April 22 was Opening Day on the Bay, which was the topic of my column last month.


Published: May, 2018


April 22 was Opening Day on the Bay, which was the topic of my column last month. If any of you participated, or just viewed the Blessing of the Fleet on Sunday morning or the Decorated Boat Parade later in the day, you may have noticed some distinctly marked vessels (as opposed to the distinctly decorated vessels). These vessels flew a unique flag with blue and white diagonal stripes. These boats were part of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary (USCGAUX).


Congress created the United States Coast Guard Reserve in 1939. In 1941, the Coast Guard Reserve was restructured and divided into two separate entities. The Coast Guard Reserve was given military and law enforcement responsibilities. The purpose of the newly created Coast Guard Auxiliary, while still a uniformed component of the USCG, was to support the Coast Guard in all missions except those involving military engagement or law enforcement. During World War II, many Auxiliarists became members of the reserve and the distinction was blurred.


Following the end of the war, the duties of the Coast Guard Auxiliary have evolved into promoting safety at sea, conducting boater rescues, and assisting people in complying with state and federal boating laws and regulations—all without law enforcement power. Auxiliarists are unpaid volunteers who assist the Coast Guard in a variety of ways and save U. S. taxpayers millions of dollars each year.


Perhaps the most visible work the Coast Guard Auxiliary performs is to assist during marine events. It was USCGAUX boats that you saw shepherding the collection of boats into some semblance of order during the Decorated Boat Parade.


Auxiliarists perform a similar function during Fleet Week’s Boat Parade and Blue Angels performances. The Coast Guard creates safety exclusion zones for these popular marine events. The Coast Guard Auxiliary, with its easily identified vessels, patrols the edges of these exclusion zones to ensure no civilian craft stray into them.


I was a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary when I lived on Moloka’i, back in the eighties. That flotilla performed over 100 rescues a year. Most of these were small boats that had lost power while out fishing and were in no immediate danger. However, if not rescued, the strong trade winds in the channels would just blow them away. Since there is nothing downwind of the Hawai’ian Islands for more than 2,000 miles, the situation could quickly become life threatening.


Here in the Bay Area, our local Auxiliarists conduct a weekly Sunday wind/kite surfer patrol. Every Sunday afternoon, a Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel is on station and prepared to render assistance to any kite boarder or wind surfer in need. These volunteers patrol from Fort Mason to the Golden Gate Bridge, and from the city front across to the Marin shore. They remain on the water until the last surfer has come ashore.


Another way the USCGAUX assists in legal compliance with all applicable state and federal requirements is by conducting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC). This service is free of charge and any boat owner can request a vessel and equipment examination. The purpose of the VSC is to help boaters avoid equipment related citations from the Coast Guard.


A trained Auxiliarist, familiar with all state and federally required safety gear—but with no legal enforcement powers—will ensure that all required items are aboard and in proper working order. A decal will be issued for all vessels that are properly equipped. If something is found not to be in compliance, the Auxiliarist will offer recommendations.


On Saturday May 19, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., our local Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla will present a water safety fair at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Station Golden Gate in Sausalito’s Fort Baker. This is the kickoff event for National Safe Boating Week. The event is free, with free parking, free life jackets (while supplies last) and free Paddle Craft ID cards. Come watch a helicopter rescue demonstration—unless, of course, the helicopter is needed for a real rescue.


Ray Wichmann is a US SAILING-certified Ocean Passagemaking Instructor, a US SAILING Master Instructor Trainer, and a member of US SAILING’s National Faculty.  He holds a 100-Ton Master’s License, was a charter skipper in Hawai’i for 15 years, and has sailed on both coasts of the United States, in Mexico, the Caribbean and Greece. He is presently employed as the Master Instructor at OCSC Sailing in the Berkeley Marina.