A Day in the Life of a Coast Guard Small Boat Station
Daily life at a Coast Guard mall boat station is not unlike that of a firehouse. The men and women of the station spend most of their time doing routine maintenance on the building and boats and/or training. However, at some point during a seemingly ordinary day, the Search and Rescue (SAR) alarm sounds. That is when the station truly comes alive.
To someone on the outside looking in, the moments following the SAR alarm is chaos. For those on the inside, however, each movement is totally controlled. The crew of the small boat station works like a well-oiled machine. Each person has a job and they are trained to execute it flawlessly. They all know that one wrong move can be the difference between life or death for someone out in the water.
Petty Officer Second Class Timothy Baker, a Machinery Technician from the local Coast Guard Small Boat Station, describes the moment the SAR alarm sounds, “You feel both anxious and nervous, yet excited at the same time. You question your training and capability but know that you have to go through the motions and be there no matter what.”
The process of the station crew heading out on a SAR case begins with them dressing out in the proper attire for the time of year; in the winter units in colder areas have to wear special protective suits, called dry suits, and in the summer they simply wear special life vests, type III life jacket. Then they split off to do their perspective duties. The Machinery Technician (MK) or engineer heads down to light off, or in civilian terms, start the boat. While at the same time the coxswain, or driver, of the boat heads off to be briefed on the case and where they are heading. The rest of the crew prepares the boat to launch, so that once the coxswain is ready they can easily get underway.
Once the crew is briefed and checks are completed, they speed off to the location of those in distress. This seems like a lot and that it would take quite a bit of time. However, all of these steps happen in a matter of minutes. The crews of the Coast Guard stations are so well trained, they can do their duties without thought. Search and Rescue cases are not always life and death situations, often times they are nothing more than a boat that needs a tow back to port. The crew, however, treats each one the same. Every time that alarm goes off their adrenaline starts pumping and they take off at a run. No case is less important than another.
Daily life at a Coast Guard station is not just about waiting for the SAR alarm to sound. They have many other responsibilities as well. Some stations can go days, even weeks without receiving a SAR case. That doesn’t mean they don’t still have a job to do, training and maintenance aside, these stations will regularly put together a boarding crew. These crews patrol the waters and when they deem it necessary, board boats. No specific type of boat is singled out or ignored, they board everything from fishing vessels to recreational water crafts. These boardings are mainly to be sure boaters have up to date registration and are following boating safety laws. Occasionally a boarding can take a turn and end up being something more than expected; drug interdiction, etc. However, more often than not they check the papers, ask the safety questions and allow them to move on their way.
Life at a Coast Guard station is not always exciting and is definitely not glamorous. But, the men and women stationed there do what they do because they love what they do and they know that if they weren’t there lives would be lost. They could go their entire career in the Coast Guard and only save one life, but that one life makes their job and all the sacrifices involved, worth it. They don’t do it for the thanks and most of them do not see themselves as heroes, they simply do their job. For those they save and those whose loved ones are alive today because of what they do, they are heroes. Knowing that their job is to be there for people in times of need is what keeps them going on the days they would rather not. Next time you are spending a warm summer day on your boat, take the time to think about the men and women at the Coast Guard stations.