Coast Guard Station Merrimack River welcomes community aboard at open house
By JACK SHEA | The Daily News of Newburyport | Published: August 4, 2018
NEWBURYPORT, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Coast Guard Station Merrimack River opened its doors Thursday, inviting hundreds of curious visitors inside its headquarters and aboard some of the vessels used to keep local waters safe.
Shortly after the station’s annual open house began in the morning, long lines of residents and families packed the building’s hallway and extended out the front door.
Scott Crocker, Division 3 vice commander, told his tour group at 11 a.m. that the annual event had already brought in more than 150 visitors and the numbers were likely to rise above last year’s 400-person draw.
BMC Ben Molnar, executive petty officer for Station Merrimack River, noted that the station’s active duty members partnered with the Coast Guard’s local auxiliary and its Boston recruiting office for the event. Molnar said he was glad to see such a steady flow of community members eager to learn about the facility.
“It’s an opportunity to show the public the resources we have,” Molnar said. “I think the biggest thing is strengthening the relationship with the community and the people we serve.”
Station Merrimack River is under the command of Coast Guard Sector Boston, which monitors the station’s radio traffic.
The tour took guests through the station, highlighting its communication center, which guides described as the “nerve center” for their operations.
“It’s pretty much the heart of the station, where all of the information and radio calls come through,” said BM1 Matthew Fedorowicz.
During the tour, a Coast Guard member explained that when the center receives a distress signal from someone on the water, it is their goal to have a boat headed in that direction within two minutes.
From there, guides took tour groups into the station’s “Wet Room,” where auxiliary members showed off some of the equipment used by the Coast Guard while out on the water, including drysuits, flotation devices and various cold weather gear worn in the winter’s freezing temperatures and rough ocean conditions.
Guests were also taken through the station’s galley, where on-duty Coast Guard members eat meals and spend much of their time, and out into the boatyard, where they were given a close look at some of the lifesaving vessels.
The tour groups were allowed aboard one of the station’s 29-foot small-response boats, as well as two of its 47-foot motor lifeboats. As the tour guides explained, the 29-footer is Station Merrimack River’s quickest rescue vessel, while the larger boats are able to handle up to 20-foot breaking waves.
“Conditions in the summer with the bigger boat traffic coming through along with the smaller vessels, there’s a lot of wake activity that presents random hazardous conditions out at the mouth” of the Merrimack River, Fedorowicz said.
Ocean conditions near the mouth of the Merrimack pick up in the colder months as storms bring much larger waves and stronger currents to the area, he said. Luckily, Station Merrimack River’s 47-foot boats are designed to handle the stronger ocean conditions.
“It rarely happens but they’re designed so that if the boat capsizes, it will be able to re-right itself,” Fedorowicz said. “It’s not something you want to see happen, though.”
The tours seemed to fascinate not only the young children who enjoyed sitting in the boats’ coxswain’s seats and examining the controls, but also the visitors who came to gain insight about the local military station.
Ryan Bentley, a college student visiting from Norfolk, Virginia, said the tour was educational for him as he explores the option of joining the military after he graduates.
“It was an awesome firsthand opportunity, getting to see all the different rooms where the Coast Guard operates, and being able to tour the boats was a great experience,” he said. “It definitely opened my eyes to this option that I’m considering.”