Stormy seas off Washington coast make perfect training ground for Coast Guard

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Coast Guard 47-foot Motor Lifeboat conducts training in rough surf near La Push, Wash.  (Jay R. Cline)

The Washington coast is home to some of the roughest waters around, and it makes a perfect training ground for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Photographer Jay R. Cline was out at First Beach near the mouth of the Quillayute River Monday morning and had a front-row seat to the notoriously treacherous bar conditions.

But it wasn't quite as close to the show as the crew of the Coast Guard out running drills in the surf on 47-foot Motor Lifeboats.

"The Coast Guard routinely trains in breaking surf conditions," U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier said. "Rescue stations, such as Station Quillayute River, run training missions several times during a given week."

Seas were rough Monday as a potent atmospheric river approached the Pacific Northwest -- a perfect time to head out into the storm and get in some training.

"When the weather provides rough seas, it gives the crews, especially the coxswain (boat driver), the ability to practice navigating towering waves," Strohmaier said. "We do this so our crews are ready to respond to an emergency no matter the conditions. Station members run drills such as towing evolutions, man overboard, or even passing dewatering pumps."

The boats are designed for these rough conditions and are self-righting, meaning they will flip back over if they capsize, Strohmaier said.  As shown in these photos, they can be driven either from the inside or outside.

And they can handle the worst that Mother Nature has to dish.

"The boats are capable of operating in 50-knot (58 mph) sustained winds, 30-foot seas, and 20-foot surf," Strohmaier said. "The jagged rocks and unpredictable surf zone make the inlet a challenge to navigate."

This particular Coast Guard station is responsible for much of the northern Washington Coast. Still, other Coast Guard stations keep watch on the rest of the coastal waters -- including the treacherous Cape Disappointment area near the mouth of the Columbia River, which is known for even heavier surf conditions.

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