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Featured Profile for Quartermaster and Boat Operator

William Armstrong

I am a surfman instructor at the National Motor Lifeboat school at Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, Washington. The area gets its nickname due to the sheer number of shipwrecks that have happened here. This is a particularly dangerous section of ocean where the Columbia River crashes into the Pacific. With swells pounding against the Washington coastline, my trainees get the experience they’ll need to carry on the Coast Guard’s 200-year tradition of heroism.

Surfmen find, locate and recover persons in the water. They undertake search and rescue missions in the worst weather conditions imaginable. Heavy-weather surfmen are boat drivers who operate in adverse conditions. Operating a boat in adverse weather is the pinnacle of the boat driving profession within the Coast Guard. It’s the highest degree of certification you can obtain.

The lifeboat school is the center of excellence for surf classes. The purpose for the surf classes in the school is to get students as much time in the surf as we can provide them.

One of the most important training methods for surfmen is hands-on training. Our instruction is passed down from one surfman to another. Each surfman will get his or her certificate from another surfman. This is the way knowledge in our field has been passed down for close to 200 years.

We teach students the fundamentals including throttle management, power management, staying square, and knowing when to keep the boat totally still at times when the crew is going up and down stairs. We also tell students that the most important piece of equipment that they have on the boat is the crew that is riding with them.

I never actually thought that I would be in a position that I’m in. Being a surfman instructor is extremely rewarding work. I got to where I am by the training that I received from other people. This work is extremely humbling and extremely rewarding. I hate staying away from it. I like to be in the mix. I love doing what we do and I like being around it.

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