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Helicopter Rescues and High-Speed Boat Chases Highlight National Safe Boating Week

Helicopter rescue demonstrations performed by an elite U.S.
Coast Guard Search and Rescue Team. Good-guy bad-guy chases around the harbor
using National Park Service chase boats. Tours aboard a high-tech, fully manned
110-foot cutter. These were just a few of the highlights at this year’s
National Safe Boating Week activities, held May 21 on St. Thomas’ Charlotte
Amalie Waterfront.

“Each year in May,
the United States Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Auxiliary hosts a special
event to kick off National Safe Boating Week,” says U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
public affairs officer, Bob Armstrong. “We had over 1,000 visitors attend the
event this year. It was a wonderful day for the entire family to learn about
boating safety and to see several spectacular air and sea demonstrations from
our military and law enforcement agencies.”

The helicopter
rescue proved to be one of the most spectacular features of the event. Action
began as the ‘copter hovered just off the Coast Guard dock. Dense plumes of
spray swirled from the sea’s surface due to the fierce action of the
oscillating blades. A diver, dressed in swim fins, a mask and wet suit,
rappelled nearly thirty feet to the water below. A bright red buoy bobbed a
short distance away. Bingo. Buoy retrieved, the diver secured himself into a
small wire basket, shot a fist in the air as a show of readiness and was
hoisted back up to the copter. A round of applause sounded from the crowd standing
on the U.S. Coast Guard dock.

On board the
cutter Ocracoke, which is stationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, commander
Lt. Rick Calvert says, “Our primary mission is law enforcement, and that
includes areas of immigration and drug interdiction. Since 9/11 our missions
also include homeland security.”

Key cutter
equipment included an 18-foot ridged hard-bottom inflatable capable of
attaining speeds of 40 knots, 25 mm cannons that can shoot up to 8 miles in
range, a 50 caliber machine gun and high tech instrumentation on the bridge.
Among the instruments was a radar station and Mayday directional finder for
search and rescue.

At the dock there
were over a dozen displays of marine safety equipment, an inflated survival
life raft, specialized equipment from the Virgin Islands Army National Guard,
and environmental displays from Coral World and the University of the Virgin
Islands (UVI). A touch pool with a variety on undersea creatures was especially
popular with children. “We collected many of this sea life, such as the sea
urchins, pencil urchins, baby lobster and arrow head crabs, from Brewer’s Bay
this morning,” says Amber McCammon, who works with UVI’s Marine Biology
Program.

On the topic of
Safe Boating Week, Lt. Chris Gagnon,
supervisor of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment on St. Thomas, says,
“Through this event we try to bring public awareness to safe boating in
general. Hopefully, the public will remember something they heard or saw here
when they go out boating.”

One safe boating tip that Gagnon says is
often ignored is filing a sail plan. “Always let someone ashore know where
you’re going and when you’re expected back. Also, make sure that person has
your contact information and that your radio on the boat works.”

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