Day on the Water

By Bob Newbert

Four years ago, I developed Day on the Water, a two-part program designed to introduce area youth to boating and the beauty of low country waterways. This past July, my squadron, America’s Boating Club of Hilton Head, held a Day on the Water for members of the Bluffton, South Carolina, Boys & Girls Club.

Photo of Bluffton Boys & Girls Club Explorers

Bluffton Boys & Girls Club Explorers get ready for a Day on the Water.

Sea School, a land-based session, gives children an overview of boats, where they will travel and what they will see to prepare them for the on-the-water boating session. Sea School covers nautical terminology, different propulsion systems (outboard, inboard, inboard/outboard and jet boat), basic navigation using aids to navigation, VHF radio protocol, charts and chartplotters, and the history and natural wonders of our local waterways.

Hands-on demonstrations reinforced key learning points. We set up a lock system so kids could see how a boat goes from one elevation to another. We demonstrated jet ­propulsion. We compared the capacity of our mouths (about 3 ounces) to a pelican’s (3 gallons). We demonstrated filter feeding (an oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day). We showed how long a dolphin can hold its breath (15 minutes). We discussed other arcana of our creeks, rivers, sounds and wildlife.

Day on the Water participation is a reward for children who complete the Explorers character development program jointly operated by the Boys & Girls Club and the Bluffton Police Department.

Sea School took place at the Bluffton Boys & Girls Club a week before the boating session. Our volunteer boat captains attended so they could reinforce key curriculum points on the water and meet the kids beforehand.

This year’s captains included Barbara Sommers, Peter Dion, Paul Hoyte, Nancy Stermer, Joe Etter and Wayne Mitchell. Assisting them were Brian DeMatteo, Neil Boderman and Jocelyn Mitchell.

The boats set out from Skull Creek Marina for Port Royal Sound, the Chechessee River, MacKay Creek, Windmill Harbor, Calibogue Sound and Harbour Town Yacht Basin and then returned home.

photo of youth learning to use a vhf radio

Explorer practices using the VHF radio during a radio check

Along the way, the Explorers learned about local history, boating, navigation and marine life. The first stop was for a radio check to practice VHF radio procedures. An Explorer aboard each boat acted as the radio operator, handling communication using call signs for each boat in the fleet.

At the entrance to Port Royal Sound, we discussed the Battle of Port Royal, which pitted Confederate Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Drayton against his brother, Union Capt. Percival Drayton, commander of the USS Pocahontas. The Union strategy, a circle of fire, devastated Confederate forces, resulting in the emancipation of Hilton Head Island’s enslaved people two years before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and four years before the Civil War ended.

In addition to my narration over the radio, boat captains and first mates shared their knowledge one-on-one with the kids.

Throughout the cruise, Explorers learned how to tie a bowline; viewed our position on chartplotters; observed ATONs and boating rules of the road; noted the tidal change from the time of departure to our return; observed pelicans and dolphins; and enjoyed the beauty of our waterways.

Sea Pines Plantation and the Quarterdeck Restaurant hosted us for a great lunch. The kids enjoyed free ice cream at Cups & Cones, free tickets to the Harbour Town Lighthouse as well as a kitchen tour at Links, An American Grill, in the Harbour Town Clubhouse.

Photo of youth piloting a boat during Day on the Water

An Explorer takes the helm

Explorers enjoyed driving the boat on the way home. Not every captain could offer this, but those who did provided instruction and the chance to take the helm for a few minutes while making small adjustments to speed and direction.

Upon our return, captains presented each Explorer with a hat embroidered with the America’s Boating Club of Hilton Head burgee and a framed Day on the Water award certificate.

“Our kids look forward to Day on the Water every year and talk about it constantly,” said Molly Hornbeak, Bluffton Boys & Girls Club director. “You have a tremendous, positive impact on their lives.”


Bob Newbert enjoyed lake boating as a kid but took a five-­decade break from the helm. He rediscovered his sea legs when he retired to Bluffton, South Carolina, where he serves on the America’s Boating Club of Hilton Head executive committee. Bob started Day on the Water to share his love of boating with young people.

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