Beyond borders, a partnership in lifesaving education

13th Coast Guard District NewsBy Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn

ILWACO, Wash. — If you’re near the coast on a stormy day and have a decent view of the open ocean, you might pause for a moment to watch the surf smash against the rocks or break upon the sand. From the safety of a heated vehicle idling at a beach or state park parking lot, many of us have sat comfortably mesmerized by the tumultuous frenzy created when heavy winds meet open stretches of water near the shore.

For some, adverse weather on the ocean provides far more than a fantastic view, but a condition of employment. Fisherman and other mariners all over the world make a living braving conditions like these on a daily basis. When these mariners face emergency situations out on the water, they rely upon each other and dependable maritime rescue agencies to come to their aid.

The U.S. Coast Guard National Motor Lifeboat School in Ilwaco, Wash., teaches students how to do just that: operate lifeboats specifically designed to conduct rescue missions in heavy weather conditions in a unique area of the Pacific Northwest, near the entrance to the Columbia River.

The U.S. Coast Guard, in addition to training its own boat operators at the school, has hosted Canadian Coast Guard students at the school for years. Recently, our neighbors to the south have begun training at the school as well. The school’s two most recent classes graduated not only ten U.S. Coast Guardsmen, but six officers of the Mexican Navy.

Predominantly commanding or executive officers at search and rescue stations in Mexico, these students will take skills they’ve learned at NMLBS and apply them at their units.

“Recently the Mexican Navy purchased 47-foot motor lifeboats from the U.S. and requested training assistance,” said Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Smasne, commanding officer at NMLBS. “As the center of heavy weather excellence, we provide training in all aspects of motor lifeboat operations. The training of Mexican Naval members started in 2010 with members attending our 47-foot Motor LifeboatIntroduction Course. These students progressed to the next level of training, the 47-foot motor Lifeboat Heavy Weather Coxswain course, which allows these selected members to continue their training in a harsher environment and at a higher skill level,” explained Smasne.

Coast Guard instructors for the three-week heavy weather course held March 19 – Apr. 6, 2012, taught advanced techniques for boat handling, towing, gear transfer and person-in-the-water recovery, in seas up to 15 feet and winds up to 40 knots.

“Both Mexican Naval students in the heavy weather course were return students from our first international basic class back in 2010. It was very evident that both students had been practicing the techniques they learned prior to arrival for the heavy weather class,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Brett Malehorn, instructor at NMLBS.

“Specifically, both students showed improvement in their ability to control the bow in the wind, and to stop momentum despite adverse current and sea conditions,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jason McCommons, another course instructor.

The most recent course, held Apr. 16-27, 2012, formally introduced four Mexican Naval officers to operation of the 47-foot motor lifeboat. Though most of the student officers have experience operating the 47-foot motor lifeboats at their stations, the course is specifically geared to reinforce basic skills and fundamentals.

“The introduction course ensures that these individuals will receive proper hands on training for the platform that they operate from the subject matter specialists at the NMLBS,” said Chief Petty Officer Jeremy Bock, Senior instructor at NMLBS. “We hope that each member that attended the introduction course gained confidence in the 47-foot motor lifeboat and its capabilities and confidence in their own abilities as operators. They will not be proficient with the techniques that they learn while at the school but should have a strong foundation to build on back at their respective units.”

“I joined the Mexican Navy because it is a very gallant and honest way to live and serve,” said Lt. j.g. Arturo Morales Desachy, executive officer at Search and Rescue Station Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico and NMLBS student. “I have gained a lot of knowledge at this school and look forward to teaching my crew the things I have learned here. I have gained a lot of knowledge that will help me to safely operate the motor lifeboat and save lives.”

Collaborative efforts of different maritime rescue agencies are critical to the safety of people who make their living on the ocean. Search and rescue operations often involve intersecting and overlapping areas of responsibility. The U.S. Coast Guard routinely works with the Mexican Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Coast Guard in conducting search and rescue operations. The recent participation and education of Mexican Naval students at NBLBS is a crucial step in strengthening our relationship and sharing knowledge with our partner, the Mexican Navy.

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