LAKE WYLIE -- By summer's end, one local group entrusted with guarding Lake Wylie and its boaters will be stronger than ever.
With 38 members, the Lake Wylie Flotilla of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary hopes to graduate another 10 volunteers by fall, adding almost 25 percent of its current membership. The non-military, non-law enforcement group routinely provides safe boating classes, vessel safety checks and other safety services throughout the area.
"You may volunteer as many hours as you are available," flotilla commander Brian Groves said. "What you put in is what you'll get."
Groves never participated in anything like the auxiliary before he moved to the area in 2001 from New England. Now he heads the group with members from Lake Wylie, Tega Cay, Rock Hill, Gaston County and other areas.
"I've always been interested in boating, and I wanted to get in the boating safety side of it," Groves said.
What fewer people may realize is auxiliary members with the proper training can be called to assist the U.S. Coast Guard following hurricanes, floods or other emergencies.
The additional 10 members "is huge for helping us perform our duty, increase membership and training," Groves added. "This is an important year for increasing our presence on the lake."
The Coast Guard Auxiliary celebrated its 70th anniversary last month. Founded June 23, 1939, the group lives by its "America's volunteer guardians" motto as one of the largest marine safety organizations in the country.
"The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the finest all-volunteer organization in our nation," said Adm. Thad Allen, Coast Guard commandant. "It is an integral part of our Coast Guard."
Allen presented the Coast Guard Unit Commendation award last month to the local auxiliary. In the past decade, auxiliary efforts nationwide have saved more than 3,100 lives, assisted more than 91,000 boaters in distress and prevented the loss of more than $437 million in property, plus educated more than 1.6 million boaters through safety courses. The result: More than 36 million hours of volunteered time.
"We simply could not meet the challenges we face or conduct the missions we do on a day-to-day basis without their selfless devotion to duty," Allen said.
On Lake Wylie, volunteers come from all over the tricounty area, said staff officer Bob Moody of Clover. The former Navy man began volunteering more than two years ago.
"I was going to go sign up for the fire department," Moody said. "I saw there was a dive team, and at the same time their (auxiliary) ad was running, too. I thought I'd give this a try."
Moody says there's plenty of ways to help, from performing vessel safety checks to marina visits, aviation and public information. Volunteers can work as much or as little as they like, and don't need a boat or background on the water to get started.
"It's nothing that's mandatory," Moody said. "I think if you put in 750 hours, you get a commendation.
"You just do what you can," he said. "I figured I wanted to do something to help the community."
For more information about the local group, visit cgalakewylie.org.
What are they up to?
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Lake Wylie Flotilla will host two safe boating courses this month, and three more through the end of September. The condensed, one-day course is designed for ages 14 years and older. The July 18 class will be held at 9 a.m. at the Steele Creek Public Library, 13620 Steele Creek Road. The second course begins at 8 a.m. July 25 at Lake Wylie Public Library, 185 Blucher Circle. Courses cost $40 per person, $20 for each additional family member. Classes are limited to 20 students.
For details, call 803-366-1530 or visit cgaux.com.