We Remember the Boat Lift of September 11th

This month, we recall the events of the tragedy which occurred on September 11th, 2001. On that day, while people watched the skies with frightened anticipation after a plane struck one of America's largest icons of its economic and metropolitan culture, it was the waterways that would fill people with hope.

The initial response to the first tower being struck was one of dumbfound bewilderment, "people were calm...at first," recalls one of the rescuers. However, when the first building collapsed, dust and debris engulfed the air. Panic ensued and people fled to lower Manhattan to escape. It was at this time that New Yorkers were struck with the overwhelming realization that they truly were trapped on an island.

Shortly after the attacks, almost every way in and out of Manhattan was shut off from the world. Subways were shut down, tunnels were closed, bridges were blocked, everything was shut down, everything except for boats.

The Coast Guard knew that their role would be essential in organizing a relief effort once they saw a boat practically capsize as people rushed to board it in order to get off of the island. They decided to put out a call over the radio asking that anyone in the area who could hear the call to come help rescue New Yorkers if they could.

The waters stood still for several minutes, and then on the horizon, the boats came. What looked like a fleet of tugboats pressed forward to the island. Ferries, private boats, party boats, anything that could float and make it to lower Manhattan seemed to be making its way up the shore. All because of just one radio call.

People filled the boats, and they continued to pour through the docks and onto the vessels for hours. One rescuer recalled the people looking like zombies coming through a fog as the injured and exhausted New Yorkers made their way through the thick, black smoke that was pouring through the streets.

At this point the Coast Guard made it well known to those commanding the vessels that common rules needed to be thrown out the windows. Rescuing New Yorkers would not be encumbered by how many people you were allowed to have on your boat but would be accelerated by how many people you were able to fit on your boat. Many boats began to simply strips bed sheets from cabins and spray paint the destination of the ship for all to see in an effort to organize where people would end up. Both rescuers and those who were rescued recall fondly that everyone helped everyone that day. Some even recall that in all of their years of boating, that day stands out to them as one of the most magnificent.

The Boat Lift of September 11th would become the greatest sea evacuation of all time, outweighing its closest counterpart, the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War 2 by hundreds of thousands being rescued in mere hours compared to under 400 in 9 days.

This month, Jet Dock celebrates and honors all those who aided in the rescue of American citizens on that tragic day and are proud to be members of the boating community alongside of such honorable individuals.

For more on the Boat Lift of September 11th, see the video below.


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