Flotilla Staff Officer
In August 2003, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary’s Flotilla 83 was chartered with 18 members dedicated to meeting the needs of boaters in the New River Valley.
Today the Flotilla has grown to 49 members who patrol Claytor Lake on busy weekends and holidays, conduct free safety checks of boats on the lake and the New River, teach boater safety classes, and partner with businesses to bring boating safety information to the general public.
In recent years, the Flotilla has been fortunate to acquire a building that once served as the Dublin Water Works pump station and has turned it into a functioning Search and Rescue Detachment (SARDET) building. The white square building, with the orange and blue stripes, sits on the right side of the channel between “Felts Hollow” and the “Glass Windows” sailing from the State Park toward Peak Creek.
The SARDET is used as headquarters for the communications officer when safety patrols are out on the lake, for Flotilla and division meetings, for training and operations, and for storage of training and teaching supplies and equipment. The design, refurbishment, and finishing of the building was and continues to be a labor of love of the members of Flotilla 83.
One of the most important missions of the Auxiliary is to rescue boaters who fall in harm’s way when boating on the lake. Without notice, the weather can turn bad and waves actually form on the lake and jeopardize the safety of boaters, especially those in canoes, kayaks and sailboats.
In October 2003, the coxswain and crew patrolling the lake for an intercollegiate rowing event pulled 29 students from the chilly waters and treated the rowers for hypothermia. One other example of the Flotilla saving lives is when the weather suddenly turned bad during the Claytor Lake State Park Festival in 2010. The coxswain and crew of one of the three patrol boats on the water that day were able to save two boaters struggling in the middle of the lake when their canoe swamped and turned over, leaving them amid pounding rain and three-foot waves.
When members are not patrolling the lake, they are busy teaching boating safety. Last year, along with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Flotilla was responsible for teaching 21 boating safety classes and issued 1,104 boating safety cards.
This year 631 participants received their boating safety certificates in June and July alone. Most of these were teenagers who took classes through the Boy Scouts Aquatics Program at Claytor Lake Adventure Base Camp and through Camp Cougar, the summer school physical education program at Pulaski County High School.
The schedule of future boating safety courses can be found at: www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating/education/requirement/steps-to-requirement.asp.
So far this year, the Flotilla has conducted over 100 Vessel Safety Checks (VSC) which includes an inspection of the boat and equipment, and sharing of safety information. The inspection is free and there is no penalty for not passing. If the boat passes, a sticker is issued and placed on the port side of the boat.
The purpose of the inspection is to help achieve voluntary compliance with federal, state and local recreational boating safety laws. It also heightens boaters’ awareness of safety issues. The goal is to make boats as safe as possible.
The Flotilla celebrated its birthday Aug. 27 with a picnic at Claytor Lake State Park. Eleven of the original 18 charter members were present at the party and received awards to honor their dedication to the Auxiliary. These volunteers and those that follow serve in the uniformed volunteer component of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Members of the Auxiliary help save lives, support the Coast Guard mission, have fun and enjoy fellowship. To join or find out more about the Auxiliary, attend one of the Flotilla 83 meetings, which are held at Christiansburg Rescue Center at 7 p.m. on the last Tuesday of each month. There is no obligation to join.
Tours of the SARDET are also available. To arrange a tour or make other inquiries about the organization, contact Sharon Eifried at 540-353-7337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.