Why Was There a Need for a Separate Organization to the CCG?

The Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (Western) Inc. (CN-CGA) is a not-for-profit organization established in mid-2018. 

The CN-CGA is incorporated as a Society and sponsored by the Federal Government by a contribution agreement with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

This, to provide an organized voluntary maritime SAR resource, and the promotion of water safety in an Auxiliary support role to the Canadian Coast Guard.

The CN-CGA was created with a purpose to protect both mariners and citizens through the forging of strong and lasting partnerships between maritime First Nations (FN) and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) in British Columbia (BC).

The rugged coast of BC is an extremely challenging environment in which to work, navigate, and play. Establishing a First Nation Coast Guard Auxiliary in the remotest of areas of the coast where experienced mariners for communities have lived from the time of immemorial, simply makes sense,Executive Director, Conrad James Shaw Cowan CD, BA, MA-(DEM), CN-CGA (W) Inc.

The region has seen a dramatic upsurge in vessel traffic due to increased industries such as Liquefied Natural Gas exploration, larger tanker vessels and shipping traffic, increased sport fishing, harvesting, and recreational vessels coming to BC’s coast.

Having a volunteer SAR crew adjacent to coastal fisheries to protect fish populations, preserve natural ecosystems, sensitive food fish environments can mitigate emergent problems in terms of marine spill/SAR response.

Why Then (Did an Accident Trigger It?) and How Big Was It, What Resources Did It Have?

The whale watching boat the Leviathan II capsized in the vicinity of Vargas Island near Tofino BC on October 25, 2015 close to the First Nation's village of Ahousaht.

The Leviathan II without warning was struck by a breaking wave over the adjacent reefs, overturning the vessel and its 27 passengers, resulting in the deaths of six.

The Canadian Transport Safety Board, in its post-investigation report noted that it took 45 minutes after the Leviathan II capsized before SAR authorities became aware of the incident.

However local fishermen from Ahousaht were on the water nearby. They rushed to pull the victims of the Leviathan from the icy waters with the community widely credited with saving lives and instrumental in rescuing the people on board.

This incident was the genesis to start a discussion between the CCG and coastal FN’s communities and Ahousaht Nation.

This, to equip, train and operationalize a SAR vessel, crew, equipment, and ongoing financial support as the FN’s mariners are always going to be traveling and working in their territorial waters.

What Is It Now – How Much Has It Grown/Changed?

A year and a half on now, the Society has hired 2 staff members an Executive Director and Executive Assistant who run the day-to-day operations with guidance from the CN-CGA board directors, made up of members from Ahousaht, Gitxaala, Heiltsuk, Nisga’a, Kitasoo/Xai,xais Nations.

Also hired, Zone Coordinator who are embedded in the communities that hold membership in CN-CGA and can give real-time support in admin, training, and equipment distribution and continuity of services to address the vast distance between HQ, the Board, and FN communities.

The CN-CGA now has, mission readiness towards marine incident prevention/response, SAR, and trained volunteer crews to better serve our coastal communities and those who travel through their territory.  

Each CN-CGA unit is outfitted with a customized 20/40 ft sea container position close to their dock, outfitted with storage, heat, electric, and all the PPE and crew resources for operations.

Each crew can now receive mission taskings, pre-plan, and conduct SAR missions sent from the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) Victoria, along with partaking in authorized auxiliary marine readiness and incident prevention activities.

To ensure safety and security for our crews, dedicated SAR vessels are being built and entered into service with the aid from the CCG’s Indigenous Community-Boat Volunteer Pilot Program. With support from this program, we can procure the equipment and vessels necessary to help keep our areas of responsibility (AOR) protected and give our crews the best possible platforms for training experiences and SAR operations.

In the interim, community vessels are certified and equipped to TSD standards, insured, and placed into service to enabled crews to conduct operations.

Do You Hope More Nations Will Join in Time & What’s the Ambition for the Organization e.g. What Would You Like It to Be in 10 Years?

CN-CGA is placing a high priority on working with the CCG and in particular, the CCG’s Indigenous Community Response Training team who visits our territories regularly to train, enhance and strengthen existing relationships, to advance reconciliation, and strengthen our SAR program and service delivery.

To this, we are building steadily with other coastal FN’s communities showing interest in joining and we are looking forward to bringing forward their knowledge and past training experiences to ensure the CN-CGA is a successful Search and Rescue organization.

Through hard work and dedication, we are creating a highly trained and experienced SAR auxiliary units from our community members and coastal mariners.

Future membership criteria first and foremost, is the willingness for the nation to join and support the program, have the resources, infrastructure, community volunteers and identified a historic trend of SAR activity metrics in their territorial waters.

Every year CN-CGA volunteers from the community are involved in aiding mariners in distress, pollution spills, missing person searches, and medical emergencies.

We have seen a dramatic increase in vessel traffic, commercial fisheries, tourism, and global exposure to the extraction of our natural resources, tenfold.

Our wish is to continue establishing good working relationships with the CN-CGA, SAR partners, and area stakeholders in all territories and that funding for our programs will continue enabling the procurement of dedicated SAR vessels to better serve our territories'  and protect those who travel through BC’s coastline,Alec Dick, CN-CGA Chair.


Photo Gallery

Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary by Conrad Cowan

The CN-CGA in Addition to SAR, Promotes Water Safety and Conducts Coastal Safety Patrols in an Auxiliary Support Role to the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG).

How Does this work in Practice, in Support of the CCG? How Do You Share Responsibilities Between Each Organization and How Do You Complement Each Other?

This new relationship between FN’s and the CCG in BC is based on knowledge sharing and in the spirit of true collaboration. Over the past year and a half, has set the stage for future strategic direction by engaging with FN communities along coastal BC regarding their needs and priorities.

Interrogability between the CCG-CCG-Auxiliaries & CN-CGA units, rescue partners, and marine responders was given the highest consideration when selecting our training & standards conventions, equipment, vessel types, and standard operating procedures (SOP’s).

Response times are critical in the success of SAR missions, due to the limited survival time of victims who fall overboard and inherent risks to rescuers.

To this, we rely heavily on the CCG’s Indigenous Community Response Training team (ICRT). This dedicated unit travels from FN’s community to community using a cultural approach by way of customizing marine, SAR, First-Aid, Swiftwater, advanced navigation, and operational training for our units.

The ICRT team provides an excellent and highly effective method of SAR training, being self-contained onboard their vessel, limiting community exposure during COVID while providing quality in-person training. 

Who Leads the Organization – What Kind of Experience Do They Have?

The CN-CGA is governed by a board made up of 10 directors who represent their respective nations consisting of a Chair, Vicechair, Treasurer/Secretary who meet regularly.

An Executive Director (ED) was hired in June of 2019 and charged with building the organization from the ground up. This included all administrative policies, social media presence, equipment procurement, business, budget, and financial planning, recruitment /retention, operations/training, and stakeholder engagement. 

The ED has over 30 years of domestic & international experience in SAR, humanitarian, and disaster response operations, including large-scale strategic management in natural disaster environments.

He held a federal post as A-Air-Coordinator for the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in BC, coordinating air, sea, and land disaster responses with multiple jurisdictions/agencies, provincially, nationally, and internationally.

He held the senior SAR leadership position supporting 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron, Canada’s largest Airforce SAR department responsible for SAR operations and immediate response personnel throughout the Canadian Maritimes, the Arctic, and Atlantic seaboard, a region roughly the size of Europe.

The HQ team also consists of an Executive Assistant who handles the financial, asset management, and accounting aspect of the society and comes with a wealth of background from more than 25 years of experience in bookkeeping, business taxation, and office management.

Her work spanned small business, restaurants to corporate petroleum sectors in BC and Alberta.

We also have 2 in-community Zone Coordinators (ZC) (Ahoushat & Heiltsuk), who are also CN-CGA crew members, responsible to assist in coordinating for training, operations, equipment management.

Both ZC’s have extensive hands-on operational marine response backgrounds, involving marine navigation, transportation, and emergency management.

How Many People Are Involved/How Many Volunteers?

The real horsepower is in the volunteer’s and community themselves.

These 70 plus marine SAR folks are dedicated to saving lives and property at sea. Our members and crews are exclusively from FN’s communities and span all walks of life. It is CN-CGA intent to develop impactful partnerships that fall within our mandate and allow us to remain true to our cause.

It is our goal to meet the needs of our future generations by leveraging new opportunities so that we are here as long as possible and remain relevant to the needs of our communities.

The CN-CGA’s mission is to ensure effective marine search and rescue services for people in distress throughout BC’s coastal region.

This cannot happen without the strong volunteers that hold up their communities, provide their expertise no matter what kind of position they hold, they are contributing in invaluable ways. 

First Nation mariners from their coastal communities have been responding to SAR incidents for many years and the CN-CGA will support the FN coxswains and crews of the boats that respond to calls for help and ultimately celebrate the courage, dedication, and humanity of our First Nations volunteer marine auxiliary.


As the Executive Director of Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (W) Inc., Canada's first Indigenous-led Coast Guard Auxiliary, I see the organization as being vital for mission success. It affirms commitment towards protecting both mariners and citizens by forging strong and lasting partnerships between maritime First Nations and the Canadian Coast Guard,” Executive Director, Conrad James Shaw Cowan CD, BA, MA-(DEM), Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (W) Inc.


MOTTO: We are Coastal First Nations, saving lives at sea.

ETHOS: Mission Ready.