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Search, rescue drills highlight boater safety

Coast Guard personnel practice rescue scenarios, urge boaters to use life vests

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MAYPORT, Fla. – The U.S. Coast Guard held a search and rescue demonstration in Mayport on Wednesday, emphasizing the need for boater safety.

Last year, the Coast Guard had more than 100 search and rescue missions, and personnel said some of those even ended in death, because boaters didn't take the proper safety precautions.

During the next few months, the Coast Guard expects more boaters to hit the water because of summer vacation and warmer weather, which means more rescue calls for the guardsmen.

"It goes from engine failure to search and rescue. Search and rescue is the least common, but, 'Man overboard,' saving lives, that's what we do," said Don Mooers, a USCG auxiliary volunteer.

The Coast Guard trains for just about every boat-related incident by water and by air.

"When you get a call on the radio, sometimes you don't know what casualty the boat is having, so we just have to be prepared for whatever it could be," Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Cody Large said.

During a man overboard rescue mission, the Coast Guard has to work quickly to rescue the victim.

"We're in the mindset of what we need to do," Large said. "Communication is key for the most part."

Thursday's drills at Mayport used a dummy, called Oscar, for the man overboard mission. But the local Coast Guard has plenty of real-life experience. Last year, Coast Guard Station Mayport had more than 100 search and rescue missions.

And the Coast Guard said that in 2013 there were more than 80 motorboat related deaths in Florida.

Guardsmen said many of those deaths are attributed to people forgetting the most important tool when boating: a life vest.

The vest should fit properly, and boaters should also have a whistle attached in case they go overboard, because making noise will make it easier for them to be found.

In another exercise, the Coast Guard used a chopper and a swimmer jumped out to rescue Oscar. In both cases, Oscar lived, but the guardsmen said he might have had a different outcome if he wasn't wearing his life jacket.

"I can't emphasize too much the need for every boater to think, 'Do I have the proper number of life jackets: one for everybody on the boat? Have I had the people try them on to make sure they fit?'" Mooers said.

When something goes wrong in the water, the Coast Guard will be there. But the guardsmen also want to emphasize the importance of following local and federal safety laws for boating, so everyone enjoys smooth sailing this summer.

The Coast Guard Auxiliaries also offer free boat safety checks year-round at several locations along the St. Johns River. For more information, go to http://www.cgaux.org/vsc.