Nerves of keel

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Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class William Colclough

NEW ORLEANS – #Chestpains, #Can’tbreathe; #Takethecontrols. #We’resinking! #Manoverboard! If anyone ever found themselves up to their eyeballs in dark waters, chances are they would not tweet their condition to family and friends. They would dial 911 or yell as loud as they could for help.

For Coast Guardsmen engaged in an active search for people in distress, who may be on the verge of panic, fright or worse, they have to be cool and calm, regardless of the state of seas, the boat or their own mind.

In an era punctuated by hashtags for every category du jour under the sun, there is one trend that remains constant: New members must be ready and capable to take the helm of a Coast Guard boat and pilot it home. In a word, they must be qualified, or as members say, “quald,” before they are full-fledged crew members.

Known as the check ride, part exam and practical exercise crucible, each crew member undergoes a series of drills simulating casualties and incidents that can and do occur in the maritime environment.

At Coast Guard Station New Orleans, Seaman Lyndsey Singer entered the 2.0 Coast Guard as she completed a check ride aboard the station’s new 45-foot Response Boat – Medium, which features joystick controls on the armrests instead of a traditional steering wheel.

Just step into the 45-footer’s pilothouse and you step into the future. With waterjet propulsion, shock-mitigating seats and live-feed monitors of the engine space, you get the feeling you need flight school. This boat almost has joysticks for joysticks. A combination of joystick and tillers control
thrust vectoring for maneuvering.

“I was very nervous. I’m still nervous, always nervous to drive the boat, but … it’s a part of the job. The size and the way it handles and getting used to everything, especially when you get aboard, it’s so overwhelming,” said Singer. “I am more at ease now driving the boat after the check ride.”

In addition to driving the boat along a charted course, Singer tracked the location of “Oscar,” a red inflatable device simulating a person in the water fallen overboard, while maintaining clear communication with the crew, including the demonstration of steering the boat inside the aft steering space. In a span of just under two hours, or the time it takes to watch a movie, Singer passed the board; a couple technical errors while tending line during a tow evolution and minor difficulty heaving line to another boat crew did not prevent earning the 45-footer qualification.

“The most nerve-wracking part is the apprehension, anxiety going into it – knowing you are going to have a board. Not because I have done it a million times, but, anything can go wrong,” said Singer.

Upon entrance into the communications center on the second floor at Station New Orleans, the motto Facta Non Verba, which is Latin for “actions speak louder than words,” is painted at the top of the wall as a reminder to all who enter. It is not enough to say you can drive the boat. No matter what happens, you have to be ready to drive, lead and care for your crew and survivors. With as strong a determination and a light touch as the aluminum in the deep-V hull of the 45, Singer forged nerves of keel.

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