Inlet station is 'always ready'
The United States Coast Guard is the oldest maritime security force in the United States, dating back to Aug. 4, 1790.
Its original purpose was to enforce tariff and trade laws, prevent smuggling, and protect the collection of the federal revenue. The name reflected this as well, as the force was originally known as the Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service.
The current name was given in 1915, when it merged with the Life-Saving Service. For eight years, it served as the only armed forces on water until the Navy Department was established in 1798.
During times of war or upon direction of the president of the United States, the Coast Guard serves under the Department of the Navy. Today, in peacetime, it acts under the Department of Homeland Security.
The station at the Indian River Inlet hasn’t seen much of that action.
“We deal with mostly recreational boaters,” Executive Petty Officer Rob Petrillo said.
For most recreational boaters, the only contact (hopefully) with the Coast Guard would be when they board a boat to make sure everything is in compliance with boating safety. Coxswain Jim Krepps said that for the most part, everyone in the Delaware area is in compliance with all the safety regulations.
But in those instances where assistance to boaters is necessary, the station is “semper paratus” — “Always Ready” — the Coast Guard motto. In keeping with the motto, Krepps said if a call comes out, the crew can be ready and under way in five to 10 minutes’ time.
A lot of the calls that the station deals with are for people in the water, occasional vessels that have taken on water and a lot of “I’m lost” calls — mainly due to fog, which can sometimes be really dense over the area’s waters.
Every scenario the Coast Guard may deal with has a checklist to follow in order to make the jobs of the men and women in the service easier. For instance, when trying to find a lost person, they will find out if they can find any notable landmarks or find out the last buoy that was passed, including the color and number of it.
The station will begin to see the volume of boat traffic pick up in the coming weeks, since July 4 has come and gone. The busiest times still seem to be the big holidays (Memorial Day and Fourth of July) and the weekends.
To help them out, they have the services of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, made up of civilians who volunteer their time. Many of the Auxiliary members are former Coast Guard or former military personnel. The auxiliary was established in 1939 and known as the “reserves.”
The auxiliary keeps a boat docked at the station, along with the Coast Guard’s two ships, a 41-foot boat and 21-foot inflatable-hull boat.
The auxiliary will assist in boarding recreational boats and doing routine inspections. Some of them also spend the day keeping watch, which entails listening to the radio and phones for any calls that may come into the station.
The majority of the calls come in via phone, as few boats have a radio on them. People will call 911, who will then transfer the call to the Coast Guard.
Six to seven members are on hand at each duty shift. This is a smaller operation compared to other Coast Guard stations. But it works to the benefit of the crew, as it makes the experience more hands-on.
If someone is out on leave, they are comfortable operating short a person, because someone will know how to do another job in order to complete everything. Also when out on the water, things are smooth, because working with each other for so long means they know what needs to happened and can do it before they are told to do it.
Each member works two days on and two days off and has sliding weekends off. In essence, each person will work seven days in a two-week period. But they are always on duty.
“We are just a phone call away,” Krepps said. “We get called back (from time off) if a boat crew is fatigued or if there is a big case load.”
Krepps’ job as coxswain is to be in charge of the vessels. He will navigate the vessel on the water and instruct others what to do.
A boat crew member is one who handles the line and is also the first to apply first aid, if injuries are at the scene. Krepps said it’s the boat crew members who make or break the coxswain.
While on shore, the station is the home of the crew. They do all the work on the station themselves. Last winter, the entire crew refurbished every room in the station, including the communications room.
If they aren’t out on the water, their job is like any other. They will be working from 8 or 9 in the morning until about 4 p.m. They stop at 4 p.m. to ensure they aren’t too fatigued in case of a long water call.
When not working, there is plenty to keep the crew busy. The station is like a clubhouse for them. They have big-screen TV and radio. They have a huge galley area (a kitchen, to civilians), a weight room and, of course, an armory.
This station is unique in the fact that there is no cook. Everyone must fend for themselves, although, on occasion, someone on a duty shift will cook a meal for everyone. Meals, when it is nice outside, are eaten on a nice-sized deck with picnic tables.
Crew members are put up in rooms ranging from two to four crew members per room. The only female stationed at Indian River has her own room.
Station Indian River Inlet is in charge of an area covering from the Maryland/Delaware line all the way up to Cape Henlopen, including Rehoboth and Indian River bays. They work in cooperation with the other stations in Cape May, N.J.; Ocean City, Md.; and Atlantic City, N.J.
Air support comes from Atlantic City, and Indian River will often assist Cape May, which has boats stationed at Roosevelt Inlet, because of the quicker response time from Indian River. If something happens close to the Maryland/Delaware line, both stations will likely be there in response.
“They are like our brothers and sisters,” Krepps said of the other stations.
In fact, Station Indian River Inlet used to be a detachment of the Ocean City station but last year is was given authority to stand on its own feet as a full station.
The station building that currently sits near the Indian River Inlet Bridge was constructed in 1964, with a new operations center and station office built in 1981.
The Coast Guard does more than respond to calls and patrol the waters in which they operate. Every year, before the summer boat season begins, they hold a boating safety week on the courtyard of the complex. It has things for kids and adults to learn and do, with a lot of food to boot.
They also provide security perimeters for local events such as July 4 events, winter charity swims and swimming exercises for the area’s lifeguards.
Guardsmen stationed at land stations will typically be moved every four years, and the turnover is constant because everyone’s duties are staggered. But they still have a place to call home when they aren’t on duty.
“You are away from home a lot more when you are stationed on a ship,” Petrillo said. Larger patrol ships typically have a four- to eight-week patrol period.
Station Indian River also adheres to “Semper Paratus.” According to Krepps, they are always training for everything. Every time a guardsman moves in, they never know enough.
Petrillo stresses the fact they the Coast Guard exists to help people and they do a good service to the community.
“For people who don’t know what they want to do, looking into the Coast Guard is a good idea,” he said. “I have found it very rewarding.”