As soon as Labor Day comes and goes, a lot changes at the shore. The temperature drops. Beachgoers retreat inland. Boats come out of the bay. All in all, there is less and less activity in the area than just weeks earlier.
Even one of the shore's oldest mainstays, the U.S. Coast Guard, gets hit by the winds of change.
The Coast Guard's main small boat operating facility in the area is Station Atlantic City, just north of the Golden Nugget Marina. A substation also operates out of Ocean City, to provide even more coverage of South Jersey's waters.
Come Oct. 1 every year, that substation shuts down, and all resources are shifted north for the winter to Air Station Atlantic City, in Egg Harbor Township, for cost-cutting reasons. The Ocean City substation will reopen May 1, just in time for summer, The Press of Atlantic City reported (http://bit.ly/1FOo80o).
Summer, understandably, is the busiest time of the year for the Coast Guard. This summer alone, the service made contact with more than 1,000 boats between Station Atlantic City and the Ocean City substation, Ocean City supervisor Petty Officer Anthony Procida said.
The Coast Guard has had to do more with less over the years. U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, who was chair of the Coast Guard Committee for 12 years, says the role of the Coast Guard in the area has expanded.
"Since 9-11, they have taken on critical homeland-security missions, on top of traditional search and rescue and drug interdiction," LoBiondo said in an emailed statement. "Those duties have added substantially to their workload without the corresponding resources or funding to offset."
When boating traffic decreases in fall and winter, the Coast Guard responds accordingly, to cut extra costs, even though it means added work. The two four-member teams who call Ocean City home for the summer winterize the station, located three-quarters of a mile southwest of the Great Egg Inlet. It is sandwiched between civilian homes — an inconspicuous place for a military operation.
"We secure everything that needs to be secured, all the outdoor furniture, and make sure there's no holes," Procida said. "We do the same as what our neighbors do. We are right among the civilians and all the families that are living down there. We secure our things just as they secure their summer properties."
After the station is closed, all operations take place out of Station Atlantic City. Not only does the location change, but also the nature of the job.
On top of always being ready for search and rescue operations during the summer months, a large part of what the Coast Guard does is regulatory. They make sure those out on boats abide by the laws, such as having enough lifejackets on board.
After the summer "there's not as many vessels to board or interact with, so we start shifting our focus toward training, getting ready for the winter months and what the winter months will bring," Procida said.
During the winter, there is more time for internal development. Without as many boats on the water to regulate, the unit does a lot of heavy weather training to make sure everyone is familiar with functioning in high seas, larger surf and heavy winds.
They do exercises such as man-overboard drills and test to make sure their gear is ready for the colder water. They also run checks on boaters, but those who are out on the water are mostly professional fisherman.
"They are required to have everything on board, as they do in the summer months, but it is even more paramount during the winter, because your rate of survivability goes down that much more because of the lower air and water temperatures," Procida said.
The Coast Guard says that in 50-degree water, a person without a wetsuit has just an hour of consciousness. That number increases to about 12 hours if a person is wearing a wetsuit.
Time is of the essence when responding during the winter months.
The Ocean City station's closure can add distance — and thus time — to the Coast Guard's response in the coverage area. But despite being farther north, the Coast Guard is able to adequately serve the area, said Lt. Noel Johnson, the highest-ranking official at the station.
"It increases the time of response a little bit, but technology allows us to respond quicker and get to that area in a reasonable amount of time," Johnson said.
They use 47-foot boats that are docked at Station Atlantic City, which move more quickly than the boats normally docked at Ocean City, allowing responders to get to where they need to be.
LoBiondo said people expect the Coast Guard to be at the scene of an accident "five minutes before it happens," regardless of the expanded coverage area.
When it comes down to it, Procida said, nothing changes about the way they operate, other than "the amount of food they need to have in the galley."
The Coast Guard will still be ready for whatever happens on the Jersey Shore. From patrolling to accidents to natural disasters, their motto is "Semper paratus," or "always ready."
"We just prepare to rescue people in more adverse conditions," Johnson said.
Information from: The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.), http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com
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