Safety is about keeping people out of harms way, but every once in a while we hear about people who deliberately put themselves in harms way. The International Maritime Organization has given its 2015 Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea to a U.S. Coast Guard rescue diver named Chris Leon for a nighttime rescue of four men from a sinking ocean-going rowing boat during a race last year. According to the proclamation, Leon fought 15 foot waves and 30 knot winds to rescue the racers from the sinking boat, Britannia. He helped three of them into the rescue basket, where they were pulled up to the Coast Guard helicopter, but then the helicopter had to go back to base the refuel. Long stayed in the water for another two hours with the remaining sailor until the helicopter could return and pull the man and Long to safety.
The video in this news report doesn’t really tell the story, but it gives you some idea of how disorienting the nighttime rescue must have been.
As a friend who was in the Coast Guard once explained, the unofficial motto of the service is “you have to go, but you don’t have to come back.” It comes from 1899 regulations of the old United States Life Saving Service:
“In attempting a rescue the keeper will select either the boat, breeches buoy, or life car, as in his judgment is best suited to effectively cope with the existing conditions. If the device first selected fails after such trial as satisfies him that no further attempt with it is feasible, he will resort to one of the others, and if that fails, then to the remaining one, and he will not desist from his efforts until by actual trial the impossibility of effecting a rescue is demonstrated. The statement of the keeper that he did not try to use the boat because the sea or surf was too heavy will not be accepted unless attempts to launch it were actually made and failed [underlining added], or unless the conformation of the coast—as bluffs, precipitous banks, etc.—is such as to unquestionably preclude the use of a boat.”
Thankfully that spirit lives!