To hone their skills as the lifeguards for the waters near Newport, Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay’s red-and-white-clad mariners fill time between rescue missions methodically replicating their lifesaving maneuvers until they are second nature.
BM1 Raymond Aguilar is the station’s operations petty officer, responsible for ensuring it can maintain its operational posture. He said they schedule trainings three or four days a week, while search and rescue operations provide unscheduled learning opportunities.
A five-member crew hosted a News-Times reporter as an observer on a 47-foot motor lifeboat during a four-hour, two-boat training run April 23.
Before they cast off, coxswain BM2 Tyler Hurst led the crew in a risk assessment on the stern.
Aguilar said the Coast Guard uses the “PEACE” model to assess risk and gain as low, medium or high in five areas. The crew together identifies elements of planning, event complexity, assets (boat and crew), communications and environment that contribute to two overall scores.
The April 23 outing was assessed medium risk, medium gain.
Environmental conditions were relatively favorable — a daylight voyage with wind at 5 knots, and 2 to 4-foot chop. Contributing to risk was the fact that two crewmen were still not rated — recent bootcamp graduates who have yet to earn a certification and were not yet fully trained on all tasks about to be performed. And the mission would be complex, with multiple trainings conducted — man overboard, search pattern drills and towing.
Among the mission’s gains were the training hours crewmen needed to earn or keep certifications. SN Dakota Huck and FA Cristiano Patinella would gain time in several areas, and BM3 Matthew Roque would earn time driving that he needs to be certified as a coxswain, the crew member in charge of a boat.
MK2 Kyler Stuchell was the boat’s engineer, responsible for starting the engine and performing checks prior to embarking. He also guided less-experienced Huck and Patinella hands-on during the training exercises, getting into the boat’s starboard recess and helping to retrieve the dummy body, which weighs as much as an adult male, from the waves.
Moments before, he’d thrown the heavy, weighted dummy from the back of the stern, calling out with others “man overboard” and pointing to where it was floating. Roque then executed a maneuver Aguilar said was meant to give the ship the most controllable rescue approach.
“What we like to do, even if the conditions don’t warrant it, we like to ingrain the muscle memory of doing a heavy weather turn downswell,” Aguilar said. “That kind of sets up our break-in boat drivers, who are going to be heavy-weather coxswains and surfmen down the road.”
Several crew members took a turn at driving. They performed a search and rescue pattern called an expanding square, used for locating people in the water after a craft has gone under by starting from its last known position.
The 47-foot motor lifeboat has twin engines that can be throttled in opposite directions, allowing the boat to pivot in place. All the Coast Guard’s 47s are equipped in the exact same way, from their first aid and rescue gear to the hot water in the water-tight survivor’s compartment. They’re built to withstand hurricane weather and be self-righting if capsized.
And now that the 52-foot motor lifeboat Victory is restricted from duty, the 47-footers are the station’s workhorse for vessel rescue.
Accompanying April 23 was a 29-foot craft with a crew of three. The response boat-small has a top speed of 45 knots, and its designed to support the range of Coast Guard missions, from search and rescue to interdiction. While the 47-foot lifeboat was engaged in training just west of the bay, the shorter, faster response boat visited the southern and northern reaches of the station’s area of responsibility, or AOR, which are Seal Rock and Cape Foulweather. Its crew met back up with the 47-footer to act as the rescued vessel in a towing exercise.
To send the tow rope, a Coast Guard crewman first throws a lighter heaving line with a plastic ball on the end to the waiting vessel, which is then used to pull the heavy-gauge line to attach to the bow. Huck and Patinella practiced their throws, and Stuchell demonstrated how to tie off to the T-shaped tow bit on the stern.
MK3 Curtis Williamson was on the 29-footer’s bow to catch the heaving line and retrieve the tow rope. Coxswain BM2 Tyler Locatis was at the wheel next to MK2 Trent Rodanhisler. They allowed themselves to be towed into Yaquina Bay. As the 47-foot boat pulled its counterpart toward the channel, a crewman called out whether the towed vessel was moving up or down the swell, allowing the driver to throttle accordingly. If slack in the line is permitted it can snap when a boat tilts upswell, pulling back.
The 29-footer accepted a transfer — the News-Times reporter — for the last leg of its mission to its AOR’s eastern, upriver limit, the W23 marker near Riverbend. They’re required to travel to all four corners of the AOR once every six months to maintain awareness of conditions.
The reporter was grateful for the comparatively smooth ride there and back — just maintaining one’s footing aboard the top-heavy 47 can be exhausting, especially for someone unaccustomed. Station Yaquina Bay’s coasties continuously rehearse strenuous and complicated tasks in those conditions, and worse, so that they’re automatic when it counts — when lives are at stake in some of the U.S.’s roughest coastal waters.
By Kenneth Lipp of the News-Times