Northwest Maritime Academy Search & Rescue Training

Beginning Friday, October 2nd, we started our first STCW SAR Class at the Northwest Maritime Academy at Gig Harbor Marina & Boatyard with Seafarers World Wide. Our class consisted of police officers from the Gig Harbor Police Department Marine unit.

GHPD Marine Unit Officers, Garrett Chapman, Gary Dahm, NWMA Instructor Patrick Boyle, and Officer Chet Dennis.

Friday was also the day we all learned of the El Faro Cargo Ship carrying 33 souls that was reported missing.  Unfortunately, today we all have a pretty good idea of their fate.

Northwest Maritime Academy Search & Rescue Training

Searching for a cargo ship in the Atlantic Ocean is not much different than searching for a missing kayaker in the Puget Sound, except the size of the area is vastly different.  Each search area has its challenges; weather, visibility, reliability of the last known position (LKP), and of course the search area.

During the STCW SAR course, we addressed the IAMSAR Manuals I -III, and paid very specific attention to our search patterns, and collecting data from our DATUM buoy’s.

On The Water

GHPD Marine Unit on scene after successful SAR and recovery of PIW Marker.

Sunday, October 4th; we ran three search drills in three locations. Each had varying degrees of complexity and search area. For “SAR 1”, we selected Colvos Passage due to its rapid current and winds.

Northwest Maritime Academy Search & Rescue Training

The Marker team headed out to be on station for “SAR 1” at 0730 hours, and dropped the marker at 0800 hours.  A message was sent to the GHPD Marine unit with an approximate LAT & LON.  A short time later, the Marine Unit was on scene; dropped a DATUM marker at the LKP, and started a “Sector” Search pattern.  During that time, the environment changed quickly.  What was flat calm developed into 15 kn winds, and 1-2 foot seas.  The PIW/Buoy had moved almost one mile from its drop point, and after two Sector searches, the GHPD Marine Unit quickly moved north, and recovered the buoy in a very acceptable time frame.  IMG_0670

For “SAR 2”; we chose an area just off Day Island where the current moves very quickly.  The marker was dropped, and the unit arrived on scene shortly after the call was sent for a PIW.  The Marine unit did exactly as they had during the first SAR, except with conflicting current and back eddies; the unit had their skills truly tested.

Northwest Maritime Academy Search & Rescue Training

The PIW-Buoy had plenty of flood tide behind it, and was carried over a mile from the LKP.  GHPD was not to be deterred; the team found the Buoy within a reasonable time frame.

IMG_1131For “SAR 3”; we chose Carr Inlet for its wide open water, and in this test using only a type III life vest.  The units, to their credit, spotted the the PIW almost immediately; however, they chose to execute a expanding square search pattern to test the effectiveness of the pattern.

The day was as successful as one could hope it to be.  We had dynamic weather, three locations, two patterns, and we recovered all of our gear.

Northwest Maritime Academy Search & Rescue Training

The Gig Harbor Marine Unit, in my opinion, has always been top notch and squared away.  The skills we shared and exercised this weekend just added one more response tool to the already highly capable Gig Harbor Marine unit abilities.  It was truly a pleasure working with them.

Special Thanks to Firefighter/EMT Nick Truckey for standing watch with me.  Great to have you aboard as my additional eyes & ears on the water.  You made the day much more enjoyable and safer. — By Captain Thomas Bliss

The training and drills we offer at the Northwest Maritime Academy are accessible and available to all Marine Units operating here in Washington State, or wherever you may need your training.  The NWMA instructors are available to offer fully certified STCW SAR training, or customized courses to meet your challenging environments.  For more information, please contact Captain Thomas Bliss at

Search and Rescue in The Puget Sound. Training and Certification by The Northwest Maritime Academy, Gig Harbor, La Conner, and Seattle, Washington.


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