Standing the watch in “America’s Finest City”

A 45-foot Response Boat – Medium from U.S. Coast Guard Station San Diego transits in San Diego Bay. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Henry G. Dunphy.

A 45-foot Response Boat – Medium from U.S. Coast Guard Station San Diego transits in San Diego Bay. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Henry G. Dunphy.

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class William Pless, edited by Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Gawrelli
Known for its beautiful, sandy beaches, year-round mild, sunny weather and countless activities and attractions, San Diego is home to more than 3.1 million residents and lures in more than 32 million visitors each year. However, not too far from the hustle and bustle of it all is a sight few San Diegans or visitors will ever get to witness.

Just off Southern California’s coast, smugglers take to the sea in an attempt to traffic drugs and migrants into the states from Mexico while the crew of U.S. Coast Guard Station San Diego works tirelessly to stop them.

Due to the proximity to the United States-Mexico border, Station San Diego plays a large role in counter drug and illegal migrant interdiction operations.


Two suspects aboard a smuggling boat place their hands on their heads after being intercepted by a boat crew from U.S. Coast Guard Station San Diego. Coast Guard photo by Station San Diego

On August 20, 2013, a boat crew from Station San Diego was on a routine patrol aboard a 45-foot Response Boat when the crew detected a 25-foot recreational boat travelling north approximately 10 miles west of San Diego’s Point Loma. The crew stopped the vessel and immediately observed several bales on the deck of the small recreational vessel. The two men aboard the recreational vessel were detained and the Coast Guard crew towed the vessel into San Diego Bay. A total of 19 suitcases containing marijuana, weighing approximately 1,200 pounds, were found on board the boat.

Later the same evening, Station San Diego was once again called to action after an aircraft from one of the Coast Guard’s partner agencies spotted a suspected drug smuggling boat traveling south toward Mexico. The boat crew pursued the suspected smuggling boat for four hours through seas up to six feet, finally stopping the vessel 90 miles southwest of San Diego in international waters. The vessel and the two people aboard were then transferred to the Coast Guard Cutter Active and taken back to San Diego.

“One of the great things about San Diego is the amount of teamwork we have here,” said Chief Petty Officer Dan Sunday, the officer in charge of Station San Diego. “We constantly work with our partner agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol and the local police departments, and rely on their help to stop smugglers before they can reach our shores.”

As a multi-mission unit, drug and migrant interdiction isn’t the only job station crewmembers have.


A crew member from U.S. Coast Guard Station San Diego opens a suspected package of contraband to investigate during a drug interdiction near San Diego. Coast Guard photo by Station San Diego

One of the challenges of being at a multi-mission unit is the need to change gears quickly. One moment our crews could be on a law enforcement patrol, and the next they could be responding to a distress call,” Sunday said.

Crewmembers engage in a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, more than 250 escorts a year of San Diego’s vast fleet of naval vessels, homeland security, enforcement of laws and treaties, recreational boating safety, aids to navigation, marine safety, and other missions in support of their parent unit, Coast Guard Sector San Diego.

During the past year, the Station crew has completed 68 search and rescue cases and 295 law enforcement boardings.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my crew for all the hard work and dedication they put in every single day,” said Sunday. “Protecting 70 miles of coastline is no easy task, but the crew puts in the extra effort to ensure San Diego’s waterways are safe.”