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Hanging with the Coasties

USCGC Bainbridge Island

My fabulous trip to NYC for the RWA National Conference started off with a visit to US Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook in New Jersey as part of pre-conference events sponsored by the Kiss of Death chapter. Here's a little of what I learned.

The US Coast Guard started in 1790 and currently has about 39,000 personnel. Their primary tasks are to guard the nation’s borders against attack, illegal immigrants, drug runners, and terrorists, and to provide search and rescue.

The USCG falls under the Department of Homeland Security, but is considered one of the five services, and can be tasked by the Department of Defense. In fact, USCG members are serving in the Middle East, helping to guard the waters of the Gulf since they specialize in small boat patrol.

The rank follows the Navy rank, complete with specialized ranks, for example a Petty Officer Third Class (E-4) might be called a Gunner's Mate Third Class (GM3), or a Boatswain's Mate Third Class (BM3), or any of a number of titles based on his or her rating (career field).

Sig Sauer P229

Upon arrival at Sandy Hook, our group was split into three. Mine started at the armory and practice range where we were introduced to the Sig Sauer P229-RDAK personal defense weapon (handgun), and the Colt M16-A2 rifle. The P229 is generally carried by all members of a boarding party. We didn’t get to fire or hold the weapons, but we were introduced to proper handling procedures.

After a quick lunch in the galley, we took a ride on a Motor Life Boat (MLB), a 47-foot, heavy-duty rescue boat that can withstand hurricane force winds and heavy seas. It generally goes out for hours at a time, but not for extended duty.

Motor Life Boat

The crew gave us a demonstration of rescuing a man overboard. Generally they use a hook on a pole for the victim to grab, or to hook onto the victim’s clothing if he/she can’t hold on. Rescue swimmers are only used in areas where the MLB can’t navigate due to rocks, a tight fit, or other hazards.

Along the way, I asked several of the guys why they joined the Coast Guard. Most of them wanted to serve their country and specifically chose the Coast Guard because they loved the water and/or had grown up around it and boats.

Big surprise, right? 😉

After the boat ride, we had a briefing from the Maritime Safety & Security (MSS) team. These guys are like SWAT for the Coast Guard. For example, if a freighter were taken hostage, they could use a vertical insertion—dropping from a line on a helo—to board the boat and take down the bad guys/recover the hostages.

We got a preview of the specialized equipment they use for breaching a boat, as well as their personal ballistic gear. They generally wear 60-70 pounds of gear when fully outfitted with body armor, radio, tools, weapons, and equipment specific to their role on the team (e.g. the team paramedic carries the medical supplies).

USCGC Bainbridge Island

Our final activity was a tour of the 110-foot USCG Cutter Bainbridge Island. This boat goes out for up to two weeks at a time on drug interdiction missions and to intercept illegal immigrants. It has a tight set of racks for sleeping (stacked three high) and a small galley and dining area belowdecks.

Up top is a 50mm gun, a Zodiac boat attached to a crane so that it can be lowered over the side, and lots of navigation equipment and radios on the bridge.

We wrapped up our informative tour with a brief Q&A session before heading back to Manhattan. Our Kiss of Death tour committee rocks, but I'd be remiss if I didn't also thank the wonderful men and women of Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook for a great tour and for their service to our country!

Tell your friends!


  1. KM Fawcett


    Wow. Cool field trip, Gwen! Sorry I missed you at conference this year.

    • Reply

      It was fun. Yeah, I’m bummed that we didn’t cross paths. I had a conflict during your workshop, but thought I might see you somewhere else. Maybe next year.

    • Reply

      It was, Melissa. I love exploring new places and other people’s jobs. KOD tours are always worth showing up early!

      Any chance you’ll get to go to RWA12?

  2. Pingback: LAPD field trip « The Edited Life

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