Today’s mariners, both inland and deep sea, live much safer, more comfortable, better-compensated and better-protected lives than their predecessors did in 1834, when the Seamen’s Church Institute was founded. But the importance of SCI to mariners has only grown as its mission has evolved to keep pace with the changes in the lives and occupations of mariners.
That evolution has not happened automatically or by accident. It has been driven by the vision, drive and foresight of its leaders.
Despite the undeniable improvements in the lives of mariners, their work remains difficult, sometimes dangerous and often lonely. And despite the ever-growing importance of maritime commerce to our modern networked world, seafarers remain mostly invisible to the larger society. SCI remains one of the few institutions focused on their care and has benefitted from many dedicated leaders.
It was under the Rev. David Rider’s leadership that SCI continued to shift its emphasis to services to inland mariners, recognizing that the bulk of American mariners now work on its rivers and inland waterways. Under Rider’s leadership, SCI modernized its world-class simulator and training facilities in Paducah and Houston.
“David is the reason for the new education facilities and equipment in Houston and Paducah. It happened because of his high standards and the vision of the board,” said Capt. Stephen Polk, director of Maritime Education & Training Center for Maritime Education.
Capt. John Arenstam, assistant director of CME and instructor at the Center for Maritime Education in Paducah, Ky., said, “In 2014, David oversaw a complete upgrade to the design and architecture of the building, along with all new state-of-the-art Kongsberg Polaris equipment and software for our four simulators. We did not lose a training day during the renovation, and we are still the only training facility in the country with four integrated towboat simulators.”
These facilities and their outstanding staff members now serve thousands of mariners annually, helping to keep the skills of America’s inland mariners second to none and to provide opportunities to advance.
Always a pastor first and foremost, Rider has made the mental health of mariners a special focus of his mission. He led SCI initiatives like the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) protocols for chaplain trauma interventions, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshops for the maritime community, and post-piracy resiliency guidelines after long-duration hostage episodes around the world.
Rider announced recently that he will leave his post as president and executive director of the SCI in 2020, although he plans to continue working on issues of mariners’ mental health. The positive effects of his outsized legacy at SCI will be felt in mariners’ lives for years to come.