Equipment upgrades and a new system to alert crew members to emergencies will soon make their missions easier, Beaufort Water Search & Rescue Squad volunteers say.
The most significant new tool is a recently purchased side-scan sonar, which will provide an expansive view of the sea floor, according to Dick Jennings, skipper of the all-volunteer squad.
The group's boats already are equipped with depth finders, but those show only what is directly below, Jennings said. The side-scan sonar gives a 360-degree view of a waterway's bottom and will be instrumental in recovering drowning victims, and identifying sunken boats and debris, he said.
The device will be installed on a military-surplus boat the squad acquired last fall after being on a waiting list for several years. It becomes the fifth craft in its fleet.
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Retired boat mechanic and Marine Corps veteran Gary Bright, who has volunteered with the squad for decades, is preparing the boat, which will be put into service during the Beaufort Water Festival in July.
The group also is expected to respond to distressed boaters and swimmers more quickly after the Beaufort County Dispatch Center added the squad to its voice-pager system this month, according David Zeoli, deputy director for the county's emergency management department.
Previously, squad members -- who are scattered around the county and often use their own boats when answering calls -- were using pagers that displayed only a caller's phone number. That system required them to call dispatch for more information before responding.
The squad also has new, larger GPS units for its boats.
The squad raises most of its money during its annual St. Patrick's Day golf tournament, which helps fund operations throughout the year, Jennings said.
The squad logged 3,000 hours performing rescues last year. Annually, it goes on more than 100 missions and is busiest during the summer.