What it’s like to be a Marine Park Host

I have been a Marine Park Host at Blake Island for two years.  While it has its routine, the weeks are not without excitement.

Blake Island Marine State Park

Blake Island is accessible only by boat, offering a change of pace just a few miles from the Seattle waterfront. The island is nearly 500 acres and has 5 miles of saltwater shoreline. There are miles of wooded trails around and across the island offering hiking and biking. Two tent campgrounds with 44 sites are on opposite shores. There are picnic shelters, restrooms, showers, and pavilions for large groups. Water activities include docking at the marina, tying to one of many mooring buoys around the island, fishing, kayaking, clamming, crabbing, and scuba diving. The two Park Rangers are the island’s only permanent residents. 

Argosy Cruises own and operate Tillicum Village, the lone commercial enterprise on the island. During the summer, Argosy brings day-tripping tourists from Seattle to enjoy a Northwest-inspired buffet meal and a live stage performance featuring Native American storytelling. They also offer transportation to and from the island for boatless campers and sight seers.

Arrival of the Argosy Ship
Tillicum Village Longhouse

The Marina

The marina is located on the northeast side of the island. It is open year-round and consists of two separate U-shaped docks totaling 1,500 linear feet, each with a ramp to shore. It will accommodate about twenty-five 30-45’ boats. The docks have 30-amp power but no potable water. A boat pumpout is located inside the marina entrance on a separate float. Nightly moorage fees are due after 1pm. An annual Moorage Permit (available online) is the best economic choice for boaters that use the state’s marine park facilities (docks and buoys) more than a handful of times during the year. Blake Island has the most dock space of any Washington Marine Park.

Hosting Duties

Hosting opportunities are available all year for a minimum of one week at a time. Hosting weeks run from Monday afternoon to the following Monday morning. There is a dedicated dock space and shore power for the host’s boat on the shore end of the first linear dock. The forward section of that dock is for 30-minute loading/unloading. In the hot summer sun, I dock with the bow toward the shore, so the aft deck is shaded. 

Dock space for the host boat

Once securely tied up and shore power connected, one of the two Park Rangers will arrive with the standard green volunteer vest and the notebook with park information. Hosting duties are centered around the marina operations and dock activities. No bathroom cleaning or stocking, campsite cleaning, or other peripheral duties are required. The two Park Rangers, with assistance from full time Park Aides and temporary summer help, manage Blake Island and another State park on the nearby shore. The Park Rangers rely on the volunteer hosts to take care of the marina, freeing them for their other park responsibilities. 

The host helps boaters find available dock space and tries to utilize the dock space efficiently in order to accommodate as many boats that can comfortably fit. Many times, boaters will dock in the middle of the dock, leaving insufficient room on either side. By moving to one end of the dock, two more boats can usually tie up. There are three spaces on the shore side of the U-shaped docks that are a little over 30’.  By directing boats there that will fit, rather than putting them on the longer docks ensures more larger boats can use the marina. It is sort of a puzzle and you never know the size of the next boat coming in. Once full, other boats get turned away.

It can be a puzzle

Educating visitors about the park is another duty of the host. Returning visitors always know to store their food and secure it in the boat when they go for a hike and for overnight. Those that don’t follow that rule soon find out that raccoons will get on their boats and make a huge mess. The host makes sure they know that rule. Keeping dogs on their leash is another rule that the Park Rangers strictly enforce. Visitors appreciate knowing the rules and the island’s amenities. I usually teach two or three boaters how to tie to a bull rail. Bull rails are not common in the Puget Sound area, but the Blake Island docks only have bull rails rather than cleats. 

So cute
But they will steal anything from anywhere on your boat

The host enforces the 30-minute loading zone. Many, many times during the day boaters will arrive and think it is an available dock and tie to it, despite the yellow marking and informational signs painted on the dock. Others will come in and say they want to use the restroom or take their dog for a short walk and promise to return in 30 minutes or less. Most people honor the 30 minutes, but enough do not that I tend to keep all short-term visitors off that dock unless they are actually loading or unloading something, such as camping gear or day hikers. At the end of each evening, the host will walk the docks and record the names of the boats and ensure they have paid moorage. The next day, things don’t start happening until late morning when boaters begin to leave as others arrive. Check out time is 1pm. Another benefit of having the annual Moorage Permit is that those boaters do not have to leave by 1pm and can choose to stay another night or leave later in the day. It adds a lot of flexibility. As a park host, I really like to see the Moorage Permit sticker in their window as it makes my job significantly easier, and those boaters are typically experienced and are aware of park rules.

Always Something Different

One constant seems to be that everyone is in a good mood, being on their boats away from home and work. Many are on family vacations. But one day is never like the next. Besides the racoon marauders and occasional drunk and disorderly boaters, some things happen that are hard for others to believe, and I would have been skeptical had I not experienced them for myself. There are several boat rental companies within easy cruising distance to Blake Island and I suspect those companies suggest they visit. A lot of them visit. I can usually tell a rental by the boat brands and size. But what stands out are the operators’ lack of boating experience and boat handling skills. Every time I have hosted, a rental boater arrives looking for help docking. As they approach the dock, I see they have no fenders out, so I ask them to put them out. Then when they toss me a line to help them tie up, the line is not even attached to their boat! They will run into pilings and sometimes other boats. I shake my head and realize everyone was a beginner once.

Most boaters also know to step off the boat onto the dock when the boat is close enough and never to jump. Some inevitably jump and make it just fine. But others slip while trying to jump or misjudge the distance and fall into the water. They are rightly embarrassed and fortunately nobody has been seriously hurt during the times I have hosted. They were lucky.

One injury recently occurred when a boater attempted to tie between two pilings, a tricky situation for those that have not done it before. You bring the bow of the boat to one piling, loop a line over it, then back to the other piling and tie the stern of the boat to it. When there is wind, current, and lots of spectators (because it is quite entertaining) the process is not so easy. The recent injury occurred when a woman got her hand smashed between the boat and the piling. Her wedding band had to be cut off because of the swelling. Fortunately, a nurse on a nearby boat came to help and administered first aid. 

Regarding drunk and disorderly boaters or unlawful activity, a host is never to intervene and put himself at risk. The park rangers are nearby and will respond immediately. The perps will be asked to leave and likely banned from returning for a period of time. When the drunkards become aggressive and assault someone else, or are doing something else that is unlawful, they are arrested by the rangers. However, the vast majority of visitors to Blake Island behave themselves and enjoy their visits.

The best part about being a host is meeting so many like-minded fellow boaters. We share stories and sometimes become good friends. Blake Island is such a popular park that occasionally you run into old friends too, like I did during my last hosting tour. As two guys stepped onto the dock, I noticed one of them looked familiar and he did the same about me. We immediately recognized the other and spent a nice evening catching up. 

So if you ever consider hosting, my recommendation is to go for it! If your experience is similar to mine and so many others’, you will not regret it, and in fact will look forward to the time each year.

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