SS Marine Electric: Impetus for the Coast Guard’s premiere rescue swimmer program

On February 10, 1983, the SS Marine Electric capsized, and 31 of 34 crew members perished from exposure to the frigid waters off the coast of Virginia. Hypothermia prevented the crew members from utilizing the Coast Guard's helicopter rescue basket, but Navy rescue swimmers were able to save three of the crew members. The Coast Guard conducted a formal Marine Board of Investigation, which concluded that the vessel's many deficiencies indicated a lack of thorough inspection, but more importantly, a lack of competency and training. Following this accident, the Coast Guard drafted new guidance on inspecting hatch covers and documenting excessive use of doublers. It also pursued regulatory changes to require better lifeboat accessibility and flooding alarms in inaccessible spaces during heavy weather. In addition, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1984 established a helicopter rescue swimmer program for the purpose of training selected Coast Guard personnel in rescue swimming skills. Since its inception, the Rescue Swimmer program has saved tens of thousands of lives and is arguably one of the Coast Guard’s most recognizable programs. And certainly the regulations resulting from the investigation have prevented countless other marine casualties.


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  • Accession Number: 01679232
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Aug 14 2018 10:57AM