Photo by OCG Saving the Ocean on Unsplash

For a teenager in the 1970s, the Boy Scout Handbook offered an escape into a practical world that provided answers to lots of things for a young, curious mind: how to tie knots, start campfires, safely hike and camp in the woods, use a compass, identify trees and track animals. Manuals for merit badges provided more detailed information on everything from survival to citizenship. (In my view, the Boy Scouts’ three merit badge manuals on citizenship — for the community, nation and world — are better than the civics materials provided in school.)

So it came as a surprise that a new book on all things maritime, appropriately called The Ocean, is based on a version of the Handbook, now called a Fieldbook, of nautical skills, as explained by co-author Chris Dixon of James Island.

A few years back, Dixon said he was talking with an old friend for whom he once worked, surfing buddy and laid-back singer/entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett. Over a plate of shrimp and grits, Dixon shared the concept of a new book of maritime skills — a kind of “Poseidon’s bible — a guide to all things ocean that’ll be fun to read in a hammock strung between two palm trees, but will also help save your ass in a pinch,” as he wrote in the introduction.

Buffett chuckled and said, “The stuff you only really learn from time on the water. … When I was a kid, I learned so much from this book called The Sea Scout Handbook,” which the authors then described as an inspiration for their new book.

They ended up sharing scores of practical skills for the water. Get a flavor through some of the subtitles in six chapters of the 350-page book:

  • How to Right a Small Sailboat 
  • The Ultimate Surf Van
  • Why Ocean Exploration Matters
  • Why Sharks Matter
  • Open Stuff Without an Opener
  • Survival Hydration
  • Dive Dangers
  • Ten Essential Fishing Knots.

Their book, in fact, inspired a cover feature story in the Charleston City Paper that showcases 29 different things regular people can do to help protect the ocean.

In addition to recommendations to get out on the water to learn it and love it, there are suggestions on how you can promote sustainability of the seas, protect local waterways and be good land stewards to help the ocean. Several ideas focus on how to get greener in your life intentionally to make a longer term difference with such actions as eliminating single-use plastics, not using hygiene products with plastic microbeads, properly disposing machine fluids, reducing harmful herbicides and pesticides that might run off into streams, and being careful with sunscreens that you use.

But the story also included practical ways to participate in democracy to make it stronger.

“Never underestimate your power to make a difference, through volunteerism, recycling, political advocacy, sharing via social media or engagement in citizen science projects,” S.C. Aquarium Executive Director Kevin Mills said.

Emily Cedzo of the Coastal Conservation League added, “Take action to protect the ocean.  Whether it’s opposing offshore drilling or supporting protections for the endangered right whale, there’s a lot of information out there, so get some help gathering it. You can send emails or make calls to local, state and national officials or speak at public meetings.”

Bottom line: To make a difference in any endeavor in which you’re passionate — from protecting oceans to fighting to ensure fair election lines — get more involved. Connect with groups that share your passion. Vote. Help people register to vote. Interact with people in your neighborhood and get them to help. Donate to organizations that do what you want done. Support elected officials who you support by giving your time or money during campaign season.

As the Boy Scouts taught me, being a good citizen is about being involved. We need more of that spirit today to keep America moving forward.

Andy Brack is publisher Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: