After nearly 40 years of sharing life-saving skills, Sarah Fisken retires

As a WSG marine operations specialist, Fisken grew the organization’s marine workshop program and forged trust and community across the state in the process

By Samantha Larson, WSG Science Writer

The first time Sarah Fisken put on a survival suit, she was immediately thrown overboard. She was on a boat anchored out in Southeast Alaska, as she was spending the summer commercial fishing for salmon. There was another boat anchored nearby that she and the rest of the crew wanted to get to, but they didn’t have a skiff. So, they all put on their survival suits — emergency gear intended to protect oceangoers from hypothermia. Then the boat’s skipper picked Fisken up and threw her into the water.

“He thought it was funny,” Fisken says. “We swam over to the other boat, had a party, and swam back. The suit kept me warm and dry!”

Little did she know then, Fisken would go on to have a long career teaching hundreds of people how to put on survival suits and other skills that are essential to a water-based lifestyle. Having worked as a Washington Sea Grant (WSG) marine operations specialist for nearly 40 years, she retired this past summer. Over that time, Fisken’s name became synonymous with marine education across Washington, as she offered about a dozen workshops every year to commercial fishermen and recreational boaters. Many people have credited Fisken with giving them life-saving skills that they used when they found themselves in an emergency. Perhaps most of all, however, she’s known for the great lengths to which she’ll swim in the effort to foster connection and community.

Fisken on wheel watch sailing south from Alaska.

When Fisken joined WSG in 1984, she was the first female marine advisory agent at the organization. Having worked as a commercial fisherman for several summers by that point, however, she had an easy rapport with her male-dominated constituency and was able to quickly gain their respect and trust. When she began at WSG, she was helping out with fishing net mending courses from her office at Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle. As she walked the docks and chatted up the skippers and fishermen, they would tell her about their other educational needs, such as first aid at sea and how to maintain a diesel engine. At the same time, she met more and more people who had the knowledge to serve as instructors. “I would say, okay, well, let’s try it,” Fisken says.

As WSG’s workshop program continued to expand, Fisken increasingly brought the workshops to communities outside of Seattle. In particular, she became an advocate for underserved stakeholders on the Washington coast, particularly for tribal communities. Fisken’s connection with the Makah Tribe goes back to the summer of 1972 when she worked on the Ozette Village Archeological Site in Neah Bay as a fresh high school graduate. For 30 years, Fisken drew upon those connections to offer First Aid at Sea workshops to the tribal community. “Participation is a big deal,” says Cheryl Sones, Makah Fisheries management coordinator. “Every topic covered in the workshops is something that could happen out there, anytime — but they know what to do in case an accident happens.”

At least 15 people credit Fisken’s workshops with saving their lives. For example, fisher Libby Cain knew exactly what to do when her boat caught on fire while at sea, having recently taken WSG’s Drill Instructor workshop. When another course participant’s boat sank in Southeast Alaska, they also knew exactly what to do. “He told me that no one panicked, because they had been through the class,” Fisken says.

Makah Tribal fishermen swim toward a life raft during one of Fisken’s Safety at Sea workshops.

Throughout her career at WSG, Fisken made an impact in other areas of work as well. She helped fishermen with directly marketing their fish to consumers, including helping with the development of outreach events like the Wild Seafood Exchange. She was constantly in the community, watching out for the next need. During the pandemic, she had the nimbleness to connect a food bank in Jefferson County tasked with feeding Native families to a fish processor who had truckloads of fresh fish he couldn’t sell due to the loss of his overseas market, creating a win-win for all.

Fisken’s fondest memories of working at WSG are her time spent in a close-knit team. For years, she worked with former WSG staff Steve Harbell and Eric Olsson to bring workshops to the coast. “We would go to La Push and share a condo and make meals together — and we had just over-the-top fun,” Fisken says. “It was a perfect dynamic.”

Getting the chance to work with Fisken meant a lot to these colleagues as well. “As a work colleague, I found her to be a dedicated, steadfast and committed professional — a true catalyst for getting things done. As a friend, I continue to find comfort in her unwavering loyalty,” says Olsson. “Sarah never sought the limelight but found success in her ability to engage in a trusting and honest manner — to grasp obscure maritime traditions and to understand and embrace cultural sensitivities.”

After retirement, Fisken’s next adventures will include continuing to work on Jefferson County’s Marine Resources Committee as well as lots of time on her sailboat. She’ll be sure to have her survival suit at the ready for whatever may come her way!


Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Join the conversation: @WASeaGrant and

Marine Safety and First Aid Training

Sarah Fisken, Marine Operations Specialist


WSG helps Washington fishermen reduce risks with port-based, U.S. Coast Guard-certified training in emergency preparedness, fire response, cold-water rescue, first aid and other safety measures, using the latest equipment and procedures. Staff specialists also train recreational boaters in first aid and at-sea safety and survival. Since the mid-1990s, WSG safety training classes on Puget Sound, Washington’s outer coast and the Columbia River have markedly reduced fatalities in several fisheries.Topics covered in First Aid at Sea courses include patient assessment, hypothermia, cold water, near-drowning, shock, trauma, burns, fractures, choking, immobilization and important contents for first aid kits.


WSG experts also train commercial fishermen and charter boat operators in how to conduct safety drills at sea. These courses meet the training requirements of the Commercial Fishing Safety Act. The course work combines lectures and hands-on experience with the safety and survival equipment required on commercial fishing vessels. Fishermen and boaters learn about emergency procedures and develop appropriate drills for their own vessels.

Contact Sarah Fisken at

Mobile pumpout boats gain popularity, expand throughout Puget Sound

May 23, 2023

Mobile pumpout boats provide options for recreational boaters while improving water quality

Paul Weyn performs a pumpout for a recreational boater as part of the South Sound Mobile Pumpout Program. 2022. Image courtesy of Pierce County.

Amazon Prime, Uber Eats, Instacart: All of these services get delivered directly to you these days.  Now, pumpout services for your boat are joining that list. Options for recreational boaters to pump out boat sewage safely and efficiently are expanding throughout the Puget Sound.  Traveling “pumpout boats” that come to where the boaters are is a service that more and more marinas and ports are supporting and expanding upon. 

The grant-funded boats keep an estimated 8-10,000,000 gallons of sewage out of Puget Sound annually, protecting shellfish beds and improving overall water quality.

A steady increase in recreational boating around Puget Sound since the pandemic is one reason that Washington State Parks Clean Vessel Act Program (CVA) is making it a priority to help fund and coordinate with ports and marinas as they add more mobile pumpout boats to meet the growing need for vessel sewage disposal options. Catherine Buchalski Smith, manager of the Washington CVA Program, explains, “Washington State Park’s Clean Vessel Act Program is working closely with ports and marinas to increase pumpout options throughout Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.” The CVA program funds infrastructure and also educates boaters on the importance of safe and legal sewage disposal through Pumpout Washington, an educational outreach program run by Washington Sea Grant, with funding from the Washington State Parks CVA Program. The program improves stewardship practices that protect the quality of local waterways.

Boaters have a strong interest in using mobile pumpout boats, because the boats come to them, making it easy to do the right thing – and pumpout their sewage rather than dump it overboard.  “This type of service is especially helpful in those beautiful and remote areas with high boating activity that may not be near a marina with a pumpout station, like parts of the South Sound or the San Juan Islands” says Buchalski Smith. Area ports and marinas are equally motivated. For example, the newest port to take action is the Port of Port Townsend. The Port is excited to launch a new pump out boat, in partnership with State Parks, to both provide a service desired by boaters and help keep the waters of Port Townsend Bay clean,” explains Eron Berg, executive director for the Port of Port Townsend. 

Additionally, the Port of Lopez started an all-volunteer pumpout boat program in 2022 with a goal of expanding service beyond Fishermen’s Bay, and nearby Roche Harbor now has two pumpout boats to serve the masses of boaters. Port Ludlow maintains a wood and all electric pumpout boat through a partnership with the Northwest School for Wooden Boat Building.  Executive Director of the school, Betsy Davis, sees the arrangement as a win-win. “We really appreciate the learning opportunities that this project is providing to our students,“ she says.   

Meanwhile, Kitsap and Pierce County continue to expand service throughout south Puget Sound. Last year, Pierce County added a second vessel to provide mobile pumpout service to address the increase in demand in south Puget Sound waters. They are piloting a program this June through September to serve Blake Island, Liberty Bay, Eagle Harbor, Illahee State Park, Fort Ward, and Port Madison.

To make it easier for boaters to find a nearby mobile pumpout boat, Washington State Parks recently partnered with Washington Sea Grant to develop a Pumpout Boat Tracker, a GIS map that locates mobile boats in real time. This tool is still in its early development stages and boater feedback is actively being solicited to help improve the tool. 

Pumpout Washington keeps boaters informed of updates on pumpout locations, instructs boaters how to effectively pump out, and provides free tools for efficient pumping. But that isn’t the only resource available to boaters. The Washington Department of  Ecology’s “Pump Out Don’t Dump Out” campaign educates boaters on how to use the “Y-valve”,  a device required by law on boats with installed toilets that diverts waste to a holding tank. Ecology’s program provides education to properly use a Y-valve, making it easier for boaters to comply with the Puget Sound No Discharge Zone (NDZ) ruling. Justine Asohmbom, Puget Sound Education Coordinator adds, “At the Department of Ecology, we’re thrilled that boaters are beginning to implement use of the Y-valve. Their efforts support the NDZ program and ultimately improves water quality for boaters and wildlife.” The NDZ ruling now applies to all boats in Puget Sound and certain adjoining waters where boaters may not release treated or untreated sewage from Type I and Type II marine sanitation devices (MSDs). You can learn more about it here

Washington Sea Grant and Washington State Parks CVA Grant Program also promote Pumpout Nav, a free phone app, a convenient tool helping boaters to keep Washington’s waters healthy and their holding tanks empty.  The app allows boaters to find one of nearly 200 pumpout and dump stations in Washington, as well as hundreds of pumpouts in California and Oregon. The app is available for both iOS and Android.  Also among the tools offered to boaters is the free pumpout adapter, an easy screw-in nozzle that keeps sewage from spilling over.

As the boating season gets underway, an increased concern for not only sewage spills, but also small oil spills, which account for 75 percent of the oil dumped into local waters. The Washington Sea Grant Small Spills Prevention Program provides boaters with the knowledge and tools they need to stop oil pollution at the source, including a free Small Oil Spills Prevention pillow, a small absorbent pillow that is placed alongside bilge pumps to prevent oily discharge from entering the water and a fuel bib, an absorbent pad that fits snuggly on the fuel nozzle of a boat. The Small Spills Prevention Program is managed by Washington Sea Grant and Washington Department of Ecology. 

Find a full list of mobile pumpout boats, pumpout stations and the Pumpout Washington Tracker information on the new Pumpout Washington website: 

To give feedback on the Pumpout Washington Tracker, contact Aaron Barnett, Washington Sea Grant boating specialist at  For program information or free materials contact Aaron,  Bridget Trosin, Washington Sea Grant coastal policy specialist at or Ashley Seydel at


The CVA program is part of the Clean Vessel Act of 1992 supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sportfish Restoration Fund from special taxes on recreational boats, fishing gear and boat fuel. In Washington the program is managed by Washington State Parks. Washington Sea Grant provides small oil spills bibs and pillows as well as pumpout adapter kits to individual boaters, marinas, yacht clubs or other organizations that serve recreational boaters.

Washington Sea Grant, based within the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through marine research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is a federal-state partnership of 33 programs nationwide within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Join the conversation: @WASeaGrant and

Pumpout Washington

Aaron BarnettBoating Program Specialist, and Bridget Trosin, Coastal Policy Specialist

In partnership with the Washington State Parks Clean Vessel Act program, WSG manages the popular Pumpout Washington program, which educates boaters about the importance of proper sewage disposal, informs them about where to find pumpout stations, helps marina operators secure grants to install more stations and advises on the deployment of mobile pumpout services on heavily used waters. In the past year, more than 8.3 million gallons that would previously have been dumped into vulnerable waterways were instead collected for safe onshore treatment, thanks largely to training, outreach and federal funds provided by the pumpout program.

Visit for more information and follow the @pumpouts Twitter account for updates!

As part of the larger Clean Marina program, WSG conducts direct outreach to boaters, port districts and marinas through site visits, boat shows and other events statewide, with an emphasis on underserved areas with high concentrations of boaters. WSG trains boaters in how to use pumpout stations and distributes adapters that provide a secure connection between pumpout hose and boat holding tank. This eliminates a common source of sewage spills and reduces boaters’ reluctance to use pumpouts. To date, WSG staff have distributed more than 9,000 threaded fittings to recreational boaters, providing a clean and safe connection at pumpout stations around Washington.

Pumpout Washington – New Videos to Help Boaters Pumpout

If you are a boater who hasn’t been out on the water for a while, or if you are new to boating entirely, here are some videos to remind everyone of the importance of proper sewage disposal while on the water. Pumpout Washington is a program which provides boaters with designated pumpout stations to dispose of their sewage safely and efficiently. We all share these waters, and get our food from them, so remember, pump- don’t dump!

Check out this video for an introduction to Pumpout Washington and the importance of proper waste disposal:

Watch these short videos for a brush up on the pumpout process and how to use the pumpout adapter kit to ensure clean disposal. Its super easy! 

We all share these spaces, so lets keep them clean and healthy for everyone. And remember, have fun!

Small Oil Spills Program

Aaron Barnett, Boating Program Specialist

Visit the Spills Aren’t Slick webpage!

Learn more: Small Oil Spills Factsheet

Small oil spills from commercial and recreational vessels often result from a lack of knowledge about proper techniques for vessel operation and maintenance. To address this problem, WSG works with state and regional partners to determine the most common causes of spills based on reported incidents.

WSG staff educates vessel owners and marina owners, helping them improve their operations, reducing spills due to targeted causes. At the same time, WSG promotes spill reporting through the “Spills Aren’t Slick” campaign; with support from the Pacific Oil Spill Prevention Education Team (POSPET, a Canadian oil spill task force), WSG provides signs and educational brochures.

The small oil spills program is an important aspect of the larger Washington Clean Marina program. In an ongoing partnership with this program, WSG reviews and updates boating facility best management practices and inspects and certifies clean marinas. WSG incorporates oil spill prevention into classes and workshops for commercial fishermen and actively distributes spill cleanup kits at marinas, boat shows and boating venues.

WSG produced in partnership with Puget Soundkeeper and the Washington Department of Ecology, a comprehensive handbook, Pollution Prevention for Washington State Marinas. This 72-page, full-color, interactive handbook provides a comprehensive guide for marina managers and staff, as well as boaters, to reduce water pollution from their facilities.

Washington Recreational Boat Fleet

Boat Sales and Changing Vessel Characteristics
Aaron Barnett, Boating Program Specialist


The marina industry and state marine recreation agencies and consultants need accurate, geographically-specific recreational boat fleet information to respond to changing vessel moorage and sanitation needs. Boat dealers and yacht brokers need similar, timely information about the characteristics of vessels that are sold in order to adjust business plans and inventories.

WSG offers a unique service to Washington’s boating industries and government marine recreation agencies by providing an annual fleet summary and quarterly sales reports not available anywhere else. The data include fleet size, value, age and geographic distribution across the state, and vessel characteristics, such as hull materials, boat types and length classes. In addition, sales are tabulated in units sold and dollar value.

Washington Sea Grant provides this service by analyzing weekly boat sales and annual fleet characteristics derived from Washington Department of Licensing raw titling and registration data. The boat sales reports and annual fleet summary are posted on the WSG website and shared with the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

WSG launches new Pumpout Washington website

April 6, 2023

Visit the redesigned website at

By Emma Duckworth, WSG Undergraduate Science Communications Fellow

As the weather continues to warm, Puget Sound boaters are gearing up for another beautiful season. Whether it be their first time on the water or their tenth season in the Sound, all kinds of boaters are preparing their vessels for spring, and Washington Sea Grant (WSG) is preparing new ways to educate local recreational boaters on water safety. One new addition to our plethora of resources has been a redesign of the Pumpout Washington website

Pumpout Washington is a go-to program for boaters to learn about how to comply with the No Discharge Zone (NDZ), a policy that bans any sewage from being discharged from boats in Puget Sound waters. The new Pumpout Washington website is easy to navigate, with educational resources on the importance of no discharge zones, a live map of where mobile pumpout stations are located, and resources for marina managers to provide their customers with pumpout adapters and other resources. 

The new site provides resources on the history of the Puget Sound no discharge zone (NDZ), explaining how it prevents contamination of our waters and protects both humans and aquaculture from the hazardous effects of discharged sewage. The website even outlines the boundaries of the NDZ and maps out local pumpout stations, showing boaters exactly where they can safely discharge their waste. Before a big weekend on the water, boaters can pre-plan their pit stops to pumpout and maximize their fun. In addition to a map of permanent pumpout stations, this new website also includes a new live map of where mobile pumpout stations are located. Mobile pumpouts are vessels that move between different marinas in Puget Sound. This map shows their most recent location in real-time, giving boaters more freedom to pump out when the station is nearby.  

While the new pumpout website is easy to use for recreational boaters, it’s just as convenient for marina managers to take advantage of the resources available through the Pumpout Washington program. Under the Clean Vessel Act Grant Program, federal funds are allocated to disperse pump out resources to recreational boaters, like pumpout adapters and the construction of pumpout stations. The redesigned Pumpout Washington website makes accessing these materials convenient for marina managers, linking grant applications and providing educational videos on pump out station maintenance. The site caters to both managers and customers, encouraging safe discharging and making pump out stations accessible to all. 

Aaron Barnett, WSG’s boating program specialist, manages Pumpout Washington. He works with boaters and marina managers to promote the pump out program and ensure that Puget Sound waters remain safe and clean. 

“[The Pumpout Washington website] is the go-to place for all things pumpout related such as where, why and how to pumpout,  including information for marina managers of pump out equipment grants”

The launch of this new website increases transparency about the goals and regulations of the Pumpout Washington program, allowing managers and boaters alike to do their part in keeping the Puget Sound waters safe and clean. Easier to navigate and complete with new resources like educational videos and maps, the site makes pumping out convenient and efficient, allowing boaters to spend more time on the water. Help keep our waters clean and check out the Pumpout Washington website today!


Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Join the conversation: @WASeaGrant and