Records show increase in maritime search and rescue

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - It was a busy Saturday morning at the Point in Pascagoula. Traffic was steady as blue skies beckoned boaters out for a day at sea. Most of the boaters seemed aware of the threat of a possible summer squall.

"Storms can get on you in a New York second," Harold Speights said as he watched a group of boaters sail away.

Stormy conditions have capsized several boats this summer, forcing rescue missions and ultimately taking several Jackson County lives.

"We always have a few every summer," said Mike Randle as he put his boat in the water.  "People just not watching what they're doing, not paying attention to the weather."

Pascagoula Coast Guard records show the number of search and rescue missions has increased from last year. In the last recorded year, the Coast Guard in Pascagoula responded to 69 search and rescue missions. This year the number has already climbed to 89.

The Coast Guard measures their years from October to October, so there's still plenty of time for that number to increase even more.

"There's more than one, that's too many," said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer John Brown.  "Actually, one is too many."

Coast Guard officials said the increase could come from a number of things, including more boats in the water. Brown said it's the responsibility of every boater and boat owner to stay safe.

There are recommended ways you can help keep your passengers safe.

"Begin your preparation through taking boater safety courses," Brown said.

He suggested a local Coast Guard auxillary or local yacht clubs as places to start searching for a course. He also said boat maintenance is critical to safety.

"Make sure you have your vessels in good operating condition," he said. "Make sure your battery is charged up. Make sure your engine is in good operating condition."

Another tip is to avoid exceeding a boat's weight limit.

"You prevent having loss of stability in a vessel first off by not overloading it," Brown said. "If you get that boat overloaded, it's not going to be stable."

Brown also suggested sharing your plans in detail with someone on shore.

"Another real important step to do is to leave a float plan with a responsible person back on the beach," Brown said. "Make sure that you clearly state where you're going to go, and let the individual know that you're going to make it back at a certain time. And if you're not back, have him call the Coast Guard. And with that float plan, we'll know where to search and where."

He also urges people to check the forecast before they leave and during their trip.

"Understand what the weather is in your local area," Brown said. "And when you're out there on the boat, keep watching the horizon. Listen to your marine weather radio, and they'll tell you when something is coming your way you can't see."

The Coast Guard Auxillary offers boat safety checks at local boat launches.  For more information, contact your local Coast Guard location.

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