Living in the Moment with Niels Kisling, Davis Instruments

Niels Kisling Davis Instruments



With a lifelong passion for boating, Niels chooses to live his boat life to the fullest, helping people enjoy the water and spreading the word about safe boating [Podcast]

Anchors AweighAnchors Aweigh Boating Podcast is a podcast for all boaters, from aspiring to experienced. Featuring in-depth conversations with boating experts and industry leaders, and packed full of tips, tricks, gear, and industry info, boaters of all levels will come away with new skills and knowledge each episode.

Technology has rendered navigating at sea a task largely left to electronics. From sextants to compasses, to radar to GPS, we have constantly improved our navigation techniques and technology. However, in all this technological advancement, boaters have lost the basic navigating skills that enabled explorers to cross oceans and discover new lands.

While there is less and less need to have these skills, it is still important to be able to know where your boat is and how to get it where it’s going without all the modern tools. After all, you never know when a GPS will stop working or your phone will lose its charge and you don’t want to be stuck out there without technology or know how!

sailing californiaNiels Kisling is in charge of Marine Sales and Marketing at Davis Instruments, a company with a huge range of products for sailors and powerboaters. Many of you boaters and especially sailors are probably using or have used Davis products and may not even know it. In 2017, Neils accepted the Miami International Boat Show Innovation Award in the Category of Boat Care and Maintenance for their Snap Tool Multi-Key.

Niels has spent his entire life boating and sailing, on boats his father handmade! From a rowboat to a 20’ catamaran, Captain Kisling provided Niels a variety of ways to enjoy the water from a young age. Niels grew up boating on Long Island but moved to the West Coast in elementary school and continued pursuing his love of boating off of Capitola, California.

It is here that one of the most harrowing events one can imagine occurred in Niels life. Sailing in a race from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara, Niels and his two boatmates got caught in bad weather, hit by a freak wave, and capsized. Sadly, both of Niels friends succumbed to exposure, but Niels persevered. After almost 24 hours at sea, through the sheer power of will, he stayed with it until a tanker saw him a half mile away and maneuvered to rescue him. The power of Niels spirit continues to shine through to this day as he chooses to live his life to the fullest, helping people enjoy the water and spreading the word about safe boating.

While we did not get into details about this event, we did have a great discussion about how he got started in boating, navigating at sea, Davis products for everyday boaters, a unique partnership with the O’Neill Sea Odyssey, and more. Enjoy!

Be sure to click on links to listen to the full podcast interview at the end!



His current boating life

I’m about five miles away from the harbor. We have a boat that was built in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz was the leader of the light boat design concept back in the 70’s. It’s a Wilderness 40, designed by Gary Mull and it was built by Wilderness Boatworks just about eight miles from where I live.

Boating as a child

I was born in Long Island, NY. My folks moved us out here when I was nine years old. In Long Island we were boating but it was a much different kind of boating. My dad built all our boats and our biggest boat was a 20’ catamaran. We lived on the Bay and the boating was very serene, the wind didn’t blow very hard. Our smallest boat was a little rowboat my dad made me when I was three years old. It was five feet long with four foot oars and I used to be able to take that out by myself any time I wanted to.

Boating in his blood

My dad called himself Captain Kisling, that’s where I got my handle Captain Niels. He went to sea when he was sixteen years old. This was back in 1922. He didn’t have much interest in school so he left home and went to sea on a Danish trading schooner that sailed between Denmark and England. Then he became a third mate and became a radio operator on ships sailing between Denmark and the Far East and Denmark and the Caribbean.

Learning to boat

I think I learned by osmosis, or learned by watching my dad. We used to go sailing and he would ask me to do tasks and I would do it. It was always very relaxed, I never got yelled at. He would encourage us to do things and if we did it right he would praise us. I think that rubbed off. When I take people sailing today we are very casual. There’s no yelling or screaming, just a lot of explaining.

Niels Kisling Teaching kids to boat

I think one of the biggest things that parents can do wrong is to expect that their children are going to enjoy the same boating lifestyle that they do, and some parents can put a lot of pressure on that.

I’ve taken my boys out on the sailboat ever since they were six weeks old. This morning I was talking about what my son’s earliest memory might be and Christian told me his earliest memory was laying in the bean bag in the cockpit looking up at the sails. I thought that was pretty cool.

The Davis product line

If you’re a sailor, you know our Windex wind vane. We have been the North American manufacturer and distributor for going on forty years. Most people with a sailboat look up at their masthead and see your Windex up there. It was designed really well back in the 60’s and still works really well to this day.

The next most popular product is Davis Fiberglass Stain Remover. We sell a bunch of it to the US Navy. You’ve got Happy Troller which is great for fishermen trying to slow down their motors. You’ve got Queaz-Away wrist bands which keep you from getting seasick. The whole company was founded on plastic sextants and navigation tools.

sailing navigationThe importance of learning navigation skills

People are losing the ability to put an X on the chart to locate their position. I’m still a believer in paper charts. I encourage my kids when we sail to plot their position on a chart. You can do that with a GPS if you do it on a regular basis. If the GPS ever goes out you only have to go back an hour or two and you know where you were. I think it’s a pretty important thing.

One of the coolest things that Davis has experienced lately is that the US Navy has made it mandatory to have a sextant on board and to have two people who know how to use it. For a long time the US Navy discontinued celestial navigation because GPS is so bulletproof but about ten years ago somebody got smart and realized that our electronic navigation can shut down any time and all of a sudden you have Navy ships out there that don’t know where they are. Sextant navigation being in demand on Navy ships has increased demand for home hobbyists and boaters.

The O’Neill Sea Odyssey program

Jack O’Neill founded this program with Tim O’Neill. They had the concept that they’d like to give back to the community so they made a foundation called the O’Neill Sea Odyssey Foundation where they take schoolchildren out in their sixty foot catamaran for free but in order to be taken out your school has to perform ten hours of community service. It’s a two part program where they take you out on the boat and collect plankton, do navigation with our compasses, and have a little program about the environment and effects of pollution on the ocean, then they go up to the classroom and have a one or two hour program to back up what they do on the water.

Right now they are at 995,000 kids they have taken out and this summer they are going to have their one millionth kid on the water.

The most important item to bring boating

My kids and I always wear our inflatable life jackets. We really like our inflatable life vests because you don’t even know you have them on but if you fall in the water they’re a huge benefit. Now I realize that all I have to do is slip or fall in the water or hit my head and it’d be very stupid not to have a life jacket on, or have it down below. I think that’s probably the single most important piece of equipment we go boating with.

The best piece of boating advice received

I was always bothered by sailing downwind. I was always afraid of jibing by accident. My seventh-grade school teacher who built a boat with me taught me the simplest piece of advice that I’ve passed on to thousands of people – ‘If you’re afraid you’re close to a jibe, push the tiller towards the boom’. When you do that, the boat comes up into the wind and you get further away from a jibe situation. General boating advice, I think somebody told me a long time ago to go out there and have a good time.

Boating gets you to live in the moment. When you’re out there boating it’s all about what you’re doing right this second in time. It’s not about what bills you have to pay or what appointments you have back on land. Living in the moment is why I go boating.

Listen to the full Podcast:

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Matt O'Hara
Matt O’Hara is the owner, along with his wife Rebecca, of Freedom Boat Club Lake George and the Queen Boat Co marina. After a 10-year career in media sales in Boston, MA Matt and Rebecca decided to relocate and open their own Freedom Boat Club, where they could share their love of boating and Lake George by helping others get on the water. The best part of the new career has been the joy they see families having on the water day in and day out, making memories that will last a lifetime. Matt has combined his background in media with his move to the boating industry to launch Anchors Aweigh, a podcast for boaters.