U.S., Canadian buoy tenders converge on Juneau for annual training, competition

It’s the blue collar arm of the Coast Guard. The ones who get dirty and sweaty dragging chains across the deck and heating up steel with torches until it gets orange-hot.

Eight buoy tenders and their crews from Alaska, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest are in Juneau this week for the annual Buoy Tender Roundup.

“It’s basically a week we can bring everybody together,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mike Newell, chief of the Coast Guard’s District 17 Waterways Branch. “It allows us to save money on training costs because we send the trainers to one area as opposed to sending them to seven. It also allows all the ships to get together with their crews to intermingle, share best practices, and kind of learn from one another.”

Newell said the training ranges from cold water swimming to servicing buoy lights and learning new culinary skills.

All eight buoy tenders are tied up at the Coast Guard Station Juneau downtown. Some of the training has been at the federal building and at the Augustus Brown Swimming Pool.

Listen to Lt. Cmdr. Mike Newell talk about culinary training and the work of buoy tender crews:

The highlight is the Buoy Tender Roundup Olympics scheduled for Wednesday.

“That’s about building camaraderie among the different ships that are here,” Newell said. “They compete in a variety of different tasks.”

Those tasks are related to buoy tender crews’ regular operations and basic skills.

In the heat-and-beat, for example, crewmembers must heat up a pin before inserting it into a shackle for a buoy’s anchor chain. Two or more crew quickly hammer the hot end of the pin to flatten it out and close the shackle.

Other events include the chain pull, survival suit relay race, tug-of-war, and a heavy lift crane competition in which a bucket of water must be quickly moved through an obstacle course without spilling.

Public tours of the buoy tender Sycamore will be Wednesday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Coast Guard Station Juneau.

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