For instance, we have an airport, which happens to be the second busiest in New England, three ferry lines, an ice skating rink, community pool, a hospital, world-class museums, a large marina, beaches, golf courses, a shooting range, movie theaters and a United States Coast Guard station.
Station Brant Point, a small boat station, situated on the south side of Brant Point just west of Brant Point Lighthouse overlooking Nantucket Harbor, is one of 13 Coast Guard stations in Massachusetts and absolutely essential to marine safety and enforcement out here on the southern edge of our state’s waters.
Nantucket’s enjoyed and depended on a Coast Guard presence out at Brant Point since July 1939 — and some form of organized lifesaving since 1794. The island community embraced organized lifesaving with three lifesaving stations and 14 shipwreck survivor shelters 145 years before the Coast Guard opened Station Brant Point on the island in July 1939. President George Washington created the great-grandfather of the Coast Guard by enabling the Revenue Service in 1790 to collect import duties and protect seaports with 10 cutters. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson then merged the Revenue Service and the United States Lifesaving Service into what is the Coast Guard today and President Lyndon Baines Johnson moved it to the Transportation Department in 1967.
After the cataclysmic events of 9/11, the Coast Guard’s importance expanded exponentially as the country’s coastal defenders against terrorism. No longer the under-financed little brother of the Navy, the Coast Guard’s fortunes changed when President George W. Bush created the Homeland Security Department.
On Nantucket, Station Brant Point’s crew numbers 28. Constantly drilling, training, and studying, our coasties, local-speak for anyone in the Coast Guard, embody the peace of mind we need when taking the boat to Hyannis during a nor’easter, when we’re angling for billfish 30 miles off shore, kayaking to Muskeget, flying in the fog, and other sea adventures and calamities.
Comfortably ensconced at the water end of Easton Street, the Station Brant Point crew is never idle. Twenty four/seven, they’re monitoring emergency frequencies for distress calls and working with the town to keep our harbors free of pollution. They tow disabled vessels back to port, and they’re on guard during all of our sailing races, fishing tournaments, and fireworks displays.
The 28 coasties at Station Brant Point are on duty in two groups of 12 called Starboard and Port. Each group works two consecutive 24-hour shifts crammed with drill and classroom time, and then is off for two days. A typical day at Station Brant Point begins, after breakfast on the mess deck, with the officer in charge reporting to the station’s senior chief who runs the station on how the night went. If there’s a shift change that day, then either the port or starboard section arrives and assumes control of the station after the morning report. The coasties on duty sleep in a barracks at the station that served as a Coast Guard lifesaving station at Coskata Pond from 1930 to 1941. When off duty, most wind down in their apartments in Coast Guard housing in Gouin Village off Vesper Lane across from Nantucket Cottage Hospital.
During their 48-hour shift, each coastie works four hours in the communications room, monitoring emergency radio channels, fielding calls to the station, updating weather and sea conditions, and basically manning the helm. Working with them in support roles are members of Nantucket’s Coast Guard Auxiliary made up of mostly retired coasties living on island.
When a rescue call does come in, it’s not adrenaline and chaos propelling the rescue. Led by the senior chief and or the officer in charge, SARs (search-and-rescues) launch only after the coasties score the potential mission on their risk assessment guide. A low score means they go, medium dictates further review, and with a high score, no boats leave the station. The guide is a checklist consisting of boilerplate mission criteria including supervision, crew experience, planning, weather conditions, tidal conditions and current, evolution complexity, and vessel condition that must be met.
Off duty, the coasties live and work among us, holding down part-time jobs, working out in the gym and at the hockey rink, carousing at a certain mid-island pub, and generally living their lives as islanders. One of the stark differences between the Coast Guard and the other armed forces is that most coasties do their time among the people they protect.