Coast Guard crews covering hundreds of miles of coast, water

Cmdr. Ryan Rhodes.
Cmdr. Ryan Rhodes.

CHARLESTON, SC - CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - They may be the group on the coast that receives the least fanfare, but they are almost always involved in water-based rescue and recovery missions. They're the U.S. Coast Guard.

Commander Ryan Rhodes has been stationed at the Charleston station for about a year and he says now is the time of the year the calls for help increase.

"As the weather starts to warm up, we'll see more calls out on the water," said Rhodes. "A lot more people get out on the water with their boats."

Rhodes says the increase in water traffic can be largely attributed to the nice weather and calm seas.

The increase in traffic created a storm of distress calls for the Coast Guard over the weekend. In two days, teams from the Charleston station responded to 14 calls that included everything from a fisherman with chest pains to sinking boats and missing boaters.

"People in the water, missing boaters, missing kayakers, as well as several vessels that were taking on water -- it was a busy weekend," said Rhodes.

Nationally, the Coast Guard has sent a lot of their resources to the Gulf to battle the ongoing oil spill. Locally, members of the Coast Guard have been just as busy delivering supplies to Haiti as crews rebuild after the January earthquake and monitoring the safety zone in the Charleston harbor during the Blue Angels air show.

Resource management is integral to their everyday operation.

"It's a difficult job. There are a lot of cases, but the Coast Guard isn't out there alone," said Rhodes.

In most cases in which the Coast Guard is involved, other local government agencies are also involved. In fact, if an agency charged with protecting the public has a border on water, they will likely be involved in search and rescue missions, from Isle of Palms fire and rescue to the Charleston County rescue squad.

"We try to pull all the assets out together. It helps a lot," said Rhodes.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary also step in to provide people, boats and planes to help the Coast Guard from time to time, he said.

Rhodes says the Coast Guard has one patrol boat stationed in Charleston and a second in Georgia that operate 20-30 miles off shore as well as several small boats in Charleston, Georgetown, Tybee Island and Brunswick, Ga.

Yet, even when local agencies pool their resources, luck sometimes plays a part in a safe rescue, as was the case Tuesday when a Charleston fisherman and a Coast Guard crew stationed in Georgia found a trio of missing boaters.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the three boaters who left Mayport for a day of fishing Sunday and never returned were found safe floating in the ocean about 30 miles east of Brunswick, Ga., just before 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The Coast Guard said a fisherman from Charleston, S.C., who had heard marine broadcasts about the missing boaters found them clinging to each other in the water more than 75 miles northeast of Jacksonville.

"They were in the water, no sign of the boat anywhere," Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Hulme said.

Rhodes says rescues like Tuesday's are hardest because it's hard to find a floating body in miles of open ocean. Crews in Brunswick, Ga., said the three boaters did the smartest thing they could be sticking together.

As the weather warms and more people head to the water, he cautioned boat operators to perform simple preventative maintenance on their boats and check their life-saving gear life life jackets and flares.

Rhodes also has some tips for people calling for the Coast Guard's assistance -- be specific.

"Maybe [provide] a color, description, any type of registration, document numbers on the vessel as well as where the owner was out of so that way we can find those individuals so we're not doing a prolonged search," said Rhodes.

Details Saturday would have helped the Coast Guard crew realize sooner that a reported missing kayaker had been found and allowed them to work on other cases.

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