A small station with a big impact

Pictured is Coast Guard Station Ocean City, Md., July 27,2013. Coast Guard personnel stationed here have two primary missions: search and rescue, and law enforcement. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew S. Masaschi

Pictured is Coast Guard Station Ocean City, Md., July 27,2013. Coast Guard personnel stationed here have two primary missions: search and rescue, and law enforcement. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew S. Masaschi

Post written by PA3 Matt Masaschi

Ocean City, Md., is a quaint town on the state’s eastern shore, which is a popular tourist destination for the region during summer months. Beginning around May the town’s population increases almost as rapidly as the humidity levels rise as vacationers flock to the destination town to spend time on the beach, boardwalk and in and on the water.

Coastal Highway isn’t the only facet of Ocean City that experiences a surge in traffic during peak vacationing months. At any given point, boater traffic along the inland bay waterways can resemble city traffic during rush hour.

As the surge in recreational boater traffic picks up momentum so does the activity level of the servicemembers at Coast Guard Station Ocean City and their state and local partner agencies.

Station Ocean City is a small-boat station located near the southernmost tip of the nine-mile-long vacation-destination peninsula. The station is comprised of approximately 41 active duty and up to 11-reserve servicemembers who train to respond to any situation on a variety of Coast Guard boats.

Station Ocean City’s primary missions include search and rescue and law enforcement. Coast Guardsmen from the station train throughout and patrol the inland back-bay waterways from the Maryland-Delaware state line south to Chincoteague Island, Virginia. In addition, they regularly train and respond to cases as far as 50-nautical miles offshore aboard 47-foot Motor Life Boats and a 25-foot Response Boat – Small.

The unique topography, including a vast amount of shifting shoal waters throughout the inland waterways, creates navigational challenges to boaters. The Coast Guard’s workhorse within these shallow-depth waterways is a 24-foot Special Purpose Craft-Shallow Water. This low-draft boat is essential to maneuvering across the shifting sandbars throughout the inland bay areas where the water depth can drastically change from a few feet to a depth of only mere inches.

Members of Station Ocean City engage themselves in strong partnerships with surrounding agencies including the Maryland State Police, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police, and Ocean City’s fire and police marine units.

Two Coast Guard boarding team crewmembers from Coast Guard Station Ocean City, Md., conduct a boarding of a recreational boat near Ocean City, July 27, 2013. Coast Guard personnel stationed here have two primary missions: search and rescue, and law enforcement. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew S. Masaschi

Two Coast Guard boarding team crewmembers from Coast Guard Station Ocean City, Md., conduct a boarding of a recreational boat near Ocean City, July 27, 2013. Coast Guard personnel stationed here have two primary missions: search and rescue, and law enforcement. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew S. Masaschi

When a distress call comes across the radio this inter-agency network collaborates to settle the situation as safe and quick as possible.

“We work very well with our partner agencies,” said Chief Petty Officer Shane Yonushonis, executive petty officer of Station Ocean City. “We back them up and they back us up on the water.”

The ability to work together is instrumental in assisting the boating community when a call comes in at any given time.

At Station Ocean City a predetermined four to five-member search and rescue team is identified daily at the start of each shift. The designated team will remain on high-alert throughout the day and night, ready to respond quickly when the SAR alarm sounds.

“This is done through the duty section to identify the team,” said Yonushonis. “If we have 11 people on shift, we don’t want all 11 people running down to the boat when a call comes in.”

The Coast Guard teamed up with the Maryland State Police recently to create a safe and secure area for landing a helicopter on the parade grounds of Station Ocean City. During peak times throughout the summer months, the MSP will stage a flight crew and their helicopter at the station to quickly respond to emergencies in and around the resort town. Should an emergency arise, the flight crew can be on scene in a matter of minutes compared to flying in from Salisbury, Md.

Yonushonis recognizes the service and logistical importance of the agreement between the MSP and the Coast Guard to provide the secure landing area for the MSP helicopter and its flight crew. From the safe landing zone the MSP are in a position to efficiently respond to emergencies through the beach town and get the patients to a medical facility much faster than traditional means.

“Trying to get an ambulance through traffic is nearly impossible during peak months,” said Yonushonis.

As summer transitions into fall, the boating traffic slows down in Ocean City and the calls to the station shift from its peak of multiple calls per day down to one call a day or week. No matter the day or the circumstances, crewmembers remain alert throughout the year even after the summer crowds dwindle down. There is still a sizable population of watermen and fishermen who are on the water year round.

The crewmembers continue training throughout the offseason to stay proficient at their craft. Crewmembers are led through regimented physical fitness plans, detailed equipment inspections and perform preventative maintenance work on their fleet to be ready for the unexpected.

“We’ll have the off season down time to focus on drills and maintenance,” said Yonushonis. “The winter time gives us the opportunity to do a lot of training and qualifications… to be prepared for the forthcoming summer boating season.”

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