Coast Guard shows off its new rescue boat


The new commanding officer of the Fort Myers Beach Coast Guard Station, Chief Warrant Officer Peter Louzao, takes the public affairs part of his mission very seriously. So seriously, he brought his new 47-foot motor lifeboat (MLC), a search and rescue vessel, to the Mid-Island Marina in Punta Gorda Aug. 9 as part of National Marina Day, an annual celebration of marinas' contribution to family boating.

Although the Fort Myers Coast Guard Station is the last in the country to get a MLC, Louzao is glad to have the vessel under his command to help with the station's critical search and rescue mission.

"This boat is capable in 50-knot winds," said Louzao, who admitted he wouldn't want to be on the vessel in such conditions. "It can handle 30-foot seas and 20-foot breaking surf." It also is equipped with buoyant chambers filled with air that right the vessel if it should roll over in turbulent seas.

"The MLC has a recess well where you pick people up out of the water," Louzao said, pointing to the one on the starboard side where the boat's deck dropped to no more than a couple of feet from the water.

The MLC, which can do 26 knots per hour in calm seas courtesy of the two Detroit Diesel 435-hp engines below deck, has two steering stations on the bridge and another enclosed one for inclement weather that the six-man crew had to utilize on the rainy trip north to the Mid-Island Marina. Although most Coast Guard vessels are painted white, the MLC is constructed of marine-grade aluminum.

Inside, in what the Coast Guard calls the survivor compartment, it carries a full complement of first aid supplies and rescue equipment. "When we pick someone up, we stage them in here," said Louzao. A collapsible Stokes litter, used for lifting people who have to stay in prone position, hangs on one wall. Life jackets hang over seats with seat belts, designed to keep the rescued from being roughed up by a pitching boat.

On deck, a long towing line is encased in blue canvas. What looks like an orange barrel lashed to the boat is actually a dewatering pump for draining a partially swamped vessel. "It's in the barrel so it can be floated over to another boat," said Louzao.

The personable Louzao, who just assumed command of the station, takes the public affairs part of his mission almost as seriously as his search and rescue mission and particularly enjoys getting out to meet the local auxiliary flotillas in the area, in this case Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 98.

"We're trying to get out more and interact with the local boating community. I try to give them (the local flotillas) as much credit as possible," he said. "They definitely contribute to our mission in many ways." He added, "The people here (Flotilla 98) are awesome. Their enthusiasm for boater safety is fantastic."

Louzao particularly values local flotillas' knowledge of their own waters, and it's easy to see why. The Fort Myers station's area of responsibility extends from Boca Grande in the north to the 10,000 Islands and includes Lake Okeechobee to the east. Although he declined to answer a question about the adequacy of his resources, it's obvious he needs all the help he can get.

He has only 54 active-duty personnel assigned to him, while he can call on the eyes, ears and local knowledge of 8 local flotillas with 800 to 900 members who are familiar with their own waters.

Louzao may be just a little more devoted to his public affairs mission here because he graduated from Fort Myers High School in 1979 and, after 14 assignments in 24 years, feels like he is back home. "This is my dream assignment," he said. "This was my No. 1 choice, and I got it. That doesn't happen very often."


By GORDON BOWER

Punta Gorda Herald Editor