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Coast Guard Auxiliary uses education, inspections to keep Montana waters safe

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MELITA ISLAND – With the nearest ocean nearly 600 miles away, many Montanans are surprised to learn that the U.S. Coast Guard patrols the waters here in Montana.

“We are trying to create an awareness that the U.S. Coast Guard actually exists in Montana,” said U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Public Affairs Staff Officer Chris Roberts. 

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Montana division contains over 2,000 lakes, 78 rivers and covers 147,046 square miles of area, which are regularly used for recreational boating and fishing. 

Four active flotillas are located in Billings, Great Falls, Helena and Kalispell. The current eight members of the Kalispell Flotilla 130-10-05 are responsible for patrolling all the bodies of water within western Montana including Flathead Lake, which is the largest natural freshwater lake by surface area west of the Mississippi River at 126,100 acres.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteer members have all the official training and uniforms but no law enforcement power. 

“We don’t carry weapons, no law enforcement at all,” said Roberts. “Our mission is to support and promote boating safety by conducting safety patrols, providing free vessel inspections and responding to calls for assistance on the water, from towing stranded boaters to assisting in water search-and-rescue incidents. We will inspect your boat and verify that you have the proper safety equipment.”

Roberts also noted if all the requirements are met, successful inspections are rewarded with a sticker that is applied to the side of the vessel, which alerts law enforcement that the boat has passed inspection and may avoid a stop by officials for a surprise safety check. 

Boaters enjoying a day on the lake may get safety tips from the Coast Guard Auxiliary while the organization is on patrol keeping the waterways safe.

“We encourage boaters to always wear life jackets when on the water,” Roberts said.

Auxiliary volunteers may also suggest other safety tips like why it’s beneficial to have a fire extinguisher mounted in the open for easy access.

“The group is always looking for new members ready to serve,” Roberts said. 

Membership is open to men and women aged 17 years or older who are in good standing and can pass a government background check. You do not have to have any previous military experience and owning a boat is not a requirement. For more information on joining, contact Roberts at 406-549-3090.

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