Shipmate of the Week – Abby Sunderland

Abby with kids

Abby Sunderland poses with children and members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary after an event. U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary photo.

In February 2010, Abby Sunderland set sail from Southern California with dreams of becoming the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe in a sail boat. Her quest came to an abrupt end four months later when her vessel was rolled and demasted by a massive wave in the Southern Indian Ocean as she braved 60-knot winds and 25-foot waves.

Sunderland would become the subject of international media coverage in the days that followed as a mutlinational rescue operation was coordinated 2,000 miles offshore in response to her activation of the emergency position indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB, and personal locator beacon, also referred to as a PLB, that she carried on her trip.

“The detective work on this case was relatively easy since Abby had her beacons properly registered and we knew where the vessel was the entire time,” recalled Senior Chief Petty Officer Douglas Samp in an interview with Coast Guard Compass following the rescue.

Abby Sunderland

Abby Sunderland. Photo courtesy of GizaraArts.com.

Sunderland’s story could have ended there – as one of the more than 26,000 mariners worldwide who owe their lives to an EPIRB. Instead of becoming a statistic, she has become an advocate for boating safety as the 17-year-old has taken her story on the road to encourage young people to follow their dreams while recognizing and preparing for the dangers the sea presents to all mariners.

“I have really enjoyed working with the Coast Guard Auxiliary the past two weeks to talk to students about setting goals and achieving them safely,” said Sunderland. “Safety is important, especially out on the water. Hopefully people learn from my experiences and boaters’ lives are saved.”

We are proud to call Abby Sunderland our Shipmate for her efforts to promote boating safety among America’s youth and demonstrating the contributions that one person can make in protecting the lives of many who will take to the sea in pursuit of their own dreams.

“For many of these kids, Abby is a hero, an adventurer and a role model,” said Ernest Stevens, commander of Coast Guard Auxiliary Division 25. “To have someone like Abby telling young people how important it is to wear a lifejacket or encourage their family to purchase an EPIRB or personal locator beacon makes our job a lot easier and will someday save lives.”

Click here to learn more about EPIRBs.

Do you know a Shipmate that has done something great for the service, the missions or the public? Please submit your nominations using the “Submit Ideas” link on the right.

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  • A Coastie

    Ms. Sunderland spends two weeks working with Auxiliarists and she is a Shipmate of the Week? How about the Auxiliarists, Active Duty, and Reservists who do it day in and day out?

    On the week of the Coast Guard’s 221st birthday, it’s a shame you couldn’t focus the spotlight on the outstanding people that make this organization what it is today.

    I think the Compass Staff needs to refocus… for those of us in the Coast Guard, a Shipmate is more than a term you can tag to just anyone.

  • Aowyn

    I followed Abby’s trip from beginning to end, and as a 21-year-old, I know I look up to her. It gives me a lot of pride to see her recognized by the Coast Guard, where i hope to work and contribute to one day. Keep it up Abby!!!

  • ETcoastie

    How come some girl who has never saved a life or contributed to saving a life or helping preserve the environment or even stop the import of illegal immigrants or drugs, gets awarded “coastie of the week”.
    What about all the coasties who pull people out of the water on a daily basis and actually save lives. Not just talk to kids about being safe. Shipmate is a term reserved for people who know the real meaning of the word.

  • Christopher Lagan

    Dear Coastie,

    Thank you for your interest in the blog.

    Shipmates come from within and from outside of our Service and are those who share the Coast Guard’s commitment to maritime safety, security and environmental stewardship.

    As Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Bob Papp stated in introducing the Shipmate of the Week series back in January, you can “look for members of the Coast Guard family – active, reserve, civilian, auxiliary, retirees and family members – as well as Coast Guard supporters outside our service, to be featured on Compass as Shipmate of the Week.”

    We are proud to call Ms. Sunderland Shipmate for her valuable work promoting preparedness and safety on America’s waterways.

    Respectfully,
    Christopher Lagan
    United States Coast Guard
    Public Affairs

  • Jack Cain

    @A Coastie – Most of the people you mention who “do it day in and day out” get paid.

    This particular article reports on a two week period but does not include the totality of Ms. Sutherland’s contribution to boating safety.

    You and every Coastie should know that having the “Compass” award the term “Shipmate” to someone is quite different than when the term is used between two or more “day in and day out” veterans. Yes, the “Compass” could have included someone else this week considering the anniversary and all, but Ms. Sutherland fills a role model gap in age and gender that has been empty for the majority of those 220 years. Maybe featuring her now is a sign of progress.

    Finally – do the fine upstanding members of the US Coast Guard REALLY call each other “shipmate”? In my 6 years as a bubblehead nuke I only herad that term from my boot camp Company Commander and a few Master Chiefs when they weren’t happy. I guess I’ll chalk this one up to different traditions because there is a much higher chance that a cutter or helo will directly save my life than a submarine. I don’t want to make all of ya mad…

  • Old Coastie

    Her excursion put a lot of rescuer lives at risk. Maybe they were not American lives, but they were the lives of fellow rescuers just the same. I’m absolutley astonished that she would be awarded the honor of “Shipmate of the Week.”

  • CAPT Mark Rizzo

    Ms. Sunderland, I personally want to thank you for your work with the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Coast Guard to inform young people of the importance of being prepared when going out on the water in a boat.

    Having someone inspirational such as yourself who young people can listen to and relate to is invaluable as we work to spread the word about boating safety. You put a great deal of training and preparation into your sailing, and your actions when your boat was demasted allowed a timely and safe rescue. As a former Coast Guard field commander and search and rescue mission coordinator in Virginia, I repeatedly witnessed that preparation and training ensured a successful voyage or the ability of a boater in trouble to be quickly and safely rescued.

    As the current Chief Director of Boating Safety for the Coast Guard, I work with maritime professionals around the country to engage boaters in new and effective ways boat safely and responsibly. Thank you for your commitment to helping and motivating others to be prepared and safe on the water. Bravo Zulu!

    CAPT Mark Rizzo, USCG

  • 2Curious

    Hey, I heard Sean Kingston thanked a Coastie for his rescue… when is he going to be shipmate of the week?

  • 2COASTIES

    WE ARE ASTONISHED THAT THE COMPASS DID NOT CHOOSE SOMEONE IN THE UNITED STATES COAST GUARD! WHAT ABOUT THE COASTGUARDSMEN OVER SEAS, STANDING THE WATCH, AND RISKING THERE LIVES EVERYDAY! WHAT ABOUT THE ONES WHO TEACH AND PRACTICE BOATING SAFETY ON A DAILY BASIS! BRAVO ZULU TO THEM!!! WE DO WATER SAFETY EVENTS ALL YEAR ROUND!

  • Nick

    Promoting the use of EPIRBS is always a good thing. It reduces the time rescuers have to spend searching for survivors and greatly improves the chance they will be saved.

    Bravo Zulu to all the brave Coasties who volunteered to serve their country. If you want a pat on the back for wearing the uniform, then I’ll write you a positive page 7.

  • Nick Freischlag

    I’m afraid that a couple of these “old salts” are a bit too thin-skinned. They need to lighten up a little bit and recognize the significance of Abby’s Public Affairs value. She was undeniably well prepared for her “adventure” and certainly didn’t create the foul weather that interupted her quest. Her involvement with the Coast Guard Auxiliary and promotion of boating safety is nothing less than a valuable asset to the USCG.
    As an old school Navy vet, I would welcome her as a Shipmate!

  • Surfman_274

    As someone who has pulled people out of the water for the last 20 years, I commend Ms. Sunderland for using her experience as well as her celebrity to communicate to young people the importance of boating safety. That is saving lives as far as I’m concerned, and any sailor that serves with me to minimize the loss of life at sea, is a shipmate in my book.

    I also applaud her sense of adventure and wanting to accomplish something bigger than herself. I see all too many young people her age glued to the couch playing video games. Her can-do attitude is a great example for young women her age and as a father of two girls, I can appreciate that.

    Even though she ran into trouble, and by no means is any rescue safe, she made it a relatively uneventful rescue by having the right safety equipment, especially the registered EPIRB and PLB. I cannot tell you how many sailors that are 3 and 4 times her age that don’t have that kind of sense. Those are the people that put rescuers and themselves at the most risk.

    Keep up the good work Shipmate!

    BM1 Lavender, USCG

  • lifeofanonrate

    I understand that her having all of her safety equipment is great and her going around educating people is great too, but really? How about the non rates who mess cook a month straight.

  • Coastie_3508

    Why not pay tribute and honor those who have given their lives in the line of CG duties on the 221st anniversary of our coast guard? Instead focusing on a 17 year old girl who was just trying to break some record and got herself into trouble? Come on, this is ridiculous.

  • RetiredCoastie

    Chris Langan, you said “Shipmates come from within and from outside of our Service and are those who share the Coast Guard’s commitment to maritime safety, security and environmental stewardship”. Please do tell us the last time someone from outside the service was awarded the honor of being named Shipmate of the Week.

    I followed Ms. Sunderland’s controversial journey on a daily basis and her attempt does serve as an insperation, especially to today’s youth. She is to be commended. However, I must agree with many of the service’s reactions in that the Shipmate of the Week implies and should be reserved for actual CG shipmates and I think you probably agree.

    If your aim was to promote boating safety, this place an “insider’s newsletter.” Do you think the CG community really needs to be educated about boating safety or could we have better promoted Abby’s assitance by educating those who actually need it (the boating public) in more public forums like local/national newpapers and TV stations? as any good Coastie has been taught to do, suck it up, apologize, and move on…having learned from the experience.

  • ElJeffe

    First of all Abby thank you for donating your time advocating for boating safety. It is very thoughtless of others here to denigrate the voluntary contribution you make to the boating community I’m sure your story is an exciting one and an engaging one that captures the attention of the children you talk to. Your efforts educating the public help to make our job easier and you deserve our deepest thanks for that. Please do not be put off by the jealous and frankly childish responses from many commenting on this article you do deserve the honor of being called a shipmate.

  • airdale

    Shipmate of the Week – USCG
    Civilian of the Week – Abby

    What she did/is doing is incredible and absolutely deserves much appreciation, that being said, she does not however deserve a recognition reveered specifically for SHIPMATES. Now unless we are changing ALL traditions and customs, the SHIPMATE of the Week award should honor a SHIPMATE of ours. Again, Abby deserves much recognition and many awards, but let’s not forget about the 50,000 some-odd SHIPMATES we just forgot about when dishing out an award that SHOULD go to the many men and women of OUR service.

    SEMPER PARATUS-Let’s stick to our roots!

  • CAPT Ron LaBrec

    RetiredCoastie, first off, thank you for your service! Thank you also for reading the Compass.

    To address one part of your comment, you referred to the Compass as an “insiders newsletter.” The mission of the Compass blog is to tell the stories of Coast Guard people, missions and issues to the American people. It is foremost a forum to educate and engage the public. We have about 1.5 to 2.5 million visits and 500,000 to 600,000 unique visitors every 3 months here. It is an excellent way to directly reach the public on all types of issues in addition to news coverage and other means. That said, we welcome and love the fact that members of the Coast Guard family read and enjoy the blog. By viewing and sharing these stories on the blog, Facebook and Twitter all our readers spread the word about our service and its people to millions.

    For those of my shipmates with strong feelings about who we recognize as Shipmate of the Week – Thank you! Submit your nominations for people who share the Coast Guard’s commitment to maritime safety, security and environmental stewardship. We will be happy to consider them all so that we can bring their stories to the American people they serve.

    Sincerely,

    CAPT Ron LaBrec
    Chief, Coast Guard Public Affairs

  • DBo80

    This is absurd! She should not be recognized as “Shipmate of the Week” for her reckless endeavor. Many said her “adventure” was a bad idea when she set sail and they were right! Her rescue cost an estimated $300,000. The least she could do is a bunch of volunteer work to repay that! I think Compass is sending the wrong message and making a joke of the “Shipmate of the Week”.

  • Anonymous

    I am America’s Maritime Guardian. I serve the citizens of the United States. I will protect them. I will defend them. I will save them. I am their Shield. For them I am Semper Paratus. I live the Coast Guard Core Values. I am a Guardian. We are the United States Coast Guard.

    For my shipmates who have forgotten our core values: honor, RESPECT, devotion to duty, you represent all of us when you post on this blog for all the public to read. It’s obvious that this brave little girl had altruistic intentions when she decided to embark on this very dangerous journey. She is undisputedly a direct representation of our core values and I speak on behalf of many when I say that I am proud to call her a shipmate. She is an inspiration to many and has directly impacted many others in a positive way. Her friends and family that read this blog should be very proud and lucky to have her in their lives. She is not only fitting but derserving to recieve this title of “Shipmate of the Week”. Heroes dont ask for awards.

    V/R,

    Anonymous