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2 Rescues at Oswego Paddlesport Event

Auxiliary Takes Lead in Water Safety Strike Force

Fri, 27 Jun 14   Posted by: Robert Stronach
OSWEGO, NY -- A U.S. Coast Guard press release announced that Coast Guard and Auxiliary crews rescued nine people across the Great Lakes on June 21, with two of the rescues occurring in Oswego -- where the Coast Guard Auxiliary had taken the lead in a multi-agency water safety "strike force" for a paddlesports event. Here's the rest of the story.

With more than 280 kayakers and canoeists set to paddle down the Oswego River (also known as the New York State Barge Canal) for a new "Rock-the-Locks" fundraiser, two participants ended up submerged in the water.

"Early in the event the operational pace escalated when a kayaker, waiting to enter the first lock, came out of his boat and got caught in the current leading to a hydroelectric generating plant," reported Dale Currier, coxswain on one of two Auxiliary patrol boats there. He and crewman Gene Little "took the lead for initiating a rescue operation to get him off the trash racks." While coordinating with a fire department boat to retrieve the kayaker, Currier and Little found themselves retrieving a second participant who ended up in the water, too.

 Rock-the-Locks Paddlesport Event
Rock-the-Locks paddlers make their way through a lock on the Oswego River/Barge Canal. Photo by Dale Currier/U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Both kayakers were uninjured, he said, and were reunited with their crafts to continue a day of fun on the water.

The other patrol boat was crewed by John Steinbarge and Steve Bollenbacher, both from Syracuse Flotilla 21. Currier is also from Flotilla 21, and Little is from Ithaca Flotilla 24. The Oswego County Sheriff's Marine Unit launched a 25-foot patrol boat for the event, along with two personal water crafts (PWCs), and Minetto Fire Department provided a 20-foot rigid hulled inflatable with a crew of five, Currier said.

"Once the initial excitement was under control, Lock 5 opened and 185 paddlers headed downstream, while a second group of almost 100 patiently waited their turn to transit the first lock. Six hours and some significant sun intake later, the paddlers got off the river and ended their day at a small food and music gathering set up in a park area along the waterway."

Rock-the-Locks is a new paddlesport event organized as a fundraiser for a city and county youth group in Oswego County. Two flat-water trips were available to choose from -- 10.3 miles and a second one just over 4 miles, Currier noted.

"A week before the event, 64 people had registered," Currier said. "The day before the event, the number jumped to 165, and the day of the event, there were 283 kayaks and canoes registered."

The participants -- experienced and novice paddlers alike -- "ranged in age from 4 years old to those far into their retirement years," he said. "Some came to paddle fast in their sleek Kevlar canoes and high performance kayaks, while others spent a leisurely six-plus hours transiting the route in rented crafts. The route took them through four canal locks and a descent of about 90 feet down, culminating in Lake Ontario at the Oswego Harbor."

Several months prior to the event, the organizer approached Currier for guidance and support in Currier's role as Oswego County emergency management director. He needed to obtain an event permit from the Barge Canal operators. "One of the organizer's biggest challenges was getting experienced planning and operational support to satisfy safety requirements for the permit, event insurance and American Canoe Association," Currier noted.

"Once he learned about the Auxiliary and what we do, he asked if we could help -- which we did."