ANNAPOLIS -- Some Coast Guard auxiliary members are quitting their jobs because they want to help troubled boaters, but often can't despite hundreds of hours of training.
The auxiliary members say they are annoyed by laws granting most nonemergency boat towing cases to commercial businesses.
"They feel, you know, that if they can't help, why go out. They will just go fishing instead," said Robert Hayward, an auxiliary member who works two days a week in the Annapolis Coast Guard Station.
Auxiliary members nationwide are lamenting the loss of one of their chief functions -- towing boaters with such troubles as no gasoline.
A 10 percent membership decline across the country led Congress to order a Coast Guard study, due in November.
"The members feel like, 'Gee, here's our primary area of activity and here it's being taken away from us,' " said Judith Wolfe, flotilla commander for the Deale-area auxiliary.
Her flotilla has 18 members, a number that has fluctuated between 16 and 21 volunteers in the last five years.
Chief David E. English of Coast Guard Station Annapolis said recent changes in the towing law created the most displeasure.
Last year, the law was changed to clarify the regulation that auxiliaries may help boaters only if they are in the vicinity of the distressed vessel, he said.
The clarification established "in the vicinity of" as within sight. Many people previously interpreted "vicinity" to be as much as two miles away, he said.
"When they were out on patrol in the old days, if somebody was in trouble, the Coast Guard would call the auxiliary aid. Now, in nonemergency cases, they must first call the commercial people," said Clyde Hungerford, area commander for Virginia, the District and most of Maryland.
However, they can help disabled boats if they come upon them when on patrol, he said.
Coast Guard calls attended nationwide by the auxiliary decreased from 17,751 in 1981 to 10,134 in 1986, said Cmdr. Ken Hollemon of the search and rescue division at Coast Guard headquarters in the District.
Hollemon is writing the final report for Congress, and although he would not be specific, he said the auxiliary's role is likely to change after the study is complete.