Posted by: Drew | July 15, 2008

Managed Mayhem, Keeping Boaters Safe – USCG Patroling the Waterways

This isn’t from the Jersey Shore, but it applies all the same. This is reminiscent of the event that has been banned in Avalon. That is if you can afford the gas to go boating.

Story and photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ayla Stevens

The Coast Guard and Maryland Natural Resource Police patrol the basin in Chesapeake City, Md., during Canal Day June 28, 2008. The patrols were to insure the safety and security of the waterside event for the weekend. Stevens.

Chesapeake City, Md., is a quaint town nestled in on the Maryland, Delaware border and is a regular stop for boaters traveling the C and D canal. During the last weekend in June, the city holds an annual festival in honor of the canal with food, music and arts and crafts. In recent years, however, the festival has come to include a second Mardi-Gras-like event for boaters and now requires additional waterside safety and law enforcement.

The Coast Guard, Maryland Natural Resource Police, Cecil County Sherriff Department and local law enforcement agencies, have spent the last couple of years working together to keep the numerous attending boaters safe, and making sure they abide by the law. This year, the Coast Guard stepped it up a notch by including the Army National Guard 32nd Civil Support Team to help with surveillance and general manpower.

Providing safety and security takes a lot of planning and preparation for an event this size. An average of 300 boats comes into a small basin during the town’s Canal Day event, but the waterside celebrations are not sponsored by the city or anyone else, leaving nobody responsible for the actions that take place. This requires all the law enforcement and first responders in the area to work together, agree on a plan and know who is responsible for what.

Members of the Coast Guard and Coast Guard reserve conduct a patrol of the basin in Chesapeake City, Md., during Canal Day June 28, 2008. Crews and boats from Maryland and New Jersey were used to maintain 24-hour patrols for the event.

Numerous local Coast Guard units are contacted with requests for assets and crewmembers to come out for the long weekend and maintain 24-hour patrols. Some members arrive three to four days prior to the event to set up a small command center and place for the crews to switch out.

“It lets people know we’re serious about safety. The goal is the whole event goes without anyone getting injured,” said Lt. Josh Blocker from the incident management team.

MNRP and Cecil County work closely with the Coast Guard sharing local knowledge, past experience and equipment such as radios for consistent communication. If someone gets out of hand on the water, the Coast Guard is able to detain them and if necessary turn them over to local law enforcement without a lot of difficulty.

The Coast Guard and local agencies can’t be everywhere at once and can’t see everything from the ground level. With the inclusion of the 32nd CST, a 24-hour surveillance camera with an overview of the basin and manned roof top surveillance from the Chesapeake Inn and Marina, the Coast Guard and others can respond quicker to the scene of an accident or law enforcement incident.

“The owner allows us up here in the interest of his business, safety and the patrons,” said Capt. Tarac Chuhas of the 32nd CST.

The small basin in Chesapeake City, Md., fills with boaters during Canal Day June 28, 2008. Most boaters will stay one to two nights for the weekend celebrating the opening of the C and D canal. The Coast Guard did safety and security patrols through out the weekend.

The largest concerns are focused around alcohol-intoxicated incidents. Alcohol can be more hazardous on the water than on land according to the Coast Guard boating safety division. In the marine environment, the motion, vibration, noise, sun, wind and spray on a boat can accelerate a drinker’s impairment. Physical and mental performance is impaired making it harder to maintain balance on a moving boat or use good judgment. The Coast Guard crews have to be extra vigilant of the people driving boats and swimming in the water while intoxicated in an immensely crowded area where nearly everyone has a drink in hand.

Although it’s essentially a large party on the water, there are many experienced mariners that are able to enjoy the event but keep themselves and those around them safe. Good Samaritans aid the Coast Guard and other agencies with maritime emergencies by using their knowledge and experience to help those in danger. With their help, events like Canal Day are safer and are able to continue.

“Use common sense,” said Blocker. “If you think it might be unsafe, it probably is.”

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