A combat veteran and avid boater has organized a nationwide effort to honor troops and veterans with a day on the water.
Dubbed BOASTY - Boaters of America Say Thank You the nonprofit group connects boat owners eager to say thanks with current and former warriors interested in barefoot sailing, high-speed water-skiing or deep-sea fishing.
The best part is, it doesn't cost a dime. Not only are volunteer skippers offering their boats and their time, most are promising meals, drinks and a very good time, say organizers.
BOASTY is the brainchild of Branden de Buhr, a former Army mechanic who served in the first Gulf War. He says he just wanted to show his gratitude while helping others do the same. He's been amazed at how many boaters have been eager to jump aboard. So far, dozens of owners have signed up from across 17 states.
"As word of this is getting out, we expect to be adding new boats every day," he said.
It all started when he read a story about a young soldier who got bumped up to first class on a flight back to her duty station.
"I thought that was the coolest thing, that they would honor her in such a specific way," said de Buhr. "It got me thinking, what could I do?"
As the owner of a social networking site for boaters, he didn't take long to figure out an answer. Among the volunteers is Kevin Schnetzka, who owns a 27-foot sleep-aboard Bayliner cruiser that he keeps docked in the Chesapeake Bay. "We want to tailor this to whatever they want to do," said Schnetzka, "whether it's cruising over the Baltimore harbor or Annapolis or a quiet day swimming on a sandy-bottom cove."
Like many of the volunteers, Schnetzka is a veteran himself, a former helicopter crew chief. His father was a drill sergeant and his daughter is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The Army runs deep in our family, so this just way for us to show a small token of our appreciation. My wife and both feel troops today don't get the recognition they deserve."
De Buhr says the free boat rides will run through Labor Day, but hopes this is just the first season of many. To find boats in your area or to volunteer your own go to http://www.boasty.org">www.boasty.org.
"All you need to do is bring yourself, your swimsuit and some sunscreen," de Buhr said. "Expect to be pampered. The volunteers are very eager to express their gratitude for your service."