“Learning to become a boating instructor is a bit like tacking a sailboat. You rarely get a chance to go directly upwind or directly towards your objective. You may need to sail off in one direction. This may put a little bit distance from your destination, but then turn and tack back and forth until finally you reach your objective.” By Margaret Pommert
Margaret Pommert knew she wanted to sail. Growing up around Auburn, Washington didn’t offer too many opportunities on the water and her family was not a boating family. Determined, Margaret saved up money from odd jobs, convinced a boyfriend to drive her to sailing lessons on Lake Washington, and found her passion as a sailor.
“When I was a teenager I knew I wanted to be a sailor,” Margaret said.
Margaret moved to Southern California shortly after college. She started volunteering for sailing programs, building upon her experience as a sailor while learning to become an instructor.
“You need to develop experience, some of it will be relevant to being a boating instructor and some may not. You also need to develop experience in teaching,” Margaret said.
Community sailing programs in southern California were designed to give access to sailboats and being on the water for those in the community who would not normally have such access. It was these programs where Margaret volunteered and learning more about sailing, about being an instructor, and learned to maintain the boats.
She then volunteered for the Venice Boys and Girls Club’s After School Sailing program, teaching on small keelboats. Most of the kids in the program had never been on the water. The after school program was a joint program with the local harbor department and was part of the sheriff’s outreach program. The program was designed as to teach boating and safety education. She also volunteered for the Boys and Girls Club’s summer Fast is Fun sailing program, teaching on Hobie Cats.
“Teaching kids helped me become a much better teacher! If you don’t keep it fun and engaging, they quickly lose interest. A group of bored middle-school aged kids can find remarkably creative ways to get into trouble. So they taught me to see and correct potentially unsafe situations quickly, before anything happens. You’ve got to give students (of any age) freedom to go out and play and learn and make mistakes…but in a safe way.”
Margaret then joined the UCLA Marine Aquatic Center as an assistant instructor in their sailing program for students and alumni. She taught on a variety of small sailing dinghies and Hobie Cats, and was eventually hired as a full instructor.
After teaching sailing for many years, and becoming a certified sailing instructor, Margaret moved home to Seattle. She began teaching recreational programs for adults here, and became more involved in the Women’s Sailing Program with the Seattle Sailing Program. Four years ago, she stepped up to lead that program. Working closely with a dedicated and experienced team, they set out to provide a safe and supportive environment for women learning more about sailing. She became active in Northwest Women in Boating, a group of women sail and power boaters, as well as, as the Facebook group Women Who Sail (and Power Cruise.)
After years of tacking back and forth in her career as a boating instructor, she was invited in June of 2017 to teach at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. As part of a team of twenty of the best civilian sailing instructors in the United States, their job was to teach a group of Ensigns (fresh Naval Academy graduates) to become sailing instructors. The Ensigns then teach the new class of 2100 freshmen (called Plebes) how to sail as a foundational part of their curriculum at the Naval Academy.
Margaret was both honored and delighted to be included. Surrounded by former Olympic sailors and the head instructor for the Georgetown sailing program, Margaret was a little starstruck and in awe interacting with a group of people who were as passionate about boating education as she is.
“For somebody who loves to teach sailing, teaching with some of the best sailing instructor from all over the country was amazing and I really enjoyed it,” Margaret said.
Margaret feels the time she spends teaching enhances her teaching skills, and the time spent boating enhances her boating skills, which she then uses to teach others.
Margaret was recommended to teach at the Naval Academy through years of networking, connecting with the right people, and building upon her reputation as a boating instructor. Years of experience and education and being known for working as a good team member, qualified her for the position.
Volunteering, teaching, taking advance instructor training, testing to become a Performance Sailing Instructor, and being involved with organizations that develop and revise curriculum for sailing instructions, proves that Margaret is dedicated, willing, and more than able to instruct others in boating.
Being an instructor is a job filled with responsibility, so to find balance Margaret enjoys just being a crewmember and following orders and leaves the captaining to someone else. Over the last year, she has crewed on a boat during the Baja Ha Ha, a rally of around 160 boats that leave around Halloween and travel down the coast of Mexico. Over the winter months, she crewed on a boat doing the Pacific Crossing from Mexico to Tahiti. Upon her return from the South Pacific, she crewed on the lead boat for the Waggoner Cruising Guide’s Flotilla up the Inside Passage to Alaska. And to end her crew season, she visited Princess Louisa Inlet in British Columbia, her first visit to this magnificent beauty.
Margaret’s advice for younger people:
1. Build experience.
2. Be a good employee. Be aware of the needs of your clients (your students) and your employer (the sailing school). The responsibility to her clients is to make sure they are they having fun, learning what they need to learn, while keeping them safe. For her employers, her responsibilities include; maintaining the boat, keeping the school aware of any issues with the boat, helping to define the curriculum, and providing a safe and educational environment for the students.
Margaret has also been selected to serve as a Reviewer for the new National On-Water Standards (NOWS) Program for Sailing instruction. Funded in part by the U.S. Coast Guard, the purpose of NOWS is to advance the overall level of quality, availability and consistency of On-Water, skills-based instruction in recreational boat operation through the development, integration and application of On-Water standards within the national System of Standard for Recreational Boat Operation.
“The best sailing instructors tend to be women,” Margaret said with a chuckle as we concluded the interview. Even though she said it in tongue in cheek, she concluded that sailing women instructors tend to think things through and not muscle their way through a problem. They tend to think things out ahead of time.
When Boating – you may have a list of things that have to be done:
1. Maintain the boat
- Get the boat safely from point A to point B
- Being a good crew mate
But in the end you will feel satisfied and then you can just relax and enjoy boating.
No matter what our passion is – what we dream of doing – we set our course to reach our destination. Then sometimes, as sailing instructor Margaret Pommert says, “We have to tack and put some distance from our final destination before we can reach it”.
Margaret dreamed of sailing and now sails the seas while teaching others about sailing. The dream of a woman strong in determination and passionate about making a difference, while doing what she loves.
A northwest native, I started boating here about 40 years ago. I’ve enjoyed many of the world’s top cruising destinations, including the Inside Passage to Alaska, Caribbean, South Pacific, Great Lakes, Channel Islands, San Francisco Bay, Greece, Baja, Chesapeake Bay, and our San Juan and Gulf Islands.
For several years I taught sailing in California, on dinghies and keelboats, monohulls and catamarans. When I moved back to Seattle, I became an active sailing/boating instructor here, while also enjoying racing and cruising in Puget Sound/the San Juan Islands. This really is a great boating area, and I love introducing my students to our local waters!
I’m a certified instructor for following organizations:
I enjoy helping my students develop their capabilities and confidence in a safe, fun, and stimulating environment.