Skip to content

Passing It On with Mercury Pro Rob Endsley

How sharing the simple joys of boating with his girls creates enduring wonder. 

Cover Image

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercury Pro Team member and Alaska charter boat captain Rob Endsley and his family were sequestered at home with seemingly nothing to do. Stores were closed and the places they would normally take their kids to for recreation were also inaccessible. It didn’t take long for Rob and his wife, Nicole, to recognize that it was a golden opportunity to spend time with their girls and use outdoor adventures as a way to make a greater connection with them. Boating, of course, was at the top of their list.

They created what they called “Camp Coronavirus,” which entailed the kids home schooling with Nicole in the morning and then camp activities with Rob in the afternoon. “Camp” consisted of activities like casting into 5-gallon buckets in the backyard, tying knots, learning to use hand tools, and of course fishing and boating. Since there were little to no restrictions on boating, they spent a lot of time on the water in Washington and Alaska, where they spent the summer.

The Spontaneity of the Alaskan Wild

In planning out their days on the boat, it became clear that doing complicated activities wasn’t necessary. In one instance, there was a wide-open king salmon bite happening off the coast of Alaska. Since Rob is a full-time charter captain, it made perfect sense that his daughters would love to experience this event. When they pulled in, nearly every boat was hooked up and the sonar was lit up with schools of salmon. It didn’t take long before they were hooked up also, but the girls, who were struggling to crank in the hard-fighting salmon, were visibly upset. It was hard for Rob to comprehend that his children would be anything but elated over the significance of the occasion and as hooked on fishing as he has always been.

Their next activity that day involved anchoring up the boat and exploring a remote Alaskan beach. The second Rob nudged the dinghy up onto the beach, the girls shot out of the boat like a pair of rockets and off they went. They quickly explored tide pools, turning rocks over in search of shore crabs and other sea creatures. They were busy building sand castles, skipping rocks and searching for treasures that might have washed up on the beach from the winter storms. They were FREE!   

It was then and there that Rob and Nicole realized that planning elaborate family adventures simply wasn’t necessary, and from that point forward, the couple aimed to build their family boating adventures around activities that were simple, fun and foundational.

Boating, in and of itself, is an adventure. Sitting at the helm with their dad while running from one place to the next or operating the tiller kicker motor, for instance, are both activities that their daughters can’t get enough of.

The Endsleys are fortunate to live in an area where there’s wildlife around every turn. In the waters around them, there are killer whales, humpback whales, grey whales, porpoise, sea lions and seals, bald eagles, and a wide range of sea birds, to name just a few of the creatures they regularly encounter. When Rob and Nicole showed their girls how to properly use a set of binoculars, they were once again mesmerized by the beauty and wonder all around them, scrutinizing each discovery as if they were looking through a microscope.

Nicole was a teacher for 15 years before becoming a full-time mom. She considers each day on the boat a learning opportunity for their kids and is always on the lookout for ways to integrate learning moments into their on-water endeavors.

Test Image

Exploring Washington’s Wildlife Wonderland

On a recent trip to the San Juan Islands in Washington, where their mission was to explore some of the remote shorelines and native wildlife with their daughters, Nicole added a stop along the way to the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, so they could learn a bit about the creatures they would soon encounter.

The girls were like little sponges as they listened to recordings of whales communicating underwater, learned about what they eat, and examined whale skeletons in the museum. They punctuated the trip to the museum with a stop at the local ice cream shop before Rob fired up the Mercury outboards and headed off in search of marine mammals in the wild.

Their next stop was Spieden Island. The island was a private hunting preserve in the ‘70s and ‘80s and was planted with exotic mouflon sheep, as well as fallow and sika deer. Its tenure as a hunting reserve ended decades ago, but the animals remain and great herds of them still roam the island. Steller sea lions also use Green Point on the east end of the island as a haul out. The Endsleys circled the island at a safe distance, so as not to disturb the animals, and the two girls gazed at them in awe through their binoculars.

Next, they headed to Turn Point Lighthouse on the very northwest tip of Stuart Island. Stuart Island is the Northwestern most island in the San Juan Archipelago, and the lighthouse overlooks Haro Strait, which separates the United States from Canada. The lighthouse became operational in 1893, and Nicole was sure to engage the girls with questions that encouraged them to think about what it might have been like to work at such a remote location in the late 1800s. She got them thinking about how the people may have gotten their food, who changed the light bulbs in the lighthouse and what types of boat they may have used to get around the islands. Pretty fascinating stuff when you stop and think about it. 

Ben Mathews image

Endless Onboard Learning Opportunities

With Nicole’s educational mindset, infusing nautical terminology on the boat comes naturally. These expressions may not stick at first, but after a few trips out, the couple would begin to notice the girls saying things like, “Go ahead and attach the stern line on the starboard side.” Simple terms such as bow, stern, port, starboard, fenders, dock lines, cleat, chart and galley all become part of their regular vernacular after a while.

Additionally, Rob and Nicole take the time to show their daughters navigational aids such as channel markers and buoys along the way. Rob will slow down, drift by the marker, and then show them what it looks like on the chart plotter and the paper chart, as well. He and Nicole help make the connection for them, so they understand why these “street signs” for boats are so important. They’ll point out simple things to them, like the way shading on the chart conveys water depth. All of these things present great learning opportunities for their daughters, and they always seem to be eager to soak them all up.  

At the end of the day, the Endsleys’ boating adventures are a time when, as a family, they get to disconnect from all of life’s distractions and share the kinds of enriching experiences that have the power to bring them closer together. Sometimes it’s something as simple as cooking dinner on their runabout, while the current drifts them along the shoreline, or letting the girls build sand castles on the beach. Other times it’s making a fort or fishing for bullheads off the dock. They even give the girls long-handled butterfly nets so they can catch a wide array of creatures off the side of the dock and examine them. Seeing and handling these creatures gets them hooked on the simple, yet majestic pleasures that are all around them.

For the Endsleys, it’s hard to beat the joy that comes with boating, and the lifelong bonds that are formed when you share it with your children.

For more information on Rob’s “Outdoor Line” radio show, visit the Outdoor Line website. You can also follow Rob on FacebookInstagram, YouTube and X. 


Tying up


Cookie Preferences