T he teams at the United States Coast Guard complex in Morris Cove organize and execute the kind of responsive missions the USCG—the smallest of the five armed forces in the United States, made up of active duty members, reservists, civilian employees and an auxiliary volunteer unit—is known for, like rescuing individuals on wayward boats and breaking up ice-logged waterways.
They also do a lot of things most people know very little about. “We have a job to do every single day,” says Lt. Jeff Janaro, a spokesperson for the New Haven command center, known formally as Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound but often referred to simply as “the Sector.”
The Sector oversees several Coast Guard stations—one seasonal, the rest year-round—on the Long Island and Connecticut shorelines, including “Station New Haven” in the same complex. The total coverage region, bounded by the New York/Connecticut border at Port Chester and the Connecticut/Rhode Island border at Watch Hill, encompasses 23,600 square miles and 450 miles of coastline.
Each station’s duties include: general waterways management, such as maintaining lighthouses and issuing permits for regattas and fireworks displays; coordinating boating safety education efforts; and marine environment-protection operations, such as responding to pollution reports and inspecting hazardous cargo aboard vessels.
Rationales for inspection aren’t limited to environmental worries. Passenger ferries, fishing boats and all international boats entering the Long Island Sound are inspected to ensure they’re operating safely and to investigate any security concerns, hoping to keep calamity, whether accidental or deliberate, from occurring on their watch.
When there’s a problem, Janaro says, “We”—the command center—“quarterback the response.” This can mean immediately dispatching personnel and boats from the nearest station to the individuals in need, and coordinating additional help as needed from their auxiliary volunteer unit as well as relevant local and state agencies. At the Sector, 120 individuals are on hand to handle these operations in shifts around the clock.
Bobbing nearby are docked boats that Station New Haven utilizes in its missions, including 45-foot rescue boats and “cutters”—any vessels over 65-feet in length—with the capacity for crew to live on board, useful when the mission involves a prolonged stay in port. A visit to the boats on a frigid winter day, with biting winds coming off the Sound, provides an idea of the harsh conditions often endured by Coast Guard teams here.
Fortunately, boaters tend to be less active this time of year, which keeps the number of rescue operations relatively low. For the same reason, summer is the busiest season for rescues: a huge increase in recreational boating means an increase in associated accidents. When a boat is in trouble, its crew can send out a distress signal via its marine VHF radio, which, if the incident is occurring within the region, gets passed on to the Sector.
An open house each spring—normally in May—lets the public peruse the boats, speak to Coast Guard personnel and gain a better understanding of the diverse operations organized and conducted out of this busy hub on Woodward Avenue. Janaro says the festive event is an opportunity for the federal entity to “be good neighbors and educate the public.”
The personal interaction, also present in their day-to-day duties, is one of the reasons Janaro does what he does. “There’s a humanitarian aspect to being in the Coast Guard,” he says.
Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound and Station New Haven
120 Woodward Ave, New Haven (map)
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.