National, squadrons cope with COVID-19

The Ensign Staff

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As the national pandemic crisis stretches on and states begin to reopen businesses and public places, finding ways to stay safe while coping with social distancing requirements continues to be important for everyone.

At the start of the crisis, United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, temporarily closed its headquarters office in Raleigh, to comply with North Carolina’s guidelines. Squadrons and districts followed similar precautions, cancelling classes and events to keep their members safe. In short order, national, district and squadrons found ways to cope with social distancing restrictions while continuing to support our members.

According to some experts, life as we know it may not return to normal any time soon, which means the changes to our organization and operations could extend through the end of boating season, if not longer.

Squadrons embrace social media, online platforms

With the mandated cancellations of in-person classes and events on the local level, squadrons turned to social media and other online platforms to stay in touch.

“[We have been] stepping up posting on social media as a reminder to people in the community that while we may be postponing in-person activities, we’re still here and active,” said Ron Jones of Peace River Sail & Power Squadron/22.

Using Zoom, and GoToMeeting, many squadrons moved executive committee meetings and changes of watch online. Many districts conducted spring conferences and changes of watch virtually as well. Some squadrons found a way to socialize at a safe distance by using Zoom for virtual happy hours and other events.

On the Social Media for Squadrons Facebook group, members agreed it was nice to be able to see each other’s faces despite the physical limitations.

In some squadrons, Zoom meetings gave inactive members a chance to participate. “For our meetings, we had some members join via Zoom that hadn’t been around in a while because they were busy or had moved away,” said James Milton of Great South Bay Power Squadron/3.

This online format forced squadrons to get creative. Cape Fear Sail & Power Squadron/27 held a virtual meeting in April that included an online program provided by the National Weather Service, with presentations about the weather in different regions. At its next meeting, the squadron planned a wine tasting with the aid of a local wine shop. The shop delivered bottles of wine to the members’ homes the day before, and during the meeting, the owner discussed the history of the wine and the region where it had been produced.

While the realities of our day-to-day activities have been altered, our mission has not. We continue to do our part to make the waters a safer place for all through education, fellowship and civic service.

America’s Boating Club Atlanta used GoToMeeting for its May meeting, “Together While Apart,” which included a 30-minute chat window followed by a presentation on two members’ Antarctica trip. Beforehand, members put on life jackets for a screenshot to promote National Safe Boating Week.

Online learning

Despite the hurdles, some squadrons managed to hold classes online. Several squadrons taught Boat Handling through Zoom and Skype. Boulder Valley taught Marine Electrical Systems and plans to teach Weather via Zoom. Taking another route, Bellingham Sail & Power Squadron/16 taught Boat Handling through Bellingham Technical College’s learning management system.

Mid Illini Sail & Power Squadron created a YouTube Channel where it posted video lessons for Cruising and Cruise Planning and conducted Q&A and review sessions via WebEx.

At the national level, the Educational Department’s interactive online seminars continue to serve students eager for focused boating education. To fill the educational gaps created by social distancing restrictions, the department set up a learning management system to deliver courses in a virtual classroom. On the new platform, students can purchase the seminars that comprise Boat Handling, individually or as a group, and receive the grade of Seaman after successfully completing all six seminars. For more information on the new Boat Handling virtual classroom course, turn to page 6 of this issue.

The department recently added recordings from its popular webinar series for purchase on its learning management platform and plans to launch and record additional webinars later this year.

Crisis forces difficult decisions

Like most businesses and organizations, United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, experienced a sharp decline in sales and dues revenue—27% and 10% respectively—due to the coronavirus. Declining revenue forced the organization to make difficult decisions to reduce expenses to cover its budgetary shortfall.

One such decision was to temporarily reduce employee hours in the education, membership, shipping and accounting departments.

“Throughout this crisis, headquarters continues to support districts, squadrons and members through email, phone calls, and electronic communications,” said Headquarters Executive Director Mary Catherine Berube.

In addition, the organization has made the difficult decision to move The Ensign magazine to a digital platform starting with the Fall 2020 issue. Despite these efforts, further cost-cutting measures may be required if revenue fails to meet budgetary requirements.

Looking ahead

As we adjust to an oftentimes challenging new reality, we must remember that United States Power Squadrons didn’t survive for more than 100 years without change.

While the realities of our day-to-day activities have been altered, our mission has not. We continue to do our part to make the waters a safer place for all through education, fellowship and civic service.

One thing that became evident during this pandemic is that we are family. At the local, district and national levels, we look out for each other, check in regularly, and support each other and our communities when and where we can. “Together, we will get through this and emerge even stronger,” said Chief Commander Mary Paige Abbott.

United States Power Squadrons, America's Boating Club logo

The Ensign magazine is an official channel of United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, a volunteer organization whose members teach boating skills and best practices to help improve the safety of our nation’s waterways. Learn more.