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Road-line painters for the Alaskan seas

KODIAK, Alaska - Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Moore, a machinery technician with Aids to Navigation Team Kodiak, maintains control of a trail line to a rescue basket as an Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew conducts hoist training in Middle Bay near Kodiak May 9, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.
TUESDAY, MAY 15, 2012
Posted by: PA3 Jonathan Lally

As a maritime community, most residents of Kodiak, Alaska, are familiar with the navigational aids used by mariners. Aids to navigation are a vital element to the safety of life at sea for fishing vessel crews, commercial cargo vessels and other mariners when entering and departing through treacherous waters near ports and harbors.

It’s the job of Coast Guardsmen at units like Aids to Navigation Team Kodiak to maintain navigational aids so commercial mariners can safely deliver products and groceries throughout the communities of Alaska.

ANT Kodiak’s primary mission is to maintain the ATON from the entrance of the Prince William Sound in the east to the southwestern tip of Kodiak and ranging as far north as Point Hope in the Arctic.

“Our main goal is to make sure the towers are lit and you can clearly see the day boards during the day,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Richard, a machinery technician with ANT Kodiak. “With some of our older lights it means changing out lamps, recharging batteries that can weigh up to 80 pounds each and ensuring the day boards are bright (in color) and not faded.”

Richard mentioned that some of the aids they deal with are built from the ground up. He said when the aids to navigation team commissioned an aid near Nome it took a while to get everything in place.

“We had to dig a 6 feet long, 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep hole, which took a while to dig due to the permafrost,” said Richard. “Once we dug the hole a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew brought a 30-foot tower to be directed into the hole that was dug.”

Richard said the Kodiak-based team works hard to maintain the aids around the state that are within their area of responsibility. He also said their job is important to the safety of mariners coming into ports and harbors.

“When most people think of the Coast Guard they think of search and rescue and possibly law enforcement, but few people think about us maintaining aids to navigation” said Richard. “Our job is like the people who paint the lines on the road, you don’t think about it but it’s extremely important for safety and someone has to do it. Coast Guardsmen working and maintaining ATON are the road-line painters of the seas.”

Members of ANT Kodiak not only maintain ATON in their area of responsibility, but they are also a platform to help maintain the skills of Air Station Kodiak aircrews.

“Our second mission is to be a training vessel for the air station to hone and refine their skills for hoisting a basket or swimmer to a vessel from a Jayhawk or an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter so they can be proficient,” said Richard. “We also act like a vessel in distress for HC-130 Hercules aircrews to deploy simulated life rafts or equipment to us. This is done so when the aircrews have to respond to a maritime emergency they are able to expertly place an emergency life raft or hoist basket on or near a vessel in distress.”

The Kodiak-based ANT used to operate a 41-foot Utility Boat to assist the aircrews with air drop and hoist training and now use a 38-foot Special Purpose Craft-Training Boat.

“ANT Kodiak plays an important role in the overall team efforts of the Coast Guard body in Alaska,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Vance Pedrick, executive petty office of ANT Kodiak. “Helping aircrews maintain currency and proficiency needed for vital rescue techniques and more importantly the up keep of navigational aids throughout the Alaskan waterways, keeping mariner’s safe is our job.”

Throughout Alaska there are six Coast Guard buoy tenders and two aids to navigation teams who keep up with all the buoys, lighted and unlighted beacons and other navigational aids to help mariners safely transit through Alaska’s waterways.

These Coast Guardsmen who work in the field of ATON are the road-line painters of not only Alaska, but across the American waterways. They may go unnoticed and unappreciated but their jobs are tough, dirty and important to upholding one of the Coast Guard’s primary goals of keeping mariners safe at sea.