The Survey Vessel CATLETT crew was busy conducting a condition survey of the Tolchester Channel in the Chesapeake Bay last week when a mayday call came over the radio from a boater in dire straits.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, crew kicked into gear and began charting a path to assist the vessel, ultimately pulling beside her and pulling the lone passenger aboard. Then, they brought the boater, who requested medical assistance, to the Corps’ facility at Fort McHenry where Baltimore City Emergency Medical Services took him for care.
“It's one of those situations you hope to never encounter but when it does happen, you hope you can make the proper decisions in an extremely stressful situation to prevent injury or death,” said CATLETT Captain Ryan Schuman. “While we conduct routine drills that include man overboard, fire, and abandon ship for emergencies onboard the CATLETT, we have to slightly alter our procedures when responding to other vessels in distress.”
While the CATLETT is Baltimore District’s newest and most high-tech vessel working on the Chesapeake Bay, the crew used a combination of old-school and modern methods in their rescue.
“Using the CATLETT’s paper charts, then the onboard electronic charts, I was able to quickly confirm the vessel in distress’ last known position, which was approximately 3 nautical miles west of our location,” Schuman said. “Using the CATLETT's radar, I was able to confirm that there was indeed an object that appeared to be adrift in the last know position. On approach, using binoculars we confirmed that the vessel fit the description.”
Corps crews rescuing boaters in the Chesapeake Bay, while not common, is not unheard of. In fact, crew members of the CATLETT were involved in a rescue in the Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay in 2016 while aboard the recently retired Survey Vessel LINTHICUM. This, however, was the first rescue of this kind aboard the state-of-the-art CATLETT – which itself helped in the rescue.
“The CATLETT's jet propulsion allowed me to precisely maneuver the vessel close enough where we could recover the individual safely without anyone getting into the water,” Schuman said. “The design of the CATLETT allowed it to rapidly reach the vessel in distress and get the recovered individual to emergency services shore side very quickly. We ran at speeds in excess of 30 knots in sea condition 3 to 4 feet, which is pretty impressive.”
Schuman noted that the rescue was a team effort, and was sure to give credit to the entire CATLETT crew for making the rescue a success.
“The crew onboard, including Assistant Operator Jeff Tuer, Survey Technician Greg Witmyer, and Survey Technician Jonathan McWhorter, did an excellent job with their assigned responsibilities assisting in this emergency situation,” Schuman said.
Survey Vessel CATLETT joined Baltimore District’s fleet in August 2017, and its primary mission is conducting hydrographic surveys of the federal channels in the District’s area of responsibility, including smaller channels like the Tolchester Channel and the dozens of miles of deep draft channels leading in and out of the Port of Baltimore.