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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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