In March, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 85, a unit constituent whose command post assists the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will celebrate its 47th birthday.
Flotilla 85 was founded in 1971 and is the Brigantine-based branch of the volunteer uniformed civilian organization called the USCG Auxiliary that is rooted back to 1939. There are auxiliary units in all 50 states and American territories, each serving an integral role in the day-to-day operations of the military-based U.S. Coast Guard.
The auxiliary conducts security patrols, assists search-and-rescue missions, promotes environmental protection, comes to the aid of distressed boaters, and performs recreational and commercial vessel safety exams.
“We don't do any law enforcement,” said Flotilla 85 Cmdr. Calvin Bartechko. “We can approach but we do not board.
"If we see kids without life jackets we will call it to the attention of the boat operator that they have to put them on. We don't issue tickets or call the cops, but if someone is acting like an idiot or doing something unsafe we will call it to the attention of the regular Coast Guard or marine police, as should anyone,” he said.
Even in a seashore community, where its profile is most prominent, the auxiliary performs many tasks and responsibilities that can go largely unnoticed.
All powerboat operators in the state of New Jersey are required to produce a safe-boating certificate if stopped on the water by the marine police or Coast Guard, and every eight-hour class required to obtain that certificate is conducted by the USCG Auxiliary.
Flotilla 85 has issued more than 1,500 safe-boating certificates over the years.
“We average about 30 people per class and five classes per year, and that number is growing as more and more young people are coming up who want to use jet skis, personal watercraft and become boaters,” said past Flotilla 85 Vice Cmdr. Jim Mackey. “Education is one of the main functions of the auxiliary.”
Flotilla 85 assists in the smooth operation of Ocean City's annual Night in Venice boat parade every year, and serves in an educational capacity at such annual events as the Atlantic City in-water and indoor boat shows, the Atlantic City Air Show, the National Night Out police-community partnership and the Brigantine Schools environmental fair.
Currently Flotilla 85 has 31 members, many hailing from other parts of the state and all representing a cross-section of society.
Bartechko is a retired career police officer, Mackey spent 30 years in the military USCG before retiring, and others include physicians, engineers, business owners, a geologist and a helicopter pilot.
Each prospective USCG auxiliarist must be a U.S. citizen at least 17 years old, and each must take a series of 11 courses.
“Many of the courses have little to do with boating,” Mackey said. “They focus on human relations, issues of harassment, things of that nature. More training is needed if you want to qualify for crew or coxswain.”
Crew members are auxiliarists who patrol the waters – in privately owned boats temporarily marked as USCG auxiliarists – and the coxswain is the crew member who drives the boat.
Dave Holmes had his Grady-White safety inspected by former Flotilla 85 Cmdr. Alan Moose, then attended a Flotilla 85 general meeting at Moose's suggestion.
“He had invited me to a meeting before and I never went, so when he invited me again I decided I couldn't not show up a second time, so I went,” Holmes said.
“I finally went to a meeting and noticed there was a lot going on there, so I went the following month and the month after that, and decided it was something I wanted to become involved with. One meeting piqued my curiosity, but it took attending several to really kind of figure out what was going on. It took a while to take it all in.”
Holmes recently passed the test to become a certified USCG Auxiliary vessel examiner.
“Dave's a great example of the kind of individual who expresses an interest, comes in and follows through,” Mackey said.
Flotilla 85 meets 6:45 p.m. the third Tuesday of every month in Room 139 of the Brigantine Beach Community Center, 265 42nd Street. All are welcome. Sandwiches and refreshments are served. For information see uscgaux-brigantine-nj.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-926-7607.