The Kitikmeot has benefitted from the federal government’s efforts to expand and strengthen the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary in the Arctic over the last few years. While Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk have long-established Auxiliary units, Gjoa Haven’s was only stood-up in 2017 as part of the Oceans Protection Plan (OPP), while another unit will soon become operational in Taloyoak. The focus of the OPP on improving marine safety in the Arctic has also led to new training and equipment opportunities for Auxiliary units in the Kitikmeot. Through the Indigenous Community Boat Volunteer Pilot Program, Cambridge Bay ($270,311), Gjoa Haven ($222,187), and Kugluktuk ($246,417) have been able to purchase new SAR boats and related equipment.
Coast Guard trainers are now coming to the communities on a more regular basis. Adopting a ‘train the trainer’ approach, Auxiliary members have also been prepared to take on training responsibilities – ready to provide ongoing skill development opportunities in their communities.
Annual meetings are held in Yellowknife or Hay River, in which auxiliary units have a chance to train with one another and go through tabletop exercises. Through all of these experiences, Auxiliary members learn how to coordinate with the joint rescue center, aircrafts and other ships, as well as safe boat handling, marine first aid, radio communications, search patterns and CCG operations.
The CCGA’s primary role is maritime search and rescue. The vast majority of SAR incidents in the North occur while people are hunting and fishing, or travelling between communities, which is reflected in the missions with which Auxiliary units have been tasked to date. Units are also preparing to respond to growing marine activity throughout the Canadian Arctic – from pleasure craft, to fishing boats, to cruise ships. Furthermore, auxiliaries upload all of their vessel, equipment, and membership information through the safety management system. Consequently, when Joint Rescue Coordination Centres require the services of an auxiliary, they can quickly identify with whom they are dealing and the capabilities a unit possesses, thus streamlining and improving the organizational and coordination requirements to conduct a successful SAR mission.
One Auxiliary unit leader in the Kitikmeot explained that during previous marine rescues there were always concerns about whether or not a suitable vessel would be available to execute the search. Now they have access to a safe, reliable, and effective boat with which to perform SAR operations. Another Auxiliary member explained that, “For years and years it seemed like the government had forgotten about the Coast Guard Auxiliaries up here. In the past, it has been hard to keep the unit up and running. We have never received the attention we are getting now. We have training on a regular basis now, funding for a new boat and equipment. We feel supported.”