The Coast Guard maintains about 50,000 aids to navigation, including beacons, buoys and lighthouses.
Its coverage of ATONs (Aids to Navigation System) stretches more than 25,000 miles of navigable channels and 95,000 miles of shoreline in the United States and its territories.
Some of its aids are brand-new, while others are more than 100 years old.
Coast Guard Jacksonville maintains 900, stretching from south of Savannah to Volusia County.
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Deep cleaning and frequent checks are vital to making them last, and I got a firsthand look at how crews do that.
The process starts with loading the 1,200-pound buoy onto the deck, using a large A-frame attached to the boat.
There are several safety precautions to keep it in place. Some of those include hammering the chain to a chain stopper every time a portion was lifted out of the water, stabilizing the buoy with a large block of wood, and securing the top portion with a chain.
“This whole evolution is set up to where everything can fail, and no one gets hurt,” a crew member told us.
Everyone is also required to wear a certain type of boots, safety gloves, protective glasses and a hard hat -- all of which I had to borrow from the crew itself.
The crew on deck calls out every adjustment to the A-frame operator. He was in the pilothouse, and his view of the chain was often blocked by the massive buoy.
Most of the process was loading the 45-foot chain on board. The crew checks it every two years to see how it is wearing and when it will need to be replaced.
Buoys are maintained every two years, and hardware is typically replaced every six years
The buoy itself is made out of foam -- even the part that’s underwater -- and the anchor is smaller than you might think. It is 400 pounds and is only about 18 inches by 18 inches large.
While the crew was working on deck, the captain and rest of the crew focused on keeping the boat in place so it can be replaced in exactly the same position.
Before the buoy was dropped back into its place, we carefully laid out the chain so it would not knot as it fell back into the water.
All of the safety mechanisms were then unlocked, and the A-frame operator lifted the buoy up and lower it back into the water.
Finally, we cleaned up our mess and headed to the next one.