2018-02-01 / Spotlight News

Volunteers drawn to water help others stay safe through Coast Guard Auxiliary

By Dayna Harpster

Jeannine and Ronnie Cadorette are a couple who serve as auxiliary members. Jeannine and Ronnie Cadorette are a couple who serve as auxiliary members. For local people who like the water and life-long learning, and also want to help keep their communities safe, the best-kept secret in Southwest Florida may be the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

It’s not a secret to everyone, of course. There are 90 members in the local flotilla. Flotillas are the smallest units of the national organization with 26,000 members, established by Congress in 1939 to promote recreational boating safety and provide support to the U.S. Coast Guard in its operations.

Flotilla 96 serves North Naples, Bonita Springs and Fort Myers Beach. Members are a diverse lot of landlubbers who love the sea. “We have chefs, photographers, lawyers …” said member Ronnie Cadorette, a carpenter and businessman who until his retirement owned a kitchen and bathroom construction business. When Ronnie and his wife, Jeannine – a retired nurse – established a part-time residence in Bonita Springs in 2015, a friend talked to them about the auxiliary and they were intrigued.

Now, both hold staff positions in the flotilla.

“Once I retired, well obviously you’ve got to get into something, and I jumped into this whole hog,” Ronnie Cadorette said. Having a natural computer ability, he became the flotilla’s communications services officer (in lay terms, its computer expert) and was even sent to St. Louis for four days to learn about the position in a Coast Guard-sponsored program. Other flotilla officers are in charge of public affairs, diversity, member training, public education, marine safety and other auxiliary aspects.

Jeannine Cadorette is the flotilla secretary. After applying and participating in a mandatory auxiliary training course, Jeannine and Ronnie began with the boat crew class. Since they were snowbirds, they completed the normally 12-month course in six.

“And we’ve been doing beaucoup ever since,” said Jeannine Cadorette. Both are boat safety inspectors at Lovers Key. Auxiliary inspectors check to make sure boats are in working order and have the proper safety equipment, but do not issue citations. They are trained and ready to serve in boating emergencies, too.

“One day we were going out on patrol and a boat was broken down in Wiggins Pass,” she recalled. “We had to tow the man back in. It was a small boat, maybe 15-foot, and the man was by himself. He had a cell phone, but nobody was available to come and help.”

Except the auxiliary, which is the point. The group is all volunteer. Members learn the same basic skills in rescue and safety as members of the U.S. Coast Guard and can therefore fill in for the “gold side.” Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary members wear the same uniforms with one exception: The buttons and stripes on the auxiliary uniform are silver; on the Coast Guard active duty uniform, they’re gold.

Auxiliary members buy their own uniforms, one tropical, or dress, uniform and one for work on the waterways. Otherwise, there is no cost to belong or to take one or more auxiliary courses. Some are online and others conducted in person.

Auxiliary members often teach safety courses to the public on aspects of boating including working with a boat’s radio, sailing skills, using a GPS for navigation, weather and more.

The Cadorettes have taken their new skills back to their northern home in Plymouth, Mass., too. They are active in that city’s Coast Guard Auxiliary and also work for a whale-watching outfit there. Jeannine takes sight-seers’ tickets and Ronnie monitors the inventory of food and drinks on the vessels.

“We have a lot of world travelers,” said flotilla Vice Commander Tom Hart, a former member of the U.S. Air Force who has traveled to or lived in Japan, Greece, the Azores, Germany, Norway, Bermuda and the Philippines. “I’ve always been working or living around water, so it seemed natural (to be active in the auxiliary),” Hart said.

The Cadorettes’ northern and southern auxiliary activities satisfy their desires to stay near the water, too – and they’ve never owned a boat.

Flotilla 96 Wiggins Pass meets once a month at its headquarters at 13531 Vanderbilt Drive in North Naples. All interested people are welcome. For more information about Flotilla 96, go to wow.uscgaux.info/content.php?unit=070-09-06 or call 774-404-4364.

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