Coast Guard black hulls meet in Juneau for annual buoy tender roundup

Week of training and fun builds camaraderie among the fleet

It’s on! The Annual District Buoy Tender Roundup begins today in Juneau as nine U.S. Coast Guard buoy tenders from Alaska, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia gather to study, train and compete in skills they will use in their various ships and on the waterways they sail.


“It’s about training and lessons learned,” said Lt. Jason Haag ,commanding officer of the Coast Guard cutter Henry Blake. “It’s an opportunity to get everybody together and is in our best interest.”

The 110-foot Henry Blake, from Everett, Wash., left for Alaska on Tuesday and refueled in Ketchikan on Friday.

“We are a smaller crew,” Haag said, gesturing to the larger buoy tenders docked at Station Juneau. “But we will hold our own just fine. We are not intimidated by their vast size or numbers.”

The Coast Guard Seventeenth District hosts the week-long event to allow Coast Guard members the opportunity to receive specialized training in areas such as buoy deck safety courses, aids-to-navigation, engine repair, buoy maintenance, tower climbing, rescue swimming, safety equipment maintenance, first aid, damage control, financial management, personnel management, career development and much more.

“Things like what is the best way to shape a shackle or lift a buoy of a certain weight and the conditions you can do it in,” Coast Guard public relations Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis said. “Just all kinds of different training that are intrinsic to being on a Coast Guard cutter as well as aids to navigation. It’s standardized training but is something they don’t get to do a lot of because they are training individually as each ship. They don’t get to come together as a unit.”

The roundup allows the crews to share with their peers best practices and things learned during missions. Due to remote locations in Alaska in which the cutters operate, this mission-essential training would be nearly impossible to complete without the roundup.

Classes and training run through the week with specialized events happening on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

Tuesday will feature an ice-carving contest by the chefs and food service specialists of each vessel.

Wednesday will pit crew against crew in specialized competitions entitled “Buoy Tender Olympics.” Events include boom spot, chain dragging, survival suit relay, heat and beat, buoy line toss and tug of war. The competitions are to simulate actual actions and duties performed on the vessels but also to let the crews enjoy each other’s company.

Friday will feature food competitions including the biscuit and gravy cook off and the best fish recipe.

Friday will also feature the Cutterman’s Call, a chance to sit down and swap sea stories, and the ending awards ceremony and bragging rights.

“We are the four-time defending tug-of-war champions,” said Lt. Cmdr. Michele Schallip, the Coast Guard cutter Spar’s commanding officer. “And the defending biscuit-and-gravy champs.”

This is Schallip’s first year on the Spar, from Kodiak, but she attended last year as the executive officer on the Maple, homeported in Sitka.

“It’s a unique opportunity to get together with people who do the same job and come back here to a place we love. It is about the camaraderie, but we are going to do awesome,” said Schallip.

The 225-foot vessels attending include Alaska’s Spar, Maple, Hickory (Homer), and Sycamore (Cordova), and the Fir, home ported in Astoria, Ore.

The 100-footers are coastal buoy tenders Henry Blake and the Ketchikan based Anthony Petit.

The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Bartlett, a 190-foot ice-strengthened medium navaids tender from Victoria, British Columbia, will also be joining the events.

Last, but certainly not least, is the 65-foot inland buoy tender Elderberry from Petersburg.

More than 320 officers and crew members will enjoy the port call in Juneau. The roundup gives the buoy tender crews opportunities to share ideas and build camaraderie among the “black hull” fleet, a term given to the buoy tender class. Crews aboard Coast Guard buoy tenders in Alaska service 1,250 navigational aids along 42,000 miles of coastline while actively participating in search and rescue, environmental protection and law enforcement missions.

“Basically we try to get the mandatory training knocked out in this week,” USCG spokesperson Lt. Junior Grade Kelly Hanson said. “Bring all the cutters together and get it done, one location at one time.”

Hanson said the weeklong activities are not open to the public due to safety concerns but plans are under way to allow tours on board the various vessels. The bouy tenders will be available for tours on Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at


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