Shipmate of the Week – Belinda Ellis

Situated along the Oregon coast, just off Highway 101, is the unassuming Siletz Moorage. People travel to Siletz Bay from all over for a day of fishing for Chinook salmon or crabbing; in fact, Siletz boasts “the best crabbing on the Oregon coast.” But due to the quick thinking of Belinda Ellis, one of the moorage managers, Siletz is now home to lifesavers.

It was just another quiet boating day on the Siletz River when Ellis looked out to the docks. She noticed a boat getting ready to leave the dock with two adults and three children aboard; not an uncommon occurrence as families often head out to the bay for a day of fishing. She did notice one thing out of place, however – the children were not wearing life jackets.

Auxiliarists Larry Cox, left, and Dorothy Bishop, right, present Recreational Boating Safety Program Partner Belinda Ellis with a United States Coast Guard Auxiliary certificate of appreciation. Photo by Auxiliarist Donna Cox.

Auxiliarists Larry Cox, left, and Dorothy Bishop, right, present Recreational Boating Safety Program Partner Belinda Ellis with a United States Coast Guard Auxiliary certificate of appreciation. Photo by Auxiliarist Donna Cox.

Because Siletz Moorage is a Recreational Boating Safety Program Partner – a business that displays safe boating literature – Ellis was well aware of the Oregon law requiring children under 12 to wear lifejackets while aboard an underway boat. Ellis joins hundreds of recreational boating safety partners nationwide in ensuring boaters are smart and safe when they recreate on or near the water.

Ellis – not one to stand by and watch unsafe practices happen – ran to the dock to inform the family of the law, but the parents told her they didn’t have any children’s life jackets on board. As a renter of boats and kayaks, Siletz Moorage has a supply of life jackets of all sizes, and Ellis invited the children up to the office to be properly fitted.

A proper fit is especially important for children where life jackets can come up over their shoulders and make a situation worse. A life jacket that doesn’t fit could endanger the wearer as much as not wearing one.

Ellis says there are many ways to check for the best fit. One way to test for the proper fit is what’s called the “touchdown test.” With the jacket on, children should raise their arms as though they are signaling a touchdown. If when looking to the left, right and over the shoulder, the chest part of the jacket doesn’t hit the chin, the flotation device has a good fit.

Another good safety check is to have the child stand, arms at their sides. Parents can then grab the life jacket at the shoulders and lift up. If the life jacket can be moved more than three inches up and down the child’s body, it doesn’t fit.

With the children now fitted with life jackets the family was off to the docks once again and Ellis went back to work. She recalls the weather wasn’t bad that day, but noted the fickle Siletz River.Life jackets

“The tide runs for 16 miles and in the afternoon, with the incoming tide, the river can become really choppy,” explained Ellis. “When we moved to the coast we really tried to learn the ins and outs because knowledge is important when you’re going out there.”

The river was unpredictable like most days and before she knew it, a wave had swept over the family’s boat. Inundated by water coming in from over the side, the boat began to sink. It was just seconds before mom, dad and their three children were in the cold Oregon waters.

Luckily, a boater was exiting the bay at that very moment and was able to deftly pull every member of the family out of the water. They were all safe; saved by their jackets.

Ellis is quick to dismiss her role in keeping the family alive. She praised her fellow boaters and their quick response to the sinking. While Ellis remains modest, the U.S. Coast Guard could not be more proud. As a direct result of her inability to stand by and watch unsafe practices take place, Ellis prevented a tragedy.

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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