A fun day on the water turned into an emergency for a woman and her young grandson last Friday afternoon on the East River near Brunswick, their 14-foot boat nearly capsizing after engine failure, according to officials at U.S. Coast Guard Station Brunswick.
However, both the 51-year-old woman and the 6-year-old boy were wearing life jackets and the woman managed to call 911 from her cellphone for help. Coast Guard station Brunswick soon reached the two with a rescue boat and delivered them safely to shore, said station Chief Brook Blount.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Justin Irwin said the incident underscores the need for boaters to be prepared for such emergencies while enjoying our local waters. To that end, Coast Guard Station Brunswick is hosting a safe boating-themed Open House from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at the facility, located at 2 Conservation Way beneath the Sidney Lanier Bridge along the Brunswick River.
Held in conjunction with National Safe Boating Week (May 18-24), the event is free and open to the public. It will feature demonstrations, a guided tour of the base and hands-on safety exercises for the youngsters. The ocean, inland waterways and freshwater rivers of the Golden Isles create a boater’s paradise, but simple safety precautions can help ensure that every trip on the water has a happy ending, he said.
“In this community, it seems the majority of people have a boat,” said Irwin, the Commander of Coast Guard Station Brunswick. “And they’re going to be on the water a lot this summer, and we just want to make sure everybody is safe and we don’t lose any lives this year. Basically, it’s more of an education for the public on the needs for sufficient life jackets, safety equipment and all that good stuff.”
In addition to tours of the Coast Guard station, visitors can tour the station’s 45-foot rescue and response boat, Irwin said. Tentatively, the Coast Guard helicopter stationed in Savannah will drop in from 10 a.m. to noon to give folks an opportunity to look inside. Youngsters can get some lessons and practice in tossing life rings and performing other water safety activities.
“It’s going to be a great time,” Irwin said. “Not only to spend some time getting know the men and women of the Coast Guard who serve your community, but also it’s a chance for the kids to get out and see some of the things we have here and just to have a good time.”
Part of preparing for an enjoyable day on the water includes being ready if the good times turn bad, Irwin said. First and foremost is to have life jackets for everyone on board, he said. Coast Guard officials will review proper use of those life jackets. They will also touch on the need for leaving a “float plan” with someone on shore, outlining where you are headed and when you plan to return. It is also important to have communication devices onboard, preferably a VHF marine band radio with GPS tracking.
“Historically, we’ve done pretty well with educating the community,” Irwin said. “If everybody has their life jackets on and comes home safely, that’s our main focus. Just to make sure everybody knows how to properly wear a life jacket and that they have the proper safety equipment on their boat and they know how to use it.”
Fortunately, the woman’s cellphone was sufficient Friday to reach the Coast Guard when their boat began taking on water around 5 p.m. in the East River, near the river’s confluence with the Brunswick River, Blount said. It was also wise of the woman to make sure both she and her grandson wore life jackets, he said.
“When we responded, the vessel was drifting to the shoals,” Blount said. “The wind was picking up and making it choppy and the vessel was taking on water. But we reached them and got them off the boat. As much as they were struggling, without life jackets it would not have been a good situation.”