Fourteen harbors; 70 miles of coastline; 53 aids to navigation; 3,000 moorings; and a 76-slip marina. Bob Watson ’68 manages numbers on a daily basis, but rarely from behind a desk. The assistant harbormaster of Falmouth, Mass., is typically out patrolling the waters on a Metal Shark or Boston Whaler.
It’s not a bad way to spend the summers on Cape Cod. But the seasonal job is serious business for the former Accountancy and Finance major.
“Our No. 1 goal is safety,” says Watson, who has lived in Falmouth for more than 30 years. “Even though I have a badge, my job is to educate, not judicate. Educated boaters make my job easier, because when they’re in trouble, I have to react.”
From his office on Falmouth Harbor, the marine VHF radio is buzzing. Situations are as unpredictable as the ocean waters: a leatherback sea turtle entangled in a fishing net, man overboard, fuel spills and lost moorings. Watson and his 14-member team are trained in rescue procedures by NASBLA (National Association of State Boating Law Administrators); they work closely with the Massachusetts Environmental Police, U.S. Coast Guard, and local police and fire departments.
“It’s a challenge staying on top of the latest rules and regulations and being ready to handle the unexpected. But the biggest responsibility as a first responder is being prepared when you arrive on the scene of an accident.”
Watson has always loved boats and the water, recalling childhood summers in coastal Ipswich, Mass. He took on assistant harbormaster duties in 2002, after retiring from a 34-year career teaching business and technology, the great majority of those years at Falmouth High School. The 6-foot-6-inch former Falcon also coached varsity and JV basketball at Falmouth High for a combined nine years.
The alumnus earns high marks for his patience, understanding and deep commitment to this seaside community. When a former Falmouth High School basketball player lost his life in a highway accident, for example, Watson raised funds to establish an annual scholarship and create a living memorial basketball court at the local recreation center.
As he navigates the rocky shores of Woods Hole, Watson is clearly in his element.
“We have a lot to cover and the environment is diverse,” he says of the territory under the harbormaster’s watch. “For me it has been absolutely fascinating. I learn something new every day.”