Anchors, seas and maple leaves: U.S., Canadian coast guard conduct joint training

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A mayday call comes over the radio.

A mariner is in trouble in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the international maritime boundary between the western United States and Canada.

U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian coast guard crews stand ready to respond.

But which nation answers the call?

In many cases, the solution may be both.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Carr, an aviation survival technician assigned to U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, Wash., is lowered from an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter onto the deck of Canadian Coast Guard Ship Cape Naden, a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Sidney, British Columbia, during a training exercise in Moresby Passage, Aug. 7, 2014. Once aboard, Carr instructed crewmembers on the proper techniques for tending a trail line and completing helicopter hoists. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Carr onto the deck of Canadian Coast Guard Ship Cape Naden, a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Sidney, British Columbia Aug. 7, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

“From a partnership perspective, we share a very close working area with Canada,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Kurczewski, aircraft commander assigned to U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, Washington. “Cases can sometimes be right on the border.”

Canadian coast guard officials invited an aircrew from Air Station Port Angeles to Sidney, British Columbia, for a day of underway training exercises to practice responding to search and rescue cases along the 125-mile shared international maritime border.

Collaboration between the U.S. and Canadian coast guard is nothing new. Agency officials have been working together for years to combat illegal drug, weapons and contraband trafficking and illegal fishing activity along the maritime border.

One of the key roles of both coast guards is to protect mariners, no matter what side of the border they may drive, sail or paddle through.

“We have a strong history of collaboration,” said Michael Mitchell, Canadian coast guard search and rescue program officer. “The purpose of today’s training is to enhance our partnerships and gain a better understanding of our roles and capabilities.”

The four-person MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Air Station Port Angeles met with members of the Canadian coast guard and the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue at the Victoria International Airport in British Columbia, Aug. 7, 2014. The RCM-SAR is an all-volunteer service equipped and trained by the Canadian coast guard to respond to maritime distress calls along the Canadian coast.

Participants of the exercise introduced themselves and explained their role in search and rescue missions in the area. The aircrew exhibited the Dolphin and demonstrated rescue gear, then toured Canadian Coast Guard Ship Cape Naden, a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Sidney, British Columbia, and two RCM-SAR Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats.

After a thorough review of the training plan and a safety brief, crewmembers of the Dolphin, the Cape Naden and five RCM-SAR vessels took off for Moresby Passage, about 5 miles northeast of Sidney, British Columbia.

The Dolphin aircrew approached the Cape Naden and completed a variety of hoists with their rescue swimmer and rescue basket. Cape Naden crewmembers practiced tending the trail line to guide objects onto the boat deck while maintaining a consistent course and speed.

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrew from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, Wash., makes an approach toward Canadian Coast Guard Ship Cape Naden, a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Sidney, British Columbia, during a training exercise in Moresby Passage, Aug. 7, 2014. The U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian Coast Guard crews organized the training event to practice skills necessary for safely completing a joint rescue along the international maritime border. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter makes an approach toward Canadian Coast Guard Ship Cape Naden, a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Sidney, British Columbia, during a training exercise in Moresby Passage, Aug. 7, 2014.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

The RCM-SAR crews also practiced station keeping with the Dolphin crew overhead.

“Since we had the opportunity to hoist with the Canadian coast guard, I am optimistic that working with them during actual cases and training missions could be accomplished seamlessly and routinely,” said Kurczewski. “Working with Canada offers platform diversity compared to the U.S. Coast Guard boats that we regularly work with. It also maintains the safety of working with other professional organizations such as the Canadian coast guard and the RCM-SAR.”

At the end of the day, the training was more than just an exchange of best practices. It was also an exchange of names, faces and handshakes.

“We don’t meet anyone over the radio,” said Mitchell. “This is a unique opportunity to meet in person. Personal interaction is golden.”

As the vessels motor back to their home piers and the Dolphin turns south once again, American and Canadian mariners alike can boat confidently with the knowledge that two coast guards are standing the watch.

Click on either photo for more from the exercise.

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