Clarks Hill Lake is a large lake, about 45 miles long, with a shoreline larger than California's coastline. The lake is sparsely populated along the shoreline and has relatively few recreational boats on it. This means that if you are a boater and develop a problem on the water, your chances of getting assistance are not very high.
To alleviate this problem, there are many authorities who have patrol boats on the lake. The two agencies most prominent are the Department of Natural Resources of South Carolina and the Georgia DNR. In addition, some patrol work is done by the various sheriffs, emergency management services and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. All of these agencies have other responsibilities and, very often, low fuel budgets.
In any event, there is a need for more safety patrols on the lake. That's where the Coast Guard comes in. Along the nation's coastlines and on much of the inland waterways, the active-duty Coast Guard does a great deal of patrol work. But there is just too much coastline to be covered, not including all of the lakes. Thus, the Coast Guard has commissioned its Auxiliary to do much of its patrol work.
On Clarks Hill Lake there is no active-duty Coast Guard, so the Auxiliary does it all.
A maritime patrol is designed to do several things at once. Just being out there adds some safety to boaters on the lake. Auxiliary vessels can tow disabled boats to a nearby dock or launch site. They are also trained to address a multitude of emergencies, including health problems.
In addition, a patrol may counsel errant boaters who are disobeying a law or safe boating practices, but it has no law enforcement authority. It's a matter of "gentle persuasion."
Security of our lake's environment is a part of every patrol. Suspicious behavior around our bridges, dams, launch ramps and marinas is reported to the Department of Homeland Security.
Keeping in mind that the Coast Guard's purpose is to reduce maritime risk on Clarks Hill Lake, this is a story of one recent patrol.
Our Saturday patrol started at 10 a.m. from the Savannah Lakes Resort gas dock. The mission commander was Coxswain Carl Dearmin, using his personal boat, the Misty Cove. The crew consisted of myself and trainees Dan Higgins and Pat McMenamin. This patrol concentrated on crew training.
All patrols must operate under orders from the Coast Guard. Our orders come from Coast Guard Station Charleston. We contacted them by cell phone to activate orders, reported to them once every hour and secured the patrol at day's end.
Being under orders accomplishes several things. First, the vessel "Misty Cove" becomes a Coast Guard facility, thus allowing the Coast Guard to reimburse the boat owner for fuel costs and all crew meals. Secondly, the crew is considered part of the Coast Guard, and they are covered with government liability protection.
After activating our orders, the crew completed a lengthy checklist that reviewed the location and condition of all necessary equipment. After checklist completion, the crew went through a risk/reward exercise to determine if the mission should really be a go. This mission was a go, but with the caution that it might have to be aborted in the midafternoon because of thunderstorms.
During the cruise, the crew practiced standing lookout watch, using the marine radio, standing helm watch (that's operating the boat), practicing man-overboard procedures, and participating in knot-tying exercises.
Everything on this patrol was "operations normal" as we encountered no problems on the water. That is not often the case. Two weeks ago we towed a boat that, after an all-night anchoring, woke up with a dead battery. Last week, we had a "friendly counseling" with a group of fishermen who had tied off to a midchannel marker buoy. Not only is that against the law, but it prohibited other boaters from seeing the buoy. The fishermen were unaware and appreciated the counsel.
If a boater is in distress, our vessels can be contacted on Channel 16 on a marine radio. Or, if you see us around, we are clearly marked as the Coast Guard. Just stand up and slowly raise and lower your arms -- a universal call for help.
The CSRA Auxiliary Flotilla currently has three boats designated as Coast Guard Facility boats with several crew members and coxswains. This allows patrols most weekends and for special events. However, this being a large lake, to properly patrol it we will need at least 10 qualified boats, 10 coxswains and 15 crew members.
If you are at least 17 years old and a U.S. citizen with an interest in participating in this kind of program, whether you own a boat or not, we would like to talk with you.
John L. VanOsdol is commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, CSRA Flotilla. He can be reached at (864) 391-2170, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.