By Don Glynn
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — YOUNGSTOWN — The large white house sitting back on the carefully groomed yard affords a sweeping view of the Niagara River and the western end of Lake Ontario.
It’s the U.S. Coast Guard-Station Niagara, standing sentinel over a vital section of the inland sea known as the Great Lakes. The basic mission here — search and rescue — includes 22 active duty personnel, plus four reservists, working 48 hours on and 48 hours off. They also focus on law enforcement, homeland security and marine safety.
Their jurisdiction covers the 13-mile stretch of the lower Niagara River, between Youngstown and the Whirlpool, and the Lake Ontario area bordering Niagara County, east toward Orleans County.
“Our biggest thing is educating the boating public,” said 1st Class Petty Officer Andrew S. Thompson, a 13-year veteran of the service who has spent 3 1/2 years at Station Niagara. “In our inspections we’re also concerned that boaters have the proper gear, the approved lifejackets for every person on board, flares and other equipment as required on the specific vessel that we’re checking.”
While all-volunteer U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary-Flotilla 3-1 is not empowered to issue summonses for violations, it can assist with the inspections, pointing out to boaters what they need to comply with regulations.
Thompson added: “The the 45-member auxiliary is a great organization that has been a tremendous help to us. Not only are they quick to help us — they have their own boats — but they even show up on Thanksgiving and other special days to cook a meal for our personnel. We can’t thank them enough for what they do.”
In addition to their own patrols and the numerous calls during the prime season, the Coast Guard here often works in conjunction with the Canadian Coast Guard that operates out of Hamilton, Ont., and the Olcott, Wilson, Youngstown and Lewiston volunteer fire companies that have marine units as well.
People need to have a float plan that can be left with a friend or family member so that vital contacts can available in the event of an emergency. “And it’s important to include some details beyond a general statement,” said Senior Coast Guard Chief Dennis O’Connell, who heads both the Buffalo Sector and Niagara stations. He cited one situation where a boating party thought it was sufficient to simply leave a message that they were going out on Lake Ontario, the easternmost of the Great Lakes (193 miles in length and 53 miles at its widest point.)
Thompson said he has noticed more boaters these days appear to have an increased awareness of the need for safety on the waterways. “Actually, I’ve seen a decrease in violations with many boaters having proper gear in good condition onboard,” he added.
Station Niagara is on the east side of the bank where the river flows into lake. On a clear day, the CN Tower and other buildings on the Toronto skyline are visible.
As with most military installations in the country, security around the Coast Guard facility was tightened in the wake of the 9-11 terrorism attacks. The station here and Buffalo Sector are part of the 9th Division with headquarters in Cleveland.U.S. Coast Guard offers helpful tips • Boating safety courses are recommended. Operator errors account for nearly 70 percent of all boating accidents. • Learn how a free vessel safety check can help you navigate through problem situations. • It has been estimated that life jackets could have saved the lives of more than 80 percent of boating fatalities. The life jackets should be easily accessible to anyone onboard, as the Coast Guard officers will remind the boat operator during regular inspections. • Alcohol and boating never make a good mix. The U.S. Coast Guard and other law enforcement agencies have been cracking down on violators. • Prepare a float plan so that other persons are generally aware of your travels. There are simply too many facts to be accurately remembered and ultimately conveyed in an emergency situation. Source: U.S. Coast Guard, Boating Safety Division and personnel at Buffalo Sector and Station Niagara, Youngstown.