For Coast Guard, the Best Rescue is One That Isn't Necessary


U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Travis McMichael remembers thinking "just get there" as a squall whipped the seas into an 8- foot frenzy of crashing waves during a rescue last summer.

McMichael shared this memory Thursday morning as a U.S. Coast Guard crew demonstrated rescue techniques on the St. Johns River. They tossed dummies into the water and they pulled them out - even using a helicopter at one point.

The reason for the demonstration is that boating season is here and Florida has a lot of boats.

The 870,749 boats registered in the state is the most in the nation.

Florida also leads the country in boating deaths.

According to the Coast Guard, 58 people died in 2013 and 50 people died in 2012.

If not for the fast action of McMichael and other members of the Coast Guard on Aug. 28, 2014, more people could have died.

The wind and rain made it almost impossible to see more than 100 feet in any direction. And two people were in the water.

An elderly couple's boat had lost power to its navigational equipment and crashed into the south jetty near Mayport Naval Station about 10 p.m. last August, McMichael said.

A relatively quiet night at U.S. Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville suddenly turned into a dash for rescue.

"By the time we got out there, it was completely destroyed," he said of the boat.

McMichael, a Brunswick, Ga., native with eight years under his belt in the Coast Guard, couldn't spot the couple in the water. Tension built among the crew as a spotlight swept the rolling sea.

The 45-foot rescue boat made it to the south end of the jetty where the crew spotted the couple in the water and tossed them a line.

"If they hadn't had on their life jackets, they wouldn't have made it," he said.

Petty Officer Stephen Lehmann said the Coast Guard is expecting an increase in boaters on the water this year as gas prices have plummeted by $1.20 per gallon compared to last year.

The Coast Guard is in charge of enforcing the laws and regulations on Florida's waterways from boating while intoxicated to making sure all required equipment is on board.

Coast Guard officials hand out the most citations and warnings for not having the appropriate safety equipment.

"Everything from not enough life jackets, life jackets of the wrong type or size, no fire extinguisher, flares out of date, no sound-producing device," Lehmann said. "When we issue a violation or a warning, we hope it's a learning experience for the boater."

McMichael said serving the community and being able to help others is why he joined the Coast Guard.

When the elderly couple was pulled aboard, they thanked the crew and breathed a sigh of relief that they had insurance. Later, the couple's family sent a thank-you letter to the crew.

McMichael still has it.