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

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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