Coast Guard Reserve Boat Crew College

Preparing our members to be first responders
“Man overboard, man overboard, port side,” yells a crewman.

The driver whips the boat around and starts looking for the person in the water. The crewman is yelling out directions and distances to the boat driver. As the driver spots the person in distress, he slowly pulls the boat up next to him. The crewman leans over the edge and pulls the person onboard.

“Checking ABC’s,” he says.

“Okay, good job,” says the driver, “end of drill.”

While it was actually a dummy the crewman pulled on board, what he had to say and do was part of his training that will prepare him for a real-life scenario. This drill was one of many conducted at the Reserve Boat Crew College.

The 2009 Reserve Boat Crew College was held at Coast Guard Station Curtis Bay, Md., from March 30, through April 10. During those two weeks, 16 Coast Guard reserve members had the chance to learn skills that will prepare them to become a rescue boat crewmember. While they won’t become qualified boat crewmembers right after graduation, the experience they gain will prepare them for the necessary steps required to be life savers in the Coast Guard Reserve.

Reservists work one weekend a month and two weeks of active duty a year. Becoming a qualified boat crewmember is mandatory for reservists assigned to boat stations. With such little time at their units, becoming qualified can be difficult to accomplish. Coast Guard District One in Boston, Mass., initiated the idea of dedicating their reservist’s two weeks active duty time to boat crew training. The idea of conducting a college has since spread down to Coast Guard Sector Baltimore. The sector is responsible for setting up a location, finding instructors, boats and writing orders for all the reservists that can attend.

Station Curtis Bay volunteered to host this year’s college and provided five active duty members that were boat crew certified to be instructors and three 25-foot response boats for underway training. Stations Annapolis, Md., and Washington D.C., also volunteered instructors and one boat each.

At the beginning of the course, the students were given a performance qualification book. Inside the book is a list of all the tasks that a boat crewmember must be proficient in to become qualified. Each task must be properly demonstrated to an instructor in order for it to be signed off. Once all the tasks have been completed, the student can request a boat crew board and check ride for certification.

The board is a panel of certified boat crewmembers that will test the student’s knowledge of boat specifications and procedures, and the check ride will test how well they can perform all necessary tasks on the boat. If the student passes both the board and check ride they will become qualified rescue boat crewmembers.

During the first week, students began learning the basics such as equipment on the boat, seamanship, boat stability and basic navigation. Instructors taught the students how to use equipment, tie knots, plot positions on charts, and figure out time, speed and distance from one point to another.

“One of the hardest things for them to learn this week was navigation,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron Nelson, a Reserve Boat Crew instructor. “The actual plotting out of positions and learning the different chart symbols is difficult,” he said.

In the same week, the students had to perform tasks underway such as anchoring, man overboard recovery and proper towing techniques. Another large task was the survival swim. Students had to properly put on their dry suits, jump into the open water, swim 100 yards and huddle up together in circle. As if that wasn’t hard enough, they did so in the cold, pouring rain while contending with two-to-three foot waves.

“It’s difficult to swim, but with the vest and the buoyancy of the suits, it’s easy to float,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Bartel, a student of the college.

While still in the water, instructor Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hines, officer in charge at Station Curtis Bay, directed students one-on-one on how to use signal flares. Students used either the MK-124 day-night flare, or the MK-79 signal kit, which has seven small flares. Once every student had the opportunity to light off a flare, they swam back to the boat and returned to the station.

During the second week of training, the students focused on firefighting, engineering casualty control, defense operations and underway navigation. Students had to learn how to combat different types of fire on their boat and how to fix minor engine problems that could arise while out on the water. Defense operations covered maritime security and security patrols. Underway navigation involved using GPS, loran and radar to move from one point to another.

On the last day of training the class covered first aid and CPR. For first aid, the students went over the basics of coming onto the scene of an emergency, ensuring the scene is safe, assessing a patient and providing first responder care for them. Students worked in teams during different scenarios to practice proper care of someone with broken bones or open flesh wounds. They also used CPR dummies to review CPR and Heimlich maneuver techniques.

For graduation, the students got a chance to speak with Cmdr. Austin Gould, the deputy commander of Sector Baltimore.

“It’s hard for reservists to get qualified; it’s hard for reservists to stay qualified. When the notion came up about having this boat crew college, I was really supportive of it. I think it’s a great idea,” Gould said.

The graduation included certificates for each student to show they had completed the two-week course. Most of the students said they would be ready for a board and check ride no later than June.

“By all accounts, this was a successful training evolution. The entire curriculum that we set out to accomplish was completed without injury or mishap. Tasks were signed off when students met the standards, and students who were not quite ready for sign-offs received a solid foundation to build off,” said Lt. Cmdr. Michael DaPonte, chief of the contingency preparedness and force readiness division at Sector Baltimore.

Sector Baltimore plans to continue with the program next year while incorporating ways to improve training to insure all students are getting exactly what they need to be qualified rescue personnel in the Coast Guard Reserve.

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