Faye Towner becomes the first black leader of America’s Boating Club Rochester

As a young girl in Oviedo, Florida, Faye Towner never imagined she would one day be Commanding Officer of the American Boating Club of Rochester – and yet, since Dec. 8, she has been.

Towner was sworn in as the first African American commander of the organization also known as Rochester Sail and Power Squadron. Another first? As commander, Towner leads an all-female deck.

A Rochesterian since the age of 15, Towner grew up swimming and fishing with her father.

Although they used boats to go fishing, Towner says the boats were seen as a means of transportation, not necessarily vehicles for recreational use.

As commander, she wants to help more African Americans and people of color see themselves as boaters and know that they too can and should be members of Rochester Sail and Power Squadron.

Over 80 years of history

Faye Towner is the first African-American commanding officer of America's Boating Club Rochester.

The Rochester Power Squadron was chartered in 1938, although the United States Power Squadron dates back to 1912. From the beginning, the goal was to provide proper nautical education.

In 1934, F. Ritter Shumway, later a prominent industry executive and RIT benefactor, overheard a dock attendant advising a novice boater not to head into a storm. The boater said, “I just bought this boat and the seller said it would go anywhere, anytime.

Motivated by this, Shumway became the first member of the USPS in the Rochester area by studying the USPS pilot course and taking the exam by mail. He then taught the skills to a local group; 10 of them passed the exam to form the base of the Rochester Power Squadron with Shumway as the first commander.

Today, the organization has just under 300 members, including active full members, family members and associate members.

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America’s Boating Club Rochester offers sailing, boat handling, and other courses, including Pilot Seamanship, Advanced Piloting, and Junior Sailing Sailing. All navigation courses are equivalent to those given by the US Navy and the US Merchant Marine Academy.

Map of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway

“For new boaters who don’t know how to conduct themselves on the water or even know all the boating safety rules about being in the water…we also offer vessel safety checks, where we will go actually on your boat and will have a vessel security checked in accordance with the US Coast Guard,” says Towner. “When you’re on a boat, if you’re stopped by the Coast Guard and you show that you have the ship’s security seal that we give you…it immediately lets the Coast Guard know that you’ve been security checked. of the ship.”

America’s Boating Club Rochester hosts community speakers, including the Historical Society, which Towner says spoke about boating in Rochester in the 1900s and early 1930s. The organization also partners with agencies border patrol and border protection.

“We partnered with them and invited them to teach or give talks about boating on the Great Lakes and the do’s and don’ts of entering Canada and international waters” , said Towner.

Previously an all-male organization

In 2013, she says, America’s Boating Club Rochester held their Founders’ Day celebration, to which they invited all the former captains who had been with the organization even when “women were starting just to become members”.

During the event, the women spoke about their tenures, including what it was like to be in what was then an all-male organization. Towner led the event. After realizing that three of the commanders were still alive, she realized it was important to ask them to talk about their experiences.

“I think what happened was husbands started to – or spouses started to feel like their wives were being left out of the organization,” Towner says.

The exclusion was largely formal: she says wives attended—and often even led or organized—social events or social activities, but they were not official members.

“When the men started seeing the women more involved…they started opening the door for women to be part of the membership,” she says.

Lake Ontario by Durand Eastman Park filled with people enjoying the good weather and cooling off in the water on Sunday, July 26, 2020. This body of water attracts boaters who often anchor not far from shore.

Towner is thrilled with her new position as commander, period. She says it’s interesting to be the first black commander.

“I don’t think any of us, except maybe me, have thought about it,” she said.

She remembers asking her husband if he thought everyone would be okay with her leading the organization.

“He said, ‘Why wouldn’t they? You have been part of this organization since 2013, you have been an instrument… Everyone knows what you are capable of doing.

Additionally, the organization will now have women in all leadership positions, with a woman of color at the helm.

“I think I was the only one to say, ‘Isn’t this the first time an African American has been at the helm of this? And that’s…I think I wanted to emphasize that because it’s a first for this organization in this area. Because I also want to attract more boaters of color and African Americans to the organization where they can get boating education and information,” she said.

Towards active inclusion

Towner says she joined the organization “completely by chance”. But, like a fish in water, she immediately took to it. Her husband was the first to join America’s Boating Club Rochester, after deciding he wanted to better understand boat mechanics.

Her husband became captain while she served as secretary, making her responsible for membership and some of the marketing materials for America’s Boating Club Rochester.

“I think that’s where the bug bit me,” Towner said. “I started to see opportunities with our organization and to expand more into the Rochester community.”

Towner has a strong desire to inspire more young people and people of color to see themselves on the water. She hopes her tenure as the first black commander will help fulfill that desire. One proposal that is before the committee is a partnership with local Boys and Girls Clubs to help expose community youth to boating.

“Whether through courses that would equip them and prepare them to be ready to apply for a Coast Guard scholarship or a maritime scholarship,” she said. “…as a commander (I) want to bring the organization closer to the community.”

She says that people might use boats — to go fishing, for example — without necessarily realizing that they are boaters who could benefit from nautical education.

“I come to this from being around my dad and my son,” she said. “My son fishes a lot with his dad and his dad has a boat, but he won’t go on the Big Lake… but they do fish. They are avid anglers…they don’t see it that way and I think that’s what I want to bring to the table – more people of color realizing that you need the same level of education and understanding .

She hopes that as the first black commander, people will realize that the organization is one they should be part of.

“Sometimes inclusion is about who you have at the top and that person at the top looks like you and I don’t think we’re offending any other group by saying that because there’s been so many other people at the top who aren’t people of color that people will naturally feel like they belong, while others may not know they do,” she said.

Towner and her husband own a 41-foot sailboat named Lady Faye. When they enter the river, she thinks fondly of the children lining up on the pier, eagerly waving to the boat as it docks.

“I want people to think of themselves as sailors,” she says. “I want them to know they can bring this 41ft tall ship any way I can. That’s where my head is with all of this; how can I influence others to see that ‘they can do it too?’

Adria R. Walker covers public education for the Democrat and Chronicle in partnership with Report for America. Follow her on Twitter at @adriawalkr or email him at [email protected] You can support his work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.

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