanos ExplorerThe NOAA research vessel Okeanos Explorer. (Photo: NOAA)

Ballard, best known for rediscovering the Titanic, compared the project to the epic journey of Lewis and Clark, who set out to survey the territory gained in the Louisiana Purchase. In a National Geographic article, he wrote that, "to this day, we have far better maps of Venus, Mars, and the far side of the moon than we do of underwater America." His ship, the Nautilus, mapped parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, while NOAA's Okeanos Explorer looked at a chain of underwater mountains near Rhode Island.

NOAA Rolling Up Its Paper Charts

After 152 years in the nautical-chart business, in April NOAA will eliminate the bulk pre-printing of charts. "The demand for traditional paper charts has fallen more than 90 percent in the last 30 years," confirmed Susan Shingledecker, vice president of the BoatUS Foundation and a member of the NOAA Hydrographic Services Review Panel. With declining demand, the increasing use of electronic navigation products, and federal budgets tightening, the agency's Office of Coast Survey announced in October that traditional lithographic charts would become history.

Not to worry, though; NOAA is beefing up its Print-on-Demand charts, available through private vendors. These charts contain all applicable corrections from the latest Notice to Mariners at the time of printing. The agency also maintains electronic-chart products, available for free download, including NOAA Booklet Charts that cover 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline, including the Great Lakes. Visit 

— Published: February/March 2014

101,000 Cubic Yards

That's the amount of debris removed from New Jersey's bays, inlets, wetlands, and the ocean waters during the Hurricane Sandy recovery (think 101,000 full wheelbarrows), which concluded last October. Although sediment removal continued through the fall, as of October 30, dredgers had removed some 360,000 cubic yards of Sandy-related sediment from the Garden State's marinas, lagoons, and back bays.

US Power Squadon logo

This year marks 100 years of the United States Power Squadrons, when one Charles Chapman, from the Boston Yacht Club in Marblehead, Massachusetts, saw that people buying the newly developed recreational powerboats needed special instruction. The boating safety course he devised was so successful that when Undersecretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt saw it, he encouraged yacht clubs from around the nation to assemble in New York on February 2, 1914, at the New York Yacht Club, bringing the United States Power Squadrons into existence. To mark the occasion, the organization, which has strived to help make boaters safer and more confident on the water, has multiple events planned for the year. For more information, see


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