Cross posted from the Water Taxi Captain’s Blog 

When you work on vessels such as the King County Water Taxi, the training you get to assist people in possible distress in the water is training you hope never to use.

Imagine using the training TWICE in 24 hours.

For Water Taxi Deckhand Kelly Phillips, that’s exactly what happened this summer:

“It was really surprising! I’ve worked on boats for 14 years, and I’ve never seen anyone fall off the docks like that.”

On Aug. 12, Kelly was getting ready to help the MV Doc Maynard launch from Seacrest Dock in West Seattle when a pair of cyclists, father and son, rode down the dock on their bikes. The son was able to make it onto the Water Taxi, but the father made a tight turn, and he went over the bike’s handlebars and into Elliott Bay.

Phillips, who was getting ready to step onto the boat when the cyclist went into the water, said her training took over as soon as she saw someone in distress.

“I was shocked, but we do trainings every month and all the training just clicked into my head automatically. I didn’t feel like I was thinking about anything. I took off my life vest and was getting ready to throw it to him when he shouted back he could swim. I ran down and helped his son pull him out of the water onto dry land.”

As the man was being pulled out, vessel Capt. Frank Massaro was quickly on the dock with a life blanket to help him stay warm. Phillips’ fellow deckhand Sam Crea joined them with the first aid kit.

For Phillips, it was “great to see all our training go into action.”

The cyclist was checked out and the trip from West Seattle to downtown went out as scheduled.

Second verse, same as the first

On her next shift, the day after pulling the cyclist out of the water, Phillips’ rescue skills were needed again. Kelly was on the ramp onto the water taxi taking tickets when she “heard a splash.” She says a young man with his family appeared to lose his balance and fall into the water.

Again, Kelly ran down with her life jacket and radioed the ship that there was someone in the water.

By the time she got to the scene, the father of the young man was pulling him out of Elliott Bay. Capt. Massaro threw Kelly the life blanket to wrap around the child.

Phillips said regular training for these situations means that when it occurs, there’s no hesitation, just action. She credits Robert McDougall, head of the Water Taxi’s training committee, for the training drills, which includes putting on the lifesuits that are used if they need to go into the water to rescue someone.

“The drills include situations where we’re asked ‘What if someone falls off the dock, where would you get them out? Where is the nearest ladder? So when it did happen, I went directly into the motions of everything we had practiced.

“And afterwards, I was thinking ‘Thank goodness!’”

While it was in the summer, Phillips said both situations were a reminder of just how cold the waters of Elliott Bay can be. “Neither person was from here, and even though they were warm days, people don’t realize how cold that water is and how quickly it can incapacitate you—it can really take your breath away, even in the middle of August.”

Phillips said people see deckhands taking tickets and assisting with the water taxi, but she understands that passenger safety is the highest priority for everyone operating on the vessel—especially when it involves someone in the water.

“I think it’s probably the most important responsibility we have. It’s the biggest part of our job that we almost never do.”