After years of on-call duty and hardwork, Eckerd College’s Search And Rescue team (EC-SAR) was awarded the Meritorious Public Service Award from the U.S Coast Guard. 

In celebration of the efforts by the EC-SAR team, they were nominated by the Coast Guard as exceptional leaders in the community. On Sept. 9 at 5 p.m. the community gathered at the waterfront's Wallace Boathouse to witness the ceremony.

EC-SAR’s efforts have interested over 50 first-year students in joining the search and rescue group. The ceremony celebrated the team’s efforts over the years and highlighted how their help has impacted Eckerd College as well as the surrounding communities.

During the year, Eckerd’s student-run search and rescue team deals with over 500 response calls. They accept calls 24/7 and their cases range from addressing small boat collisions and towing to putting fires out in the middle of the ocean and researching missing persons.

Earning the second most valuable award for the U.S Coast Guards (the first being the Distinguished Public Service Award), the Meritorious Public Service Award represents the time and dedication EC-SAR students put into serving the public and taking some of the workload off of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Leila Koenig, a marine science student from Long Island, New York, decided Eckerd was her perfect match after learning about EC-SAR.

“You can study marine science at other schools but you can’t join a search and rescue team at any other college,” Koenig said.

According to Koenig, while some situations are less than pleasant to witness, she finds it rewarding by helping others and seeing their faces of relief when fires are put out and their boats and lives are saved from potentially disastrous circumstances. 

“[EC-SAR] is pretty unique as it is the only collegiate maritime search and rescue team in the country,” Koenig said about her team.

For Koenig, EC-SAR has allowed her to grow as a more thoughtful and appreciative person concerning the well-being of others.

Assistant Director of the Waterfront Ryan Dilkey, expressed gratitude for the award and what is truly meant to him and the EC-SAR crew to receive such a valued award.

“Earning this award speaks not only to this year's team but to everyone who has been a part of EC-SAR in some way in the past,” Dilkey said.

Dilkey graduated from Eckerd in 1998 with a Bachelor’s of Science in marine biology, and participated as a member of EC-SAR during his four years at the college. He later worked in the waterfront's Wallace Boathouse as a full time employee until he was deployed with the U.S Coast Guard after Sept. 11, 2001 for about five years. He returned to Eckerd as the assistant director of the waterfront for EC-SAR starting in 2006.

Dilkey and colleagues from the Coast Guard have gone through the Coast Guard's National Search and Rescue School, which has allowed them to apply science-based reasoning into expanding the tools available for their search and rescue efforts. With this, they were able to create a more efficient technique to predict where the weather currents would take a lost person in the ocean. 

Dilkey showed the first notebook that started these efforts, and revealed that the impactful technique - which drew out predicted water patterns using a drop test -  began in 2012 as an idea with his colleagues. The drawing pictured weather patterns and a circular area measurement that portrayed the probable changes in weather and where the bodies were most likely to land. 

This technique has recently been adopted to help find missing persons at sea and has even significantly decreased the amount of time it takes to find these individuals. The EC-SAR team worked together gathering observations through the drop tests and implementing equations that help pinpoint the most likely locations of people lost at sea.

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