from the border with New Jersey and
Pennsylvania to Canada. Its coverage
area includes the North Atlantic off
Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, during iceberg patrol season,
and the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone along the Atlantic Coast,
and can extend well into the ocean
for search-and-rescue operations.
The first Coast Guard station was
established in Newburyport, Mass.,
near the border with New Hampshire. Coast Guard Station Point
Allerton, southeast of Boston, is considered “the home of Coast Guard
search and rescue” by virtue of its former keeper, CAPT Joshua James.
Historical documents credit
James with saving more than 600
people during a career that began
with the Massachusetts Humane
Society when he was 15 years old
and ended with his death at age 75
in 1902 while on duty with the U.S.
Life-Saving Service, which merged
with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form the
Coast Guard. The Coast Guard’s fifth and latest National
Security Cutter (NSC) is named for James, and is scheduled to be commissioned in Boston on Aug. 8.
According to First District Public Affairs, the district’s current assets include 29 cutters, 155 small
boats, and an Air Station at Cape Cod, Mass., with
three HC-144A Ocean Sentry maritime patrol aircraft
and four MH-60T Jayhawk helicopters to cover 2,000
miles of shoreline and beyond. The district is manned
by 3,400 active-duty Coast Guard men and women,
800 civilians and 1,100 Reservists. There are 6,000
Coast Guard Auxiliarists who can lend a hand, and
bring to bear another 39 aircraft and 435 boats.
To protect commercial fishing in the region, where
about $1.3 billion worth of seafood is landed per year,
according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration data, the First District performs, on
average, 1,800 fisheries boardings. The district also
inspects more than 8,000 vessels and handles 2,500
search-and-rescue cases annually, saving 350 lives and
assisting 3,300 more.
“Of the big challenges in terms of Coast Guard mis-
sions for us, search and rescue, of course, is a huge one,”
CAPT Verne Gifford, First District chief of staff, said in an
interview at district headquarters, which overlooks Boston
Harbor. “When you look at our AOR [area of responsibil-
ity], search and rescue probably is the most demanding
mission just because there is very little margin for error.”
“One of the things that sets us a little bit apart is that
we have a very significant fishing fleet. In terms of search
and rescue, that does give us some steady business
throughout the year,” CAPT Anthony Popiel, First
District chief of response, said in a separate interview at
district headquarters. “But for search-and-rescue purpos-
es, under the international agreements, in New England
we go to about 1,300 miles out and then Portugal picks
it up on the other side into Europe, and then Iceland
picks up going north, and then Halifax [Nova Scotia]
picks up as you’re going into the Arctic and up toward
Greenland. We work with all of those guys.
“Those are the cases where we really have to make
sure that we’re executing like we should and we follow
a pretty demanding set of protocols. You have to be on
your game trying to find folks,” he said.
One notable recent case was the rescue of three
French sailors, all of whom were in their 70s, from
their sinking sailboat 1,200 miles off the coast of New
England, in May 2014. After sending a distress call, the
42-foot sailboat was spotted by a Coast Guard
International Ice Patrol HC-130J aircraft that had been
dispatched from Nova Scotia.
“We went out, saw that they were, in fact, floundering, and dropped a life raft,” Popiel said. “They popped
the life raft open. As they stepped into the life raft,
about two minutes later, the boat sank. So now you
still have them, 1,000 miles from anywhere, what do
you do with them?
Crew members from Coast Guard cutters Tiger Shark and Seneca, Coast
Guard Station Point Judith and the 103rd Rescue Squadron, 106th Rescue
Wing, Air National Guard, pass gear to Tiger Shark during Operation Orange
Flag in Rhode Island Sound April 1. The different crews worked together to
simulate various search and rescue scenarios for training.