When is maritime training just too dangerous?

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A little over 12 years ago, 3 coasties were killed when the untrained men took their boat out in heavy surf off La Push, Washington, in an attempt to rescue a sailboat. (Later that night a second boat piloted by trained surfmen went out and successfully rescued the sailboat.)
Back then, the informal motto of the surfmen was “you have to go out, but you don’t have to come back”. After those deaths, the Coast Guard revamped the way it trains surfmen (the training is now much longer and more rigorous), and from an outsiders perspective, it seems like the USCG has also been trying to change that culture of “go at all costs” to one of “go when everyone can come back alive”.
As a mariner that sleeps easier knowing that those men and women are out there ready to rescue me if I become in peril, I actually agree with the USCG command applying a stiff penalty to the Montauk base commander. The USCG has a comprehensive training program for their folks that drive boats in harms way, and the Chief Petty Officer knew that he was operating outside of those guidelines. If they had flipped that boat due to lack of skill or knowledge and one of his young coasties had been killed, you can bet that the public would be (rightfully) screaming. The fact that nobody died has nothing to do with the fact that he isn’t immune from the requirements of the service.
And yes, training should be conducting in realistic environments, but like John said, you wouldn’t send someone into a smoke filled room on a ship until they had been to firefighting school. And that CPO shouldn’t have been out there in that weather until he and his men had been to the surfman school.

Maritime Training is dangerous when the trainers are not properly trained and need more comprehensive training. I would like to be trained by those who meet trainer or intructor standards beyond the minimum requirements needed to be classified as a person who truly knows what they are talking about…

All other issues to one side, it is important to understand that being relieved of command is not disciplinary. While it is no feather in the Chief’s cap - the two things shouldn’t be confused. His actions made his chain of command lose confidence in his decision making. If that, in and of itself, were punishable under the UCMJ - there would be a lot less of us in the service. But our organization, particularly with its unbelievable number of autonomous command positions, lives and dies on trust.

We rely on it heavily and push it farther down the organizational chain than any other organization I know of. Consider the following text from one of our operations manuals:
The probability of saving human life warrants a maximum effort. … When no suitable alternatives exist and the mission has a reasonable chance of success, the risk of damage to or abuse of the aircraft is acceptable, even though such damage or abuse may render the aircraft unrecoverable.

That means the 29 year old aircraft commander has the authority to ruin (completely) a 14mil plus aircraft if he believes it will save a life…and we’ll trust him with that decision. The boat forces have similar language in their regulations (I just know chapter and verse for aviation).

So when that trust is in question - particularly when so much is on the line - it isn’t about discipline, or punishment, and it definitely isn’t about anyone thinking the chief’s actions were nefarious in any way. Command positions aren’t given (or taken away) lightly. The real issue is that the work we do is far too serious a thing to not know that the best possible decisions are being made at all times - whether anyone is watching, or not.


[I]The views and opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard.[/I]

Good Day All,

Hi from Australia. My first time here and thanks for the great blogs and discussion.

I see a couple of aspects to this discussion, aside from the following procedure and protocol which is obviously a part of the decision to stand the chief down.

  1. I agree the mistakes and dangerous situations during training reinforce things in a far stronger manner than any classroom ever could. While training we used to launch open, manual release lifeboats from the college training vessel. When the Captain decided to do this with a 4 m swell running, we suddenly learnt how familiar you have to be with the process to ensure it ran smoothly. One of the Captains greatest fears was an injury to a student in such conditions, but he believed the lessons were to great not to do it.

  2. While we live in a safety concious world and try and limit every possible hazard, something in a lot of humans seeks danger in one form or another. What do people talk about at dinner and over a few drinks, generally the times they risked life/injury to do something. Not the time they did something which had all the dangers removed. WIthout reprogramming humans it will be hard to stop them seeking danger.

Was the chief right to go out? If his command and procedures let him, yes I think he was.

Best Regards

[QUOTE=Chris McGuire;20378]Was the chief right to go out? If his command and procedures let him, yes I think he was.[/QUOTE]

That’s my point. His command and procedures didn’t let him. He wasn’t properly trained to conduct the training. So I say he wasn’t right to go out.

I agree Cap. If I strapped a C-130 or Blackhawk to my butt and tried to fly a mission, would I be justified just because I had “command authority”, but wasn’t trained or qualified in the aircraft? The same principle applies to the surfboat, in my humble opinion.

I subscribe to Marine Corp philosophy on training: If a lot of training is good, then a lot more must be better.