Monday, February 1, 2016

The Derelict Dinghy and Other Sunday SAR Adventures

We piped boat lowering detail for the CB-OTH (Cutter Boat-Over the Horizon) 
this morning at 0800, right on time per the POD, for an early Sunday personnel 
transfer from shore. As the boat deck was getting ready, a lookout spotted a 
white cap that wasn't crumbling away like the others after a few moments. 
Breaking out the binoculars, I saw it was a small white dinghy bobbing along 
in the waves.

A small white dinghy floating along with no one in it doesn't sound like such 
a serious thing, but to us in the Coast Guard, we tend to think that maybe 
there was someone supposed to be on that dinghy that is now in the water with 
no one the wiser. A report like that starts the whole SAR (search and rescue) 
machine a-churnin'.

We got the OTH in the water, and the coxswain and crew went over to 
investigate. The dinghy only had one oar, some Coke bottles floating in the 
few inches of water onboard, and a good bit of algal growth poxed all over. 
The crew read off the HIN (hull identification number, like the VIN on a car), 
and we passed the information to our local Sector. And then the OTH went on 
their merry way to make the personnel transfer happen. DILIGENCE stayed on 
scene with the dinghy.

After a few moments, we heard "PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN..." (pronounced 
pahn-pahn) over the radio, with Sector passing all the details on VHF-FM 16 
about the vessel's description (6 foot, white dinghy) and location (so many 
miles off mumble mumble mumble), requesting assistance from any mariners in 
the area. We stayed on scene with the dinghy, while we waited for our small 
boat to get back with our passengers. In the meantime, we saw a Coast Guard 
Auxiliary flight overhead, conducting a VS (victor sierra, sector search with 
a single unit) search looking for anyone that might have fallen overboard from 
the dinghy.

Sector used the HIN we gave them to figure out who the owner of the dinghy 
was. They called and made sure he was ok -- he was. Then we towed the dinghy 
back to the local Station with our CB-L (Cutter Boat-Large). Or really, the 
cox'n and crew of the CB-L tipped all the water out of the dinghy, and then 
hauled it onboard the CB-L, strapped it down to the deck and went on their 
merry way. Maybe not standard, but took a heck of a lot less time than towing 
the thing.

On the way back from returning the dinghy to shore, the CB-L was diverted to 
go search for a vessel whose EPIRB (electronic positioning indicating radio 
beacon) went off. They looked around in the position given off by the EPIRB, 
but didn't see anything -- no debris field, no foundering vessel. Sector used 
the registration information on the EPRIB to contact the vessel's owner to 
make sure they weren't in distress.

The Coast Guard takes safety of life at sea (SOLAS) stuff seriously. Please, 
folks, make sure you have your safety gear, it's in good working, and you know 
how to use it when you go boating. Make sure your EPIRB is properly 
registered. File a float plan. Not all cases turn out as easily and happily as 
our couple of SAR cases this morning.

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer

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