Strengthening Coast Guard, NOAA partnerships

Written by Lt. j.g. Katie Braynard

Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Buendia and Lt. Ellen Cava stand with NOAA officers aboard the vessel Rueben Lasker during its transit through the Panama Canal. Photo courtesy of Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Buendia.

Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Buendia and Lt. Ellen Cava stand with NOAA officers aboard the vessel Rueben Lasker during its transit through the Panama Canal. Photo courtesy of Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Buendia.

For more than 200 years, the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, have partnered together in maritime resiliency, environmental sustainability and scientific research.

In 2013, the Coast Guard and NOAA signed the Nation’s first-ever Cooperative Maritime Strategy, which strengthened the relationship between the two services. Even more recently, in October 2014, the Fleet Plan and Officer Exchange memorandum was signed, which acts as a supplemental document to the earlier strategy.

But the partnerships between the Coast Guard and NOAA stretch farther back than this agreement. For example, this past spring two Coast Guard officers spent just over two weeks aboard the 228-foot NOAA Fishery Survey Vessel Rueben Lasker. The main intent of the time spent aboard was to strengthen the partnerships between the two services and share expertise related to maritime missions.

Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Buendia first learned of the opportunity in early March when the Atlantic Area Cutter Forces Division presented availability for two officers to ride aboard the Rueben Lasker. The ship had spent the last 18 months at NOAA’s Mid-Atlantic Operations Center in Norfolk, Virginia, preparing for its delivery to its new homeport of San Diego, California.

The intent of having Coast Guard ship riders was to experience life on board the new NOAA vessel, get to know members of the NOAA corps and really see how NOAA operates, Buendia said.

As the short notice opportunity and three-week temporary duty assignment wasn’t able to be supported by anyone when the request was sent fleet-wide, Buendia herself stepped up to support the request along with Lt. Ellen Cava, who had just finished her master’s degree in oceanography at the time.

NOAA's Fishery Survery Vessel, Rueben Lasker. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

NOAA’s Fishery Survery Vessel, Rueben Lasker. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

While aboard Buendia and Cava immediately utilized their past cutter experiences to offer insights and support wherever they were needed. Both stood 8 hours of Break -In Officer Of the Deck (OOD) watch a day during the transit to assist in normal watch-standing routines. Most Coast Guard watches onboard cutters are made up of a minimum of three people: an officer of the deck, a junior officer of the deck or quartermaster of the watch and a lookout. But Buendia and Cava quickly learned NOAA vessels didn’t quite operate the same way.

“Having an OOD and a lookout that also served as a boatswain mate of the watch to conduct hourly rounds made it very calm on the bridge” said Buendia.

While aboard, Buendia and Cava were able to stand watches with all five of the NOAA officers, including their commanding officer. During the watches is where the idea of strengthening partnerships really took hold.

“We shared with the NOAA officers how the Coast Guard conducts all the 11 missions, specifically the fisheries mission; I got to share a lot about that. In turn we also learned a great deal about the various classes and functions of the NOAA platforms,” said Buendia.

Cava said although the trip was mostly transit, the vessel did have all their equipment on and they were able to learn how the ship obtains fishery data to inform the rule making process before a regulation comes to the Coast Guard to enforce as part of the living marine resources mission.

One of the main bullets of the Fleet Plan was to increase the partnership between the two services through the ship rider program, and Buendia and Cava were able to just do that.

Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Buendia and Lt. Ellen Cava utilized their past cutter experience to assist in watch-standing and navigation duties while on the trip. Photo courtesy of Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Buendia.

Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Buendia and Lt. Ellen Cava utilized their past cutter experience to assist in watch-standing and navigation duties while on the trip. Photo courtesy of Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Buendia.

“It is an eye-opening opportunity to see that there are other federal at-sea platforms out there that also care about the U.S. laws and regulations.”

As an example, Buendia said during their transit, they passed through a fisheries management area with people fishing in it. Although not necessarily a violation, Buendia informed the NOAA officer that this information can be relayed to a patrolling cutter for action. As a result, the NOAA officer got experience relaying a sighting report to the local Coast Guard station and consequently a patrol boat was underway and able to follow up on the information report.

The NOAA fleet has the potential to serve as a force multiplier for federal at sea presence. Buendia said, “This trip made me fully aware that there are many opportunities for NOAA vessels to conduct surveillance and relay valuable information to the Coast Guard while performing their scientific research.”

Throughout the three-week transit, Buendia and Cava were able to see the benefit of the program and how important the partnerships between the two services were.

“I think as a service, we think of ourselves more aligned with the Navy,” said Cava. “But, there is this whole other part to what we do – the living marine resource and being stewards of the marine environment – and that lines up more with the NOAA missions. To get an opportunity to learn more about them is a big benefit.”

Cava said essentially, NOAA is the scientific arm of the Coast Guard.

“The more interactions we have with them, the more comfortable we are with their service and the more that we can tap into their technical expertise, the better,” said Cava.

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