Who Are Those Guys?

by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ayla Stevens

A boat’s engines stop working and the people aboard are left drifting in the water. In the distance, they see what looks like just another pleasure boat approaching them. This is no ordinary boat; this is the Coast Guard Auxiliary coming to assist the stranded mariners as part of their mission to help aide boaters in distress.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary is a voluntary lifesaving organization that was created by congress in 1939 and is dedicated to keeping the boating public safe. Over 25,000 civilian men and women volunteer their time on the waterways or in the classrooms to the Auxiliary.

“We are needed by our country, and it’s a way for us to serve our country,” said Ordice A. Gallups Jr., a marine safety Auxiliary member.

The Auxiliary helps prepare boaters for dangerous situations by providing various services to the mariner public.

Some of their roles include safe boating courses, harbor patrols, marine environmental protection, search and rescue and vessel safety checks. These roles help aide the Coast Guard by providing training to local mariners and by assisting the Coast Guard in its missions.

Safe boating courses are designed to train boaters of all levels. Some courses educate boaters that are just starting out by teaching the basics such as nautical terms. There are also courses that are for the more advanced mariner that teach boating and navigation skills. There are also courses created to teach young children about boating safety.

Some of the courses available include the American Boating Course, navigation and boating skills, seamanship and personal watercraft safety.

The American Boating Course teaches the required knowledge to get a boating license or safety certification in most states. For people born after 1972 the course is required to obtain a boating license in the state of Maryland, said Gallups. Some insurance companies offer boaters discounted rates if they complete the American Boating Course.

The Auxiliary conducts harbor patrols and search and rescue missions using their privately owned boats. They look for people in danger or for pollution on patrols, said Linda Ellis, an Auxiliarist.  Auxiliarists can become Coast Guard certified boat coxswains, boat crew members and radio watch standers by completing the same qualification packages used by active duty Coast Guard members. Auxiliary members can also stand watches at Coast Guard stations if certified.

The Auxiliary also has an aviation program that participates in patrols, search and rescue and participate in training with Coast Guard Air Stations. Auxiliary aviators have different aviation backgrounds and many have prior military experience. They volunteer their aircraft for use like others volunteer their boats.

The Auxiliary also performs vessel safety checks for any vessel requesting one.

“It’s a check of the boat and skipper,” said Gallups.

Vessel safety checks are free, courtesy examinations of a boat to make sure that it is in compliance with federal and state laws. Auxiliarists conducting the safety check use a checklist for required items such as fire extinguishers, life jackets, visual distress signals and overall vessel condition. They will also ask basic safety questions such as when the vessels last safety inspection occurred and if the boater has taken a safety boating course, said Gallups.

A vessel safety check is not for law enforcement and no citation will be given if standards are not met. Recommendations are given to boat owners for any standards that are not met.

If all standards are met, the owner receives a decal to display on the boat. This decal indicates that a vessel safety check had been completed, but does not exempt the owner from a routine boarding by the Coast Guard.

The Auxiliary provides a wide variety of ways to help mariners, the Coast Guard and their community. By serving on the water, in the air or in a classroom, members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary play an important part in keeping the boating public safe.

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