The Faces of Washington Sea Grant’s Workshops

Meet the instructors behind the First Aid at Sea, Marine Wiring and Corrosion, and Diesel Engine Troubleshooting and Maintenance courses


By Max Showalter, WSG Science Communications Fellow

Training is a core mission of Washington Sea Grant. Spearheaded by Marine Operations Specialist Sarah Fisken, the organization offers nearly 20 classes and workshops a year for commercial fishermen and recreational boaters alike. These courses span a wide range of boating basics — and their instructors come from diverse personal backgrounds and experience. WSG instructors Art Cole, Kevin Ritz and Walt Trisdale share stories of what brought them into the classroom and how their individual expertise helps shape their teaching.

Walt Trisdale (far right) instructs a diesel engine class.

Art Cole, First Aid at Sea

Art Cole has spent nearly a decade saving lives in Washington’s boating communities. As an instructor for the First Aid at Sea workshops, Cole teaches the basics of how to quickly and effectively assess and act on trauma and injuries shipboard. “The goal is to teach people how to stabilize the patient as best as they can with the tools and training they have,” Cole says.

Cole, who is a fire chief and paramedic, focuses on teaching his students to take control of the first 20 minutes after an accident or injury occurs on board a vessel, which increases the chances of survival until help can arrive. In his time teaching for WSG, Cole has given this lesson to thousands of fisherman and recreational boaters.

Complacency, Cole says, is the biggest challenge he faces as a teacher. He suggests regular coursework in first aid, even if you’ve taken a class before. After all, one day of instruction could save a life.

Kevin Ritz, Marine Wiring and Corrosion

For Kevin Ritz, teaching marine electricity and wiring has a personal motivation. Ritz lost his son, Lucas, eighteen years ago to electrocution.

“He was electrocuted by a boat in the water, even though he was touching absolutely nothing. I decided I needed to do my best to prevent this from happening again,” Ritz says.

Ritz educated himself on every aspect of marine electricity, eventually starting his own marine wiring company. Today, he teaches Marine Electrical Wiring workshops for WSG. 

“The most rewarding part of teaching is seeing the light bulb coming on, so to speak, when somebody suddenly starts getting some basic understanding of electricity,” Ritz says.

Ritz focuses the one-day workshops on the basics, as well as projects that class participants want to tackle on their own boats. But if there’s any one thing to learn about marine wiring, Ritz says, it’s knowing when to call in an expert.

“The biggest takeaway for students of the class is how to do this safely, and knowing when they should be doing it or bringing in a professional.” Electricity can be dangerous, but through his classes Ritz hopes to turn fear into mastery and respect.

Walt Trisdale, Diesel Engine

While many of his high school friends went on to work as car mechanics, Walt Trisdale wanted to do something a little different. Trisdale landed in Port Townsend as a marine diesel mechanic in 1994, where a love for boats grew into a full-time position at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding (NWSWB). Now, he’s also an instructor for WSG’s diesel engine troubleshooting and maintenance workshops.

To help with the challenge of teaching to both commercial and recreational boaters, Trisdale always incorporates a show-and-tell element. Regardless of the type of ship, he says, the principles of diesel engines are the same and boil down to two key points: “Understanding your fuel systems is absolutely the number one thing to remember. A close second would be maintenance. Neglected items could kill your engine.”

Trisdale is also a welder machinist; he says that to be a diesel mechanic is to possess many diverse skills. Fortunately for his students, one of those skills is a penchant for teaching.