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Bellingham boaters take to the bay for Opening Day of Boating

The event was marked with public ceremonies, a boat parade, tours of a Coast Guard ship

The winning boat from this year’s Opening Day of Boating on May 7. The theme of this year’s boat parade was Looney Tunes, and this boat featured Bugs Bunny in the captain’s chair. // Photo courtesy of Bellingham Yacht Club

The first Saturday of May each year marks a special occasion for Bellingham: the opening day of boating season.

Saturday, May 7 marked the Opening Day of Boating, an event organized by the Bellingham Yacht Club to commemorate the start of the new season. 

The event, which was free and open to the public, took place at the Bellingham waterfront and saw local businesses and organizations set up vendor booths. The Bellingham Coast Guard was also present and welcomed the public onto one of their boats for tours. The event culminated with a Looney Tunes-themed boat parade.

The Bellingham Yacht Club is a volunteer organization made up of a board of officers and trustees.

Jane Bright is one of eight trustees of the Bellingham Yacht Club. Each trustee is responsible for various tasks within the organization and Bright’s responsibilities include public relations and community outreach. She was primarily responsible for promoting Saturday’s event.

“We were very fortunate because the Coast Guard was able to bring a boat and open it for tours,” Bright said. “People who spend time on the waterfront are very thankful for our Coast Guard in Bellingham, and it was fun to see the boat.” 

Ashley Smith is a Bellingham resident who attended the event with her two young sons. She is not a member of the Bellingham Yacht Club, but found out about the event via social media.

“Getting to tour the Coast Guard ship was definitely one of the coolest parts of the day, especially for my sons,” Smith said. 

Smith also mentions the boat parade as a highlight of the event for both herself and her children.

“It was a really fun, family-friendly activity,” Smith said. “We don’t own a boat, but as Bellingham residents, we try to enjoy the waterfront as much as we can since we’re lucky to have it right in our backyard. After this event, we definitely plan to attend future Yacht Club events open to the public.”

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A member of the Bellingham Coast Guard welcomes members of the public on board a Coast Guard ship for tours during the event. Members of the local boating community say they aimed to promote safe boating during this event. // Photo courtesy of Bellingham Yacht Club

While the event was primarily hosted by the Bellingham Yacht Club, other local boating organizations, such as the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron, were also involved. 

The Squadron’s commander, Susan Bussinger said the Squadron was first chartered in 1959 and that its mission is to “make boating safer and more enjoyable through education, camaraderie and community service.”

The Squadron set up a booth at the event where their team of trained vessel safety examiners conducted safety checks free of cost and were part of the opening ceremony known as the Blessing of the Fleet.

“We were there primarily to be a visible part of Bellingham’s boating community,” Bussinger said. 

She said her organization is currently focusing on recruiting new members, especially of the younger generations to continue their nearly 60-year legacy.

Bright explains that the local boating community is active year-round and Pacific Northwest boaters often take to the water, regardless of the season, unlike other parts of the country. During the holidays, the Yacht Club hosts a lighted boat parade in which boats take to the water decked out in colorful holiday lights. 

“I lived in Massachusetts for many years, and there everyone pulls their boat out because it’s too cold and clubs shut down for winter,” Bright said. “Even though opening day is in the beginning of May, races have been going on for at least a month. It’s the tradition for all the clubs around here to kick off the new season in the first weekend of May as the weather gets nicer, cruises start and racing and training start.” 

Bright said the Opening Day of Boating serves as a celebration of the strong friendships formed by those in the boating community and that in addition to spending time on the water, the Bellingham Yacht Club provides camaraderie for its members.

Bussinger said this sense of community is an important component of boating.

“We want to continue the legacy of boater education and have fun doing it,” Bussinger said. “Our members are passionate about boating and it’s a wonderful invitation into an environment of solitude when you’re on the water, but it can also be an invitation into a community of like-minded people and being part of that enhances the whole experience.”

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