Coast Guard team keeps beacon afloat

At a southernmost point of Terrebonne Parish, a small contingent of Coast Guard personnel perform a task that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but which is vital to many who travel local waterways.

The Coast Guard’s Dulac station – a new concrete structure that replaced an older headquarters – is home to a unit called ANT, or Aids to Navigation Team.

Their mission is to maintain the lights, beacons and buoys that mark the way for oilfield supply ships, tankers, barge-pushing tugs, commercial fishing vessels and small pleasure craft, from Grand Isle to the western end of Terrebonne.

Chief Bosun’s Mate Nathan Beach, the unit’s Officer in Charge, says there are 202 primary and 30 secondary navigation aids in the waters that the responsibility of the 11 men and women he supervises.

The Coast Guard personnel who work for the unit do not live at the Dulac facility, most live in or around Houma, said Beach.

The members of Beach’s team come from all over the U.S., including Alaska. Beach himself has served in Maryland, Florida and Rhode Island, having done a prior tour in Morgan City. He returned to Louisiana at his own request.

In addition to routine maintenance – accomplished through following a daily list of assignments – the ANT also responds to emergency needs when a navigational aid is damaged. Batteries or bulbs may need changing, or more complex structural repairs may be needed.

“Sometimes we have buoys or lights that get damaged by a passing boat,” Beach said, noting that captains report such mishaps. But sometimes, he said, they do not.

When the Coast Guard is in receipt of the information, a 26-foot boat is dispatched.

While local mariners may not rely on things like day-markers – the red and green signs that indicate if one is coming in closer to shore or going away – the beacons and other signage, Beach noted, are very important for congested areas like the egresses and entrances at Port Fourchon. Not all of the vessels plying local waters are aware of things they might need to know.

In addition to tending the signs and lights out on the water, the team has other duties, and can be ordered out for other tasks when needed.

“We will also respond to search and rescue requests when we are assigned,” Beach said. “Search and rescue is our secondary mission.”

Members of the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team stationed in Dulac repair a buoy in Terrebonne Bay.