Hundreds of community members converged at Frederiksted Pier, St. Croix, on May 17 for daylong festivities commemorating Safe Boating Week.
“The big feature this year was how many agencies came together at one time to promote boating safety. It was great,” says Duane Minton, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Auxiliary captain for the Virgin Islands.
The right-before-your-eyes helicopter rescue drew the most oohs and ahhs from the crowd. The crew of a Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Borinquen in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico flew to a point just off the Frederiksted Pier. The bright red copter hovered over the ocean, whipping up plumes of spray, as a rescue swimmer descended to the water and successfully hoisted the dummy victim to safety to a round of applause. The demonstration continued ashore as members of St. Croix Rescue met the helicopter crew and continued the victim’s mock resuscitation on land.
The second biggest eye-catcher was the 110-foot cutter, the USCG Chincoteague, especially with its MK 38/25 mm machine gun and two .50-caliber machine guns mounted on-board.
“Our mission is primarily migrant interdiction, drug interdiction, and search and rescue,” says LTJG Elizabeth Gillis, the executive officer and second in command of the 15 member crew, during a tour of the cutter. “The area that we cover is from the Dominican Republic and Haiti south through the Caribbean.”
Gillis, a graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, in New London, CT, entails that she drives the cutter and navigates safety as well as performing administrative duties, support and budgeting. She’s also the senior boarding officer when it comes to inspect another vessel at sea.
Learning just what Coast Guardsmen and women do in their career, as well as other maritime job opportunities, was another big part of the Safe Boating day. Agencies that set up booths to disseminate information included the Department of Planning & Natural Resources, Virgin Islands’ Police Blue Lightening Task Force, National Guard, Hovensa, Marines, Air Force and Army.
Members of the Golden Hook Fishing Club emphasized the educational side of their sport by handing out dozens of backpacks loaded with goodies to kids.
Education was also key with members of the USCG Auxiliary and St. Croix Power Boating Squadron, especially as it related to the National Safe Boating Week slogan, ‘Wear It’!
Minton explains, “We received a donation that allowed us to give away 100 life jackets to kids. Several of us took turns teaching kids how to put on and wear the life jacket properly. This is also one of the elements we teach in boating safety courses.”
The St. Croix Power Squadron members also promote safe boating to the community, and do so through monthly general membership meetings and boating related classes.
Squadron commander, Ginger Anderson, explains, “We teach boating education and safety, both power and sail, in classrooms throughout the community. Basic classes go over navigation aids and wearing a lifejacket. The more advanced classes get into engine maintenance and other more specialized topics. The whole goal is for people to be safe on the seas and to have fun.”
Fun was definitely part of the Safe Boating festivities. Kids, and parents, were able to test their skills in a life ring toss off the Frederiksted Pier and engage in a lifejacket relay.
Knot tying, radio calling, a Solas Flare Shoot-off and fire extinguisher demonstrations made the day as interactive as it was fun and educational.
“It was a great day and we look forward to doing it again next year,” says Minton. “Hopefully, in the future, we can alternate islands so that more people can participate.”