School’s in session for Coast Guard Sector Anchorage law enforcement academy

Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, Alaska, boarding team members attempt to break up a brawl during a law enforcment academy training scenario at Sector Anchorage April 17, 2015.  The annual law enforcement academy gives members the chance to brush up on their skills before the summer boating season.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert.

Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, Alaska, boarding team members attempt to break up a brawl during a law enforcment academy training scenario at Sector Anchorage April 17, 2015. The annual law enforcement academy gives members the chance to brush up on their skills before the summer boating season. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert.

Warm weather and only slightly less freezing waters are sure signs that summer has once again returned to Alaska and for the Coast Guard that usually means business is about to pick up. The return of the midnight sun means the return of recreational boaters and the potential for trouble which is why Coast Guard members from Sector Anchorage met April 13-17 to hone the skills they’ll need to safely conduct boarding operations throughout the busy season.

Coast Guard boarding teams are often considered to be the premiere force when it comes to maritime law enforcement but the tactics and techniques they use focus as much on protecting the public as they do on protecting the lives of the Coast Guardsmen themselves. Throughout the week, members practiced skills integral to their mission such as communications, vessel search procedures, self-defense and firearms training. While boarding team members need to be prepared for any circumstance, their goal is to handle every boarding peacefully and professionally, using only so much force as the situation warrants.

The ability to communicate calmly and authoritatively is one of the most important skills any law enforcement official can hope to master. This “verbal judo” is a skill that can be used at all times no matter the level of engagement and for that reason it is often the most effective tool at a boarding team member’s disposal.

“Good communication skills can keep a tense situation from getting out of control before things get worse,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Purcell, a reserve maritime enforcement specialist at Sector Anchorage and an Anchorage police detective who provided instruction for part of the week’s training. “We don’t want to hurt anyone or get hurt ourselves, so we train to talk things through in order to reach a peaceful resolution whenever possible.”

The majority of boaters encountered by the Coast Guard are good people just trying to have a fun time on the water, but for those times when communications break down or when boarding team members have to engage with uncooperative or hostile boaters, they practice a variety of weapons retention, takedown and handcuffing procedures in addition to search techniques useful for defending themselves and keeping their shipmates safe from harm. Coast Guard members attending the week-long course practiced these skills through the use of complex scenarios that tested their knowledge of when to apply the various levels of force.

“This training is essential for our officers to be prepared for all law enforcement operations from simple recreational boating safety checks to commercial vessel boardings,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Seth Rosenthal, a reserve maritime enforcement specialist at Sector Anchorage who coordinated the training. “The scenarios we use provide an opportunity for us to use the lessons we’ve reviewed throughout the week and implement them with the appropriate level of force based on each scenario.”

With their training complete, Coast Guard boarding teams are set to return to the lakes and coastal waters of Alaska where they will patrol from May to September.

“The Coast Guard keeps busy enough during the winter months in Alaska, but the warm summer weather brings a fresh set of challenges and it’s important to keep up with our proficiencies,” said Rosenthal. “Our ultimate goal is to protect the public and provide for the safety of mariners.”

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