Members of White Rock Power and Sail Squadron (left to right) Roger Gibb

Members of White Rock Power and Sail Squadron (left to right) Roger Gibb

A course of safety

Volunteers on a ‘mission’ to teach safe water practices

Safe boating isn’t just a concept the White Rock Power and Sail Squadron practises on the water, but a critical – and sometimes life-saving – skill set its members take to the classroom.

“It’s become a sort of mission for all of us,” said Roger Gibb, commander of the non-profit club that is set to mark its 50th anniversary next month.

From piloting and navigation to weather behavior and marine maintenance, the squadron offers more than 20 different courses for mariners of all ages and skill levels.

And while the classes – taught out of Earl Marriott Secondary – aren’t a new offering, they have become all the more relevant since the federal government made it mandatory two years ago for captains of power-driven vessels to have a Pleasure Craft Operators Card.

Those who take the organization’s first-level course qualify for the PCOC, as well as membership in Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons.

But Gibb cautions that the basic knowledge one needs to acquire the certificate is just that – basic.

“It’s not sufficient to make you safe. It really isn’t,” the South Surrey resident said, noting the club’s advanced courses delve deeper into boating education. “The PCO card gets people out on the water and our courses bring them back safely.”

The squadron teaches about five courses in each a fall and spring semester. The classes vary in length, with the basic boating course taking 14 weeks.

There are currently around 60 students – from teens to one man in his 80s – and about seven instructors, all of whom are volunteers.

Gibb said all teachers are required to take a three-week instructors course, and donate their time in the classroom once a week.

The teachings take students back to the fundamentals of boating in an age when many on the water rely heavily, or solely, on electronics.

In fact, the squadron continues to teach celestial navigation, a centuries-old technique that uses the moon, stars and planets to determine positioning.

“It’s kind of a lost art but we want to keep it alive,” Gibb said.

The squadron also organizes field trips and pleasure cruises, which those new to the water are invited to join.

“We don’t just have education in the classroom, we do mentor them after that,” past squadron commander Andrew Pothier said.

What started as an interest has become a lifestyle for many in the 400-member squadron – one of 170 in Canada and a part of the national body’s largest district.

Norm Headrick, also a South Surrey resident, said he started boating after a friend took him and his wife on a boat trip more than 20 years ago. When he saw an ad for the squadron’s entry-level course, he took it, and has been part of the club ever since.

He now has 24 years of volunteering with the group – he put in 1,000 hours last year alone – and chairs the rules committee on the national level.

“Once you get bitten by the volunteer bug, it’s hard to get rid of it.”

When he’s not giving back to the squadron, he can be found on his boat, which he  takes out a few weeks at a time for trips to the Gulf or San Juan islands.

“A lot of people fly away and go other places for a holiday, I would just as soon get in the boat and go to the San Juan Islands,” Headrick said.

Boating not only allows people to explore the area’s many islands, Pothier said, but also to visit various harbours and their restaurants, shops and locals.

“You meet lots of different people every time you go to different places,” Pothier said.

But boat ownership also comes with its responsibilities.

“It’s like having a summer cottage,” Headrick said.

“You’re always working on it. It’s an ongoing thing. You’re working on it, but you’re enjoying it.”

Squadron members exchange tips and advice, but also use the group as a social network to host get-togethers for all ages.

“It’s a family organization,” Headrick said, noting there’s about a 50/50 split between members with sailboats and powerboats.

Their next event is planned for April 16, when the group will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a dinner and dance at Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club.

Gibb said the club is trying to contact past members who may have material to contribute to a scrapbook being compiled.

“We’d like them to come to the anniversary,” he added.

“They will meet old friends and we’d love for that to happen.”

For more information, call 604-515-5566, email or visit

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