The Annual BWI Writing Contest

Boating Writers International organizes an annual writing contest to reward excellence in journalism in categories ranging from fishing to travel, boat tests to social media. The contest draws hundreds of entries each year, and has been awarding $17,000 annually in cash prizes.

The contest takes place between November and January each year, with 17 categories that each award $500 for first place, $300 for second place, and $200 for third place. Those winners are announced at the Miami International Boat Show each February.

BWI members receive two free contest entries as a benefit of membership. Non-members can enter the contest at $50 per submission.

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The 2012 BWI Writing Contest Winners

In its 20th year, the BWI contest attracted 142 participants submitting 370 entries. In addition to cash awards, Certificates of Merit were presented to writers of another 41 articles which scored within 95 percent of third-place tallies in each category. All submissions to the contest were published in 2012. Each of the categories (noted below along with sponsors) was judged by four active journalists in the first few weeks of the New Year.  Results:

A reading list with click-throughs to the top three entries in each category can be found here:


Boating Columns – sponsored by KVH Industries, Inc.

1st place, “Off Watch” by Wendy Mitman Clarke (Cruising World); 2nd place, “On the Wind” by Chris Caswell (Sailing Magazine); 3rd place, “Log of s/v Del Viento” by Michael Robertson (Cruising World). In this category, entrants are required to submit three related columns for judging. Of the first place work judge Dean Travis Clarke (no relation to the winner) summed it up succinctly as, “Superbly entertaining!” Certificates of Merit awarded to: “Marketing Insight” by Michael Sciulla (Soundings Trade-Only); and “Engines” by Alan Jones (Boating World).

Boating Lifestyles – sponsored by Discover Boating

1st place, “The Magic of Oz.” by Jane Meneely, (Chesapeake Bay, July); 2nd place, “Multi-Tool ” by Jeff Hemmel (Boating, July); 3rd place, “To Wanderer III, a Toast ” by Thies Matzen (Cruising World, July). “The Magic of Oz tells of the marvelous spell an old boat casts on the diverse group of people who gather to maintain and sail her,” judges said. “The story is written with style, vivid color and a lot of heart. The Oz theme is carried well right to the end, without being overdone.” Awards of Merit to: “Learning to Sail: First Boats” by Charles Doane (, Oct. 4); “How I Met Your Mother” by Tom Neale, (BoatUS Magazine, Oct.); “Swallowing the Anchor” by Beth Leonard, (Cruising World, Aug.); “Jagular’s Wild Ride” by Tom Pamperin (Small Craft Advisor, Oct.); “Boat as Idea” by Jim Carrier, (Cruising World, May); “A Passion for the Classics” by Risa Merl (ShowBoats International, July).

Boating Profiles – sponsored by ZF Marine.

1st, “Fortitudine Vincimus” by Herb McCormick, (Cruising World, July); 2nd, “From Zero to a Hundred” by Elaine Lembo (Cruising World, Feb.); 3rd, “Salt Water in Their Veins” by Jim Flannery (Soundings, June). “Fortitudine Vincimus, takes the reader on Matt Rutherford’s journey while first introducing us to the man, then helping us know him as though he were an old friend,” relates judge Lenny Rudow. “After reading this profile I feel like I could sit down in a pub and knock back a few with him.” Merit Awards to: “A Girl in Full” by Stuart Streuli (Sailing World, July); “No Quit and No Limits for This Solo Sailor” by Dieter Loibner (Soundings, Oct.).

Boating Travel or Destinations – sponsored by Martin Flory Group.

1st, “The Descendents” by Peter Nichols (Cruising World, Sept.); 2nd, “Up Where We Belong” by Alvah Simon (Cruising World, Jan.); 3rd, “One Waypoint at a Time” by Matt Rutherford (Cruising World, Jan.). “Nichols’ story provides a unique blend of past and present involving one of the most important ships and two important men to ever sail together in human history; A fascinating tale well-told,” said judge Steve Blakely. Receiving Merit Awards: “Daddy Diaries” by Darrell Nicholson (Cruising World, March); “An Island Steps Ahead of its Time” by Wendy Clarke (Cruising World, July); “A Large Fleet, Stalking Through the Wood” by Tim Sayles (Chesapeake Bay, Oct.),

Boating Adventures – sponsored by Yamaha Marine Group.

1st,” When The Wrong Sail Is The Right Sail” by Fatty Goodlander (Cruising World, Oct.); 2nd, “A Thoroughly Impractical Guide To Going To Sea” by Chris Landers (BoatUS Magazine, April); 3rd, “Running With The Devil” by Peter Swanson (Power & MotorYacht, July). Of the winner, judge Marty LeGrand said: “I can’t think of many others who can spin such an engaging account of an overseas adventure. The story’s tone is delightfully droll, the personalities of those involved shine through and the theme of boating bonhomie trumps world wariness.” Merit Award: “Paradise Found” by Stuart Streuli (Sailing World, Nov.).

Boat/Engine Care and Maintenance – sponsored by Interlux Yacht Finishes.

1st, “A Motoring Muse” by Ben Zartman (Cruising World, Jan.); 2nd, “Outboard Overboard: Quick, Pickle It” by Lenny Rudow (, May 28); 3rd, “Manic Maintenance” by Lenny Rudow (Texas Fish & Game, Feb.). Judge Michael Robertson offers, “Muse wasn’t written, it was crafted; the writer tells us a story of an engine in an even, comfortable cadence, with a dash of wit that made me smile and a measure of self-deprecation that instilled trust.”

Electronics – sponsored by Jeppesen Marine.

1st, “Is Send Message Loud & Clear?” by Darrell Nicholson (Practical Sailor, Aug.); 2nd, “Man vs. the Machine” by Lenny Rudow (BoatUS Magazine, June); 3rd, “AC34 Demands Your Attention” by Ben Ellison (Yachting, March).  The first place piece, “Uses a real-life tragedy to clearly illustrate the pros and cons of Satellite Emergency Notification Devices [which are] no substitute [to EPIRBS] when it comes to safety,” cautions judge Rich Armstrong. “An insightful, well-researched article that should be read by all offshore cruisers.” Merit: “Aesthetic Challenge: Design Away Domes” by Lisa Overing and Marilyn Mower (Megayachts, Oct.); “No More Secrets” by Peter McDonald (Boating, Sept.).

Ethics and Environment – sponsored by West Marine.

1st, “Food Fight” by Michael Fincham (Chesapeake Bay, May); 2nd, “A Heartbreaking Decision – A Whale Saved” by Michael Robertson (Cruising World, Jan.); 3rd, “That Sinking Feeling” by Martha LeGrand (Chesapeake Bay, Nov.). Of the first choice, judge Betsy Clayton said, “An anecdotal start to the story gets us into the real meat of the situation.” Awards of Merit: “Sun of a Gun” by Lenny Rudow (Boating, March); “A Sense of Rachel Carson” by Jody Argo Schroath (Chesapeake Bay, Dec.); “The Arms Race Against Invasives” by Michael Vatalaro (BoatUS Magazine, April); “Is Copper Bottom Paint Sinking?” by Ryck Lydecker (BoatUS Magazine, Feb.).

Fishing – sponsored by Suzuki Motor Corporation.

1st, “Canyon Critters” by Lenny Rudow (Salt Water Sportsman, Feb.); 2nd, “God Bless the Walleye” by Pat Piper (BoatUS Trailering, Oct.); 3rd, “Join the Party” by Ron Ballanti (PacificCoast Sportfishing, Aug.). Judge Bill AuCoin says, “Canyon Critters is about helping kids get into fishing for a lifetime … the writer really conquered it with solid, practical information and in a way that not only educated the reader but also entertained and inspired.” Merit Award to: “Fishing Cuba” by Charlie Levine (, July 12).

Boating News & Analysis – sponsored by Mercury Marine.

1st, “Shark Hunters” by Brett Bayne (Performance Boats, March); 2nd, “The Inquest” by Kim Kavin (Yachting, May); 3rd, “Post-Meltdown Boat Buying” by Scott Rimmer (Practical Sailor, May). Category chair Gary Beckett said, “Shark Hunters offered everything we were looking for in this category – an intriguing and topical story idea, supported by thorough research and an excellent use of sources, as well as solid writing and good organization.” Merit Awards: “May Day, May Day? No Way!” by Ryck Lydecker (BoatUS Magazine, Dec.); “Dreaming of a Dock on the Bay” by Ann Dermody (BoatUS Magazine, April).

The Business of Boating – sponsored by Home Port Marine Marketing.

1st, “The Boat That Changed The World” by Heather Steinberger (Boating, Nov.); 2nd, “Insider Francis Lapp” by Michael Verdon (International Boat Industry, Nov.); 3rd “Aqua Effects” by Rebecca Cahilly (Megayachts, Oct.). “From the gripping lead to the real delight in discovery of a history making boat, this story is exceptionally well researched right down to the locale of exotic beaches that beckon us all,” noted category chair Alan Wendt of the first place story. Awards of Merit to: “It’s Time for the Industry to Take A Bite of the Apple” by Michael Sciulla (Soundings Trade Only, July); “Wet & Wild” by Chris Caswell (Dockwalk, Feb); “Tax Laws Are Killing Our Businesses!” by Suzi DuRant (Professional Yacht Broker Magazine, May).

Seamanship, Rescue & Safety – sponsored by Sea Tow Services International.

1st, “Rescuing the Sailor and Saving the Boat” by Dieter Loibner (Soundings, Dec.); 2nd, “Don’t Go There” by Tim Sayles (Chesapeake Bay, July); 3rd, “Capsize of WingNuts” by Darrell Nicholson (Practical Sailor, April). Judge Jennifer Chesak said, “Loibner provided a suspenseful account of the rescue of an ill sailor and beautifully portrayed the intense respect fellow boaters have for one another.” Merit Awards: “The Blinding, Paralyzing Blanket of Dense Fog” by Tom Neale (Soundings, June); “Tsunami” by Randy Scott (Boating, June); “EPIRB, PLB or Stay on the Dock” by Peter Swanson, Power & MotorYacht, Aug.); “Back on Board” by Charles Doane (Sail, Aug.); “Lightning: What to Do When Nature Goes Nuclear” by Lenny Rudow (Texas Fish & Game, June).

Technical Writing – sponsored by Dometic Marine.

1st, “On a Wing and a Prayer” by Kimball Livingston (Sail, Jan.); 2nd, “Manipulating Molecules” by Richard Boggs (Dockwalk, April); 3rd, “How Sailboats Measure Up” by Jeremy McGeary (Cruising World, Oct.). “Livingston tackles a difficult subject and presents it in a way that can be easily understood by non-technical readers, and does it with style and grace. This is what good technical writing is all about,” commented Jim Rhodes, category chair.

Boat Tests – sponsored by Volvo Penta.

1st, “Going the Distance” by Chris Caswell (Yachting, June); 2nd, “This Center Console Takes Center Stage” by Lenny Rudow (, Nov. 8); 3rd, “Pontoon vs. Deck” by Pete McDonald (Boating, Feb.). Category chair Heather Steinberger notes, “Boat tests are tricky, because it’s easy for writers to fall back on a formula to produce them. The first place test was a breath of fresh air due to its distinctive voice and smooth, skillful use of language. I felt as if I were standing alongside the writer touring the boat. Merit Awards to: “Here Kitty Kitty” by Zuzana Prochazka (Sea, Sept.); “Jet Drive vs. Stern Drive” by Jeff Hemmel (Boating, March); “Maritimo C53 Sports Cabriolet” by Alan Jones (Sea, Nov.); “The Redesigned Hunter 33” by Darrell Nicholson (Practical Sailor, July).

Gear, Electronics and Product Tests – sponsored by Xantrex Technology Inc.

1st, “DIY Nonskid Options” by Ann Key (Practical Sailor, Jan.); 2nd, “Banishing the Fumes” by Webb Chiles (Cruising World, Dec.); 3rd “Waterproof Gadget Gear” by Ann Key (Practical Sailor, Nov.). “More than you’d ever want to know about ‘Nonskid Options’ on boats … told with a gripping style that holds your attention,” category chair Ron Ballanti commented. Certificates of Merit to: “Long Lasting Bottom Paint” by Darrell Nicholson (Practical Sailor, March); “Simrad 4G vs. 3G Radar” by Jonathan Neeves (Practical Sailor, Dec.); “Mid Priced Fixed Marine VHFs” by Frank Lanier (Practical Sailor, June).

Megayachts –  sponsored by Awlgrip North America.

1st, “Islander: Megayacht Makeover” by Kim Kavin (Yachting, June); 2nd, “Better Place” by Marilyn Mower (ShowBoats International, Dec.); 3rd, “Seanna” by Marilyn Mower (ShowBoats International, May). Judges said, “Pictures showing the transformation of this massive motorsailer are impressive, but it is the lucid wordsmithing with text that tells the mindful journey of the owner and remarkable story of rebuilding below decks.” Merit selection: “Lady Tahiti” by Risa Merl (ShowBoats International, Sept.).

Original Online Content – sponsored by National Marine Electronics Assn.

1st, “A View From Here, A Marine Industry Blog” by Bill Sisson on; 2nd, “ – The Marine Electronics Weblog” by Ben Ellison; 3rd, “, A Blog About Cruising Sailboats and Other Aquatic Miracles” by Charles Doane. Judge Bob Duthie said, “Sisson’s blog is outstanding because of its layout, writing, photos, and number of comments. The fact that new posts are made weekly is impressive. I liked it so much that I signed up for it.” Merit Awards: “” by Kim Kavin; and “Soundings Online: Special report: Analysis of a Capsizing” by Eric Sorensen.

The Grand Prize Writing Award

When funded, the Grand Prize Writers Award, which carries a four-figure cash prize, is selected from a pool of the top three entries in each of 17 writing categories that were considered for the annual contest.  Scroll down to see recent Grand Prize winning details.

2010 Grand Prize Award

Jim Flannery, senior writer for Soundings publications, received the top honor BWI presents to a journalist — The BWI Grand Prize Writer’s Award.  Announcement of the award, consisting of a $2,500 check and a crystal trophy, was made during the 2012 BWI membership meeting at the Miami International Boat Show. Flannery, of Fort Lauderdale, covers the southeast and beyond for the consumer and trade publisher filing dozens of articles annually ranging from safety and legislative concerns to industry profiles and human interest tales. Co-sponsors of the award are Martek of Palm Beach and Overing Yacht Designs.

Flannery’s in-depth treatise, “The fading glory of working waterfronts,” profiled the human impact that the demise of water-based commercial enterprise brings and identified the issues that lead to it. In Maine, and coastal states also tied to a challenged fishery, the competition between private land use and development and civic interest in keeping businesses and resulting jobs is a constant faceoff. Flannery also reported on individuals, groups and government programs seeking healthy mixed-use solutions which offer hope for restoring waterfront vitality. The article was first recognized in the Boating Issues, News and Analysis writing category, one of 48 award winners in the 2010 BWI Annual Writing Contest.  The top three entries in each of 16 writing categories were considered for this grand prize.

Judges said of Flannery’s entry, “We found this exploration of a dying Maine Coast to be commendable. We applaud its considerable research, its fresh angle, and, most of all, its strong writing.”  (A link to the feature is

Also cited by the judges as honorable mentions were:

- Panbo, the Marine Electronics blog … “Used the medium well, provided accessible content, and delivered a fresh voice;” and

- “Escape from the Island of Doom” by Marlin Bree … “Offered a strong narrative, a captivating tale, and clear, powerful writing.”

This award was judged by three faculty members at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications of Syracuse University.

2009 Grand Prize Award

Liz Walz, editor-in-chief of Boating Industry magazine, was the recipient of the BWI Grand Prize Writer’s Award for 2009 (presented in 2010). Walz works from her home in Manlius, NY and has served as an editor of the magazine for 10 years.

Independent judges from Northwestern University’s Journalism school picked Walz’s article, “The New Word-of-Mouth,” for the honor. It is a persuasive treatise on why businesses need social networking strategies and how to implement them. Published in the June, 2009 issue of the magazine, it goes deep in research, reporting how experts leverage social media then ties compelling industry-specific examples to prove the promises. Illustrating each of the social sites, she removed the mystery of participation, explained how to “listen” and “respond,” then ardently suggested “clicking in.“

Judges described Walz’s entry as being, “Soooo on target. The right stuff at the right time. The writing is crisp. Organization is about perfect. You can not read this without learning something – painlessly even in these painful economic straits. This makes for a most significant story.” To access the story, click on

The judging team identified several additional entries for excellence in writing:
– “It Was A Club of Their Own” by Ann Dermody in BoatUS Magazine:
– “Bouncing Along the Bottom” by Michael Verdon in International Boat Industry
– “” by Bill Sisson.

2008 Grand Prize Award

George Sass, Sr., a freelance writer, author and former advertising creative director, won the Grand Prize Writing Award, the top award Boating Writers International gives to a journalist, in 2008.

Sass, of Annapolis, MD, received the award, consisting of a $5,000 check and a crystal trophy, at a formal presentation during the BWI membership meeting at the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show. His story, “Big-Water Boats – How to Choose the Right Vessel for Offshore Cruising,” was published in the 2008 Ocean Explorer Handbook.

Judges said of the entry: “After a gut-griping lead, this article turns into a beautifully structured and nicely written example of explanatory journalism. It is interspersed with anecdotes, narrative description and lively quotes – so as to not get bogged down in textbook prose. Throughout, the writing is crisp. This is good, clear, informative writing at its best.”

The top three entries in each of 16 writing categories were considered for this grand prize. Judges for the Grand Prize Award are associated with Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and have had careers in newspapers, magazines, broadcasting and on-line enterprises. They include: David Nelson, Professor of Media Management and Ethics; Michele Bitoun, Senior Director of Undergraduate Education and Teaching Excellence; and Professor Marcel Pacatte, Managing Editor of the Medill Reports website.

Several additional entries were cited by the judging team for excellence in writing, including “Limulus Lately” by Wendy Mitman Clarke in Chesapeake Bay; “You Can Go Home Again” by Tania Aebi in Cruising World; and “Fishing for the Future” by Dick Russell in Northeast Boating.

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