Cmdr. Thom McQueen said he wants to “jumpstart” the presence of the local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary at Rocky Fork Lake when he is installed as its new flotilla commander in January.
McQueen told The Times-Gazette that he was brought in to Maysville, Ky. to start a detachment for the Hillsboro auxiliary, which currently has 21 people now that Maysville has added nine recruits to the ranks.
“We’re trying to build it back up again so we can get back to work doing boating safety and to try to keep people safe out on the water,” he said.
He admitted that when it comes to the U.S. Coast Guard, most people think of the big red-and-white cutters patrolling the Great Lakes or the coastal waterways, not Rocky Fork Lake.
The area of responsibility for Flotilla 6-10, the Rocky Fork unit, encompasses not only the lake, but also the Ohio River as well.
“We will check your vessel to make sure you have all the safety equipment you need, and we have safety patrols on both the lake and the river where we assist boaters who are in trouble,” he said. “We’ll do towing if they’re broke down or run out of gas, but mainly we want to help boaters learn safe boating procedures.”
In the coast guard’s recreational boating statistics report for 2017, the number of boating accidents and injuries both showed marked decreases, but the number of fatalities was the second highest on record in the last five years.
Capt. Scott Johnson, chief of the coast guard’s Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety, said in the report that wearing a life jacket is “the single most important thing you can do to save your life or the life of someone you care about.”
Johnson cited one case where an 18-year-old victim who had been preparing to wakeboard unexpectedly fell overboard with a life jacket in his hand and died in the water.
“When you need a life jacket, you need it on, not in your hand or stowed away out of reach on your boat,” Johnson said. “This tragedy was entirely preventable.”
Statistics from the coast guard also revealed that, just like on the nation’s highways, alcohol played a major role in boating deaths, according to Johnson.
“Alcohol was the leading factor in 19 percent of deaths,” he said in the report. “It is also a completely preventable factor – never boat under the influence.”
McQueen said the local flotilla is currently in a recruiting drive to spread the word about safe boating and community service.
McQueen said in Maysville he “hand selected the best in this area… an attorney, a doctor, one of the deans at the college… and I plan to do the same at Hillsboro.”
He said the idea is to not only have the best people wearing the shoulder boards of the coast guard auxiliary, but to also get new people trained so that they can be the recruiters and instructors of those that follow.
Involvement in the coast guard auxiliary is strictly voluntary, he said, with no set required time of service.
The coast guard website describes the auxiliary as a uniformed component of the coast guard, and membership is open to all U.S. citizens who are at least 17 years old and will commit to 12 hours of annual service, which includes meetings and required training that can be done both in the classroom and online.
Auxiliary members can perform every function of regular enlisted personnel except for law enforcement actions, and participation doesn’t involve small weapons.
If an auxiliary member can pass the basic coast guard physical examination, they can also qualify to go out on harbor patrols or search and rescue missions.
“Once they contact us, a human resource officer will get in touch with them,” McQueen said. “They would then go through an interview process and once selected, there is a background check and fingerprinting process.”
Area residents interested in becoming a part of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 6-10 at Rocky Fork Lake can call McQueen at 859-802-1076 or visit www.cgaux.org.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.