Station San Francisco: Protecting The City

Story and photos provided by Master Chief Petty Officer Devin Spencer, Officer-in-charge of Coast Guard Station San Francisco

A Station San Francisco 45-foot Response Boat-Medium boatcrew  patrols San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy of Station San Francisco.

A Station San Francisco 45-foot Response Boat-Medium boatcrew patrols San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Station San Francisco.

Come spend a few days with the crew of Coast Guard Station San Francisco, and it won’t take you long to be surprised at how much they do on a daily basis. Their never-ending accomplishments keep my metaphorical cup full of pride and joy!

Inherent with the iconic city, the Bay itself is a trove of every possible component within the maritime domain. Our waterborne area of responsibility hosts the fourth-largest container port in the United States, two international airports, multiple ferry terminals and the infamous Alcatraz Island, to name a few. Combine those landmarks with dense vessel traffic consisting of a commercial fishing fleet, several dinner cruises, an array of pleasure crafts, mega cruise ships and ultra-large container vessels, it becomes apparent why this crew rarely has a chance to rest. In 2013, Station San Francisco ranked No. 4 for most response missions in the entire U.S. Coast Guard.

The best part about this crew is how they embrace the demand. Just ask any of them how they feel about the job, and you will find a common thread that echoes the viewpoint of the entire crew:

“We are VERY busy, but it is extremely rewarding!”

One of the reasons why they have to work so hard is due to their current one-and-three rotation schedule. The ability to run this schedule comes at the cost of having smaller duty sections with a greater workload and increased responsibility at the junior level. Unlike most Coast Guard stations whose crews stand 48 hours-on and 48 hours-off with “sliding weekends”, these crews stand a straight 24 hours-on followed by 48 hours-off rotation.

A Station San Francisco boatcrew member stands watch during a security patrol on San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Station San Francisco.

A Station San Francisco boatcrew member stands watch during a security patrol on San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Station San Francisco.

By doing this, the crews get a better work-life ratio, which prevents fatigue and burnout, while the community we serve simultaneously benefits from having a fresh crew reporting aboard every morning. This prevents us from ever having to endure a prolonged period with a “bagged crew,” which is a crew that has exceeded its underway fatigue limits and is unable to respond.

Additionally, this “firefighter” rotation, as defined in our policy guidance, aligns our crews with their civilian emergency-service counterparts, helping them foster relationships with San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond and several other police and fire departments.

To make this rotation work, we have a specialized crew known as PMT, which stands for Planned Mission Team. The team is composed of senior members proficient in the use of tactics, which deter and prevent waterborne terrorism threats, providing our senior leadership with better maritime domain awareness.

This crew absorbs all of our missions for vessels needing escorts in addition to their law enforcement duties. To meet this requirement, PMT members are in a recall status that requires them to be available for a mission within 24 hours — unless they are on leave. It is a level of dedication matched by very few.

So, whether it is the notorious wind, the World Series, America’s Cup, commerce, or just some good old-fashioned sightseeing that brings you to San Francisco Bay, you can count on one of these highly professional Coast Guard boatcrews to answer all calls. They are available 24/7 standing the watch, upholding the Coast Guard motto, Semper Paratus.

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