Bye Bye Buoy – CGC Hickory completes seasonal decomissioning of Kuskokwim aids to navigation

Crewmembers from the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory prepare to offload buoys from the Kuskokwim Bay aids to navigation decommissioning near Bethel, Alaska, Oct. 16, 2014. The crew commissions nine buoys in Kuskokwim Bay and 36 buoys in the Kuskokwim River each year. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Crewmembers from the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory prepare to offload buoys from the Kuskokwim Bay aids to navigation decommissioning near Bethel, Alaska, Oct. 16, 2014. The crew commissions nine buoys in Kuskokwim Bay and 36 buoys in the Kuskokwim River each year. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Hickory returned to its homeport in Homer from a two week patrol to decommission the seasonal aids to navigation in the Kuskokwim River in Southwestern Alaska Oct. 16.

This patrol is one of the most distant areas of responsibility for the Hickory. The crew commissions nine buoys in Kuskokwim Bay and 36 buoys in the Kuskokwim River allowing commercial and recreational mariners to safely navigate the river up to the city of Bethel during the summer season.The buoys must be commissioned and decommissioned each year due to the ice that builds up on the river. If the buoys are not recovered before the ice begins to accumulate, it destroys the buoys and makes it impossible to recover them.

The Kuskokwim is a particularly challenging environment in which to work aids-to-navigation and often draws upon the ingenuity of the crew to safely mark the edges of the channel. The cutter uses a combination of small foam buoys and larger steel hulled buoys to mark the channel from the mouth of the bay up towards Bethel. Both of the cutter’s two small boats assist in accomplishing its mission, but the cutter often has to work in extreme shoals even with the help of the smaller vessels. Strong tidal currents, harsh winds and shifting shoals make it difficult to tend the buoys.

“You never know what the Kuskokwim is going to give you,” says Cmdr. Brian Krautler, Coast Guard Cutter Hickory, commanding officer. “You have to be prepared to handle almost any situation and be able to react quickly to the conditions around you.”

Reacting quickly is definitely what the crew did on a number of occasions, helping the cutter perform 47 buoy evolutions and sail over 2,300 miles on its patrol.

The Hickory, a 225-foot sea-going buoy tender, is one of four sea-going buoy tenders in Alaska. Hickory’s primary mission is servicing aids to navigation from the Cook Inlet to the Kuskokwim River.

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