The United States Coast Guard celebrates 100 years in 2015, but its history dates back even further to 1790. That was the year when President George Washington signed the Tariff Act, which authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce trade laws and enhance security. First-named Revenue Marine and, later, Revenue Cutter Service, this agency grew in size and scope and would pair well with the United States Life-Saving Service, formed in 1848, whose mission was to save shipwrecked mariners. In 1915, an act of Congress merged the Revenue Cutter Service and the United States Life-Saving Service to form the United States Coast Guard (USCG). In addition to these two agencies, today’s Coast Guard has also absorbed predecessor agencies including the Lighthouse Service, Bureau of Navigation, and Steamboat Inspection Service.
According to the USCG’s website: “The Coast Guard’s national defense responsibilities remain one of its most important functions. … In times of peace it operates as part of the Department of Homeland Security, serving as the nation’s front-line agency for enforcing the nation’s laws at sea, protecting the marine environment and the nation’s vast coastline and ports, and saving life. In times of war, or at the direction of the President, the Coast Guard serves as part of the Navy Department.”
While the USCG has made its presence known worldwide, the organization is also ever-present in the Great Lakes Bay Region. Station Tawas, Station Saginaw River, and Station Harbor Beach, among others, form U.S. Coast Guard Sector Detroit. These three stations share common missions: Search and Rescue, Maritime Law Enforcement, Homeland Security, Ice Rescue, Recreational Boating Safety, Military Readiness, and Environmental Response.
Petty Officer Second Class Peter Brown and Petty Officer Second Class Evan Beavers of Station Harbor Beach have been diligent in their preparedness to uphold the Coast Guard’s motto of Semper Paratus, Always Ready. “Guardians,” as Coast Guard officers are now called, regularly practice unprompted drills to perform tasks that ensure their readiness.
Being ready is especially important because Lake Huron is filled with inherent dangers, especially as winter draws near.
“When winter starts to set in, the lake gets pretty rough—it’s not like the ocean. When you are trying to drive a boat in seas and swells, it’s not as predictable as the ocean is. As fall comes, right before we start to get the boats out of the water, we’re near our parameters most of the time we go out—that’s 25-knot winds and 6-foot seas for our 25-foot boat,” explains Petty Officer Beavers.
The stations flanking the Saginaw Bay share assets of equipment and officers when a situation warrants. For instance, during Bay City’s Tall Ship Celebration, neighboring stations could bring some of their boats to offer a larger officer presence if required or to have more people on the scene to effect a rescue.
Likewise, if guardians were performing an ice rescue but needed additional resources, equipment from neighboring stations would be available.
Station Harbor Beach would “have the ability to coordinate with Coast Guard Sector Detroit and to contact the Selfridge Air Force Base to get a Coast Guard helicopter if that was the appropriate asset, or contact Saginaw to get an air boat, for example, if that was the appropriate resource,” explains Petty Officer Brown.
That coordination of assets is crucial because the Coast Guard stations within Sector Detroit average about 100 ice rescues per year.
“Part of the importance of having units relatively close together is they act as a safety net. If one of our assets goes down for maintenance, other units can pick up the slack;
it’s very important because in the event of a distress, somebody is there to respond,” adds Brown.
The Coast Guard routinely works with local law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ensure the safety of those working and playing on the Saginaw Bay. Civilians, too, play an important role in assisting the Coast Guard.
“When we initially receive a call or report of an individual in distress, I will call Coast Guard Sector Detroit and request they do a broadcast, letting boaters in the area know what the problem is, and [ask that] if they happen to see someone in distress matching that description, to help them,” says Brown.
He adds, “One of the most important things to note in this district is not who goes out and picks up the individual in distress but that somebody will do it in the most timely manner.”
“If a search is going on, public boaters are all willing to lend a hand. I think the local population here has a great respect for the lake. They understand how fast things can change,” explains Beavers.
Summertime in the Great Lakes Bay Region can be a boater’s paradise, but the Saginaw Bay can also be dangerous, especially for inexperienced boaters. The Coast Guard places a huge emphasis on recreational boating safety.
“What we’ve noticed, especially in the last two years, is as we have increased our amount of recreational boat boardings for vessel inspections, we also have seen a decrease in our search and rescue cases,” says Brown.
Coast Guard Station Harbor Beach alone may perform up to 200 random recreational vessel inspections per boating season.
“During boardings, one of our questions to find out the general knowledge of the boating population is if there’s been a completion of a boating safety course. Most of the time, the answer is ‘no.’ A 10-minute, online refresher course before they go out would help them,” says Beavers.
Coast Guard Station Harbor Beach is one of the smaller stations, with fewer than 20 guardians, but a small station has its advantages.
“I love the fact that the station is so small. What that’s created for this crew, specifically, is a group of highly trained, well-rounded individuals,” says Brown.
The Coast Guard has played a significant role in the Great Lakes Bay Region during the last century, and they will continue to be Always Ready.