A Civilian’s Guide to Coast Guard Life

As she neared the end of a Coast Guard deployment, my sister informed me and my mother that friends and family would be allowed to join the crew for the last two days at sea as “tigers,” as civilians are monikered aboard. With two spots available to allocate for Team Kim, our matriarch was the obvious choice for the first slot, and I raised my hand for number two.

Here are a few helpful tips I compiled during my 2.5 days aboard her ship for anyone planning on embarking on a vessel of the US military anytime in the near future. Do so and consider another box on your bucket list checked.

  1. There is no lido deck. Mama Kim had a bit of a rude awakening when we arrived at our our sleeping quarters.

    My mom: Sandy, you and I will be roommates!
    My sister: You’ll be bunking with six other people.
    My mom: Oh, I see. Wait…WHAT!? So we will have no privacy!?

    Yep, it turned out we were in a 4-bunk dorm on the 3rd level below the deck, which I believe 100 years ago was called “steerage.” Waking up to French toast and cinnamon buns in the mornings and then having kalua pig and pulled pork in the evenings, however, led us to come to the obvious conclusion of what my sister’s job entails: Eat. Sleep. Repeat. All the time. Mealtimes were always a perfect balance. You know, between assuring us relatives that these servicemen and women were being fed at all, but not pissing off us taxpayers with any culinary dog and pony show.

  2. It’s not like Hollywood makes it seem. On our first full day at sea, we saw a small sailboat in the horizon floating around that my sister had otherwise assumed was recreationally at sea, until they heard over the radio that the boat’s engine had gone kaput. After hours of staring into miles of blue, it looked like we tigers would finally get to see some Coast Guard action. Here’s what we thought would happen. That my sister would go out to the Johnny Doe, the damaged ship, in one of her ship’s speedboats and attempt a rescue of the stranded folks, returning to the ship with the couple while a James Horner song played in the background, then have them taken back to land via airlift from a Coast Guard helicopter that would have arrived on the ship’s helipad.
    All arms on deck! Time to rescue sailboats to prevent another Jack & Rose tragedy! Credits: www.nydailynews.com

    All arms on deck! Time to rescue sailboats to prevent another Jack & Rose tragedy! Credits: http://www.nydailynews.com

    Here’s what really happened. We listened to a whole bunch of radio communication while watching it from a distance, only for us to later tell the Doe, “Okay! So-and-so will be coming for a vessel assist in about two hours for ya, so have a great day!” End scene. Hashtag anticlimactic.

  3. It is exactly like Hollywood makes it seem. The thing about being a tiger though, is that as much as we love this new life experience on board the ship, we really have no idea what the hell is going on. We couldn’t wrap our heads around how and why it took so much rocket science precision to drive the ship when it appeared that the surrounding vessels were at least eight football fields away. During the start and the finish of the trip when the ship was departing and arriving at port, it seemed like it was all hands on deck with a whole lot of shouting. Remember when Sean Connery speaks Russian in “The Hunt for Red October”? SAME KIND OF CLUELESSNESS.
Exactly like this, except not at all  Credits: www.movpins.com

Exactly like this, except not at all
Credits: http://www.movpins.com

“Holler to Tango Tango, I have an 18-niner-niner and we are approaching at 18 knots. Over.”
“37 to 58 with a Golf-Hotel-Alpha-Alpha arrival, plus some YOLO on the starboard.”
“Roger, home fries. You’ll be seeing an LMAO from port shortly. Approach the Bravo-India with LOL, but be aware of the WTF.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all you will need to get through a few days on a tiger cruise. Happy sailing!