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Harbor Patrol Officers Receive Prestigious Award

Harbor Patrol Officers Ryan Kelly and Ed Stetson were recognized by their colleagues in the California Boating Safety Officers Association (CBSOA) for their role in rescuing a family from a distressed vessel during a major storm on March 20th. This award is not given annually, only when marine safety officers are recognized for going above and beyond expectations to save lives.

The saga began when the Officers received a "Mayday" call from the S/V Vixen anchored 1.5 miles east of Stearns Wharf during “storm force” conditions with 30-40 knot winds and 6-8 foot seas. The vessel operator said he, his wife, two children (3 years old and 6 months old) and their dog were in distress, getting beaten up by the storm and in danger of breaking loose from their anchor.

Officers Kelly and Stetson responded aboard Patrol Boat 3. While exiting the harbor through huge seas, a large wave hit the boat and broke a window. They continued in limited visibility, rain and hazardous seas toward the Vixen. Officers observed a hand-held flare aboard a boat and headed towards it. The flare was on the 50' tugboat Jenny, anchored near the Vixen.

Officers continued taking heavy seas over the deck and cabin and noticed PB3 operating sluggishly. They checked the bilge and found it rapidly filling with water from an unknown source (later found to be a failed deck hatch). Needing time to assess the situation, PB3 took a position in the lee of the Jenny. Officer Kelly set up and began operating a dewatering pump, while Sergeant Stetson, at the helm, notified USCG and called for additional Harbor Patrol staff.  Next, the Jenny lost its anchor and was adrift, heading towards shore, but not before colliding with the Vixen. Luckily, the Vixen was not damaged by the 40-ton steel tug. Firefighters met the crew of the Jenny, which eventually beached near the Cabrillo Pavilion. Two passengers and a dog were taken off the boat unharmed.

Meanwhile, Captain Sherri Malis from the M/V Alan T (an oilfield crew boat) heard the situation unfolding on the VHF radio while tied to the City Pier. She offered the assistance of the 100’ vessel. Malis drove the Alan T to a position upwind of PB3 to lessen the storm’s impact. Officer Kelly was having problems keeping suction with the pump and had to continuously prime it, his head dangerously close to the exhaust. Kelly said he had two options; keep manually priming the pump and breathing exhaust, or stop and PB3 would sink. After a time, Kelly became too weak and light-headed to continue. 

Dockside, more Harbor Patrol Officers boarded PB2 with City firefighters as deckhands. PB2 powered through heavy seas to get to PB3. Once on scene, firefighters were transferred to PB3 with additional pumps. Enough water was removed to maneuver PB3 back into the Harbor. 

Officers regrouped and responded to the Vixen on PB2. The children, parents and dog were evacuated from the Vixen and transported to the harbor.  A waiting ambulance rushed the family to the hospital. They all suffered only minor injuries from the storm. 

Congratulations to Officers Ryan Kelly and Ed Stetson for performing to the highest tradition of the Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol and marine lifesaving during this multifaceted and rapidly evolving ocean rescue. Thanks, also, to Captain Sherri Malis, City Firefighters and the USCG for their roles in making this multi agency effort a success. The CBSOA award can be viewed at the Waterfront Office counter. (June 30, 2011)

Last Updated: Dec 21, 2018
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