TICONDEROGA — The U.S. Coast Guard's Burlington Station can get around Lake Champlain much faster than it used to.The station's cutter travels at about 10 knots an hour, but a new SAFE boat can reach speeds of 44 knots.Station Chief Richard Marsili said he has two of the new boats, along with a harbor boat, tender, rigid-hull inflatable and a 49-foot cutter."With the SAFE boat, we can be in Whitehall (at the southern end of the lake) in an hour and 15 minutes," he said. "It used to take a lot longer."SAFE stands for Secure All-Around Flotation Equipped, and those 25-foot boats carry a full range of equipment and supplies.Marsili and his crew brought one of their SAFE boats to Ticonderoga Central School's Career Day recently to look for students interested in a Coast Guard career."We wanted to let the students know the Coast Guard isn't all about helicopters," he said. "Aviation is only 10 percent of what we do."Because of the size of Lake Champlain, the Coast Guard Auxiliary plays an important role on the lake, Marsili said.Two auxiliary flotillas watch over Lake Champlain, including the Bridge Flotilla based in the Crown Point-Ticonderoga area."In addition to the support we provide to Station Burlington, there's plenty of fun as a member," Flotilla Commander Patricia Knapp said."One of the basic tenets of membership, which we take to heart, is fellowship. We believe that having fun is big part of what we do to help."The Bridge Flotilla also patrols the northern end of Lake George, starting at Ticonderoga."We're the civil volunteer component," flotilla member Gregg Trask said. "We do everything the Coast Guard does except carry a gun."He said that if Coast Guard Station Burlington is summoned to an emergency at the southern end of Lake Champlain, they'll often call the auxiliary to go to the site first."We can pull people out of the water or whatever has to be done."The auxiliary also does safety checks, he said, and can issue a sticker that shows they've passed the inspection."It's to a boater's advantage. We check lights, flares, flotation devices."The Bridge Flotilla has about 22 members, he said, and covers the lake from Westport to Whitehall.Between the two flotillas, the whole lake is covered by the auxiliary, Knapp said."If there's a catastrophe, we back up the Coast Guard. Our members receive a lot of training."The auxiliary also conducts courses for boaters."We're proud of our safe-boating courses," Knapp said. "We have skilled teachers."The courses give an overview of everything that's needed to operate a boat on the lake, Trask said.The next eight-hour course starts at 8 a.m. May 5 at the Ticonderoga Elks Building and costs is $40 per person. The Bridge Flotilla can be contacted at 597-3300 and is on the Web at www.bridgeflotilla.com.Hunter Denno, one of the 11th-grade students who visited the Coast Guard's Ticonderoga exhibit, said he'll think about a career with them."It sounds like a good idea. I'll consider it."
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