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Remembering boating’s ‘answer man’

Charles B. "Chuck" Husick was an engineer by training whose broad-ranging Renaissance mind enabled him to lead companies in aviation and boating, edit "Chapman's Piloting and Seamanship" - the bible of boating - and write about a host of technical subjects for boating magazines. Husick died Sept. 13 at his home in St. Petersburg, Fla., after a nine-month illness. He was 77.

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"He was the answer man," says Michael Sciulla, former editor of BoatU.S. Magazine and a friend of Husick's for 20 years. Husick wrote the "Ask Chuck" column for BoatU.S. "There wasn't anything too technical for him," Sciulla says. "He always had an answer or he could find the answer."

Schooled as an electrical engineer at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn - now the Polytechnic Institute of New York University-Brooklyn Campus - Husick started out designing analog computers, then worked on telemetry for the Gemini manned space program. He later was president of Narco Avionics and Konel Marine Electronics, then executive vice president of Cessna Aircraft and senior vice president of Fairchild Industries in 1978 and 1984, respectively.

A commercial pilot with 6,000 hours of flying, he also served as chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, a trade group. He took the helm of Chris-Craft in 1988 when it was in decline, took it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and oversaw its sale to Outboard Marine Corp. the following year.

A sailor as well as a pilot, Husick held a 100-ton Coast Guard master's license and cruised widely on his 46-foot Irwin ketch, Bonne Etoile (Good Star), which he used to test a lot of the gear he wrote about for BoatU.S., Ocean Navigator, Yachting, Soundings and other magazines.

"There was nothing of a technical nature that he didn't understand and couldn't explain," says Tim Queeney, editor of Ocean Navigator, who worked closely with Husick for almost 20 years. "He could do it all," writing with authority about boat and aircraft engines, electronics, and mechanical and electrical-mechanical systems.

"Up to even the latter part of his life, he loved to write articles and be asked questions about technology or science," Queeney says. The editor would call with a thorny technical question and Husick not only would answer it - or quickly find the answer - "he'd thank me for asking because he loved using his mind."

Husick held several patents, including one for a self-cleaning seawater strainer, and was always looking over the horizon to the next advance in technology. "He told me about the concept for [automatic identification systems] in the early '90s," long before this collision avoidance and port security technology was available for ships and boats, Queeney says. "He wanted to know how things worked and how technologies could be improved and incorporated."

Husick was an advocate for boaters, tirelessly writing about the latest clean technology in marine sanitation devices and urging Congress to let boaters use the technology in waters designated as "no-discharge zones." He also was a voice for moderation in Department of Homeland Security policies to stem the small-boat terrorist threat. "He advocated for a public-policy approach that would get the recreational boating public off the hot seat," Sciulla says.

Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Husick served as a lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers after receiving his engineering degree. He was a member of the BoatU.S. National Advisory Council, the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System Task Force and the board of directors of the Radio Technical Commission for Marine Services. He also was a member of St. Petersburg Beach's Pass-A-Grille Yacht Club, serving as commodore in 2000.

Husick is survived by Louisa, his wife of 17 years; his sister; two sons; and four grandchildren. Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water.

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue.