Letter to the Editor from Captain Timothy Close, Sector St. Petersburg

Cleveland – The following letter to the editor was written by Capt. Timothy M. Close, Commanding Officer of U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg.   Capt. Close is the Coast Guard officer who led this week’s search for the missing boaters off the Florida coast:

March 6, 2009

This past week, a strong group of elite gentlemen set off confident in their knowledge and skill, but were overpowered by forces of nature. It is essential that the majority of us who are no match for their strength must take utmost care before setting out on the ocean in even the best of conditions.

One of the most important things a boater can do before leaving the dock is to provide a detailed float plan to a family member or friend. Float plans should indicate exactly where you’re going and when you’ll be home. This information is crucial to the Coast Guard should we need to find you. An accurate weather forecast for the area you’ll be in is also crucial. Many times, weather near shore is significantly calmer than weather offshore and knowing the forecast for your intended destination can help you decide whether to leave the dock, stay in more protected areas or even stay at home.

An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is the single most important piece of emergency equipment a boater can have. EPIRBs are life savers. When an EPIRB gets activated, it sends a signal to the Coast Guard telling us you are in distress and providing us your exact location. A marine band VHF-FM radio can be extremely valuable, but has limited range. Additionally, cell phones become less effective the further you are from shore and may receive no signal at all beyond 15-20 miles.

Flares, strobe lights and other signaling devices allow us to quickly locate people who are already in the water and need help. We will search at night as well as during daylight and anything that will make you more visible aids us significantly.

Finally, always wear a life jacket.

As we all continue to pray for Nick Schuyler’s speedy recovery and for the families of Marquis Cooper, William Bleakley and Corey Smith around the country, I hope those who cared about Corey Smith in the Greater Detroit area can honor his legacy with a renewed commitment toward personal safety and a respect for the raw power of the open waters whether they be in the Gulf of Mexico or the Great Lakes. If so, I believe that some good can come out of this heartbreaking tragedy.

Capt. Timothy M. Close
Sector Commander
Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg, Fla.

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