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Monday, July 15, 2024

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What is Station Cape May?

Lt. Nelson

By Collin Hall

Cape May is home to the only Coast Guard enlisted training center in the United States, but alongside those who work to prepare the next generation of Coast Guard men and women who work year-round on search and rescue missions, fishing patrols, maritime safety law enforcement boardings, and other vital tasks to maintain order up and down the nearby coast.  
Station Cape May, where these tasks flow out of, is a largely separate entity from the training center; its staff, operations, and logistics are handled through a separate chain-of-command, and the tasks it performs are more in line with what one might think of as typical Coast Guard functions. Lt. Daniel Nelson is the current Commanding Officer of the Station, and he oversees the approximal 50 full-time service members and 24 reservists who work there. For such a small crew, the Station carries out a mighty number of tasks.  
Nelson explained in an interview with the Herald that the Station’s main mission is search and rescue. This is the team that makes headlines when responding to a sunken boat off the Wildwood’s coast, or to a man who fell asleep on his sailboat and washed ashore in Avalon.  
The frequency of search and rescue operations increases greatly in the summer, he said, when tourism and seasonal activities are in full-swing. Though wintertime has far fewer incidents, he stressed that they are almost always more severe. He said, “When you are called to a search and rescue case in the winter, they tend to be more serious. In the northeast where we get very cold winters, the conditions are hazardous, so the issues tend to be particularly bad. You’re dealing with professional mariners who have run into serious problems, not tourists who beached themselves on a sandbar.”  
Station Cape May is also responsible for the enforcement of federal fishery laws. Nelson explained that Coast Guard boats will patrol fishing waters and perform random boat checks on the vessels of professional fishermen. Nelson explained: “We’re looking for gear regulations and overages, and we make sure they don’t have fish they aren’t supposed to catch.” He said that the enforcement of these fishery laws is important for local marine ecosystems to thrive, and to ensure the prosperity of future catches.  
These tasks are often exhausting. The coast guardsmen who perform these duties often work in some of the year’s nastiest weather, and Nelson said that “50 never feels like enough” to get all the work done. But it does get done, he said, and he expressed great pride at all the Station is able to accomplish.  
Beyond Station Cape May, those under Nelson’s command also work out of smaller, seasonal stations in other parts of South Jersey, including the Townsend Inlet station in Sea Isle and a third station in Fortescue. Two search and rescue crews operate out of Townsend Inlet, Nelson said. On any given day, the 50 people under Nelson’s command could be spread across the county, and often even further.  
Nelson is relatively new to his command; he took over his current station in August of 2021, and the upcoming Coast Guard Community Festival will be his first. Nelson is from New Jersey, but since joining the Coast Guard, he has traveled all over the country with his young family. “It’s becoming more difficult with the kids and the family environment; they’re getting older and becoming more attached to friends. Me personally, I like the adventure of not knowing where I’m going next,” he said.  
Through the Coast Guard Festival, Nelson hopes that the community can come and get a proper sense of what he and his team do every day. He said that most everyone under him has expressed excitement at the chance to work with the community. “I’m excited to open those doors and show the community what we really do,” he said.  
Despite the whiplash that comes with frequent moves, Nelson said that he is most often welcomed in the communities he serves. He said that Cape May has been among the most welcoming because of the area’s colloquial familiarity with the Coast Guard. “There are some places, like when I was down in Houston, that had barely any idea what the Coast Guard even was. It’s really nice being able to come to an actual maritime community. I feel appreciated and at home here,” he said. 

Content Marketing Coordinator / Reporter

Collin Hall grew up in Cape May County and works as a content manager for Do The Shore, as well as a reporter. He currently lives in Villas.

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