• 75°

Coosa Currents: Serving in the Coast Guard Auxiliary

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in Coosa Currents. The full publication is available at The Clanton Advertiser, 1109 Seventh Street N in Clanton.

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

Safety is crucial to have a fun day on the water.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 8-8, which often holds meetings near Lay Lake, works to ensure everyone is following proper boating safety.

Flotilla 8-8 covers the Coosa River from Lay Lake, Lake Mitchell to Lake Jordan and the Alabama River to Maxwell Air Force Base.

“Here on the lakes, we do maritime operations and marine patrols,” Welborn said. “We are trying to get people to think about what they’re doing on the water slow down a little bit, cut down on the fatalities.”

The Coosa River is under the U.S. Coast Guard jurisdiction because it is considered a federally navigable waterway.

“Auxiliary is the civilian side,” member Mike Welborn said. “We don’t get paid for anything. It is all volunteer.”

Members wear Coast Guard uniforms and are eligible to receive ribbons for service.

When the auxiliary is mobilized, it is by federal orders that will cover some of the cost for the mission.

“We augment active duty in a lot of roles, like we can go down to the port of Mobile and do security controls down there,” Welborn said. “We are not law enforcement, basically we observe and report.”

Welborn said in March that the Flotilla has not been on patrol since the COVID-19 pandemic social distancing regulations had been put in place and there has been an increase in boating

related deaths as a result.

“We don’t write tickets,” Welborn said. “We are there mostly for safety.”

While the Auxiliary does not write tickets, they can stop boaters and talk to them about safety concerns.

Sometimes those who are authorized to write tickets will ride with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Welborn joined Flotilla 8-8 about three years ago. He became interested because he had been a watercraft operator while serving in the U.S. Army.

“I love being on the boats. I love being on the water — that’s what drew me to the Coast Guard Auxiliary,” Welborn said.

He said he enjoys being able to be back in uniform serving his community.

“I have had a wonderful experience with the Auxiliary,” Welborn said. “… It’s not as military as you

think.”

He said good friendships form in the group.

Flotilla 8-8 started in 1976, but was inactive for a time before being reformed around 2001. This is when member Bradley Thaxton joined the group. The group grew to 21 members in 18 months.

“I love the water and to get out here to learn how to make people safe,” Thaxton said, commenting that he had grown up enjoying water sports on the lake. “It’s good fellowship.”

He said being a part of the group gives him the opportunity to learn about safety and teach others how to be safe on the water.

“It is fun to interact with boat owners and help them,” Thaxton said. “It does save lives.”

Adam McCleod, who has been a part of the group for three years, said he joined because he wanted to “improve my seamanship and navigation skills” and because he wanted to serve his community.

“We serve as we have time, essentially, and so it is really easy to fit Auxiliary service into your schedule,” McCleod said. “… I enjoy serving alongside others that want to serve.”

 

OPERATIONS

Preventing drowning through safety education for boaters and patrolling waterways is the main goal for the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Welborn said the group emphasizes the importance of wearing a life jacket.

Sometimes while patrolling on the lake, the Auxiliary will offer vessel safety checks on boats at a ramp or marina.

“We are just looking at the equipment making sure that everything is safe,” Welborn said.

This could also include reviewing boating laws with the boat owner.

Welborn said the Auxiliary can also be called on to respond to emergencies.

This can include responding to a hurricane, a helicopter crash in the river or assisting the active duty U.S. Coast Guard.

The group works with the Home Owners and Boat Owners association for Lay Lake, such as assisting with water quality testing.

Training is provided by the U.S. Coast Guard. Certification in specific areas are required before serving in that role.

Many of these training opportunities have been available online during the pandemic. McCleod said this has helped members complete qualifications quicker than the traditional classes.

Members can also find ways to volunteer that tie in with their profession.

“Whatever you want to do, there is a program for it,” Welborn said.

Some Flotilla members help support recruitment efforts for the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Flotilla also offers boating classes that qualify individuals for the boating certification indication on their driver’s license.

 

REQUIREMENTS FOR MEMBERSHIP

Individuals must be 17 years old or older to join the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

“There are no real requirements for membership other than you can’t have … been convicted of a felony,” Welborn said.

The opportunity is open to men and women. Flotilla 8-8 has a few female members.

In Flotilla 8-8, “the youngest one (member) is was probably in his mid- to late- 30s, and the oldest one is probably pushing 65,” Welborn said.

He said members have various professional backgrounds.

“We have work to do for pretty much anyone,” McCleod said.

Administration, direct response in emergencies, answering phone calls, medical volunteer and legal liaison are just a few of the ways Flotilla members have helped others. Some of these opportunities go beyond the local area to helping the district.

Each area and position requires specific training.

“We are a pretty good bunch about helping people earn the qualifications that they want to earn,” McCleod said.

Recent monthly meetings of the Flotilla have been held virtually due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements.

Thaxton is a recruiter for the Flotilla and has been working with three new members this year.

“Once a new member comes in they have to be Basically Qualified, which means they have to take the boating safety class … and core training — just like the regular Coast Guard,” Thaxton said. “We are volunteer, but we are trained volunteers.”

For more information on joining the Coast Guard Auxiliary, visit https://join.cgaux.org or email the Flotilla at registrations@coosariver88.us.