Coast Guard members climb to new heights

GALVESTON, Texas – How tall is 150 feet? Its 15 basketball hoops stacked on top of each other. It’s the height of the world’s most active geyser in Yellowstone National Park. It’s the height of the Taj Mahal’s tallest dome. Simply put, it’s really high. If you had to climb a 150-foot tower, would you do it?

At Coast Guard Sector Field Office Galveston there is such a tower. Petty Officer 1st Class Shane Beck, a Civil Engineer Unit instructor and the Aids to Navigation Training Team Tower Climbing Instructor, uses it to certify the aids to navigation units of east Texas in tower climbing.

On July 31, crewmembers from Aids to Navigation Team Galveston and the Coast Guard cutters Hatchet and Harry Claiborne participated in the training.

“The crewmembers must be certified to climb any tower or structure over 20 feet high,” said Beck. “There are over 40 structures that are 20 feet tall or higher in our area and it’s vital for all crewmembers to be certified.”

The first crewmember stepped up and tightened his grip on the ladder in front of him. The dizzying height of the tower was not the only obstacle he had to face during the training. Waiting at the bottom of the 150-foot tower, the crewmember completed a final check of his safety harness and uttered, “Here goes nothing.”

“It’s hot out today, but we’re used to working in the heat here,” said Seaman Tarek Makki, Aids to Navigation Team Galveston crewmember. “Even though working aids to navigation exposes us to the elements, the mission still gets completed.”

As the crewman prepared to make his initial climb, sweat ran down his forehead from the 100-degree heat.

“The three keys to remember when climbing a tower is safety, following procedures and inspecting your gear before you climb,” said Beck.

The crewmember’s safety gear included a climbing harness which was attached to the ladder, goggles, gloves and a hard hat.

“Though it’s unlikely the crewmembers will have to climb a structure this high again,” said Beck. “The higher we can get them certified, the better. You never know if they’ll be called up to climb higher somewhere else.”

The highest navigation structures these crews maintain are about 60 feet high.

“These crewmembers play a large roll in the safety of our coastal waterways,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Groom, executive officer of the Hatchet. “Their hard work keeps local waterways safe and navigable. Crewmembers have the dangerous, dirty and never-ending job of keeping hundreds of buoys and structures up and running 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

The channel markers which the crewmembers will climb aid mariners in lining up the middle of the ship channel. This makes it possible for cargo ships and barges to transit into Texas’ busiest port.

“Without these aids, ships would not be able to find a safe route into the Houston Ship Channel. It would be like driving down a street without signs or traffic signals,” said Groom.

Last year more than 200 million tons of cargo passed through the Houston Ship Channel alone. Additionally, everyday over 70 ships and 300 barges transit the Houston Ship Channel. The bulk of the cargo is made up of petrochemical products and grain goods. Therefore, the affect the aids to navigation crewmembers have in the safety of ship traffic and our waterways is immense to say the least.

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