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Standing 40-feet tall and situated on the “elbow” of Cape Cod, Mass., is Chatham Lighthouse. A trademark of the town, the light overlooks the infamous Chatham Bar. Standing as a sentinel for sailors on the cape since 1808, the lighthouse represents a lifesaving history still carried out to this day.
Chatham Lighthouse is the home of Coast Guard Station Chatham, where crews live and breathe search and rescue. Chatham is one of the service’s 20 designated surf stations and its crews are responsible for the safety of the local fishing fleet and recreational boating community.
Chatham is also the only unit to operate the 42-foot Special Purpose Craft – Near Shore Lifeboat. The lifeboat was specifically designed for operating in shallow water, such as the conditions found on the Chatham bar where there are depths as shallow as four feet. The lifeboat is equipped with state-of-the-art wireless control systems and twin jet-drives.
As a highly unique craft, the lifeboat requires a skilled operator at the helm, and no one is better at the helm than Chief Petty Officer William Lefever. Lefever, the unit’s executive petty officer, recently certified as surfman aboard the lifeboat. Upon his qualification, the National Motor Lifeboat School – who retains the Register of Surfmen – notified Lefever he was the first surfman to ever be certified aboard five lifeboats: the 30-foot Surf Rescue Boat, the 42-foot Special Purpose Craft – Near Shore Lifeboat, the 44-foot Motor Life Boat, the 47-foot Life Boat and the 52-foot Heavy Weather Special Purpose Craft.
With a career spanning more than 22 years, including assignments at some of the most challenging surf stations in the country, Lefever’s dedication and commitment to the surf community is impressive.
“His vast knowledge of the boat forces world after being surfman qualified on five different platforms has been a helping hand to the newest members of our station getting qualified,” said Seaman Nicholas Florence. “His experience as a senior member of the Coast Guard has helped the station personnel with their on and off duty problems since the day he showed up.”
Traditionally, surfmen operate lifeboats exposed to the elements, using the feel of the wind direction to make adjustments to the boat’s position. The near shore lifeboat’s enclosed cabin requires surfmen to determine the wind’s effect on the lifeboat using other indicators such as the effect of wind on the water’s surface. Lefever uses his experience aboard different vessels to give him insights in how to handle the lifeboat.
“Whether it is surf training, heavy weather operations or search and rescue, Chief possesses that salt of knowledge that we all trust and respect,” said Seaman Heather Scheer. “His enthusiasm as a surfman and passion for the Coast Guard has inspired me to strike boatswain’s mate and continue on with my career within the Coast Guard.”
More than being proficient at his craft, a hallmark of Lefever’s leadership is sharing his experiences with others. Petty Officer 2nd Class Doug Hawley recalled the words of Henry Brooks Adams when asked how he felt about Lefever: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
“Whether it is in his office one-on-one, in front of a room full of his shipmates or in the driver’s seat of a surf boat where he feels at home, BMC Lefever has the overwhelming ability to engage his audience,” said Hawley.
Lefever will soon be retiring in the summer of 2013. As he enters his last surf season on the Chatham Bar, he will undoubtedly put his skills to the test aboard the most sophisticated lifeboat in the world as he trains the next generation of surfmen.
“As a person, he is among one of the first to step forward and render assistance to anyone in need. And as a boat operator, he is among the finest I have ever had the pleasure of serving with,” added Hawley. “There is no doubt in my mind his reputation for perfection and his dedication to the service will not soon be forgotten.”
With contributions from Senior Chief Petty Officer Rob Goley