“People in other regions enjoy a boating season extending through most of the
year, but the Great Lakes season only lasts three to four months. Great Lakes
boaters try to compress as much possible fun into that shorter time period, and
that creates an environment where people make poor decisions. I don’t think
people fully appreciated the impact alcohol has on them when they’re out on
the water. That’s something we continue to struggle with, it’s a huge challenge.”
keep the people who are on the Great Lakes safe. And
we have been able to reduce the number of casualties,
significantly through an active outreach program.
We have received new capabilities since I have gotten here. The 45-foot Response Boat-Medium is a great
and capable asset. Rescue 21, a communication network spread out throughout the Great Lakes, has
direction-finding capabilities that helps take the search
out of search and rescue. Those have been some game-changing technology advances here.
We have also had some investment on infrastructure. We, like the rest of the Coast Guard, have serious
infrastructure challenges and it’s good to see that
investment being made.
We have other important things that are happening.
Shiprider, the international law enforcement effort we
have with our Canadian counterparts, is fully approved
and ready for operation. Those are the kinds of things that
we have continued to work on and we have set in motion
things so our successors can continue to succeed.
What types of immediate impact will a shrinking
Coast Guard budget have on the Ninth District?
PARKS: The good news about our budget is we have
not experienced any cuts to our operational capabilities. So we are still able to do our jobs and meet our
mission requirements irrespective of any budget cuts.
We have been able to let those cuts take place in other
places and not our front-line operations.
That said, this district — and I don’t think there is
an operational commander out there who would not
say this — would like more resources. We would all
like to have more resources and more people.
Here in this district, we do have some shortages of
personnel that have come over the years and I think that
is something we struggle with. One of the things that we
wish we had was an ice-capable aircraft. The HH- 65
Dolphins that we have are not ice-capable, and in the
winter many of their missions are canceled because they
cannot fly in icy conditions. So an ice-capable aircraft is
certainly something that we would like to have up here.
Also, an airboat that is sustainable for long-haul ice
rescue — something that’s over half a mile from shore
— would be something that I would appreciate having
here. Those are capabilities we continue to seek.
With regard to resources, one of the things we are trying to do is create a program where we are right-sizing
the Coast Guard Ninth District. We have a long history
of having a lot of small boats stations — 47 throughout
the Great Lakes now — but they are not all where they
need to be. They are not always where the activity is and
there is redundancy, there are some gaps and overlaps.
We have got a plan in place to right-size the small boat
forces fleet in the Ninth District to address the region’s
There are 4. 6 million registered boaters in the
Ninth District. What challenges do they pose,
specifically in the summer months?
PARKS: Keeping people safe on the water will always
be a challenge. There is better technology and there is
better equipment, and vessels and craft are safer in
many cases and safety equipment is more readily available and affordable.
That said, people still refuse to wear their life jackets, which is probably the single best thing they could
do to remain safer, and people continue to combine
alcohol and boating.
People in other regions enjoy a boating season extending through most of the year, but the Great Lakes season
only lasts three to four months. Great Lakes boaters try
to compress as much possible fun into that shorter time
period, and that creates an environment where people
make poor decisions. I don’t think people fully appreciated the impact alcohol has on them when they’re out on
the water. That’s something we continue to struggle with,
it’s a huge challenge.
Our Coast Guard Auxiliary, the volunteer, civilian
arm of the service, teaches classes and offers courtesy
marine examinations to make sure the vessels have the
right equipment, so we do a lot of preventive work and
that’s critical to our success.