Secrets of a successful sailing instructor
A lifetime love of sailing and a philosophy of patience are what guides Gig Harbor’s Mike Rice and forms his teaching philosophy at the Puget Sound Sailing Institute (PSSI).
Founder and director of PSSI, Rice, 65, has been teaching sailing for 32 years since starting PSSI in 1985.
“I just started hand to mouth with two boats,” he explained. “We primarily focus on teaching people how to sail. To me, if you have too many focuses you can’t do anything well.”
This focus has paid off for Rice, a Gig Harbor resident since 1994, who recently received his eighth Outstanding Instructor Award from the American Sailing Association (ASA) for 2016. Additionally, two other PSSI instructors — John Mulligan, also from Gig Harbor, and Arthur Vanderveld — won the award for 2016, taking three of the four awards from ASA in Washington state.
I just started hand to mouth with two boats. We primarily focus on teaching people how to sail. To me, if you have too many focuses you can’t do anything well.
Mike Rice, director of Puget Sound Sailing Institute
Not only is it unusual for an instructor to win the ASA award eight times, but there has never been an ASA-certified school to have three instructors with awards in the same year, Rice said.
“I’m very proud of that and it says a lot about our commitment to excellence,” he said. “It says a lot about our instructors and their commitment. It speaks volumes that our instructors are not only explaining things well but are patient in doing it.”
The main office of PSSI is located in Tyee Marina off Marine Drive in Tacoma, with a second location in downtown Seattle’s Bell Harbor. PSSI focuses mainly on the South Sound, with boats in Gig Harbor, Tacoma, Bremerton and Seattle.
Rice grew up in a sailing family and carried the tradition forward with his own four children. He started sailing his parent’s dinghy at age 6, then moved on to racing by age 12. By 17, Rice had completed his first ocean crossing during summer vacation.
“That was sort of the launchpad, when I started doing the ocean races,” Rice said. “In one summer I sailed 10,000 miles in three months — that was just an amazing experience.”
I just love sailing and sharing it with other people. Our big boat has always been named Passion because I have such a passion for sailing and introducing it to others.
Since then, Rice has logged more than 100K nautical miles and completed eight crossings of the Pacific Ocean. He has taught more than 12,000 students, not only at PSSI but as an adjunct professor for both the University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran University.
“I just love sailing and sharing it with other people,” Rice said. “Our big boat has always been named Passion because I have such a passion for sailing and introducing it to others.”
Rice designed the curriculum for PSSI, which offers classes from beginning sailing to advanced and offshore sailing, including advanced cruising catamaran classes and navigational classes for coastal and celestrial navigation.
Sailing is so cool. It’s not just a sport it’s a way of life. It’s a great family activity and a great way to raise your kids, out on the boat.
“Our school, because of my experience and my credentials, we’re one of the few schools in the country that can teach people from beginning sailing to off shore, teaching people how to share across the ocean,” Rice explained. “We have our college students that I teach sailing as a PE class … the rest of our PSSI students are primarily professionals usually in their late 20s to late 50s. They’ve heard about our professional reputation which we’ve developed over the years. They’re usually very serious about learning sailing.”
The ASA Outstanding Instructor of the Year award is based on anonymous evaluations sent by students. Only 12 ASA instructors receive the award annually. Rice has received the award in 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2015 and 2016.
“Sailing is so cool. It’s not just a sport it’s a way of life,” Rice said. “It’s a great family activity and a great way to raise your kids, out on the boat.”