Coast Guard, dozens of Tidewater maritime agencies perform search and rescue exercise

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Posted at 4:18 PM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 18:46:23-04

HAMPTON, Va. – The Coast Guard, the Port of Virginia’s Maritime Incident Response Team, and about 20 other police and fire departments are in the midst of a week-long training exercise.

This is the 15th year for the Steven Todd Dooley Search and Rescue Forum. Most of it is held at Hampton Marina.

On Thursday, News 3 rode along with Bill Burket, the director of the Virginia Port Authority Maritime Incident Response Team.

A Coast Guard helicopter came in from Elizabeth City as teams watched from their boats on the Elizabeth River. A rescue swimmer was lowered into the water as part of a rescue drill.

Burket said it's similar to a rescue performed earlier this week on the Eastern Shore, where a helicopter rescued canoers after they ran into trouble. He said it’s common for various teams to respond and communication is essential.

“Like with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel event, you see York County, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk; all these folks respond,” Burket explained.

Captain Samson Stevens, Commander of Coast Guard Sector Virginia, described this forum as a way to increase the resiliency and efficiency of search and rescue teams in the Tidewater region. And though they discuss new technology, he said a lot of what they work on is the basics.

“The boat handlers and operators from all of the boats have been busy this past week going through line handling, towing evolutions, ‘bump and go’ which is basically making an approach,” Stevens described.

Stevens says they’re seeing an increase in recreational boating lately. He stressed that basic boater safety like knowing how to contact the Coast Guard, having personal flotation devices and a working radio are essentials that are too often overlooked.

Stevens also recommends labeling any small craft like kayaks and paddleboards with a name and phone number.

“When those wash up in the channel or in the bay and there’s no known identification, we put a lot of effort to figuring out whether someone may have been ejected from the boat or just it just left someone’s lot,” said Stevens.

The week-long search and rescue forum wraps up Friday with a mass rescue operation drill. The scenario will include a mock crash involving a tour boat near the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.