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Training time for Coast Guard response boat crew leaders

Hawaii is the venue for heavy weather training

Posted: November 27, 2011 - 1:09am
MK3 David Nelson, left, BK2 Patrick O'Connor, center, and BM2 Roberto Rodriguez, right, work to clear snow off the two U.S. Coast Guard 45-foot response boats at Station Juneau in downtown on Wednesday.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
MK3 David Nelson, left, BK2 Patrick O'Connor, center, and BM2 Roberto Rodriguez, right, work to clear snow off the two U.S. Coast Guard 45-foot response boats at Station Juneau in downtown on Wednesday.

With new boats comes new training. Some members of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Station Juneau will embark to Honolulu, Hawaii, on Dec. 5 to receive heavy weather training for the sector’s two new response-boat mediums (RB-Ms).

Senior Chief Petty Officer James Greenlief, who is the officer in the charge of USCG Station Juneau, and First Class Petty Officer Ricky Johanson, along with members of USCG Station Honolulu, Hawaii, and USCG Station Cape May, N.J., are slated to attend the two-week long RB-M heavy weather coxswain course at the Coast Guard District 14 Sector Honolulu.

“This will help us get the boats underway during heavy weather,” Greenlief said recently by phone.

The course teaches already certified, experienced coxswains the same skill sets in advanced operating procedures in heavy weather, but on new equipment. This year, Station Juneau received two RB-Ms, one on July 15 and the other on Oct. 13., as the Coast Guard continues to phase out the old 41’ utility boats (UTBs) that have reached the end of their 25 year lifespan and to reposition the 47’ motor life boats elsewhere. Those are being replaced by the 45’ twin diesel engine, twin water jet-drive RB-Ms that have self-righting stability, infrared and thermal imaging capability, secure, shock-mitigating crew seats, and a host of other high tech features.

Planning for the RB-M switch-out project began in 2006, and the first RB-M was delivered in March of 2008 to Coast Guard Station Little Creek, Va. Only three RB-Ms have been delivered to Alaska — two at Station Juneau and one at Station Valdez on Aug. 4 of this year, with their second scheduled to arrive in the spring.

Station Juneau already possessed two response-boat smalls, so the two new additions brings them to four total boats. Their old 47-foot motor life boat was transferred down to Ketchikan over the summer, so now Station Ketchikan has two motor life boats.

The Coast Guard says the new RB-Ms provide greater performance and effectiveness on search and rescue missions, and has a more capable platform for enforcement of laws and treaties, ports, waterways, and coastal security, defense operations, recreational boating safety, and marine environmental protection missions.

They also can handle 8 foot seas and 30 knot winds, and can survive 12 foot seas and 50 knot winds, more than what the UTBs were capable of.

Greenlief says Station Juneau has been heavy weather certified for decades, at least since the 1970s when they received their first motor life boats, though the official “heavy weather” designation is comparatively new. But now each of the 35 members of Station Juneau has to be heavy weather certified for the RB-Ms.

“If we don’t have the proper training, then we’re unable to respond due to policy to help a mariner in distress,” Greenlief said.

Once Greenlief and Johanson return, they can certify their own crews, which takes about four to six weeks.

“This doesn’t happen overnight,” Greenlief said.

When Station Juneau received its first RB-M in July, 12 members were handpicked out of the unit to receive their initial RB-M certification, including Greenlief and Johanson. And six more have received their certification since then.

Becoming heavy weather certified is essential for Coast Guard crew mission in Juneau, said Greenlief.

“The weather can get pretty nasty here and we need the capability to respond,” he said.

Of Greenlief’s 25 years of active duty, 20 of them have been spent stationed in the Pacific Northwest in Oregon as a surfman on motor life boats. Johanson, originally from the Southeast, had achieved the heavy weather certification at his previous stations. Their lengthy experience with heavy weather made them the only two candidates with the prerequisites to attend the training in Honolulu, so that they can later be eligible to train their own crew.

Heavy weather training entails being able to read the wind and the waves, making proper risk assessment decisions, learning how the new boats handle in certain conditions, how to properly wear heavy weather gear to take safety measures to prevent crew from going overboard, and basic engineering casualty control procedures. The Coast Guard pays for the class through its training budget.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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