Thursday, September 10, 2009

The U.S. Coast Guard “Western Rivers” Sectors

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. By CAPT John R. Bingaman, former Commander, Sector Ohio Valley.

An “inland Coast Guard” unit sounds like a contradiction. Doesn’t the Coast Guard … guard the coast? The U.S. contains more than 22,285 miles of inland rivers, of which 14,000 miles are commercially navigable, and maintaining safety and security on them is a crucial role for the Coast Guard.

These inland rivers serve as highways for commerce, transporting millions of tons of cargo annually. Specifically, the Western Rivers (from North Dakota to Louisiana and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains) are home to industries that continually transport their products up and down the rivers.

Like all Coast Guard units, the Western Rivers units must vigilantly perform missions such as homeland security, search and rescue, and environmental response. Where the Western Rivers units differ is in their response to these missions. Their areas of responsibility are vast—so large that some areas require a day of travel to reach. The rivers they serve are also unpredictable, with water levels sometimes changing in mere hours. Accidents can block waterways and stop traffic for days.

Someone once asked me if a Coast Guard tour on the rivers was “a sleepy one, with very little to do.” The reality is quite the opposite. The Coast Guard’s numerous and demanding responsibilities are underestimated by many, even by some within the Coast Guard.

Mark Twain, noted author and a river boat pilot on the Mississippi River, once commented, “No one can learn all there is to know. The subject is just too big. Besides that, it changes every day.”

We hope this series of blogs, excerpted from the Proceedings of the Safety & Security Council magazine, will offer some interesting insight into life on the Western Rivers.

For more information:
Full article and “U.S. Coast Guard Western Rivers Sectors” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at Click on “archives” and then “2007-08 Vol. 64, Number 4” (Winter 2007-08).

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