The United States Coast Guard, a military branch of the armed forces under the Department of Homeland Security, is comprised of nearly 42,000 men and women on active duty and carries out a variety of civil and military responsibilities. By law, the Coast Guard has eleven missions which include the following areas:
- Ports, waterways, and coastal security
- Drug interdiction
- Aids to navigation
- Search and rescue
- Living marine resources
- Marine safety
- Defense readiness
- Migrant interdiction
- Marine environmental protection
- Ice operations
- Other law enforcement
Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City is one of the busiest Air Stations in the service. Located in Elizabeth City, NC, the base sends aircrews out throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean to assist in search and rescue, international ice patrol, navigation, law enforcement, environmental concerns, and national security. For those in North Carolina, your interaction with the Coast Guard is probably limited to its enforcement of safety and boating laws in northeastern waterways in the state. Albemarle Sound, the Outer Banks, the Intercoastal Waterway, and the Pamlico Sound are all popular areas for boaters to enjoy, and thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard, you won’t be completely stranded by yourself during emergencies like capsized boats, flooded or sinking boats, and missing boaters.
Since 1995, the Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City has averaged over 360 search and rescue missions each year. In the last sixty years, the Air Station has launched over 20,000 missions that took place during all hours of the day in both fair and foul weather to rescue and/or assist over 10,000 people. With strategically placed communications networks, medium range recover helicopter aircrews are able to locate vessels and individuals with the most comprehensive all weather electronics package available. These crews have access to equipment that increases their ability to detect persons and vessels in the water. Such equipment includes forward-looking infrared radar (“FLIR”), direction finding (“DF”) radio equipment, and night vision goggles. Once the persons or vessels are located, there are several options for recovery. The most effective method involves the rescue swimmer, who has experience in rough conditions such as high seas, surf, swift-water and cliffs.
The dedicated men and women of Air Station Elizabeth City are fully equipped to uphold the Coast Guard motto of Semper Paratus (always ready), but that does not mean that you should rely on them exclusively to ensure your safety on the water. Out of respect for their time and to watch out for your own safety, you should take every precaution to ensure your boat is seaworthy, that you are educated in boating safety, and that you avoid boating under the influence of alcohol. Under harsh conditions, it may take an extended period of time to locate and recover you or your vessel. While the Coast Guard’s mission includes search and rescue, the services of the Coast Guard should be considered a last resort.