Coast Guard Sector Detroit Letter to the Editor

 Dear Editor:

Over the past four weeks Coast Guard Sector Detroit has responded to several incidents involving the loss of recreational boaters. Each of these cases involved different circumstances; however, either the failure to wear a personal flotation device and/or the inability to communicate distress to the Coast Guard seemed to be the common factors leading to loss of life. As I write this letter, a Coast Guard helicopter and a boat are continuing a search for a boater who fell off his boat, without a life jacket, and another who went in to save him, also not wearing a life jacket. In contrast, over the past three days, Coast Guard crews at Station Saginaw River and Station Toledo were able to save, within minutes, 7 persons because each vessel operator was able to make a distress call via phone to either 911 or the Coast Guard directly. In another case last Sunday, a boater, Mr. Brian Ames of Coleman, MI noticed an overturned boat near Au Gres, MI, went to investigate, and noticed a family of three floating in life jackets and was able to pull them aboard. In this case, life jackets, also referred to as personal flotation devices (PFDs), and an alert boater saved their lives. Thank you Mr. Ames.

In order for the Coast Guard to provide timely assistance to a boater in distress, we must know of the nature and location of the distress, and victims must be able to stay afloat & alive until the Coast Guard or some other agency can arrive on scene with either a boat or helicopter to complete a rescue. I highly recommend all boaters carry a VHF-FM marine band radio for emergency communication. The Coast Guard’s distress communication system is a radio based system configured to receive and transmit on Channel-16, the maritime calling and distress frequency. Our helicopters and boats can direction find (home in) on radio signals, but we cannot home in on a cell phone transmission. If you call for help with a cell phone and don’t know your location, the Coast Guard will only have a general idea where to begin searching. Additionally, boaters should have a chart with them at all times so they’ll know their location. Additionally, when the Coast Guard learns of distress, we make an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast (UMIB) on Ch-16 notifying all mariners of the situation so that a vessel operator in the immediate area can provide assistance if possible or be on the lookout for the subject of the search. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) work great, are becoming less expensive, and provide an accurate and instantaneous position in the event of an emergency. I recommend carrying a GPS. Boaters should also inform a responsible friend or family member of their boating plans so if they don’t return as planned, a timely report can be made to 911 or the Coast Guard. Lastly, a boater must be wearing flotation to survive for any length of time in the water. Just like an operator of a motor vehicle should not get behind the wheel without wearing a safety belt, every boater should wear a personal flotation device. There are many types that are comfortable, and wearing them should be a habit.

Boaters should also consider taking a boating safety class offered by either the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U. S. Power Squadron. These classes are interesting, highly informative, and afford the opportunity for participants to meet and enjoy the company of fellow boaters.

Again, I urge all boaters to wear a personal flotation device, carry a marine band radio, carry a chart or GPS navigation device, and tell a responsible friend or relative of your boating plans. Just a few simple preventive measures along with a plan for an emergency may keep you alive, a friend or relative alive, and thus prevent the loss of life occurring far to often on our Great Lakes.


Patrick W. Brennan Captain, U. S. Coast Guard Commander, Coast Guard Sector Detroit

Captain Patrick Brennan is the Commander of Coast Guard Sector Detroit. He directly oversees all Coast Guard missions on South Lake Huron, Lake St Clair and Western Lake Erie from Alpena, Michigan to Vermillion, Ohio.

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