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PSS Spring '13

AT THE HELM

John Nichols

by Jessica Evangelista Balduzzi ’05

When John Nichols introduces himself as captain of The William Scandling, the Colleges’ 65-foot, steel hulled vessel, he’s often met with confused looks and additional questions.

Used for teaching and research, The William Scandling provides a mobile platform for students and faculty to investigate the physical, chemical, biological and geological properties of the lake. It’s believed to be one of the only floating labs in the United States dedicated to undergraduate research.

“I retired from my job with the Monroe County, New York Sheriff’s Department and saw an advertisement in the newspaper for captain of The William Scandling,” says Nichols. “I thought it would be an interesting second career that would allow me to continue being at the helm of a boat.”

At the Sherriff’s Department, Nichols was assigned to the Monroe County Marine Unit where he patrolled the coastlines of Lake Ontario and Irondequoit Bay as a marine sergeant until his retirement in 1994. “I enforced state statutes, performed boat safety inspections and livery inspections, and patrolled the marinas during the summer months,” he says. “I was also involved in search, rescue and recovery operations and worked closely with the Sheriff’s dive team in training and emergency situations.”

Nichols obtained a Coast Guard Master’s license through the Sheriff’s Department, which required him to spend at least 90 days at sea in a vessel, pass an intensive exam and take continuing education courses.

“Because Seneca Lake leads to the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and the Canal connects the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes and ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean, I’m required to maintain my Coast Guard license as captain of The William Scandling.”

“If you want a job doing this for the love of boating, you have the wrong career,” says Nichols. “This is often tough work and Seneca Lake is as challenging as Lake Ontario at any given time with changing winds and short, rough waves; my job is to make sure no one gets hurt.”

Nichols says his favorite part of the job is interacting with the students and faculty. “The students get my humor,” he says. “And they’re all on the boat to learn.”