Florida Sea Base Explained: Your Best Prep Guide In 2022


With adventures ranging from open water sailing to deep-sea fishing to kayaking, not to mention snorkeling and even scuba diving… If you’re an ocean lover, Sea Base will be the ultimate Scouting adventure for you! 

Florida Sea Base is one of Scouting’s four national high-adventure program bases, along with Philmont Scout Ranch (New Mexico), Northern Tier (Minnesota), and Summit Bechtel Reserve (West Virginia). Sea Base is located in the Florida Keys and originally opened over 40 years ago, in 1980! 

Written by Eagle Scout and pro outdoor journalist, Owen Clarke.

Cole here — I asked Owen to share his experience on ScoutSmarts, as he’s a true expert in outdoor adventuring and attended Sea Base with his troop in the past! You can learn more about Owen’s work at his website, oclarke.com.

When I went to Sea Base in 2011, our crew of four Scouts and three dads enrolled in the Out Island Adventure. We camped on nearby Big Munson Island (a primitive 100-acre barrier island) for nearly a week. At Sea Base, we paddled to the island in a Polynesian war canoe, then fished, snorkeled, kayaked, and did even more during our time there! 😀

In short, it was an absolute blast! But there are many, many other Sea Base Adventures, too! You can focus specifically on scuba diving, sailing, fishing, or even join the marine STEM program, where you’ll learn about marine ecology and oceanography.

Is Sea Base the Adventure for You?

Sea Base is different from many Scouting experiences. Very few Sea Base Adventures involve camping or hiking. You’ll mostly be in the sun, on the beach, or in a vessel out on the water!

So, if you don’t like warm weather, water, or the beach then maybe it’s not a great choice. 😉 However, there are 7+ different Sea Base Adventures available, so there’s something for almost everyone!

If you’re wondering what Sea Base Adventure might be right for you, here are my top suggestions…
  • If you love camping, then check out the Out Island Adventure (the program I did, which I’d highly recommend!) at the Brinton Environmental Center on Big Munson Island.
  • The SCUBA Adventures are a great option if you want to see some amazing aquatic life up close and personal while learning the art of diving.
  • If you want to learn to navigate the high seas in a 40+ foot-long vessel, the Sailing Adventures will be the program for you.
  • If you’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist, the Marine STEM Adventure lets you monitor coral health and water quality, tag sharks, and learn about underwater robotics.
  • If you and your troop love to go fishing, the Florida Fishing Adventure is the perfect opportunity to make some legendary catches and memories.
  • And, if you’re uncertain about Sea Base and would like more info, check out my FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section below!

Since I attended Out Island, one of Sea Base’s all-time most popular Adventures, I’ll be telling you about my experiences in the next section. Regardless of what Sea Base Adventure you choose, hearing about my Adventure in Out Island will give you some helpful tips, secrets, and warnings for your own trip!

5 Secrets About Sea Base’s “Out Island Adventure”

There’s plenty of information about Sea Base online, but there are a few things you can really only learn by heading to Sea Base yourself! Luckily for you Scouts, I’ve been to Sea Base before, so I can give you the lowdown on a few TOP-SECRET Sea Base facts you might not find elsewhere online. 

NOTE: Florida Sea Base has a variety of Adventures set in a variety of locations, and every Adventure is different!

I went on the Out Island Adventure to Big Munson Island, so the following “secrets” apply to that trip. Whatever Sea Base Adventure you choose, one thing is certain… you’re going to have a stellar time!

1. You’ll Vibe With Vacacoons and Key Deer!

Sea Base might be known for ocean life, but there’s plenty of life on land, too! Big Munson Island, the island where you’ll camp during the Out Island Adventure (and visit during the Keys Adventure), is home to a variety of animals. The two most famous are the meddlesome vacacoons and the gentle Key deer. 😀

Vacacoons (basically the Sea Base version of a raccoon!) often try to steal your food and get into your trash, so you have to brainstorm a variety of ways to keep them away from your campsite! These wily little critters are constantly scheming, so stay on the lookout!

Key deer are an endangered species of deer found only in the Florida Keys. These gentle, mellow creatures are North America’s smallest deer species. You’ll see plenty on Big Munson Island!

2. Stay Away from the Poisonous Poisonwood!

If you thought poison ivy was bad, wait until you hear about the poisonwood tree! These poisonous trees aren’t everywhere on Big Munson Island, but you’ll definitely run into a few. They’re common throughout the Florida Keys, so make sure to avoid touching them!

Tip: Properly identifying poisonwood trees will help you steer clear. Their trunks and branches look like they’re covered in giant, oozing black scabs, and their leaves appear polished and glossy (because of the poisonous oil). If you see a tree like this, stay away!

Their sap is the same toxin found on poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, so they’ll give you a horrendous, itchy rash if you touch their leaves or bark. Luckily, these trees are easy to spot, due to their bright red bark with black spots. Beware the poisonwood!!

3. Get Lost in the Mangrove Maze

One of the highlights of the Out Island Adventure is paddling on sea kayaks through the “Mangrove Maze” on the far side of the island. This dense network of mangrove trees (which grow straight out of the water!) is deceptively difficult to navigate. It really is like a giant natural maze, and it’s very easy to get lost!

Funny Story: Unfortunately, my friend had to go #2 while kayaking in the maze. We were lost in the maze and way too far from camp, so he hung his buttocks over the side of our kayak (nearly flipping us over!) while doing his business. Needless to say, we still laugh about that experience today! Luckily we didn’t end up in the water along with his… Well, you know what I mean. 😛

4. Keep an Eye Out for Island Spooks

Your “Mate” (the Sea Base staffer assigned to your crew) will probably tell you a variety of ghost stories about Big Munson during your time on the island, especially around the campfire at night! 

These tall tales vary over the years (although I’m sure that many of the ghost stories told when I was at Sea Base back in 2011 are still being told!). Anyways, it’s safe to say that many Sea Base veterans believe there are more than a few haints and haunts on the island. Make sure you’re zipping your sleeping bag up tight each night…

5. Fish, Fish, and More Fish!

No matter your Adventure at Sea Base, if there’s one thing you’ll do, it’s go fishing! One of my favorite memories from Sea Base was “snorkel fishing.”

What is Sea Base Snorkel Fishing: Snorkel fishing is a real treat! We were given a snorkel, mask, and piece of fishing line with a hook on the end. We wrapped the lines around our hands, then snorkeled around the reefs, trying to drop our lines into the mouths of fish and catch them.

It was crazy to watch the fish just a few feet away as they inspected our baited lines, seeing if they would bite or not. It was almost like catching fish with our bare hands! 

Maybe you’ll go deep-sea fishing instead, or perhaps you’ll get to fish from the beach! When my younger brother went to Sea Base this year, he didn’t go snorkel fishing with a hook and line, he actually went trapping for lobsters instead!

Frequently Asked Questions

What do You do at Sea Base?

There are a variety of Adventures at Sea Base, but almost all are centered around…you guessed it…the sea! You can choose from scuba diving courses, open water and reef sailing programs, fishing trips, and more. 

Many programs, such as the Out Island Adventure, include a variety of activities. When I went in 2011, we went deep sea fishing one day, kayaking through a mangrove forest the next, and snorkeling another day!

However, some activities, like scuba diving, are only available as part of dedicated scuba diving adventures, where you focus 100% on diving. So, if you’re super passionate about a certain type of aquatic activity, definitely try to join that specific Adventure! 🙂

What Should You Bring to Florida Sea Base?

You can see our dedicated “Sea Base Packing List” below. Generally, just remember to pack like you’re going to a warm, tropical climate. Sunscreen and bug spray are a must! 

Sea Base Packing Tip: Your packing list changes slightly depending on your program. For example, if you’re doing the Out Island Adventure like I did, you’ll need to bring closed-toe water shoes, so you can wade in the shallow water around the island. If you’re doing a Scuba Adventure, you may need to bring your completed PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) workbook. 

Below is a good general packing list that will give you an idea of the gear you need. Just remember to check your program-specific packing list before you leave, too!

Example Sea Base Packing List

Clothes

  • Long Sleeve Shirt (1x)
  • T-Shirt (2x)
  • Wide Brim Hat w/ Strap
  • Swimsuit (2x)
  • Regular Shorts (1x)
  • Lightweight Pants (1x)
  • Regular Socks (3x)
  • Walking Shoes (1x)
  • Sandals (1x)
  • Raingear

Hygiene

  • Medication 
  • Toiletry Kit
  • Towels (2x)

Personal Gear

  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Headlamp
  • Pillow
  • Polarized Sunglasses
  • Water Bottle (2x)
  • Reef-Safe Sunscreen (No Sprays)
  • Lip Balm
  • Soothing Lotion
  • Insect Repellant (No Sprays)

Optional

  • Waterproof Watch
  • Waterproof Camera
  • Hammock


You should plan for hot, humid weather, too. Generally, all you need is a light sleeping bag insert, but if you’re visiting Sea Base in winter or early spring, you may want to bring a 40° or 30° sleeping bag. For more info on the best gear to pack, check out Cole’s Camping Essentials article! 🙂

What Should You Not Bring to Florida Sea Base?

Most of the items you shouldn’t bring to Sea Base are the same things you shouldn’t bring to any Scouting adventure. 

Phones and other electronics, such as iPods or handheld video game devices, are strongly discouraged. Other prohibited items include fireworks, skateboards, aerosol sunscreens or insect repellents, spear guns, and full-face diving masks.  

What Island is Sea Base on?

Sea Base has several locations, but the main sites are in the Florida Keys, a chain of islands on the very southern tip of Florida. 

The original Florida Sea Base is located on Lower Matecumbe Key, but many of today’s most popular programs (such as the Out Island Adventure) are based out of the Brinton Environmental Center, which is further down the Keys, on Summerland Key. The famous uninhabited “island” that many Sea Base adventures visit is Big Munson Island, which is five miles offshore.

Where/What is Sea Base Bahamas?

Sea Base isn’t just in the mainland United States! Like I mentioned above, there are several different Sea Base sites in the Florida Keys, but there are also three Sea Bases abroad!

The Bahamas Sea Base is the oldest and most well-known. It’s located in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas, approximately one hour by plane from Miami. There are also two Sea Bases in the U.S. Virgin Islands, one in St. Croix and one in St. Thomas. In total, these sites offer six different Sea Base Adventures.

What Merit Badges Yan You Earn at Sea Base?

Sea Base is not designed as a merit badge camp, so there are no merit badge programs or instructors. However, you will have the opportunity to earn several certifications or awards at Sea Base, depending on your program. These include BSA Kayaking, Snorkeling, Stand-Up Paddleboarding, and Scuba. 

While no merit badges are needed to attend, Sea Base lists a few that you could earn before your trip. These might give you valuable skills to help you enjoy the adventure even more!

These merit badges are Swimming, Astronomy, Bird Study, Cooking, Fishing, Kayaking, Lifesaving, Oceanography, Photography, Scuba Diving, Small Boat Sailing, Signs, Signals and Codes, and Weather.

Conclusion

Sea Base is basically the ultimate Scouting adventure, so if you’re heading there soon, get ready to have the time of your life! While I’ve shared my own experiences at Sea Base to help you be better prepared, make sure to carefully plan with your troop to have the best adventure possible. 😀

Thanks for reading! I hope this article helped you out a ton. Wishing you some amazing Scouting and Sea Base adventures ahead!

Owen Clarke

Owen Clarke is an Eagle Scout from Troop 7343 Huntsville, AL. For Owen, Scouting inspired a lifelong love of the outdoors, adventure sports, and travel. Today he works as a journalist, writing for top outdoor publications.

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