One mild September morning, a convoy of dark-colored vehicles arrives at an otherwise vacant parking lot of a boat ramp. Coast Guard members from the Deployable Operations Group along with local Aids to Navigation Teams begin to suit up for what is now an unusual, albeit important mission. They grab their tanks, flippers and goggles to load them into the 26-foot Trailerable Aids to Navigation Boat. Personnel from the ANT prepare laptop computers used for positioning aids to navigation and recording data, and then ease into the murky greenish-brown water. Excitement fills the air as Coast Guard members know they are about to make a difference for their environment.
Severe ice conditions and vessel allisions are a major cause of lost batteries from aids to navigation in the Chesapeake Bay. These batteries are a concern due to the fragile ecosystem of the region. Coast Guard members at units in the area took note of the problem and developed a plan to recover them. Crews from Sector Baltimore, Aids to Navigation Teams from St. Inigoes, Md., and Crisfield, Md., and the Deployable Operations Group Regional Dive Locker East based in Portsmouth, Va., put their plans into action for a six day excursion starting Sept. 8, 2010.
When a fixed aid to navigation is destroyed, all efforts are made to recover the structure: including its lighting equipment and batteries. Occasionally, when the structure is recovered, the battery is not located. To ensure the integrity of the waterway, the service rebuilds the structure. Since most cutters do not have divers stationed aboard Coast Guard cutters, the batteries are unable to be recovered.
A plan was developed to utilize Regional Dive Locker East to provide divers to work from the aids to navigation teams’ small boats to search for and recover missing batteries. All the work was completed by Coast Guard personnel and assets. During this operation, 13 batteries were recovered from nine sites, removing the threat of hazardous materials being released into the water from the batteries.
"We're trying to be good stewards in keeping the Potomac River clean," said Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Smith, the officer in charge of ANT Potomac in St. Inigoes, Md. "We recovered four batteries, which accounts for all batteries knocked into the water from this aid over the past three years," he said referencing efforts at Hallowing Point Light.
Batteries were also recovered from the Potomac River, Mattox Creek, Patuxent River, Nomini Creek, Monroe Creek, Nanticoke River and Mine Creek. All of the batteries recovered were intact and recycled through authorized vendors.
Since 1994, the Coast Guard has employed a strict method of tracking batteries used to power aids to navigation by assigning a unique serial number to each battery and tracking them in a database from the time it is purchased until it is recycled. Using this system, the Coast Guard is able to identify the location of batteries that have not been recovered when an aid is rebuilt.
In the 1980s, the Coast Guard solarized its aids to navigation. This effort greatly reduced the number of batteries needed to power each aid and eliminated the reliance on batteries containing mercury. With light emitting diode technology, the Coast Guard is further reducing its reliance on batteries and moving to smaller, self contained lights that include the battery, light and solar panel in one small package. This transition will nearly eliminate the chance of battery loss from aids to navigation using technology.
The aids to navigation on the bay and tributaries protect the bay and its users by safely guiding mariners in support of commerce, fisheries, tourism and shipping. The Coast Guard will continue to do its part to keep the bay healthy both for the biological and economical wellbeing of the region and the 15 million residents that call the Chesapeake Bay area home.