Coast Guard units in Hawaii save energy to save lives

by Petty Officer 3rd Class Angela Henderson, U.S. Coast Guard

A growing concern in the United States is the impact of rising energy prices on households and the economy. Gas prices have reached record highs. It seems that everything from toothpicks to televisions has become too expensive.

The U.S. Coast Guard takes pride in its ability to save people and the environment, so why not help save energy costs for taxpayers?

The Fourteenth Coast Guard District, which encompasses 12.2 million square miles and has its headquarters in Honolulu, is joining the overall Coast Guard initiative to “go green.”

Fourteenth District crews are tasked to develop, establish, operate, and maintain 443 aids to navigation. The aids to navigation system helps recreational and commercial mariners determine position, enjoy safe passage on the water and avoid obstructions.

The system is vigilantly maintained by crews on three 225-foot Seagoing Buoy Tenders, located in Honolulu and Guam, a team from Aids to Navigation Team (ANT), Honolulu, and personnel with the district’s waterways management branch.

“The world is constantly changing, and the Coast Guard is doing its best to help protect the marine environment, recycle and use less energy,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer David Garrett, the officer in charge of ANT, Honolulu.

The Coast Guard has long utilized solar technology to provide mariners with safe and reliable waterways. In June 2007, The U.S. Coast Guard Maritime-Range Aids to Navigation Strategic Plan was released and set a course for implementing various technologies that would provide the best service for mariners while ensuring the best return for the taxpayer. One of the main requirements of the plan was to introduce and require certain lighted aids to use a light-emitting diode (LED), about the size of a wall clock, instead of the longstanding traditional lanterns.

“The traditional lanterns are made, for the most part, of fiberglass, metal, revolving parts and plastic. The LED, in contrast, is made of metal and a hard plastic, with no revolving parts, which makes the light more durable,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Guevara, a boatswain’s mate at ANT, Honolulu.

The conversion of commercially-powered aids to navigation to an LED solution has the potential to reduce monthly utility costs by approximately $1,200 per light as well as save time and labor, said Garrett.

Every dollar saved helps when the overall cost to taxpayers for servicing these aids is realized. For example, it costs roughly $4,500 per hour for a buoy tender to go out to sea to service an aid, which does not take into account member benefits and fuel, among other costs.

“We often send a team out by boat or vehicle to replace a single lamp on a traditional lantern,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kate Bogle, a marine information specialist at the district’s prevention division.

The cost of the bulbs is yet another factor. The traditional lantern bulbs usually last one or two years; however, the LED lights can last 10 years, said Bogle.

“The LEDs, which operate on solar power, will help eliminate the reliance on shore power and will also reduce unnecessary and dangerous trips to secluded lights,” said Bogle.

Garrett said the time saved by not having to make unnecessary trips will allow buoy tender crewmembers to devote more time to other important work, including protecting the environment, search and rescue and law enforcement.

The process of changing over to LEDs has already begun. On May 28, 2008, Maui’s McGregor Light was the first light in Hawaii to receive an LED. Merry’s Point Light at Pearl Harbor was the first to convert from lantern to LED Sept. 11, 2008.

The third light on the list to swap over to LED is the backup light at Diamond Head Lighthouse. The historic landmark is a major point of contact for many vessels that transport in and out of Honolulu Harbor.

“I take great pride in ensuring that these lights function properly. Saving taxpayers’ dollars makes me even happier,” said Guevara.

Thousands of recreational and fishing vessels, cargo and cruise ships transit through the district’s ports and waterways. The Coast Guard helps to ensure the maritime transportation system flows smoothly and effectively – without breaking the bank.

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