Story provided by Chief Petty Officer Robert Sevon, officer in charge of Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team San Francisco
Whether you are a mariner, photographer, writer or tourist, there is no denying the strong allure of the lighthouse. The lighthouse demands your gaze, standing tall through the storm and illuminating the sky for all to see. The steadfast lighthouse represents strength and hope. While many lighthouses mark dangerous points and islands, lighthouses typically signify that land is near. Home is near. Regardless of whether that light is the first thing you see returning from sea or the last thing you see heading out, it weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of the mariner. The lighthouse, like no other aid to navigation, is powerful beyond the light you see.
The United States is home to more lighthouses than anywhere else on Earth, but there is one that commands the most attention in San Francisco Bay:
Casting its light 23 miles in every direction, the lighthouse sits on one of the most sought-after attractions in the world. From Alcatraz Island, the Beacon of the Bay protects, guides and inspires residents and visitors alike.
Alcatraz Lighthouse helps ensure the safe and efficient movement of commercial and recreational marine traffic in and around the fifth-busiest container port in the United States. The 84-foot tall tower has stood in the center of the Bay since 1909, but without a little help, she would be just that, a tower. There is nothing romantic or powerful about a tower. Fortunately, through the efforts of the Coast Guard, she continues to shine brightly.
The Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team San Francisco crew is charged with maintaining the structure and the navigational light. Visiting the lighthouse on a quarterly basis, the ANT’s highly trained technicians perform maintenance procedures to ensure the light is in top working condition. On the rare occasion that the light does go out, ANT San Francisco’s technicians are there to quickly make repairs.
“Aids to navigation is a very rewarding mission considering the scope of work we do and the impact it has on mariner’s lives,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Ina Trayanouskaya, a boatswain’s mate at ANT San Francisco. “You have to be flexible and positive about change, as each day’s schedule depends on outside factors and making sure the aids are up to date with regular maintenance, and when broken, are fixed in a timely manner.”
ANT San Francisco consists of 15 enlisted personnel. If ANT San Francisco had a bumper sticker, it would simply be, “small unit, big responsibility.” In fact, if you see a beacon or buoy in California there is a 52-percent chance ANT San Francisco maintains it. These professional sailors are responsible for 569 aids to navigation. Their area of responsibility stretches from the Pacific Coast to Lake Tahoe and from Bodega Bay to Point Sur. This makes them the largest of eight Coast Guard aids to navigation teams on the West Coast.
The history of aids to navigation in the United States dates back to 1716 with the establishment of the Boston Lighthouse. The mission has changed drastically from the days of gas-lit lanterns and the use of cannons as fog signals; however, the hard work and dedication required of an aids to navigation professional remains unchanged.
“The intricate attention to detail that goes into maintaining an aid goes far beyond what most would expect or appreciate,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicholas Bean, an ANT San Francisco electrician’s mate. “Each aid has a very unique aura and history to go along with its apparent simple design and function. In 2015, a light that turns and blinks, maybe makes a little noise here and there seems so simple. It is once one digs into the reserve power supplies that utilize AC and DC current, the laser optic fog detectors, solar matrixes and archaic fail-safe generators, that you truly gain an appreciation for aids to navigation as a whole.”
The recognition and adoration of the aids to navigation mission pales in comparison to search and rescue or law enforcement, but these consummate professionals are happy to remain the best kept secret in the Coast Guard. The crew of ANT San Francisco agrees that understanding the impact of their efforts is inspiration enough.
“Our job saves lives,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Cowan, a machinery technician at ANT San Francisco. “While many think of the Coast Guard as responding to an emergency, we prevent many of these emergencies from occurring. Our work helps mark safe shipping channels, which ensures that many large international freighters are able to reach their ports. This promotes international trade and helps support our economy here in the States.”
The next time you hit the water, whether it be for work or play, let there be comfort in knowing that someone was there helping to ensure your safe and efficient journey. When the light stretching out across the horizon catches your eye, think about the members of ANT San Francisco.