Everyone else counts on them. From military aircrews that fly over rough seas to civilian oil rig workers to average Americans hanging out on the coast, they all rely on Coast Guard rescue swimmers. They’re essentially the world’s most elite lifeguards, swimming into conditions that would swallow anyone else and pulling others out alive.
They’re the swimmers that everyone else counts on.
Coast Guard rescue swimmers are rarely the subjects of much media attention, that 2006 Kutcher-Costner film notwithstanding. But this tiny cadre of athletes, typically numbering between 300 and 400, conduct some of the highest risk, highest-stakes rescues around the world.
Remember when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico? One part of that crisis response was the rescue swimmers who helped airlift out survivors and establish triage to save all the lives they could. Over 100 people jumped from Deepwater Horizon or were blown off the rig into the water. Tragically, 11 died, but over 100 survived.
They jump into the water from helicopters or planes and then swim into burning ships or complicated, underwater cave systems. They can save ship crews in hurricanes and downed aviators in combat if they get the call. And they can even fight any of their rescuees underwater for control if a panicking survivor tries to resist.
The video embedded above shows a group of these swimmers going through the grueling Coast Guard school to earn their place in the lifesaving profession.
But while the video and most descriptions of their duties focus on the extreme physical requirements for these Coast Guardsmen, equally important is their ability to maintain and troubleshoot their own gear and the gear on their aircraft. This can include everything from parachutes to oxygen systems, pumps to protective clothing, and cargo to flotation equipment.
And they are expected to attain and maintain medical qualifications, because they could be the only emergency technician available for crucial minutes or hours. This requires an EMT qualification at a minimum.
And, finally, they have to be comfortable working on a variety of aircraft. Their most iconic ride is the Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk, that distinctive orange and white beauty based on the Navy’s SH-60 Seahawk and the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk.
But they can also be assigned to the HH-65C Dolphin or, more rarely, fixed-wing aircraft.