Posted by: arbeam | September 9, 2013

Astoria Coast Guard with the Portland Council of Navy League

USCG Sector Columbia RiverOn Aug 23, 2 members of our NL Council got to join the Portland Council of Navy League at the Astoria Coast Guard facilities for a fantastic tour, which began at the Aids to Navigation Facility.

We were initially given a briefing by the Deputy Sector Commander, US Coast Guard Sector Columbia River,  CAPT Sean MacKenzie, who told us about the functions of the various CG commands at Astoria.  Among the Sector’s many missions are Search and Rescue; Marine Inspection; Waterways Management; Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security; Law Enforcement; Marine Environmental Protection and Response; Aids to Navigation; Boating and Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety; and Living Marine Resources.


As we drove in, we passed many large channel buoys that where freshly painted & refurbished & ready to return to sea or the Columbia River. Piles of anchor chain were alongside, which had been inspected and any eroded links were replaced. Where the upright links ascend from the ones on the bottom, they can become eroded due to tide & current action.  They explained that the buoys only stayed in the water for so long, then lifted out and brought back for routine maintenance, if required.

Buildings here housed most of the general maintenance and fabrication operations.  Much is done indoors during inclement weather or outdoors if weather permits.  The work is done by Coast Guardsmen, CG Auxillary, and nearby Job Corps people.  This is a good training ground for many various skills for the Job Corps participants, as well as being a benefit for the Coast Guard, and therefore, for all the boaters in the area’s waterways.

Our tour day was warm so we asked how they liked being stationed here.  They universally loved it & said it was a good duty station & a great community to raise their families.  These sailors were very proud of the work they did, and the safety they provide boaters.

Many upgrades are being done, including changing to LED lights for navigation buoys and markers, which will save a lot of money in the long run, both in maintenance frequency and long term cost of materials.

Next, we toured the Columbia  River Bar Pilot’s facility. They deal with trade between the Pacific Northwest and the world, which averages about 40 million tons of cargo valued at $23 billion each year. They told us about their responsibilities and requirements for the job. Bar Pilots have to have been a Master of a large ship for at least 2 years.  Part of their testing process is to know the river channel by heart, and be able to reproduce it, including track & depth along the course from the ocean to the inner harbor.  Some of the areas have only 3 ft beneath the keel, even in the center of the channel.  This requires great skill and knowledge.

One of the innovations they’ve come up with is to use helicopters to transfer the Bar Pilots.   This is more cost effective than using boats to go out beyond the bar for each transfer.  It is so rough that it is dangerous to connect with a ladder on the side of the ship when both it & the Pilot boat are in heavy weather.   The helicopter option is used more than 50% of the time.  If the weather is too heavy for either option, the Bar Pilot sometimes has to stay on the ship until it’s next port of call.


After lunch, we had a docent –guided tour of the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

Astoria__53There is too much to describe in detail, but suffice it to say that it could be recommended to anyone.  One of the most impressive displays was of all the hundreds of ships which have been lost near the mouth of the Columbia River.  Not being from that area, we had no idea that so many boats had gone down & so many lives had been lost.

Many of the displays were of the history of the area & navigating the bar, including some impressive videos.  If you have time, here is a link to a video showing what it can be like.

We are tentatively planning a similar tour for our Council next August, but will perhaps include a 2nd day to see the air station & some other sites there, as well.

Byron & Pat Faber



  1. […] to Astoria in August. This would be similar to the Portland Navy League Trip highlighted in our Newsletter. There is so much to see in this area that we are proposing spending a day in Astoria OR ans a Day […]

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